Methane-derived carbonates (MDCs) are common along modern and ancient continental margins, and the majority of such formations are associated with seafloor cold seeps. Here, we document petrographic, rare earth element + yttrium (REE+Y), carbonate clumped isotope temperature (TΔ47), and carbon-isotopic evidence from a shale succession in southern Tibet spanning a ∼28 m.y. interval (ca. 113−85 Ma) that coincided with the mid-Cretaceous greenhouse event. At least nine limestone nodule-bearing horizons exhibit seep-associated sedimentary structures, including carbonate fabrics (e.g., micritic crusts, crystal fans, and botryoidal textures) and 13C-depleted isotopic compositions (δ13Ccarb < ‒32.3‰), which are indicative of methane-derived carbon sources. Along with sedimentary evidence, the patterns of TΔ47−δ13Ccarb−δ18Ocarb support precipitation of these MDCs over a large temperature range. The REE+Y compositions and europium (Eu) anomalies indicate that the release of methane was associated with hydrothermal fluids. Methane may have been derived from both thermogenic and biogenic sources based on the inorganic carbon isotopic signatures of the carbonate. These nodular carbonate horizons document multiple episodes of seafloor methane release during the mid-Cretaceous and represent exceptionally long-lived, active methane seepage. Massive methane release events may have played a role in generating the greenhouse climate of the mid-Cretaceous.

Episodic massive release of methane during the mid-Cretaceous greenhouse