High-resolution Ge-Si-Fe, Cr isotope and Th-U data for the Neoarchean Temagami BIF, Canada, suggest primary origin of BIF bands and oxidative terrestrial weathering 2.7 Ga ago

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  • Michael Bau
  • Frei, Robert
  • Dieter Garbe-Schönberg
  • Sebastian Viehmann

Unique deposits that formed in the Precambrian oceans are the Banded Iron-Formations (BIFs) which are chemical sediments comprised of alternating layers of iron- and silica-dominated precipitates. The origin of this enigmatic banding is still debated, with most favoring a primary sedimentary and a few others arguing for a secondary diagenetic origin. We here use a high-resolution integrated multi-proxy approach and report on the Ge-Si-Fe and Th-U systematics and on the isotopic composition of Cr in exceptionally pure adjacent magnetite and metachert bands from the ∼2.7 billion years old Temagami BIF, Ontario, Canada. While each of the geochemical proxies alone may be controversial, our multi-proxy approach sheds new light on their applicability, as the two types of adjacent BIF bands are each characterised by a distinct geochemical signature. The magnetite bands show super-crustal (i.e. fractionated) Ge/Si ratios approaching those of modern marine high-temperature hydrothermal fluids, unfractionated Th/U ratios similar to those of crustal rocks, and unfractionated Cr isotope ratios similar to “Bulk Silicate Earth”. Adjacent metachert bands, however, show lower (i.e. unfractionated) Ge/Si ratios close to those of modern seawater, sub-crustal (i.e. fractionated) Th/U ratios, and fractionated Cr isotope ratios above those of Bulk Silicate Earth. The composition of the magnetite bands suggests that the original iron-oxyhydroxide precipitated during periods when the dissolved Ge, Th, U, and Cr inventory of ambient seawater was dominated by input from mafic crust via anoxic high-temperature hydrothermal fluids. In contrast, the composition of the metachert bands indicates that these formed during times when ambient seawater was dominated by low-temperature riverine input from an evolved landmass that despite its Neoarchean age had provided environments for oxidative Cr and U mobilization during terrestrial weathering. This suggests that habitats with oxygenic photosynthesis existed on land at least 200 million years before the Great Oxidation Event. The systematic and internally consistent difference between the geochemical signatures shown by the two types of adjacent BIF bands also demonstrates that the prominent banding of BIFs is a primary depositional feature reflecting precipitation from different watermasses and is not the result of post-depositional separation of an initially homogeneous chemical sediment.

Original languageEnglish
Article number117579
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
M.B. acknowledges cooperation and discussion with participants of and funding through DFG Priority Program 1833 “Building a Habitable Earth” (grant BA-2289/8-1 ). R.F. acknowledges funding through the Danish Agency for Science, Technology and Innovation (grant 11-103378 ) and thanks Toby Leeper for maintaining the mass spectrometers in perfect running condition and Toni Larsen for lab-assistance. D.G. acknowledges the help of Ulrike Westernströer (Kiel University) with LA-ICP-MS analyses. The contribution of S.V. to this research was funded in part by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) [ P34238 for SV]. For the purpose of open access, S.V. applied a CC BY public copyright license to any Author Accepted Manuscript arising from this submission. We are grateful for insightful comments from Kurt Konhauser and another anonymous reviewer.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022

    Research areas

  • banded iron-formation, Cr isotope proxy, Ge/Si proxy, Precambrian atmosphere, Precambrian ocean

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