Chromium isotope systematics and the diagenesis of marine carbonates

Changle Wang, Christopher T. Reinhard, Kyle S. Rybacki, Dalton S. Hardisty, Frantz Ossa Ossa, Xiangli Wang, Axel Hofmann, Dan Asael, Leslie J. Robbins, Lianchang Zhang, Noah J. Planavsky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)


Stable chromium (Cr) isotopes have emerged as a new tool for tracking broad-scale changes in Earth's surface oxygen levels. Carbonates are one proposed sedimentary Cr isotope archive. In order to contribute to the development of a robust framework for interpreting carbonate Cr isotopic compositions and evaluating their ability to record the global redox state, we explored Cr isotope systematics of modern and Archean carbonate successions—representing end member oxic and anoxic Earth system states. We generated new data from carbonate platform sediments from the Great Bahama Bank with variable post-depositional histories to better understand the effects of diagenetic alteration on carbonate-bound Cr and its isotopic composition in a modern well-oxygenated ocean-atmosphere system. More specifically, we investigated the effects of dolomitization and aragonite-to-calcite neomorphism in marine and meteoric fluids. We also present δ53Cr values from three carbonate successions, the ∼3.0 Ga Chobeni Formation (South Africa), ∼2.8 Ga Mosher Carbonate Formation (Canada), and ∼2.65 Ga Cheshire Formation (Zimbabwe), that were deposited under an anoxic atmosphere. We find that modern Bahamian carbonates have a large range of almost exclusively positive δ53Cr values (from −0.04 to 2.88‰). The δ53Cr values appear to be altered during both meteoric diagenesis and dolomitization but there may also be instances of rock-buffered conditions that may best preserve depositional δ53Cr values. These observations provide a baseline for carbonate Cr isotope behavior in a well-oxygenated ocean-atmosphere system. Our Archean carbonate successions contain both positively fractionated and crustal δ53Cr values, ranging between −0.37 and 0.89‰. The Cr isotope fractionation observed in Archean strata is most plausibly linked to either non-redox dependent Cr isotope fractionation, local Cr redox cycling, late-stage diagenetic alteration, or some combination thereof. Given the significant effects of post-depositional alteration on the isotopic composition of carbonate-bound Cr, we suggest that Cr isotope values from ancient carbonate sediments should be generally interpreted with caution and cannot be straightforwardly linked to changes in atmospheric oxygen abundance.

Original languageEnglish
Article number116824
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Publication statusPublished - 15 May 2021


  • Cenozoic and Archean
  • atmospheric oxygen abundance
  • chromium isotope
  • diagenesis
  • marine carbonates

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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