Deciphering formation processes of banded iron formations from the Transvaal and the Hamersley successions by combined Si and Fe isotope analysis using UV femtosecond laser ablation

Grit Steinhoefel, Friedhelm von Blanckenburg, Ingo Horn, Kurt O. Konhauser, Nicolas J. Beukes, Jens Gutzmer

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132 Citations (Scopus)


To investigate the genesis of BIFs, we have determined the Fe and Si isotope composition of coexisting mineral phases in samples from the ∼2.5 billion year old Kuruman Iron Formation (Transvaal Supergroup, South Africa) and Dales Gorges Member of the Brockman Iron Formation (Hamersley Group, Australia) by UV femtosecond laser ablation coupled to a MC-ICP-MS. Chert yields a total range of δ30Si between -1.3‰ and -0.8‰, but the Si isotope compositions are uniform in each core section examined. This uniformity suggests that Si precipitated from well-mixed seawater far removed from its sources such as hydrothermal vents or continental drainage. The Fe isotope composition of Fe-bearing mineral phases is much more heterogeneous compared to Si with δ56Fe values of -2.2‰ to 0‰. This heterogeneity is likely due to variable degrees of partial Fe(II) oxidation in surface waters, precipitation of different mineral phases and post-depositional Fe redistribution. Magnetite exhibits negative δ56Fe values, which can be attributed to a variety of diagenetic pathways: the light Fe isotope composition was inherited from the Fe(III) precursor, heavy Fe(II) was lost by abiotic reduction of the Fe(III) precursor or light Fe(II) was gained from external fluids. Micrometer-scale heterogeneities of δ56Fe in Fe oxides are attributed to variable degrees of Fe(II) oxidation or to isotope exchange upon Fe(II) adsorption within the water column and to Fe redistribution during diagenesis. Diagenetic Fe(III) reduction caused by oxidation of organic matter and Fe redistribution is supported by the C isotope composition of a carbonate-rich sample containing primary siderite. These carbonates yield δ13C values of ∼-10‰, which hints at a mixed carbon source in the seawater of both organic and inorganic carbon. The ancient seawater composition is estimated to have a minimum range in δ56Fe of -0.8‰ to 0‰, assuming that hematite and siderite have preserved their primary Fe isotope signature. The long-term near-zero Fe isotope composition of the Hamersley and Transvaal BIFs is in balance with the assumed composition of the Fe sources. The negative Fe isotope composition of the investigated BIF samples, however, indicates either a perturbation of the steady state, or they have to be balanced spatially by deposition of isotopically heavy Fe. In the case of Si, the negative Si isotope signature of these BIFs stands in marked contrast to the assumed source composition. The deviation from potential source composition requires a complementary sink of isotopically heavy Si in order to maintain steady state in the basin. Perturbing the steady state by extraordinary hydrothermal activity or continental weathering in contrast would have led to precipitation of light Si isotopes from seawater. Combining an explanation for both elements, a likely scenario is a steady state ocean basin with two sinks. When all published Fe isotope records including BIFs, microbial carbonates, shales and sedimentary pyrites, are considered, a complementary sink for heavy Fe isotopes must have existed in Precambrian ocean basins. This Fe sink could have been pelagic sediments, which however are not preserved. For Si, such a complementary sink for heavy Si isotopes might have been provided by other chert deposits within the basin.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2677-2696
Number of pages20
JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - May 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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