Fe, C, and O isotope compositions of banded iron formation carbonates demonstrate a major role for dissimilatory iron reduction in ~2.5Ga marine environments

Adriana Heimann, Clark M. Johnson, Brian L. Beard, John W. Valley, Eric E. Roden, Michael J. Spicuzza, Nicolas J. Beukes

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223 Citations (Scopus)


Combined Fe, C, and O isotope measurements of ~2.5Ga banded iron formation (BIF) carbonates from the Kuruman Iron Formation and underlying BIF and platform Ca-Mg carbonates of the Gamohaan Formation, South Africa, constrain the biologic and abiologic formation pathways in these extensive BIF deposits. Vertical intervals of up to 100m were sampled in three cores that cover a lateral extent of ~250km. BIF Fe carbonates have significant Fe isotope variability (δ56Fe=+1 to -1‰) and relatively low δ13C (down to -12‰) and δ18O values (δ18O~+21‰). In contrast, Gamohaan and stratigraphically-equivalent Campbellrand Ca-Mg carbonates have near-zero δ13C values and higher δ18O values. These findings argue against siderite precipitation from seawater as the origin of BIF Fe-rich carbonates. Instead, the C, O, and Fe isotope compositions of BIF Fe carbonates reflect authigenic pathways of formation in the sedimentary pile prior to lithification, where microbial dissimilatory iron reduction (DIR) was the major process that controlled the C, O, and Fe isotope compositions of siderite. Isotope mass-balance reactions indicate that the low-δ13C and low-δ18O values of BIF siderite, relative to those expected for precipitation from seawater, reflect inheritance of C and O isotope compositions of precursor organic carbon and ferric hydroxide that were generated in the photic zone and deposited on the seafloor. Carbon-Fe isotope relations suggest that BIF Fe carbonates formed through two end-member pathways: low-δ13C, low-δ56Fe Fe carbonates formed from remobilized, low-δ56Fe aqueous Fe2+ produced by partial DIR of iron oxide, whereas low-δ13C, high-δ56Fe Fe carbonates formed by near-complete DIR of high-δ56Fe iron oxides that were residual from prior partial DIR. An important observation is the common occurrence of iron oxide inclusions in the high-δ56Fe siderite, supporting a model where such compositions reflect DIR "in place" in the soft sediment. In contrast, the isotopic composition of low-Fe carbonates in limestone/dolomite may constitute a record of seawater environments, although our petrographic studies indicate that the presence of pyrite in most low-Fe carbonates may influence the Fe isotope compositions. The combined Fe, C, and O isotope data from Kuruman BIF carbonates indicate that BIF siderites that have negative, near-zero, or positive δ56Fe values may all record biological Fe cycling, where the range in δ56Fe values records differential Fe mobilization via DIR in the sediment prior to lithification. Our results demonstrate that the inventory of low-δ56Fe marine sedimentary rocks of Neoarchean to Paleoproterozoic age, although impressive in volume, may represent only a minimum of the total inventory of Fe that was cycled by bacteria.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8-18
Number of pages11
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - May 2010


  • Archean/Paleoproterozoic
  • BIF
  • Carbonates
  • Fe
  • Isotopes
  • Kuruman

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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