11 Apr 2024
 | 11 Apr 2024
Status: this preprint is open for discussion.

Were early Archean carbonate factories major carbon sinks on the juvenile Earth?

Wanli Xiang, Jan-Peter Duda, Andreas Pack, Mark van Zuilen, and Joachim Reitner

Abstract. Paleoarchean carbonates in the Pilbara Craton (Western Australia) are important archives for early life and environment on early Earth. Amongst others, carbonates occur in interstitial spaces of ca. 3.5–3.4 Ga pillow basalts (North Star-, Mount Ada-, Apex-, and Euro Basalt, Dresser Formation) and associated with bedded deposits (Dresser- and Strelley Pool Formation, Euro Basalt). This study aims to understand the formation and geobiological significance of those early Archean carbonates by investigating their temporal-spatial distribution, petrography, mineralogy, and geochemistry (e.g., trace elemental compositions, δ13C, δ18O). Three carbonate factories are recognized: (i) an oceanic crust factory, (ii) an organo-carbonate factory, and (iii) a microbial carbonate factory. The oceanic crust factory is characterized by carbonates formed in interspaces between pillowed basalts (“interstitial carbonates”). These carbonates precipitated inorganically on and within the basaltic oceanic crust from CO2-enriched seawater and seawater-derived alkaline hydrothermal fluids. The organo-carbonate factory is characterized by carbonate precipitates that are spatially associated with organic matter. The close association with organic matter suggests that the carbonates formed taphonomically via organo-mineralization, that is, linked to organic macromolecules (either biotic or abiotic) which provided nucleation sites for carbonate crystal growth. Organo-carbonate associations occur in a wide variety of hydrothermally influenced settings, ranging from shallow marine environments to terrestrial hydrothermal ponds. The microbial carbonate factory includes carbonate precipitates formed through mineralization of extracellular polymeric substances (EPS) associated with microbial mats and biofilms. It is commonly linked to shallow subaquatic environments, where (anoxygenic) photoautotrophs might have been involved in carbonate formation. In case of all three carbonates factories, hydrothermal fluids seem to play a key-role in the formation and preservation of mineral precipitates. For instance, alkaline earth metals and organic materials delivered by fluids may promote carbonate precipitation, whilst soluble silica in the fluids drives early chert formation, delicately preserving authigenic carbonate precipitates and associated features. Regardless of the formation pathway, Paleoarchean carbonates might have been major carbon sinks on the early Earth, modulating the carbon cycle and, hence, climate variability.

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Wanli Xiang, Jan-Peter Duda, Andreas Pack, Mark van Zuilen, and Joachim Reitner

Status: open (until 05 Jun 2024)

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  • RC1: 'Comment on egusphere-2024-1007', Graham Shields, 21 May 2024 reply
Wanli Xiang, Jan-Peter Duda, Andreas Pack, Mark van Zuilen, and Joachim Reitner
Wanli Xiang, Jan-Peter Duda, Andreas Pack, Mark van Zuilen, and Joachim Reitner


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Short summary
We investigated the formation of early Archean (~3.5–3.4 Ga) carbonates in the Pilbara Craton, Western Australia, demonstrating the presence of an oceanic crust-, an organo-carbonate-, and a microbial carbonate factory. Notably, (a)biotic organic matter as well as hydrothermal fluids were centrally involved in carbonate precipitation. Since carbonates are widespread in the Archean, they may have constituted major carbon sinks that modulated early Earth’s carbon cycle and, hence, climate system.