Status Report

Stable Iron Isotopes and Microbial Mediation in Red Pigmentation of the Rosso Ammonitico (Mid-Late Jurassic, Verona Area, Italy)

By SpaceRef Editor
October 13, 2008
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Astrobiology August 2008, 8(4): 841-857.

The iron (Fe) isotopic composition of 17 Jurassic limestones from the Rosso Ammonitico of Verona (Italy) have been analyzed by Multiple-Collector Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (MC-ICP-MS). Such analysis allowed for the recognition of a clear iron isotopic fractionation (mean 0.8, ranging between 1.52 to 0.06) on a millimetercentimeter scale between the red and grey facies of the studied formation. After gentle acid leaching, measurements of the Fe isotopic compositions gave 56Fe values that were systematically lower in the red facies residues (median: 0.84, range: 1.46 to +0.26) compared to the grey facies residues (median: 0.08, range: 0.34 to +0.23). In addition, the red facies residues were characterized by a lighter 56Fe signal relative to their corresponding leachates.

These Fe isotopic fractionations could be a sensitive fingerprint of a biotic process; systematic isotopic differences between the red and grey facies residues, which consist of hematite and X-ray amorphous iron hydroxides, respectively, are hypothesized to have resulted from the oxidizing activity of iron bacteria and fungi in the red facies. The grey Fe isotopic data match the Fe isotopic signature of the terrestrial baseline established for igneous rocks and low-Corg clastic sedimentary rocks. The Fe isotopic compositions of the grey laminations are consistent with the influx of detrital iron minerals and lack of microbial redox processes at the water-interface during deposition.

Total Fe concentration measurements were performed by Inductively Coupled Plasma Atomic Emission Spectroscopy (ICP-AES) (confirmed by concentration estimations obtained by MC-ICP-MS analyses of microdrilled samples) on five samples, and resultant values range between 0.30% (mean) in the grey facies and 1.31% (mean) in the red facies. No correlation was observed between bulk Fe content and pigmentation or between bulk Fe content and Fe isotopic compositions. The rapid transformation of the original iron oxyhydroxides to hematite could have preserved the original isotopic composition if it had occurred at about the same temperature.

This paper supports the use of Fe isotopes as sensitive tracers of biological activities recorded in old sedimentary sequences that contain microfossils of iron bacteria and fungi. However, a careful interpretation of the iron isotopic fractionation in terms of biotic versus abiotic processes requires supporting data or direct observations to characterize the biological, (geo)chemical, or physical context in relation to the geologic setting. This will become even more pertinent when Fe isotopic studies are expanded to the interplanetary realm.

Astrobiology 8, 841857.

SpaceRef staff editor.