Microbial pathways and palaeoenvironmental conditions involved in the formation of phosphorite grains, Safaga District, Egypt

W. Salama, A. El-Kammar, Martin Saunders, R. Morsy, C. Kong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


© 2015 Elsevier B.V. Phosphatic grains of the shallow marine phosphorite deposits of Egypt are classified as either phosphatic bioclasts preserving biological structure (e.g. skeletal fragments such as fish bones and teeth) or phosphatic peloids and intraclasts. This study describes the destructive and constructive microbial pathways represented by bioerosion of bones by endolithic cyanobacteria and accretion of phosphatic peloids by bacteria. The palaeoenvironmental conditions and post-depositional/diagenetic history of these grains have also been considered. Scanning and transmission electron microscopy showed that the phosphatic peloids under transmitted light microscopy are composed mainly of microspheres (0.5 to 2.5μm) similar in shape and size to coccoid-like bacteria. Chemical mapping showed that these microspheres are composed of carbonate-fluorapatite (CFA) and surrounded by degraded carbonaceous matrix. These grains are suggested to be reworked from pre-existing microbial mats during transgressive-regressive cycles affecting the southern Tethyan Campanian-Maastrichtian shallow continental shelf. The bioerosion of phosphatic bones is characterized by a network of meandering microborings that penetrated inward from the bone surface by endolithic cyanobacteria. The bioerosion of bones resulted in a gradual centripetal digestion and conversion of bones into micritic phosphate peloids. The bioerosion mechanism is probably started in the acidic sheath surrounding cyanobacteria followed by supersaturation of PO4 and reprecipitation of crystalline CFA as electron dense remineralized rims. Electron microprobe microanalyses showed that the remineralized microbored areas are higher in CaO, P2O5, and F and depleted in Cl, relative to unaltered bones. A gradual demineralization of remineralized rims followed by dissolution of cyanobacterial cells is probably occurred during diagenesis and meteoric water alteration leaving behind empty microborings. Bone exposed to meteoric water alteration is lower in CaO and P2O5 and higher in F and Cl than the unaltered bones. Understanding bone bioerosion has significant implications for palaeoenvironmental and taphonomic reconstruction, archaeological applications and a regional correlation of the late Cretaceous to Palaeogene phosphogenic province extending from Middle East to North Africa.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)41-58
JournalSedimentary Geology
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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