Uncovering framboidal pyrite biogenicity using nano-scale CNorg mapping

David Wacey, Matt Kilburn, Martin Saunders, John Cliff, C. Kong, A.G.S.C. Liu, J.J. Matthews, M.D. Brasier

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© 2014 Geological Society of America. Framboidal pyrite has been used as a paleo-redox proxy and a biomarker in ancient sediments, but the interpretation of pyrite framboids can be controversial, especially where later overgrowths have obscured primary textures. Here we show how nano-scale chemical mapping of organic carbon and nitrogen (CNorg) can detect relict framboids within Precambrian pyrite grains and determine their formation mechanism. Pyrite grains associated with an Ediacaran fossil Lagerstätte from Newfoundland (ca. 560 Ma) hold significance for our understanding of taphonomy and redox history of the earliest macrofossil assemblages. They show distinct chemical zoning with respect to CNorg. Relict framboids are revealed as spheroidal zones within larger pyrite grains, whereby pure pyrite microcrystals are enclosed by a mesh-like matrix of pyrite possessing elevated CNorg, replicating observations from framboids growing within modern biofilms. Subsequent pyrite overgrowths also incorporated CNorg from biofilms, with concentric CNorg zoning showing that the availability of CNorg progressively decreased during later pyrite growth. Multiple framboids are commonly cemented together by these overgrowths to form larger grains, with relict framboids only detectable in CNorg maps. In situ sulfur isotope data (δ34S = ∼-24‰ to -15‰) show that the source of sulfur for the pyrite was also biologically mediated, most likely via a sulfate-reducing microbial metabolism within the biofilms. Relict framboids have significantly smaller diameters than the pyrite grains that enclose them, suggesting that the use of framboid diameters to infer water column paleo-redox conditions should be approached with caution. This work shows that pyrite framboids have formed within organic biofilms for at least 560 m.y., and provides a novel methodology that could readily be extended to search for such biomarkers in older rocks and potentially on other planets.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)27-30
Number of pages4
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2015


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