Organic- and carbonate-rich soil formation ∼2.6 billion years ago at Schagen, East Transvaal district, South Africa

Yumiko Watanabe, Brian W. Stewart, Hiroshi Ohmoto

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35 Citations (Scopus)


A ∼17-m paleosol sequence at Schagen, South Africa, which developed on a serpentinized dunite intrusion in a granite-gneiss terrain ∼2.6 Ga ago, is characterized by an alternating succession of thick (∼1-3 m) carbonate-rich (dolomite and calcite) zones and silicate-rich (serpentines, talc, and quartz) zones; the upper ∼8 m section is especially rich in organic C (up to ∼1.4 wt.%). Petrologic and geochemical data suggest the upper ∼8 m section is composed of at least three soil profiles that developed on: (i) silicate-rich rock fragments (and minerals) that were transported from local sources (serpentinite and granite) by fluvial and/or eolian processes; and (ii) dolomite and calcite zones that formed by locally discharged groundwater. The Mg and Fe in the paleosol sequence were largely supplied from local sources (mostly serpentinite), but the Ca, Sr, and HCO3- were supplied by groundwater that originated from a surrounding granite-gneiss terrain. In the uppermost soil profile, the (Fe is retained, the Fe3+/Fe2+ ratio increases, and ferri-stilpnomelane is abundant. These data suggest the atmospheric p O2 was much greater than ∼10-3.7 atm (>0.1% present atmospheric level [PAL]). The carbonaceous matter in the soils is intimately associated with clays (talc, chlorite, and ferri-stilpnomelane) and occurs mostly as seams (20 μm to 1 mm thick) that parallel the soil horizons. These occurrences, crystallographic structures, H/C ratios, and δ13Corg values (-17.4 to -14.4‰ PDB) suggest that the carbonaceous matter is a remnant of in situ microbial mats, originally ∼1 to ∼20 mm thick. The microbial mats developed: (a) mostly on soil surfaces during the formation of silicate-rich soils, and (b) at the bottom of an evaporating, anoxic, alkaline pond during the precipitation of the Fe-rich dolomite. These δ13Corg values are difficult to be explained by a current popular idea of a methane- and organic haze-rich Archean atmosphere (Pavlov et al., 2001); these values, however, can be easily explained if the microbial mats were composed of cyanobacteria and heterotrophs that utilized the remnants of cyanobacteria in a strongly evaporating environment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2129-2151
Number of pages23
JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 2004 May 1
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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