High Pressures and Preserving the Records of Life.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014: 5:45 PM
Wren Montgomery1, Jonathan S. Watson1 and Mark A Sephton2, (1)Imperial College London, Department of Earth Science & Engineering, London, United Kingdom, (2)Imperial College London, London, United Kingdom
The passage of organic matter from Earth’s surface ecosystems to the geological record is marked by the loss of certain classes of organic compounds and the transformation of those classes which are preserved. Much effort has been expended to understand the effects of temperature on buried organic matter. It is thought that heat may destroy certain organic structures and help to polymerize others into oligomers and polymers with a high preservation potential. The consequences of pressure remain less well understood. The neglect of pressure as a transforming agent is surprising considering the proliferation of high-pressure environments on Earth and beyond.

We have performed in situ high pressure synchrotron-source FTIR spectroscopy measurements on standards representing common units found within kerogens. These standards represent the aliphatic, aromatic and polar components of natural organic matter in monomeric and polymeric forms. Samples were taken to 11 GPa at ambient temperature; some were also heated to their melting point at <2 GPa. Heated large volume press experiments have allowed quantitative analysis of natural samples: Type I and II kerogens are inherently unstable under pressure, Type III and IV kerogens are more stable. Our diamond anvil cell measurements open a window onto the effects of pressure on individual classes of organic compounds, with consequences for the transformation and preservation of organic matter in the subsurface.