Oxidative Weathering of Archean Sulfides: Implications for the Great Oxidation Event
Abstract:The first widely accepted evidence for oxidation of Earth’s atmosphere and oceans occurs ~2.45 Ga immediately prior to the Great Oxidation Event (GOE). A major line of evidence for this transition includes the abundances and isotopic variations of redox-sensitive transition metals in marine sediments (e.g., Fe, Mo, Re, Cr, and U). It is often assumed that oxidative weathering is required to liberate these redox-sensitive elements from sulfide minerals in the crust, and hence that their presence in early Archean marine sediments signifies that oxidative weathering was stimulated by small and/or transient “whiffs” of O2 in the environment.1 However, studies of crustal sulfide reactivity have not been conducted at O2 concentrations as low as those that would have prevailed when O2 began its rise during the late Archean (estimated at <10-5 present atmospheric O2).2 As a result, it is difficult to quantify O2 concentrations implied by observed trace metal variations.
As a first step toward providing more quantitative constraints on late Archean pO2, we conducted laboratory studies of pyrite and molybdenite oxidation kinetics at the nanomolar O2 concentrations that are relevant to late Archean environments. These measurements were made using recently developed, highly sensitive optical O2 sensors to monitor the rates at which the powdered minerals consumed dissolved O2 in a range of pH-buffered solutions.3
Our data extend the range of experimental pyrite oxidation rates in the literature by three orders of magnitude from ~10-3 present atmospheric O2 to ~10-6. We find that molybdenite and pyrite oxidation continues to <1 nM O2 (4 x 10-6 present atmospheric O2). This implies that oxidative weathering of sulfides could occur under conditions which preserve MIF S fractionation. Furthermore, our results indicate that the rate law and reaction order of pyrite oxidation kinetics change significantly at nanomolar concentrations of O2 when compared to previous compilations.2 Our results provide new empirical data that should allow for more precise quantitative constraints on atmospheric pO2 based on the sedimentary rock record.
1Anbar, A.D. et al., 2007. Science, 317, i. 5846: 1903-1906. 2Williamson & Rimstidt, 1994. Geochim. et Cosmochim. Acta, 58, n. 24: 5443-5454. 3Lehner et al., 2015. PLoS ONE, 10, n. 6: 1-15.