The geochemistry of late Archaean microbial carbonate: implications for ocean chemistry and continental erosion history
Trace element concentrations and combined Sr- and Nd-isotope compositions were determined on stromatolitic carbonates (microbialites) from the 2.52 Ga Campbellrand carbonate platform (South Africa). Shale-normalised rare earth element and yttrium patterns of the ancient samples are similar to those of modern seawater in having positive La and Y anomalies and in being depleted in light rare earth elements. In contrast to modern seawater (and microbialite proxies), the 2.52 Ga samples lack a negative Ce anomaly but possess a positive Eu anomaly. These latter trace element characteristics are interpreted to reflect anoxic deep ocean waters where, unlike today, hydrothermal Fe input was not oxidised, and scavenged and rare earth elements were not coprecipitated with Fe-oxyhydroxides. The persistence of a positive Eu anomaly in relatively shallow Campbellrand platform waters indicates a dramatic reversal from hydrothermally dominated (Archaean) to continental erosion-dominated (Phanerozoic) rare earth element flux ratio. The dominant hydrothermal input is also expressed in the initial Sr- and Nd-isotope ratios. There is collinear variation in Sr-Nd systematics, which range from primitive values (87Sr/86Sr of 0.702386 and ÎµNd of +2.1) to more evolved crustal ratios. Mixing calculations show that the range in trace element ratios (e.g., Y/Ho) and initial isotope ratios is not a result of contamination by trapped sediment, but that the chemical and isotopic variation reflects carbonate deposition in an environment where different water masses mixed. Calculated Nd flux ratios yield a hydrothermal input into the 2.52 Ga oceans one order of magnitude larger than continental input. Such a change in flux ratio most likely required substantially reduced continental inputs, which could, in turn, reflect a plate tectonic causation (e.g., reduced topography or expansion of epicontinental seas).