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Concept: Metamorphism


The vestiges of life in Eoarchean rocks have the potential to elucidate the origin of life. However, gathering evidence from many terrains is not always possible, and biogenic graphite has thus far been found only in the 3.7-3.8 Ga (gigayears ago) Isua supracrustal belt. Here we present the total organic carbon contents and carbon isotope values of graphite (δ(13)Corg) and carbonate (δ(13)Ccarb) in the oldest metasedimentary rocks from northern Labrador. Some pelitic rocks have low δ(13)Corg values of -28.2, comparable to the lowest value in younger rocks. The consistency between crystallization temperatures of the graphite and metamorphic temperature of the host rocks establishes that the graphite does not originate from later contamination. A clear correlation between the δ(13)Corg values and metamorphic grade indicates that variations in the δ(13)Corg values are due to metamorphism, and that the pre-metamorphic value was lower than the minimum value. We concluded that the large fractionation between the δ(13)Ccarb and δ(13)Corg values, up to 25‰, indicates the oldest evidence of organisms greater than 3.95 Ga. The discovery of the biogenic graphite enables geochemical study of the biogenic materials themselves, and will provide insight into early life not only on Earth but also on other planets.

Concepts: Sedimentary rock, Carbon, Mineral, Rock, Coal, Calcite, Metamorphic rock, Metamorphism


Isotopic discordance is a common feature in zircon that can lead to an erroneous age determination, and it is attributed to the mobilization and escape of radiogenic Pb during its post-crystallization geological evolution. The degree of isotopic discordance measured at analytical scales of ~10 μm often differs among adjacent analysis locations, indicating heterogeneous distributions of Pb at shorter length scales. We use atom probe microscopy to establish the nature of these sites and the mechanisms by which they form. We show that the nanoscale distribution of Pb in a ~2.1 billion year old discordant zircon that was metamorphosed c. 150 million years ago is defined by two distinct Pb reservoirs. Despite overall Pb loss during peak metamorphic conditions, the atom probe data indicate that a component of radiogenic Pb was trapped in 10-nm dislocation loops that formed during the annealing of radiation damage associated with the metamorphic event. A second Pb component, found outside the dislocation loops, represents homogeneous accumulation of radiogenic Pb in the zircon matrix after metamorphism. The (207)Pb/(206)Pb ratios measured from eight dislocation loops are equivalent within uncertainty and yield an age consistent with the original crystallization age of the zircon, as determined by laser ablation spot analysis. Our results provide a specific mechanism for the trapping and retention of radiogenic Pb during metamorphism and confirm that isotopic discordance in this zircon is characterized by discrete nanoscale reservoirs of Pb that record different isotopic compositions and yield age data consistent with distinct geological events. These data may provide a framework for interpreting discordance in zircon as the heterogeneous distribution of discrete radiogenic Pb populations, each yielding geologically meaningful ages.

Concepts: Atom, Sedimentary rock, Geology, Damage, Garnet, Metamorphic rock, Metamorphism, Slate


The search for indisputable traces of life in Archean cherts is of prime importance. However, their great age and metamorphic history pose constraints on the study of molecular biomarkers. We propose a quantitative criterion to document the thermal maturity of organic matter in rocks in general, and Archean rocks in particular. This is definitively required to select the best candidates for seeking non-altered sample remnants of life. Analysis of chemical (Raman spectroscopy, (13)C NMR, elemental analysis) and structural (HRTEM) features of Archean and non-Archean carbonaceous matter (CM) that was submitted to metamorphic grades lower than, or equal to, that of greenschist facies showed that these features had all undergone carbonization but not graphitization. Raman-derived quantitative parameters from the present study and from literature spectra, namely, R1 ratio and FWHM-D1, were used to draw a carbonization continuum diagram showing two carbonization stages. While non-Archean samples can be seen to dominate the first stage, the second stage mostly consists of the Archean samples. In this diagram, some Archean samples fall at the boundary with non-Archean samples, which thus demonstrates a low degree of carbonization when compared to most Archean CM. As a result, these samples constitute candidates that may contain preserved molecular signatures of Archean CM. Therefore, with regard to the search for the oldest molecular traces of life on Earth, we propose the use of this carbonization continuum diagram to select the Archean CM samples. Key Words: Archean-Early life-Kerogen-Raman spectroscopy-Carbonization. Astrobiology 16, xxx-xxx.

Concepts: Spectroscopy, Life, Molecule, Chemistry, Raman spectroscopy, Multistage rocket, Infrared spectroscopy, Metamorphism


Many aspects of Earth’s early sulfur cycle, from the origin of mass-anomalous fractionations to the degree of biological participation, remain poorly understood-in part due to complications from postdepositional diagenetic and metamorphic processes. Using a combination of scanning high-resolution magnetic superconducting quantum interference device (SQUID) microscopy and secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS) of sulfur isotopes ((32)S, (33)S, and (34)S), we examined drill core samples from slope and basinal environments adjacent to a major Late Archean (∼2.6-2.5 Ga) marine carbonate platform from South Africa. Coupled with petrography, these techniques can untangle the complex history of mineralization in samples containing diverse sulfur-bearing phases. We focused on pyrite nodules, precipitated in shallow sediments. These textures record systematic spatial differences in both mass-dependent and mass-anomalous sulfur-isotopic composition over length scales of even a few hundred microns. Petrography and magnetic imaging demonstrate that mass-anomalous fractionations were acquired before burial and compaction, but also show evidence of postdepositional alteration 500 million y after deposition. Using magnetic imaging to screen for primary phases, we observed large spatial gradients in Δ(33)S (>4‰) in nodules, pointing to substantial environmental heterogeneity and dynamic mixing of sulfur pools on geologically rapid timescales. In other nodules, large systematic radial δ(34)S gradients (>20‰) were observed, from low values near their centers increasing to high values near their rims. These fractionations support hypotheses that microbial sulfate reduction was an important metabolism in organic-rich Archean environments-even in an Archean ocean basin dominated by iron chemistry.

Concepts: Bacteria, Sedimentary rock, Mineral, Sulfur, Hydrogen sulfide, SQUID, Core sample, Metamorphism


The Late Paleozoic is considered to be an important stage in the evolution of the Central Asian Orogenic Belt (CAOB). The Bogda Mountains, a northeastern branch of the Tianshan Mountains, record the complete Paleozoic history of the Tianshan orogenic belt. The tectonic and sedimentary evolution of the west Bogda area and the timing of initial uplift of the West Bogda Mountains were investigated based on detailed sedimentological study of outcrops, including lithology, sedimentary structures, rock and isotopic compositions and paleocurrent directions. At the end of the Early Permian, the West Bogda Trough was closed and an island arc was formed. The sedimentary and subsidence center of the Middle Permian inherited that of the Early Permian. The west Bogda area became an inherited catchment area, and developed a widespread shallow, deep and then shallow lacustrine succession during the Mid-Permian. At the end of the Mid-Permian, strong intracontinental collision caused the initial uplift of the West Bogda Mountains. Sedimentological evidence further confirmed that the West Bogda Mountains was a rift basin in the Carboniferous-Early Permian, and subsequently entered the Late Paleozoic large-scale intracontinental orogeny in the region.

Concepts: Plate tectonics, Gondwana, Permian, Orogeny, Xinjiang, Sedimentology, Tian Shan, Metamorphism


Tremor occurs on megathrusts under conditions of near-lithostatic pore-fluid pressures and extremely weakened shear strengths. Although metamorphic reactions in the slab liberate large amounts of fluids, the mechanism for enhancing pore-fluid pressures along the megathrust to near-lithostatic values remains poorly understood. Here we show anti-correlation between low-frequency earthquake (LFE) activity and properties that are markers of the degree of metamorphism above the megathrust, whereby LFEs occur beneath the unmetamorphosed overlying plate but are rare or limited below portions that are metamorphosed. The extent of metamorphism in the overlying plate is likely controlled by along-strike contrasts in permeability. Undrained conditions are required for pore-fluid pressures to be enhanced to near-lithostatic values and for shear strength to reduce sufficiently for LFE generation, whereas well-drained conditions reduce pore-fluid pressures at the megathrust and LFEs no longer occur at the somewhat strengthened megathrust. Our observations suggest that undrained conditions are a key factor for the genesis of LFEs.

Concepts: Shear stress, Shear strength, Garnet, Metamorphic rock, Soil mechanics, Metamorphism, Slate


A compilation of U-Pb age, geochemical and isotopic data for granitoid plutons in the southern Central Asian Orogenic Belt (CAOB), enables evaluation of the interaction between magmatism and orogenesis in the context of Paleo-Asian oceanic closure and continental amalgamation. These constraints, in conjunction with other geological evidence, indicate that following consumption of the ocean, collision-related calc-alkaline granitoid and mafic magmatism occurred from 255 ± 2 Ma to 251 ± 2 Ma along the Solonker-Xar Moron suture zone. The linear or belt distribution of end-Permian magmatism is interpreted to have taken place in a setting of final orogenic contraction and weak crustal thickening, probably as a result of slab break-off. Crustal anatexis slightly post-dated the early phase of collision, producing adakite-like granitoids with some S-type granites during the Early-Middle Triassic (ca. 251-245 Ma). Between 235 and 220 Ma, the local tectonic regime switched from compression to extension, most likely caused by regional lithospheric extension and orogenic collapse. Collision-related magmatism from the southern CAOB is thus a prime example of the minor, yet tell-tale linking of magmatism with orogenic contraction and collision in an archipelago-type accretionary orogen.

Concepts: Plate tectonics, Petrology, Granite, Crust, Orogeny, Metamorphism, Batholith, Terrane


The connection between the North China Craton (NCC) and contiguous cratons is important for the configuration of the Nuna supercontinent. Here we document a new Paleoproterozoic high-pressure (HP) complex dominated by garnet websterite on the northern margin of the NCC. The peak metamorphism of the garnet websterite was after ∼1.90 Ga when it was subducted to eclogite facies at ∼2.4 GPa, then exhumed back to granulite facies at ∼0.9 GPa before ∼1.82 Ga. The rock associations with their structural relationships and geochemical affinities are comparable to those of supra-subduction zone ophiolites, and supported by subduction-related signatures of gabbros and basalts. We propose that a ∼1.90 Ga oceanic fragment was subducted and exhumed into an accretionary complex along the northern margin of the NCC. Presence of the coeval Sharyzhalgai complex with comparable HP garnet websterites in the southern Siberian active margin favours juxtaposition against the NCC in the Paleoproterozoic.

Concepts: Plate tectonics, Geology, Metamorphic rock, Basalt, Granite, Metamorphism, Granulite, Cratons


Abiotic formation of RNA was important for the emergence of terrestrial life, but the acknowledged difficulties of generating and stabilizing ribose have often raised questions regarding how the first RNA might have formed. Previous researchers have proposed that borate could have stabilized ribose; however, the availability of borate on the early Earth has been the subject of intense debate. In order to examine whether borate was available on the early Earth, this study examined metasedimentary rocks from the Isua Supracrustal Belt. Garnet, biotite, and quartz comprise the major constituents of the examined rocks. Field relationships and the chemical compositions of the examined rocks suggest sedimentary origin. The present study found that garnet crystals contain a number of inclusions of tourmaline (a type of borosilicate mineral). All tourmaline crystals are Fe-rich and categorized as schorl. Both garnet and tourmaline often contain graphite inclusions and this close association of tourmaline with garnet and graphite has not been recognized previously. Garnet-biotite and graphite geothermometers suggest that the tourmaline in garnet experienced peak metamorphic conditions (~500 °C and 5 kbar). The mineralogical characteristics of the tourmaline and the whole rock composition indicate that the tourmaline formed authigenically in the sediment during diagenesis and/or early metamorphism. Clay minerals in modern sediments have the capability to adsorb and concentrate borate, which could lead to boron enrichment during diagenesis, followed by tourmaline formation under metamorphic conditions. Clay minerals, deposited on the early Archean seafloor, were the precursors of the garnet and biotite in the examined samples. The studied tourmaline crystals were most likely formed in the same way as modern tourmaline in marine sediments. Therefore, boron enrichment by clays must have been possible even during the early Archean. Thus, similar enrichment could have been possible during the Hadean, providing a stabilization agent for ribose.

Concepts: Sediment, Sedimentary rock, Mineral, Rock, Garnet, Metamorphic rock, Sedimentology, Metamorphism


This study provides a survey on potential Cr(VI) exposure attributed to drinking water in Greece. For this reason, a wide sampling and chemical analysis of tap waters from around 600 sites, supplied by groundwater resources, was conducted focusing on areas in which the geological substrate is predominated by ultramafic minerals. Results indicate that although violations of the current chromium regulation limit in tap water are very rare, 25% of cases showed Cr(VI) concentrations above 10μg/L, whereas Cr(VI) was detectable in 70% of the samples (>2μg/L). Mineralogy and conditions of groundwater reservoirs were correlated to suggest a possible Cr(VI) leaching mechanism. Higher Cr(VI) values are observed in aquifers in alluvial and neogene sediments of serpentine and amphibolite, originating from the erosion of ophiolithic and metamorphic rocks. In contrast, Cr(VI) concentration in samples from ophiolithic and metamorphic rocks was always below 10μg/L due to both low contact time and surface area, as verified by low conductivity and salt concentration values. These findings indicate that under specific conditions, pollution of water by Cr(VI) is favorable by a slow MnO2-catalyzed oxidation of soluble Cr(III) to Cr(VI) in which manganese products [Mn(III)/Mn(II)] are probably re-oxidized by oxygen.

Concepts: Water, Chemistry, Water pollution, Sedimentary rock, Mineral, Rock, Irrigation, Metamorphism