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Mineralium Deposita

, Volume 52, Issue 6, pp 791–798 | Cite as

Secular distribution of highly metalliferous black shales corresponds with peaks in past atmosphere oxygenation

  • Sean C. Johnson
  • Ross R. Large
  • Raymond M. Coveney
  • Karen D. Kelley
  • John F. Slack
  • Jeffrey A. Steadman
  • Daniel D. Gregory
  • Patrick J. Sack
  • Sebastien Meffre
Letter

Abstract

Highly metalliferous black shales (HMBS) are enriched in organic carbon and a suite of metals, including Ni, Se, Mo, Ag, Au, Zn, Cu, Pb, V, As, Sb, Se, P, Cr, and U ± PGE, compared to common black shales, and are distributed at particular times through Earth history. They constitute an important future source of metals. HMBS are relatively thin units within thicker packages of regionally extensive, continental margin or intra-continental marine shales that are rich in organic matter and bio-essential trace elements. Accumulation and preservation of black shales, and the metals contained within them, usually require low-oxygen or euxinic bottom waters. However, whole-rock redox proxies, particularly Mo, suggest that HMBS may have formed during periods of elevated atmosphere pO2. This interpretation is supported by high levels of nutrient trace elements within these rocks and secular patterns of Se and Se/Co ratios in sedimentary pyrite through Earth history, with peaks occurring in the middle Paleoproterozoic, Early Cambrian to Early Ordovician, Middle Devonian, Middle to late Carboniferous, Middle Permian, and Middle to Late Cretaceous, all corresponding with time periods of HMBS deposition. This counter-intuitive relationship of strongly anoxic to euxinic, localized seafloor conditions forming under an atmosphere of peak oxygen concentrations is proposed as key to the genesis of HMBS. The secular peaks and shoulders of enriched Se in sedimentary pyrite through time correlate with periods of tectonic plate collision, which resulted in high nutrient supply to the oceans and consequently maximum productivity accompanying severe drawdown into seafloor muds of C, S, P, and nutrient trace metals. The focused burial of C and S over extensive areas of the seafloor, during these anoxic to euxinic periods, likely resulted in an O2 increase in the atmosphere, causing short-lived peaks in pO2 that coincide with the deposition of HMBS. As metals become scarce, particularly Mo, Ni, Se, Ag, and U, the geological times of these narrow HMBS horizons will become a future focus for exploration.

Keywords

Phytoplankton Pyrite Black Shale Metal Enrichment Cariaco Basin 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Notes

Acknowledgments

Thanks to Leonid Danyushevsky, Sarah Gilbert, Paul Olin, and Elena Lounejeva, who ensured high-quality analyses of pyrite for this project. Rob Willink kindly provided access to drill cores from the Arthur Creek Formation, Queensland. Special thanks to Jan Peter and Hartwig Frimmell for their excellent reviews and suggestions for improvement of the manuscript. SCJ was supported by an ANZIC-IODP grant (ARC LE0882854) and the Mining Institute of Scotland’s Sam Mavor Travelling Scholarship. Large was supported by an ARC grant DP 150102578.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sean C. Johnson
    • 1
    • 2
  • Ross R. Large
    • 1
  • Raymond M. Coveney
    • 3
  • Karen D. Kelley
    • 4
  • John F. Slack
    • 5
  • Jeffrey A. Steadman
    • 1
  • Daniel D. Gregory
    • 6
  • Patrick J. Sack
    • 7
  • Sebastien Meffre
    • 1
  1. 1.CODES, ARC Centre of Excellence in Ore DepositsUniversity of TasmaniaSandy BayAustralia
  2. 2.Institute for Marine and Antarctic StudiesUniversity of TasmaniaHobartAustralia
  3. 3.University of MissouriKansas CityUSA
  4. 4.U.S. Geological SurveyDenverUSA
  5. 5.U.S. Geological Survey (Emeritus)RestonUSA
  6. 6.University of CaliforniaCAUSA
  7. 7.Yukon Geological SurveyWhitehorseCanada

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