Encyclopedia of Astrobiology

2011 Edition
| Editors: Muriel Gargaud, Ricardo Amils, José Cernicharo Quintanilla, Henderson James (Jim) CleavesII, William M. Irvine, Daniele L. Pinti, Michel Viso


Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-642-11274-4_1430


Carbon isotopes, chemotrophs, hydrogen, hydrothermal vents, methane, ultramafic rocks


Serpentinization is the process of hydrothermal alteration that transforms Fe-Mg-silicates such as olivine, pyroxene, or amphiboles contained in ultramafic rocks into serpentine minerals. Much of the uppermost mantle in oceanic setting is so altered, as are the cumulus parts of layered intrusions. Serpentine is a soft ductile mineral and its presence in the mantle wedge lubricates subduction of the oceanic plate. Production of serpentine in the oceanic crust produces hydrothermal fluids and releases gaseous methane and hydrogen, as observed along mid-ocean ridges. The pH of the hydrothermal fluids is generally low but under some conditions, notably at low temperature, may be high enough to be favorable to life.


The process of serpentinization has received much attention by the astrobiologists for several reasons (Sleep et al. 2004). First, reactions between ferromagnesian...
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References and Further Reading

  1. Barnes I, O'Neil JR (1969) The relationships between fluids in some fresh alpine-type ultramafics and possible serpentinization, Western United States. Geol Soc Bull 80:1947–1960Google Scholar
  2. Lopez-Garcia P, Moreira D, Douzery E, Forterre P, Van Zuilen M, Claeys Ph, Prieur D (2006) Ancient fossil record and early evolution (ca. 3.8 to 0.5 Ga). Earth Moon Planet 98:247–290ADSGoogle Scholar
  3. McCollom T, Seewald J (2006) Carbon isotope composition of organic compounds produced by abiotic synthesis under hydrothermal conditions. Earth Planet Sci Lett 243:74–84ADSGoogle Scholar
  4. Sleep N, Meibom A, Fridriksson T, Coleman R, Bird D (2004) H2-rich fluids from serpentinization: Geochemical and biotic implications. Proc Natl Acad Sci 101:12818–12823ADSGoogle Scholar
  5. van Zuilen MA, Lepland A, Arrhenius G (2002) Reassessing the evidence for the earliest traces of life. Nature 418:627–630ADSGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.GEOTOP & Département des Sciences de la Terre et de l’AtmosphèreUniversité du Québec à MontréalMontréalCanada