Phosphate-bearing, ferric iron and siliceous crusts ranging in age from Recent to approximately 65,000 yr B.P. are observed in sediments of Lake Baikal. In younger sediments the crusts are at the base of a spectrum of secondary iron and manganese oxides that accumulate near the sediment/water interface in the zone of positive oxidation potential beneath an oxygenated water column. In areas where the average Quaternary sedimentation rates have been slow (e.g. 0.026 mm/yr), the crusts are more common, and span a wider range of ages. No crusts have been found where the Quaternary sedimentation mode has been deltaic and rapid (0.15 mm/yr). Independent core correlation based on magnetic properties of the sediment suggests that crusts can be correlated over most of Academician Ridge, an area that is particularly sensitive to climatic events affecting the concentration of suspended sediment. These crusts may be indicative of periods of low suspended sediment concentration, which occur during sustained transitions from glacial periods of high detrital input, to interglacial periods of high diatom sedimentation. The crusts are dominated by iron-rich and siliceous amorphous mineral phases, with an FeO:SiO2 by weight of 3:1. Regardless of age or location in the lake the Fe phase always includes Ca, P and Mn. Extensive microprobe data for these four elements recast as normalized elemental weight percent reveal linear trends of Ca:P and Fe:P. With increasing P, Ca also increases such that the two elements maintain a linear relationship passing very close to the origin and with a mean molar Ca:P=0.3 (too low for well-characterized apatite). Conversely, with increasing P, Fe decreases (mean molar Fe:P=3.4). There is no correlation between Mn and P. Molar Fe:P ratios for vivianite (an Fe(II) phosphate mineral observed in sediments closely below some crusts) are clustered around a stoichiometric composition. The covariant increase in Ca:P and the corresponding decrease in Fe:P may be explained by: (1) coupled adsorption of aqueous Ca and P by a colloidal ferric hydrous oxide; (2) loss of Fe from a Ca-P-Fe phase; or (3) oxidation of vivianite to a metastable mineral phase that gradually loses Ca and gains Fe. The first explanation is favored, because there is no petrographic evidence for either the existence of an originating Ca-P-Fe phase, or, for the oxidation of vivianite. Further, it is suggested that by continually equalizing surface charge, Ca allows more phosphate to be adsorbed leading to thicker crusts and longer preservation after burial.
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Formation of ferric iron crusts in Quaternary sediments of Lake Baikal, Russia, and implications for paleoclimate