Many of the minor elements in seawater today have a concentration-depth profile similar to that of the biologically essential nutrients, NO-3 and PO3-4. They show a relative depletion in the photic zone and enrichment in the deep ocean. The difference between their surface- and deep-ocean values, normalized to the change in PO3-4, approaches the average of measured minor-element: P ratios in marine plankton, although individual analyses of the latter show extreme scatter for a variety of reasons. Despite this scatter in the minor-element analyses of plankton, agreement between the two sets of data shows unequivocally that an important marine flux of many minor elements through the ocean is in the form of biogenic matter, with a composition approaching that of plankton. This interpretation is further supported by sediment studies, particularly of sediments which accumulate in shelf-slope environments where biological productivity in the photic zone is exceptionally high and organic carbon contents of the underlying sediment elevated. The interelement relations observed for some of these sediments approach the average values of plankton. These same interelement relations are observed in many marine sedimentary rocks such as metalliferous black shales and phosphorites, rocks which have a high content of marine fractions (e.g., organic matter, apatite, biogenic silica and carbonates). Many previous studies of the geochemistry of these rocks have concluded that local hydrothermal activity, and/or seawater with an elemental content different from that of the modern ocean, was required to account for their minor-element contents. However, the similarity in several of the minor-element ratios in many of these formations to minor-element ratios in modern plankton demonstrates that these sedimentary rocks accumulated in environments whose marine chemistry was virtually identical to that seen on continental shelf-slopes, or in marginal seas, of the ocean today. The accumulation of the marine fraction of minor elements on these ancient sea floors was determined largely by the accumulation of organic matter, settling from the photic zone and with a composition of average plankton. A second marine fraction of minor elements in these rocks accumulated through precipitation and adsorption from seawater. The suite of elements in this fraction reflects redox conditions in the bottom water, as determined by bacterial respiration. For example, high Mn, high Cr+V and high Mo concentrations, above those which can be attributed to the accumulation of planktonic matter, characterize accumulation under bottom-water oxidizing, denitrifying and sulfate-reducing conditions, respectively. ?? 1994.
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Seawater as the source of minor elements in black shales, phosphorites and other sedimentary rocks