Rare-earth elements in the Permian Phosphoria formation: Paleo proxies of ocean geochemistry

Deep-Sea Research Part II: Topical Studies in Oceanography
By: , and 



The geochemistry of deposition of the Meade Peak Member of the Phosphoria Formation (MPM) in southeast Idaho, USA, a world-class sedimentary phosphate deposit of Permian age that extends over 300,000 km2, is ascertained from its rare earth element (REE) composition. Ratios of REE:Al2O3 suggest two sources—seawater and terrigenous debris. The seawater-derived marine fraction identifies bottom water in the Phosphoria Sea as O2-depleted, denitrifying (suboxic) most of the time, and seldom sulfate-reducing (anoxic). This interpretation is supported by earlier research that showed progressively greater ratios in the marine sediment fraction of Cr:Ni>V:Ni⪢Mo:Ni, relative to their ratios in seawater; for which marine Cr, V, and Mo can have a dominantly O2–depleted bottom-water source and Ni a photic-zone, largely algal, source. The water chemistry was maintained by a balance between bacterial oxidation of organic matter settling through the water column, determined largely by primary productivity in the photic zone, and the flux of oxidants into the bottom water via advection of seawater from the open ocean.

Samples strongly enriched in carbonate fluorapatite, the dominant REE host mineral, have variable Er/Sm, Tm/Sm, and Yb/Sm ratios. Their distribution may represent greater advection of seawater between the Phosphoria Sea and open ocean during deposition of two ore zones than a center waste and greater upwelling of nutrient-enriched water into the photic zone. However, the mean rate of deposition of marine Ni, a trace nutrient of algae, and PO43−, a limiting nutrient, indicate that primary productivity was probably high throughout the depositional history. An alternative interpretation of the variable enrichments of Er, Tm, and Yb, relative to Sm, is that they may reflect temporally variable carbonate alkalinity of open-ocean seawater in Permian time.

A more strongly negative Ce anomaly for all phosphatic units than the Ce anomaly of modern pelletal phosphate is further indicative of an elevated O2 concentration in the Permo-Carboniferous open ocean, as proposed by others, in contrast to the depletion of O2 in the bottom water of the Phosphoria Sea itself.

The oceanographic conditions under which the deposit accumulated were likely similar to conditions under which many sedimentary phosphate deposits have accumulated and to conditions under which many black shales that are commonly phosphate poor have accumulated. A shortcoming of several earlier studies of these deposits has resulted from a failure to examine the marine fraction of elements separate from the terrigenous fraction.

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Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Rare-earth elements in the Permian Phosphoria formation: Paleo proxies of ocean geochemistry
Series title Deep-Sea Research Part II: Topical Studies in Oceanography
DOI 10.1016/j.dsr2.2007.04.012
Volume 54
Issue 11-13
Year Published 2007
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Description 18 p.
First page 1396
Last page 1413
Country United States
State Idaho
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