Morphological and chemical evidence of stromatolitic deposits in the 2.75 Ga Carajás banded iron formation, Brazil

Earth and Planetary Science Letters
By:  and 



We describe evidence of biogenicity in the morphology and carbon content of well-preserved, Neoarchean samples of banded iron formation (BIF) from Carajás, Brazil. Silica-rich BIF layers contain translucent ellipsoidal or trapezoidal structures (∼5–10 μm diameter) composed of silica, hematite, and kerogen, which are arranged in larger ring-like forms (rosettes). Stable carbon isotope analysis yields a δ13C value of −24.5‰ indicating that the contained carbon is likely biogenic. Raman and SEM analyses, as well as wavelength-dispersive X-ray elemental maps, show kerogen inside the rosette forms. Within the iron-rich BIF layers, tubular structures (0.5–5 μm) were observed between hematite granules and blades. Kerogen and kaolinite are present in these structures. Both the rosettes and the tubular structures resemble morphologies that are characteristic of some bacterial species.

We hypothesize that the Carajás BIFs originated as biomats formed by one or more species that over time produced large stromatolitic structures. The rosettes and the tubular structures, associated with chert-rich and iron-rich BIF layers, respectively, may represent two different species, or perhaps, two phases of a bacterium life cycle. For example, some modern myxobacteria exhibit similar morphologies in their resting and vegetative stages.

Fe(III) precipitation may have occurred by contact of Fe(II) with bacterial slime, leading to oxidation by chemical reactions with exposed polysaccharide hydroxyl and carboxyl groups. The Fe(III) would then have been available for use as a source of energy in a dissimilatory iron reduction type of metabolism. Organic carbon input presumably came from primary producers (not necessarily aerobic) within the local water column, perhaps in shallow-water communities. Alternatively, the carbon may have originated by Fischer–Tropsch synthesis at ocean hydrothermal vents. The observed lateral continuity of BIF layers may perhaps be explained by chemical signaling by the bacteria of favorable or unfavorable environmental conditions, leading to nearly synchronous cell morphogenesis from a vegetative to resting phase and vice versa.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Morphological and chemical evidence of stromatolitic deposits in the 2.75 Ga Carajás banded iron formation, Brazil
Series title Earth and Planetary Science Letters
DOI 10.1016/j.epsl.2012.08.028
Volume 355-356
Year Published 2012
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) Eastern Mineral and Environmental Resources Science Center
Description 13 p.
First page 60
Last page 72
Country Brazil
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page