Concentrations and characteristics of organic matter in surface sediments deposited under an intense oxygen-minimum zone (OMZ) on the Peru margin were mapped and studied in samples from deck-deployed box cores and push cores acquired by submersible on two east-west transects spanning depths of 75 to 1,000 meters (m) at 12°S and 13.5°S. On the basis of sampling and analyses of the top 1–2 centimeters (cm) of available cores, three main belts of sediments were identified on each transect with increasing depth: (1) muds rich in organic carbon (OC); (2) authigenic phosphatic mineral crusts and pavements; and (3) glaucony facies. Sediments rich in OC on the 12°S transect were mainly located on the outer shelf and upper slope (150–350 m), but they occurred in much shallower water (approximately 100 m) on the 13.5°S transect. The organic matter is almost entirely marine as confirmed by Rock-Eval pyrolysis and isotopic composition of OC. Concentrations of OC are highest (up to 18 percent) in sediments within the OMZ where dissolved oxygen (DO) concentrations are <5 micromoles per kilogram (μM). Even at these low concentrations of DO, however, the surface sediments from within the OMZ are dominantly unlaminated. Concentrations of DO may have the dominant effect on organic matter characteristics, but reworking of fine-grained sediment and organic matter by strong bottom currents with velocities as high as 30 centimeters per second (cm/s) on the slope between 150 and 300 m and redeposition on the seafloor in areas of lower energy and higher DO concentration also exert important controls on OC concentration and degree of oxidation in this region. Phosphate-rich sediments and crusts occurred at depths of about 300 to 550 m on both transects. Nodular crusts of sediment cemented by carbonate-fluorapatite (CFA; phosphorite) or dolomite form within the OMZ. These phosphorite crusts evolve through cementation from light olive-green, stiff but friable, phosphatized claystone “protocrusts” through dense, dark phosphorite crusts, cemented breccias, and pavements. The degree of phosphatization and thickness of the crusts depend on the rates of sediment supply and on the strength and frequency of currents that re-expose crusts on the seafloor. Phosphorite crusts and pavements on the Peru margin can only become buried and incorporated into the geologic record once bottom currents slacken sufficiently to allow fine-grained sediment to accumulate. Glaucony-rich surface sediments, relatively undiluted by other components, were found mainly in deeper water on the 13.5°S transect (750 m to at least 1,067 m). These sediments consist almost entirely of sand-size glaucony pellets. These widespread glaucony sands formed in place and were then concentrated and reworked by strong currents that winnowed away the fine-grained matrix. Although the glaucony occurs in sand-size pellets, the pellets are made up of aggregates of authigenic, platy, micaceous clay minerals. Glaucony is predominantly a potassium (K), sodium (Na), iron (Fe), magnesium (Mg) aluminosilicate with an approximate formula of (K,Na)(Fe3+,Al,Mg)2(Si,Al)4O10(OH)2. The glaucony on the 13.5°S transect forms by alteration of one or more original “framework” minerals (carbonate and [or] aluminosilicates) to form pellital aggregates of Fe-, K-, and Mg-rich clay minerals. Because Fe, K, and Mg are derived from seawater, sedimentation rates must be extremely slow in order for the original framework minerals to remain in contact with seawater. The close association of glaucony and phosphorite indicates a delicate balance between the slightly oxidizing conditions at the base of the OMZ that form glaucony and the slightly reducing conditions that mobilize iron and phosphate to form phosphorite.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Oceanographic controls on sedimentary and geochemical facies on the Peru outer shelf and upper slope
U.S. Geological Survey
Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center