Measurements of trace metal abundances and isotopes in carbonate sediments, Exuma, Bahamas

  • Stephen J. Romaniello (Contributor)
  • Achim D. Herrmann (Contributor)
  • Ariel Anbar (Contributor)



In order to validate the use of 238U/235U as a paleoredox proxy in carbonates, we examined the incorporation and early diagenetic evolution of U isotopes in shallow Bahamian carbonate sediments. Our sample set consists of a variety of primary precipitates that represent a range of carbonate producing organisms and components that were important in the past (scleractinian corals, calcareous green and red algae, ooids, and mollusks). In addition, four short push cores were taken in different depositional environments to assess the impact of early diagenesis and pore water chemistry on the U isotopic composition of bulk carbonates. We find that U concentrations are much higher in bulk carbonate sediments (avg. 4.1 ppm) than in primary precipitates (avg. 1.5 ppm). In almost all cases, the lowest bulk sediment U concentrations were as high as or higher than the highest concentrations found in primary precipitates. This is consistent with authigenic accumulation of reduced U(IV) during early diagenesis. The extent of this process appears sensitive to pore water H2S, and thus indirectly to organic matter content. d238/235U values were very close to seawater values in all of the primary precipitates, suggesting that these carbonate components could be used to reconstruct changes in seawater U geochemistry. However, d238/235U of bulk sediments from the push cores was 0.2-0.4 per mil heavier than seawater (and primary precipitates). These results indicate that authigenic accumulation of U under open-system sulfidic pore water conditions commonly found in carbonate sediments strongly affects the bulk U concentrations and 238U/235U ratios. We also report the occurrence of dolomite in a tidal pond core which contains low 234U/238U and 238U/235U ratios and discuss the possibility that the dolomitization process may result in sediments depleted in 238U. From this initial exploration, it is clear that 238U/235U variations in ancient carbonate sediments could be driven by changes in global average seawater, by spatial and temporal variations in the local deposition environment, or subsequent diagenesis. To cope with such effects, proxies for syndepositional pore water redox conditions (e.g., organic matter content, iron speciation, and trace metal distributions) and careful consideration of possible post-deposition alteration will be required to avoid spurious interpretation of 238U/235U data from ancient carbonate sediments.
Date made available2013

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