Constraining dolomitization by Mg isotopes: A case study from partially dolomitized limestones of the middle Cambrian Xuzhuang Formation, North China

Yang Peng, Bing Shen, Xian Guo Lang, Kang Jun Huang, Ji Tao Chen, Zhen Yan, Wenbo Tang, Shan Ke, Hao Ran Ma, Fang Bing Li

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


The "dolomite problem" refers to the rare dolomite formation in modern oceans that is in sharp contrast to the widespread ancient dolostone in rock record, as well as failure of laboratory inorganic dolomite precipitation at near Earth-surface temperature. Novel Mg isotope systematics provides a promising tool in resolving the "dolomite problem". Here, we develop a protocol to place constraints on the dolomitization process by using Mg isotopes. In this study, we measured Mg isotopic compositions (δ26Mg) of two batches of partially dolomitized limestone samples from the middle Cambrian Xuzhuang Formation in North China. δ26Mg varies between -0.55‰ and -3.18‰, and shows a negative linear correlation with 1/[Mg], suggesting that δ26Mg can be described by a binary mixing between the calcite and dolomite components. Mg isotopic composition of the dolomite component (δ26Mgdol) for the lower sample set that is collected from a 4 m stratigraphic interval containing three high-frequency ribbon rock-packstone cycles is -1.6‰, while δ26Mgdol for the upper sample set (from a thick sequence of ribbon rock) is significantly higher (-0.3‰). However, neither mineralogical and elemental compositions, carbon and oxygen isotopes, nor crystal morphologies of dolomite provides diagnostic criteria to differentiate these two batches of samples. δ26Mgdol of the Xuzhuang limestone is simulated by the Advective Flow (AF) and the Diffusion-Advection-Reaction (DAR) models. The AF model assumes that Mg is transported by advective fluid flows, while the DAR model simulates a contemporaneous seawater dolomitization process, in which Mg is delivered by diffusion. The AF modeling result indicates that δ26Mg of the dolomitization fluid is +0.4‰ and +1.7‰ for the lower and upper sample sets, respectively. These values are significantly higher than modern and Cenozoic seawater Mg isotopic composition, suggesting that the dolomitization fluid is not contemporaneous seawater. The AF model also predicts spatially heterogeneous δ26Mgdol with progressive enrichment in 26Mg along the fluid flow pathway. In the DAR model, both dolomite content and δ26Mgdol of the lower sample set can be simulated by using seawater Mg isotopic composition of -0.75‰, thus contemporaneous seawater dolomitization may explain δ26Mgdol of the Xuzhuang limestone. Furthermore, the DAR model demonstrates spatially homogeneous δ26Mgdol. To differentiate the AF and DAR models, samples from multiple sections are required. Nevertheless, this study implies that Mg isotope might be a useful tool in the study of dolomitization.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1109-1129
Number of pages21
JournalGeochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2016


  • DAR model
  • Mg isotopes
  • advective flow model
  • dolomitization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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