Lithium isotope compositions of U.S. coals and source rocks: Potential tracer of hydrocarbons

Zebadiah Teichert, Maitrayee Bose, Lynda B. Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Kerogen in organic-rich rocks contains trace amounts of lithium (Li) that has been overlooked as a contributor to the global Li geochemical cycle. This study examined a variety of coals where kerogen is concentrated (>50% organic carbon) and hydrocarbon source rocks of different ages, depositional environments and thermal maturity to determine their range of Li isotopic compositions (δ7Li‰) and factors that influence their compositions. Using Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometry (SIMS), we analyzed 22 coals and 4 hydrocarbon source rocks (Types I, II, III), to determine the δ7Li of kerogen in situ, without chemical isolation of phases that can alter their original isotopic compositions. The δ7Li values of the coals surveyed are distinctly isotopically light (<0‰) compared to most natural minerals and fluids. In immature coals, with a vitrinite reflectance in oil (VRo) of ≤0.5%, kerogen δ7Li values average –23.4 ± 1.1‰ and become heavier with increasing thermal grade to temperatures of gas generation (VRo ~1.3%). The linear correlation between δ7Li and VRo suggests that 6Li may be preferentially released to pore fluid from kerogen during thermal maturation. Notably, authigenic clays forming at diagenetic temperatures substitute Li from pore fluids into silicate layers, therefore, the Li isotopic composition of the clays may record fluid isotopic compositions influenced by organic-Li sources. NanoSIMS isotopic maps of the Lower Bakken Shale, and SIMS measurements of the Green River Shale show isotopically light Li associated with C-dominated areas, and heavier δ7Li with Si-dominated areas of the hydrocarbon source rocks. We conclude that kerogen is a source of isotopically light Li that contributes to fluids during thermal maturation and hydrocarbon generation. Kerogen may be a significant contributor of Li to pore fluids and its distinctly light Li isotopic composition relative to other terrestrial waters and minerals could provide a tracer of organic inputs to the global geochemical cycle.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number119694
JournalChemical Geology
StatePublished - Sep 5 2020


  • Coal
  • Hydrocarbon source rocks
  • Kerogen
  • Lithium isotopes
  • NanoSIMS
  • Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometry (SIMS)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geology
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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