Rock varnish in New York: An accelerated snapshot of accretionary processes

David H. Krinsley, Ronald Dorn, Barry E. DiGregorio, Kurt A. Langworthy, Jeffrey Ditto

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Samples of manganiferous rock varnish collected from fluvial, bedrock outcrop and Erie Barge Canal settings in New York state host a variety of diatom, fungal and bacterial microbial forms that are enhanced in manganese and iron. Use of a Dual-Beam Focused Ion Beam Scanning Electron Microscope to manipulate the varnish in situ reveals microbial forms that would not have otherwise been identified. The relative abundance of Mn-Fe-enriched biotic forms in New York samples is far greater than varnishes collected from warm deserts. Moisture availability has long been noted as a possible control on varnish growth rates, a hypothesis consistent with the greater abundance of Mn-enhancing bioforms. Sub-micron images of incipient varnish formation reveal that varnishing in New York probably starts with the mortality of microorganisms that enhanced Mn on bare mineral surfaces; microbial death results in the adsorption of the Mn-rich sheath onto the rock in the form of filamentous networks. Clay minerals are then cemented by remobilization of the Mn-rich material. Thus, the previously unanswered question of what comes first - clay mineral deposition or enhancement of Mn - can be answered in New York because of the faster rate of varnish growth. In contrast, very slow rates of varnishing seen in warm deserts, of microns per thousand years, make it less likely that collected samples will reveal varnish accretionary processes than samples collected from fast-accreting moist settings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)339-351
Number of pages13
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2012


  • Bacteria
  • Desert varnish
  • Geomorphology
  • Lithobionts
  • Rock coating
  • Weathering

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth-Surface Processes


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