The behavior of molybdenum and its isotopes across the chemocline and in the sediments of sulfidic Lake Cadagno, Switzerland

Tais W. Dahl, Ariel D. Anbar, Gwyneth W. Gordon, Minik T. Rosing, Robert Frei, Donald E. Canfield

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

126 Scopus citations


Molybdenum (Mo) isotope studies in black shales can provide information about the redox evolution of the Earth's oceans, provided the isotopic consequences of Mo burial into its major sinks are well understood. Previous applications of the Mo isotope paleo-ocean redox proxy assumed quantitative scavenging of Mo when buried into sulfidic sediments. This paper contains the first complete suite of Mo isotope fractionation observations in a sulfidic water column and sediment system, the meromictic Lake Cadagno, Switzerland, a small alpine lake with a pronounced oxygen-sulfide transition reaching up to H2S ∼ 200 μM in the bottom waters (or about 300 μM total sulfide: ΣS2- = H2S + HS- + S2-). We find that Mo behaves conservatively in the oxic zone and non-conservatively in the sulfidic zone, where dissolved Mo concentrations decrease from 14 nM to 2-8 nM across this transition. Dissolved Mo in the upper oxic waters has a δ98Mooxic = 0.9 ± 0.1‰, which matches that of the riverine input, δ98Moriver = 0.9 ± 0.1‰. In the deeper sulfidic waters, a subaquatic source delivers Mo at 1.55 ± 0.1‰, but the dissolved Mo is even heavier at δ98Mosulfidic = 1.8‰. Sediment traps in the sulfidic zone of the lake collect particles increasingly enriched in Mo with depth, with δ98Mo values significantly fractionated at -0.8‰ to -1.2‰ both near the chemocline and in the deepest trap. Suspended particulates in the sulfidic waters carry lighter Mo than the ambient dissolved Mo pool by ∼0.3-1.5‰. Sedimentary Mo concentrations correlate with total organic carbon and yield Mo levels which are two orders of magnitude higher than typical crustal values found in rocks from the catchment area. Solid-phase Mo in the sediment shows a slightly positive δ98Mo trend with depth, from δ98Mo = 1.2‰ to 1.4‰ while the pore waters show dramatic enrichments of Mo (>2000 nM) with a relatively light isotope signature of δ98Mo = 0.9-1.0‰. These data are explained if Mo is converted to particle-reactive oxythiomolybdates in the sulfidic waters and is fractionated during removal from solution onto particles. Isotope fractionation is expressed in the water column, despite the high sulfide concentrations, because the rate of Mo removal is fast compared to the slow reaction kinetics of thiomolybdate formation. However, elemental and isotopic mass balances show that Mo is indeed quantitatively removed to the lake sediments and thus the isotopic composition of the sediments reflects sources to the sulfidic water. This efficient Mo drawdown is expected to occur in settings where H2S is very much in excess over Mo or in a restricted setting where the water renewal rate is slow compared to the Mo burial rate. We present a model for the Mo isotope fractionation in sulfidic systems associated with the slow reaction kinetics and conclude that quantitative removal will occur in highly sulfidic and restricted marine systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)144-163
Number of pages20
JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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