The photochemistry of manganese and the origin of banded iron formations

A. D. Anbar, H. D. Holland

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The photochemical oxidation of Fe2+ -hydroxide complexes dissolved in anoxic Precambrian oceans has been suggested as a mechanism to explain the deposition of Banded Iron Formations (BIFs). Photochemical studies have not yet addressed the low levels of manganese in many of these deposits, which probably precipitated from solutions bearing similar concentrations of Fe2+ and Mn2+. Depositional models must also explain the stratigraphie separation of iron and manganese ores in manganiferous BIFs. In this study, solutions containing 0.56 M NaCl and ≈ 180 μM MnCl2 with or without 3 to 200 μM FeCl2 were irradiated with filtered and unfiltered UV light from a medium-pressure mercury-vapor lamp for up to 8 hours. The solutions were deaerated and buffered to pH ≈ 7, and all experiments were conducted under O2-free (< 1 ppm) atmospheres. In experiments with NaCl + MnCl2, approximately 20% of the Mn2+ was oxidized and precipitated as birnessite in 8 hours. Manganese precipitation was only observed when light with λ < 240 nm was used. In experiments with NaCl + MnCl2 + FeCl2, little manganese was lost from solution, while Fe2+ was rapidly oxidized to Fe3+ and precipitated as γ-FeOOH or as amorphous ferric hydroxide. The Mn:Fe ratio of these precipitates was ≈ 1:50, similar to the ratios observed in BIFs. A strong upper limit on the rate of manganese photo-oxidation during the Precambrian is estimated to be 0.1 mg cm-2 yr-1, a factor of 103 slower than the rate of iron photo-oxidation considered reasonable in BIF depositional basins. Thus, a photochemical model for the origin of oxide facies BIFs is consistent with field observations, although models that invoke molecular O2 as the oxidant of Fe2+ and Mn2+ are not precluded. Apparently, oxide facies BIFs could have formed under anoxic, as well as under mildly oxygenated atmospheres.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2595-2603
Number of pages9
JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1992
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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