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Do Archean chemical sediments record ancient seawater rare earth element patterns?

Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/j.gca.2005.10.013
  • Chemistry
  • Earth Science
  • Medicine


Abstract Rare earth elements (REE) concentrations of Archean and Proterozoic chemical sediments are commonly used as proxies to study secular trends in the geochemistry of Precambrian seawater. In addition, similarities in the REE signatures of Archean chemical sediments and modern seawater have led researchers to argue that some Archean rocks originated as biochemical precipitates (i.e., microbial carbonates) in shallow marine (e.g., peritidal) environments. However, terrestrial waters, including river water and groundwater, also commonly exhibit REE fractionation patterns that resemble modern seawater. Here, we present the seawater-like REE data for groundwaters from central México as additional evidence that these patterns are not unique to the marine environment. The shale-normalized REE patterns of the groundwaters are compared to those of modern seawater (open ocean and nearshore), Holocene reefal microbial carbonates and corals, and Archean chemical sediments using statistical means (i.e., ANOVA and Wilcoxon analyses) in order to quantify the similarities and/or differences in the REE patterns. Shale-normalized (SN) Ce anomalies and measures of REE fractionation [i.e., (La/Yb) SN, (Pr/Yb) SN, (Nd/Yb) SN, and (Gd/Yb) SN] of the central México groundwater samples are statistically indistinguishable from those of modern seawater. Moreover, except for differences in the Ce anomalies, which are lacking in Archean chemical sediments, the REE patterns of the central México groundwaters are also statistically similar to REE patterns of Archean chemical sediments, especially those of the 3.45 Ga Strelley Pool Chert. Consequently, we suggest that without additional information, it may be premature to unequivocally conclude that Archean chemical sediments record REE signatures of an Archean ocean.

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