Microbialites are widespread in modern and fossil hypersaline environments, where they provide a unique sedimentary archive. Authigenic mineral precipitation in modern microbialites results from a complex interplay between microbial metabolisms, organic matrices and environmental parameters.
Here, we combined mineralogical and microscopic analyses with measurements of metabolic activity in order to characterise the mineralisation of microbial mats forming microbialites in the Great Salt Lake (Utah, USA). Our results show that the mineralisation process takes place in three steps progressing along geochemical gradients produced through microbial activity.
First, a poorly crystallized Mg-Si phase precipitates on alveolar extracellular organic matrix due to a rise of the pH in the zone of active oxygenic photosynthesis. Second, aragonite patches nucleate in close proximity to sulfate reduction hotspots, as a result of the degradation of cyanobacteria and extracellular organic matrix mediated by, among others, sulfate reducing bacteria.
A final step consists of partial replacement of aragonite by dolomite, possibly in neutral to slightly acidic porewater. This might occur due to dissolution-precipitation reactions when the most recalcitrant part of the organic matrix is degraded. The mineralisation pathways proposed here provide pivotal insight for the interpretation of microbial processes in past hypersaline environments.
Aurélie Pace, Raphaël Bourillot, Anthony Bouton, Emmanuelle Vennin, Serge Galaup, Irina Bundeleva, Patricia Patrier, Christophe Dupraz, Christophe Thomazo, Pierre Sansjofre, Yusuke Yokoyama, Michel Franceschi, Yannick Anguy, Léa Pigot, Aurélien Virgone & Pieter T. Visscher (2016). Microbial and diagenetic steps leading to the mineralisation of Great Salt Lake microbialites. Scientific Reports, 31495. DOI:10.1038/srep31495.