SQUID-SIMS is a useful approach to uncover primary signals in the Archean sulfur cycle

Woodward W Fischer, David A Fike, Jena E Johnson, Timothy D Raub, Yunbin Guan, Joseph L Kirschvink, John M Eiler

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54 Citations (Scopus)


Many aspects of Earth's early sulfur cycle, from the origin of mass-anomalous fractionations to the degree of biological participation, remain poorly understood-in part due to complications from postdepositional diagenetic and metamorphic processes. Using a combination of scanning high-resolution magnetic superconducting quantum interference device (SQUID) microscopy and secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS) of sulfur isotopes ((32)S, (33)S, and (34)S), we examined drill core samples from slope and basinal environments adjacent to a major Late Archean (∼2.6-2.5 Ga) marine carbonate platform from South Africa. Coupled with petrography, these techniques can untangle the complex history of mineralization in samples containing diverse sulfur-bearing phases. We focused on pyrite nodules, precipitated in shallow sediments. These textures record systematic spatial differences in both mass-dependent and mass-anomalous sulfur-isotopic composition over length scales of even a few hundred microns. Petrography and magnetic imaging demonstrate that mass-anomalous fractionations were acquired before burial and compaction, but also show evidence of postdepositional alteration 500 million y after deposition. Using magnetic imaging to screen for primary phases, we observed large spatial gradients in Δ(33)S (>4‰) in nodules, pointing to substantial environmental heterogeneity and dynamic mixing of sulfur pools on geologically rapid timescales. In other nodules, large systematic radial δ(34)S gradients (>20‰) were observed, from low values near their centers increasing to high values near their rims. These fractionations support hypotheses that microbial sulfate reduction was an important metabolism in organic-rich Archean environments-even in an Archean ocean basin dominated by iron chemistry.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5468-5473
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number15
Early online date1 Apr 2014
Publication statusPublished - 15 Apr 2014


  • Mass independent fractionation
  • MIF
  • Metamorphism
  • Metasomatism


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