New insights into Paleoproterozoic surficial conditions revealed by 1.85 Ga corestone-rich saprolith

Abstract

Spheroidally weathered corestones, which are remnant pieces of bedrock surrounded by progressively weathered saprolite, preserve an ideal, small-scale natural interface for examining incipient to intermediate weathering reactions. Ancient corestones are preserved in some Precambrian paleosols but have remained surprisingly understudied. Here detailed mineral-chemical trends are examined across corestone-saprolith interfaces in ca. 1.85 Ga dolerite-hosted paleosol from the Flin Flon-Creighton area (Manitoba and Saskatchewan, Canada). The study presents the first comprehensive paleo-redox tracer suite (Fe-Mn-Mo-U-V-Cr-Ce) for the classic Flin Flon paleosol, which formed during a crucial period in the Paleoproterozoic for which marine sedimentary archives infer a return to low oxygen levels after the Great Oxidation Event (GOE). The textural and mineralogical progression across corestone-saprolith interfaces documented with petrography and scanning electron microscope-mineral liberation analysis (SEM-MLA) show many features (e.g., development of weathering rindlets and solution channels) strikingly reminiscent of modern mafic rock-hosted saprolite, despite later overprint. Albite-dominated cores preferentially preserving carbonate and sulfide (pyrite, chalcopyrite) are progressively altered outwards to a finer-grained saprolith rich in chlorite, illite, and muscovite, with embaying rindlets bearing cryptocrystalline hematite-quartz-illite. These mineral-textural observations guided sub-sampling for bulk Fe(II) and solution ICP-MS ultra-trace and major element analysis, and mineral-scale LA-ICP-MS analysis. Many high-field-strength elements (Al, Ti, Zr, Nb, Hf, Ta, and Th), remained immobile across the interface and ascertain the homogeneity of the parent dolerite. Progressive weathering from corestone to saprolith was quantified with chemical index of alteration minus K (CIA-K) values that fall into three zones (incipient (1): 45–55; modest (2): 55–65; and moderate (3): 65–75). Mass balance and spatial geochemical analysis revealed the following features: outward migration of Fe(II) and Mn from corestone to saprolith, with partial oxidation of Fe(II) to Fe(III) in rindlets; minimal REE mobility with no pronounced Ce anomalies, but well-developed, unidirectional Y/Ho fractionation; significant Cr and V mobility from corestones outwards with enrichment in saprolith; minimal dm-scale cycling and limited loss of Mo and U from saprolith; and post-depositional enrichment of K, Rb, Cs, Tl, Ba, Be, and W. Using semi-quantitative LA-ICP-MS elemental maps, it was possible to contextualize the mineralogical controls on chemical weathering reactions. Iron, Mg, and Mn are coupled within chlorite (representing former pedogenic phyllosilicates), which also scavenged Cr. The REEs are predominantly hosted by apatite and titanite. The Ti-phases ilmenite and titanite are the predominant U- and Mo-bearing hosts. Collectively, the insights from the Flin Flon paleosol converge with those from other ca. 1.90–1.85 Ga terrestrial and marine deposits in inferring an oxygen-limited atmosphere capable of efficiently oxidizing Fe and S, but not Mn, in terrestrial environments. The Cr and V distributions are most consistent with small-scale solubilization and redeposition that appears to be linked to the weatherability of protolith minerals and locally-generated acid- and/or ligand-rich conditions rather than oxidation. Although normally sensitive indicators of oxidative weathering, the inhibited release of Mo and U from the corestone was instead primarily dictated by the weathering resistance of their host minerals. Oxygen-limited weathering in saprolite supplied sulfate to the oceans, but the continental flux of redox-sensitive trace elements from this zone as well as more weathered substrates was limited, ultimately contributing to sustaining a largely redox-dynamic, weakly buffered, and nutrient-limited ocean.</p

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