Geochemical characterization of tubular alteration features in subseafloor basalt glass

Transmitted and reflected light photomicrographs of an alteration region

Transmitted and reflected light photomicrographs of an alteration region

TitleGeochemical characterization of tubular alteration features in subseafloor basalt glass
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2013
AuthorsKnowles E., Staudigel H., Templeton A.
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Date Published2013/07
Type of ArticleArticle
ISBN Number0012-821X
Accession NumberWOS:000324663700023
Keywordschemical-composition; element map; FIB; microbial life; oceanic-crust; oxidation-state; pillow lavas; sea-floor; silicate-glasses; subseafloor; synchrotron; textural evidence; tubular alteration; volcanic glass; x-ray-absorption; XANES

There are numerous indications that subseafloor basalts may currently host a huge quantity of active microbial cells and contain biosignatures of ancient life in the form of physical and chemical basalt glass alteration. Unfortunately, technological challenges prevent us from observing the formation and mineralization of these alteration features in situ, or reproducing tubular basalt alteration processes in the laboratory. Therefore, comprehensive analysis of the physical and chemical traces retained in mineralized tubules is currently the best approach for deciphering a record of glass alteration. We have used a number of high-resolution spectroscopic and microscopic methods to probe the geochemical and mineralogical characteristics of tubular alteration features in basalt glasses obtained from a suite of subseafloor drill cores that covers a range of different collection locations and ages. By combining three different synchrotron-based X-ray measurements - X-ray fluorescence microprobe mapping, XANES spectroscopy, and mu-XRD - with focused ion beam milling and transmission electron microscopy, we have spatially resolved the major and trace element distributions, as well as the oxidation state of Fe, determined the coordination chemistry of Fe, Mn and Ti at the micron-scale, and constrained the secondary minerals within these features. The tubular alteration features are characterized by strong losses of Fe2+, Mn2+, and Ca2+ compared to fresh glass, oxidation of the residual Fe, and the accumulation of Ti and Cu. The predominant phases infilling the alteration regions are Fe3+-bearing silicates dominated by 2:1 clays, with secondary Fe- and Ti-oxides, and a partially oxidized Mn-silicate phase. These geochemical patterns observed within the tubular alteration features are comparable across a diverse suite of samples formed over the past 5-100 Ma, which shows that the microscale mineralization processes are common and consistent throughout the ocean basins and throughout time. The distributions of Ti and Cu are distinct between tubular mineralization and the crack-filling minerals and thus delineate sequential stages of fluid-rock interaction. The preserved chemistry of clay and oxide mineralization in the tubular alteration then represents a common precursor state (e.g. Ti accumulation), that has not yet undergone recrystallization (e.g. titanite formation) as observed in many older, metamorphosed examples of tubular alteration. (C) 2013 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Short TitleEarth Planet. Sci. Lett.

In the search for potential biosignatures of ancient life, a new suite of tools and methods were used to image the structure of basalt glass samples obtained through subseafloor drilling. Though the data suggest a common mechanism for forming the structures across a wide range of times and locations, the investigation could not resolve whether they were formed by biological activity.

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