Iron in Precambrian rocks: Implications for the global oxygen budget of the ancient Earth

Lee R. Kump, Heinrich D. Holland

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Banded iron formations (BIF) are prominent in sediments older than 2 Ga. However, little is known about the absolute abundance of BIF in Archean and Early Proterozoic sediments, and the source of the Fe is still somewhat uncertain. Also unknown is the role that Fe may have played in the maintenance of low oxygen pressures in the Archean and Early Proterozoic atmosphere. An analysis of the chemical composition of Precambrian rocks provides some insight into the role of Fe in Precambrian geochemical cycles. The Fe content of igneous rocks is well correlated with their Ti content. Plots of Fe vs. Ti in Precambrian sandstones and graywackes fall very close to the igneous rock trend. Plots of Fe vs. Ti in Precambrian shales also follow this trend but show a definite scatter toward an excess of Fe. Phanerozoic shales and sandstones lie essentially on the igneous rock trend and show surprisingly little scatter. Mn Ti relations show a stronger indication of Precambrian Mn loss, perhaps due to weathering under a less oxidizing early atmosphere. These data show that Fe was neither substantially added to nor significantly redistributed in Archean and early Proterozoic sediments. Enough hydrothermal Fe was added to these sediments to increase the average Fe content of shales by at most a factor of 2. This enrichment would probably not have greatly affected the near-surface redox cycle or atmospheric oxygen levels. Continued redistribution of Fe and mixing with weathered igneous rocks during the recycling of Precambrian sediments account for the excellent correlation of Fe with Ti in Phanerozoic shales and for the similarity between their Fe/Ti ratio and that of igneous rocks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3217-3223
Number of pages7
JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1992

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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