Chemically oscillating reactions during the diagenetic formation of Ediacaran Siliceous and Carbonate Botryoids

Papineau, Dominic, Yin, Jiayu, Devine, Kevin G., Liu, Deng and She, Zhenbing (2021) Chemically oscillating reactions during the diagenetic formation of Ediacaran Siliceous and Carbonate Botryoids. Minerals, 11 (10). pp. 1-30. ISSN 2075-163X


Chemically oscillating reactions are abiotic reactions that produce characteristic, periodic patterns during the oxidation of carboxylic acids. They have been proposed to occur during the early diagenesis of sediments that contain organic matter and to partly explain the patterns of some enigmatic spheroids in malachite, phosphorite, jasper chert, and stromatolitic chert from the rock record. In this work, circularly concentric self-similar patterns are shown to form in new chemically oscillating reaction experiments with variable mixtures of carboxylic acids and colloidal silica. This is carried out to best simulate in vitro the diagenetic formation of botryoidal quartz and carbonate in two Ediacaran-age geological formations deposited after the Marinoan–Nantuo snowball Earth event in South China. Experiments performed with alkaline colloidal silica (pH of 12) show that this compound directly participates in pattern formation, whereas those with humic acid particles did not. These experiments are particularly noteworthy since they show that pattern formation is not inhibited by strong pH gradients, since the classical Belousov–Zhabotinsky reaction occurs in solution with a pH around 2. Our documentation of hundreds of classical Belousov–Zhabotinsky experiments yields a number of self-similar patterns akin to those in concretionary structures after the Marinoan–Nantuo snowball Earth event. Morphological, compositional, and size dimensional comparisons are thus established between patterns from these experiments and in botryoidal quartz and carbonate from the Doushantuo and Denying formations. Selected specimens exhibit circularly concentric layers and disseminations of organic matter in quartz and carbonate, which also occurs in association with sub-micron-size pyrite and sub-millimetre iron oxides within these patterns. X-ray absorption near edge structure (XANES) analyses of organic matter extracted from dolomite concretions in slightly younger, early Cambrian Niutitang Formation reveal the presence of carboxylic and N-bearing molecular functional groups. Such mineral assemblages, patterns, and compositions collectively suggest that diagenetic redox reactions take place during the abiotic decay of biomass, and that they involve Fe, sulphate, and organic matter, similarly to the pattern-forming experiments. It is concluded that chemically oscillating reactions are at least partly responsible for the formation of diagenetic siliceous spheroids and concretionary carbonate, which can relate to various other persistent problems in Earth and planetary sciences.

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