IODP Expedition 370 (Temperature Limit of the Deep Biosphere off Muroto) established Site C0023 down to 1180 mbsf in the Nankai Trough off Shikoku Island, Japan, to explore the upper temperature limit of microbial life in deep subseafloor sediments. Part of the scientific program is to investigate the availability of nutrients and energy substrates and to identify unique geochemical and microbial signatures that differentiate the biotic and abiotic realms and/or their transitions (Heuer et al., 2017).
Iron (Fe) reduction is considered one of the most ancient forms of microbial respiration (Vargas et al., 1998). In addition, Fe reducers can grow under high temperature and pressure conditions (Kashefi and Lovley, 2003), suggesting that microbes that use Fe oxides as energy substrates are potential candidates to survive close to the temperature limit of the deep biosphere.
In this study, we aim at assessing the role of Fe oxides for microbial respiration and the related diagenetic alterations in deep sediments of Site C0023 by applying sequential extractions of Fe oxide and sulfide minerals. Volcanic ash layers, which are ubiquitous in sediments of Site C0023, are of particular interest as they have been identified earlier as hotspots for microbial life (e.g., Inagaki et al., 2003). Torres et al. (2015) further showed that ash layers at a different site in the Nankai Trough are typically rich in Fe and Mn oxides. Their results support the findings of Treude et al. (2014) who postulate a coupling of microbial processes to mineralogy. In addition, on-board measurements show a release of dissolved Fe into the pore water in the depth interval associated with volcanic ash layers (Heuer et al., 2017), suggesting that the observed liberation of dissolved Fe is related to an alteration of Fe phases in these ash layers.
Our results show that the total Fe content in sediments of Site C0023 is relatively constant at ~4.2 wt%. The reactive Fe oxide content represents 25% of the total Fe. Based on sequential extractions, the fraction associated with amorphous Fe oxide such as ferrihydrite and lepidocrocite is the dominant Fe fraction with ~0.7 wt%. Mineralogical analyses are currently conducted in order to determine specific Fe mineral phases within this fraction. The total Fe contents in the ash layer samples strongly vary between 1.4 and 6.8 wt%. However, most samples generally contain less total Fe than the surrounding sediments. Similarly, the contents of the reactive Fe oxides are significantly lower. Thus, reactive Fe oxides in ash layers at Site C0023 do not seem to represent the energy substrate for microbial Fe reduction. As one of the next steps, stable Fe isotope (δ56Fe) analyses will be performed on (1) pore-water samples, the (2) different Fe oxide phases and (3) sediment residues remaining after sequential extractions in order to trace the source and reaction pathway for the observed release of dissolved Fe into the pore water.
Diagenetic Fe cycling, in particular the reductive dissolution of Fe oxides driven by the reaction with hydrogen sulfide, may lead to the transformation of reactive Fe oxides to Fe sulfides such as pyrite (e.g., Berner 1970). Fe monosulfide contents are below detection limit in sediments of Site C0023. Pyrite, in contrast, occurs over the whole core interval with strongly varying contents. Three significant peaks with contents up to 0.5 wt% could be observed at 552, 707 and 1033 mbsf. The pyrite profile generally mimics the total sulfur profile, which suggests that most of bulk sulfur is present as pyrite. Fe bound in pyrite (Fepyrite), however, only represents less than 5% of the total Fe pool, except for the interval with elevated pyrite contents where Fepyrite accounts for ~10% of bulk Fe. This indicates that sulfidation does not affect the whole Fe oxide pool in sediments of Site C0023. The reductive dissolution of primary ferrimagnetic Fe oxides and the formation of secondary paramagnetic pyrite is generally known to modify rock magnetic properties such as magnetic susceptibility (e.g., Berner, 1970). Thus, our geochemical results are presented in combination with post-cruise generated magnetic susceptibility data. By combining the geochemical methods, including sequential Fe oxide and sulfide extractions and subsequent δ56Fe analyses, with rock magnetic measurements, we intend to decipher the role of Fe mineral phases in maintaining deep subsurface life at Site C0023.
Acknowledgements - This research used samples and data provided by the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP). We would like to thank all personnel involved in the operations aboard the DV Chikyu during Expedition 370 and the support team at the Kochi Core Center. We further would like to thank the German Research Foundation (DFG) for funding this project (project number: 388260220) in the framework of the priority program 527 (Bereich Infrastruktur – International Ocean Discovery Program).
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EPIC Alfred Wegener Institut