Mineral catalyzed organic synthesis in hydrothermal systems: An experimental study using time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectrometry



[1] Hydrothermal fluids enriched in hydrocarbons of apparent abiotic origin vent from Fe-Ni sulfide bearing chimney structures on the seafloor at slow spreading mid-ocean ridges. Here we show results from a hydrothermal experiment using carbon isotope labeling techniques and mineral analytical data that indicate that pentlandite ((Fe2Ni7)S8) enhances formation of C2 and C3 alkanes, while also contributing to the formation of other more complex hydrocarbons, such as alcohols and carboxylic acids. ToF-SIMS data reveal the existence of isotopically anomalous carbon on the pentlandite surface, and thus, for the first time, provide unambiguous evidence that mineral catalyzed surface reactions play a role in carbon reduction schemes under hydrothermal conditions. We hypothesize that hydroxymethylene (-CHOH) serves as intermediary facilitating formation of more complex organic compounds. The experimental results provide an explanation for organic synthesis in ultramafic-hosted hydrothermal systems on earth, and on other water-enriched planetary bodies as well.