• Abyssal plains;
  • diagenesis;
  • rock magnetism;
  • turbidites

Rock-magnetic measurements of two sediment cores from the Madeira Abyssal Plain (MAP), north Atlantic, are used to investigate post-depositional changes in the concentration, grain size and composition of magnetic minerals in the sediments that have occurred within organic-rich turbidite horizons. The changes are associated with an initial stage of suboxic (reductive) diagenesis, following depletion of porewater O2, and a later stage of oxidative diagenesis associated with the slow descent of an oxidation front through the sediment, as a result of diffusion of O2 from the overlying sea water. The turbidites are of late Quaternary age (δ18O stages 1–3) and derive both from different sites on the NW African continental margin, and from the flanks of the Canary Islands. Thus, the turbidites are variable compositionally, especially in terms of carbonate, detrital magnetic mineral and organic carbon content. Diagenetic changes in these sediments have been identified using solid-phase geochemical data (U, Mn, Corg and CaCO3) reported previously in more than one study. Rock-magnetic parameters of the sediments, when expressed on a carbonate-free basis, reveal that significant depletion of detrital ferrimagnetic iron (Fe2+/Fe3+) oxide grains has occurred within organic-rich turbidites during redoxomorphic diagenesis. Normalized quotients of magnetic parameters also show that reductive diagenesis is a ferrimagnetic grain size-selective process, but it has a minimal effect on the canted-antiferromagnetic Fe3+ oxides in the sediment. Such components, if present, therefore become relatively enriched in magnetic assemblages as the ferrimagnetic grains are dissolved progressively, and bulk magnetic concentration is thus depleted. There is clear evidence in both cores for the existence of ultrafine ferrimagnetic grains at depth within the suboxic zone of the organic-rich turbidites, beneath both active and fossil oxidation fronts. These grains are most probably associated with populations of live magnetotactic bacteria, which commonly inhabit such organic-rich horizons and play a part in the chain of bacterially mediated reactions normally associated with suboxic diagenesis. These results show that simple and rapid rock-magnetic techniques can be used to characterize early diagenetic processes involving iron phases in deep-sea sediments, at least as effectively as more laborious, time-consuming and sample-destructive geochemical measurements.