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Abstract

Barite chimneys are known to form in hydrothermal systems where barium-enriched fluids generated by leaching of the oceanic basement are discharged and react with seawater sulfate. They also form at cold seeps along continental margins, where marine (or pelagic) barite in the sediments is remobilized because of subseafloor microbial sulfate reduction. We test the possibility of using multiple sulfur isotopes (δ34S, Δ33S, ∆36S) of barite to identify microbial sulfate reduction in a hydrothermal system. In addition to multiple sulfur isotopes, we present oxygen (δ18O) and strontium (87Sr/86Sr) isotopes for one of numerous barite chimneys in a low-temperature (~20 °C) venting area of the Loki's Castle black smoker field at the ultraslow-spreading Arctic Mid-Ocean Ridge (AMOR). The chemistry of the venting fluids in the barite field identifies a contribution of at least 10% of high-temperature black smoker fluid, which is corroborated by 87Sr/86Sr ratios in the barite chimney that are less radiogenic than in seawater. In contrast, oxygen and multiple sulfur isotopes indicate that the fluid from which the barite precipitated contained residual sulfate that was affected by microbial sulfate reduction. A sulfate reduction zone at this site is further supported by the multiple sulfur isotopic composition of framboidal pyrite in the flow channel of the barite chimney and in the hydrothermal sediments in the barite field, as well as by low SO4 and elevated H2S concentrations in the venting fluids compared with conservative mixing values. We suggest that the mixing of ascending H2- and CH4-rich high-temperature fluids with percolating seawater fuels microbial sulfate reduction, which is subsequently recorded by barite formed at the seafloor in areas where the flow rate is sufficient. Thus, low-temperature precipitates in hydrothermal systems are promising sites to explore the interactions between the geosphere and biosphere in order to evaluate the microbial impact on these systems.