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Keywords:

  • Dolomite;
  • experiments;
  • kinetic;
  • sulphate-reducing bacteria

Abstract

Dolomite was successfully precipitated in culture experiments that simulated microbiogeochemical conditions prevailing during late stages of evaporation in ephemeral, hypersaline dolomitic lakes of the Coorong region, South Australia. Analyses of lake- and pore-water samples document rapid geochemical changes with time and depth in both dolomitic and non-dolomitic lakes. Extremely high sulphate and magnesium ion concentrations in lake waters decline rapidly with depth in pore waters throughout the sulphate-reduction zone, whereas carbonate concentrations in pore waters reach levels up to 100 times those of normal sea water. Ultimately, sulphate is totally consumed and no solid sulphate is recorded in the dolomitic lake sediments. ‘Most probable number’ calculations of lake sediment samples record the presence of large populations of sulphate-reducing bacteria, whereas sulphur-isotope analyses of lake-water samples indicate microbial fractionation in all the lakes studied. Viable populations of microbes from the lake sediments were cultured in anoxic conditions in the laboratory. Samples were then injected into vials containing sterilized clastic or carbonate grains, or glass beads, immersed in a solution that simulated the lake water. Falls in the levels of sulphate and rising pH in positive vials were interpreted as indicating active bacterial sulphate reduction accompanied by increased concentrations of carbonate. Within 2 months, sub-spherical, sub-micron-size crystals of dolomite identical to those of lake sediments were precipitated. It is concluded that bacterial sulphate reduction overcomes kinetic constraints on dolomite formation by removing sulphate and releasing magnesium and calcium ions from neutral ion pairs, and by generating elevated carbonate concentrations, in a hypersaline, strongly electrolytic solution. The results demonstrate that bacterial sulphate reduction controls dolomite precipitation in both the laboratory experiments and lake sediments. It is proposed that dolomite formation, through bacterial sulphate reduction, provides a process analogue applicable to thick platformal dolostones of the past, where benthic microbial communities were the sole or dominant colonizers of shallow marine environments.