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Keywords:

  • Biomineral;
  • biosignatures;
  • dolomite;
  • evaporites;
  • exopolymeric substances;
  • sabkha

Abstract

Microbial mediation is the only demonstrated mechanism to precipitate dolomite under Earth surface conditions. A link between microbial activity and dolomite formation in the sabkha of Abu Dhabi has, until now, not been evaluated, even though this environment is cited frequently as the type analogue for many ancient evaporitic sequences. Such an evaluation is the purpose of this study, which is based on a geochemical and petrographic investigation of three sites located on the coastal sabkha of Abu Dhabi, along a transect from the intertidal to the supratidal zone. This investigation revealed a close association between microbial mats and dolomite, suggesting that microbes are involved in the mineralization process. Observations using scanning electron microscopy equipped with a cryotransfer system indicate that authigenic dolomite precipitates within the exopolymeric substances constituting the microbial mats. In current models, microbial dolomite precipitation is linked to an active microbial activity that sustains high pH and alkalinity and decreased sulphate concentrations in pore waters. Such models can be applied to the sabkha environment to explain dolomite formation within microbial mats present at the surface of the intertidal zone. By contrast, these models cannot be applied to the supratidal zone, where abundant dolomite is present within buried mats that no longer show signs of intensive microbial activity. As no abiotic mechanism is known to form dolomite at Earth surface conditions, two different hypotheses can reconcile this result. In a first scenario, all of the dolomite present in the supratidal zone formed in the past, when the mats were active at the surface. In a second scenario, dolomite formation continues within the buried and inactive mats. In order to explain dolomite formation in the absence of active microbial metabolisms, a revised microbial model is proposed in which the mineral-template properties of exopolymeric substances play a crucial role.