Barite in the ocean – occurrence, geochemistry and palaeoceanographic applications

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Abstract

The mineral barite (BaSO4) can precipitate in a variety of oceanic settings: in the water column, on the sea floor and within marine sediments. The geological setting where barite forms ultimately determines the geochemistry of the precipitated mineral and its usefulness for various applications. Specifically, the isotopic and elemental composition of major and trace elements in barite carry information about the solution(s) from which it precipitated. Barite precipitated in the water column (marine or pelagic barite) can be used as a recorder of changes in sea water chemistry through time. Barite formed within sediments or at the sea floor from pore water fluids (diagenetic or cold seeps barite) can aid in understanding fluid flow and sedimentary redox processes, and barite formed in association with hydrothermal activity (hydrothermal barite) provides information about conditions of crust alteration around hydrothermal vents. The accumulation rate of marine barite in oxic-pelagic sediments can also be used to reconstruct past changes in ocean productivity. Some key areas for future work on the occurrence and origin of barite include: fully characterizing the mechanisms of precipitation of marine barite in the water column; understanding the role and potential significance of bacteria in barite precipitation; quantifying parameters controlling barite preservation in sediments; determining the influence of diagenesis on barite geochemistry; and investigating the utility of additional trace components in barite.

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