Debate about ironstone: has solute supply been surficial weathering, hydrothermal convection, or exhalation of deep fluids?



Ironstone is any chemical sedimentary rock with > 15% Fe. An iron formation is a stratigraphic unit which is composed largely of ironstone. The solutes which have precipitated to become ironstone have dissolved from the Earth's surface, from the upper crust, e.g. the basaltic layer of oceanic crust, or from deeper within the Earth. Genetic modellers generally choose between surficial weathering, e.g. soil formation, and hydrothermal fluids which have convected through the upper kilometre of oceanic crust. Most genetic modellers attribute cherty laminated iron formations to hydrothermal convection and noncherty oolitic iron formations to surficial weathering. However, both types of iron formations are attributable to the exhalation of fluids from a source region too deep for convection of seawater. Evidence for a deep source of ferriferous fluids comes from a comparison of ancient ironstone with modern ferriferous sediment in coastal Venezuela. A deep-source origin for ironstone has wide-ranging implications for the origins of other chemical sedimentary ores, e.g. phosphorite, manganostone, bedded magnesite, sedimentary uranium ore, various karst-filling ores, and even petroleum. Preliminary study of a modern oolitic iron deposit described herein suggests that the source of iron and silica to iron formations may have been even deeper than envisioned within most hydrothermal convection models.