SEARCH

SEARCH BY CITATION

Abstract

Abiotic–biotic mechanisms of microstromatolitic spicular sinter (geyseritic) initiation and development were elucidated by in situ growth experiments at Champagne Pool (75 °C, pH 5.5). Siliceous sinter formed subaerially on glass slides placed along the margin of the hot spring. Environment–silica–microbe interactions were revealed by periodic collections of incremental sinter growth that formed under a range of environmental conditions including quiescence vs. wave turbulence, and wind–evaporation vs. steam–condensation. Sinter surfaces were intermittently colonized by voluminous networks of filamentous micro-organisms, with submicron diameters, that provided an extensive surface area for silica deposition. The subaerial distribution of sinter and its textures reflected micron- to centimetre-scale differences in environmental conditions, particularly relating to the balance between wave-supplied dissolved silica and its precipitation, forced by cooling and evaporation. A continuum of sinter textures formed, representing rates of silica precipitation that either out-paced biofilm growth or regulated the structural development of biofilms, and hence also the nature of microbially templated sinter. Massive laminae of porous, filamentous-network sinter and/or fenestrae (up to 10's of microns in thickness and diameter) formed at relatively low rates of silica deposition (approximately 0.2 mg slide−1 day−1). At high rates (>1.9 mg slide−1 day−1), densely packed, granular or nonporous sinter formed, with filament networks disappearing into the siliceous matrix and becoming imperceptible under scanning electron microscopy (SEM). Furthermore, spicules were nucleated by filamentous microcolonies, where their discrete conical morphologies were preserved by accretion of thin sinter laminae. Microstromatolitic spicular growth ensued at fluctuating low to high rates of silica precipitation. Greater apical sinter build-up, and hence upward polarity, resulted from focused microbial recolonization and progressively greater subaerial exposure at microspicule tips. The biogenic origin of spicular sinter at Champagne Pool clearly demonstrates that micron-scale biofilms, displaying self-organization patterns common to both biofilms and microbial mats, can be an essential factor in shaping characteristic centimetre-scale sinter macrostructures. These findings suggest that a biogenic origin for geyserites elsewhere should also be considered. Moreover, results corroborate the supposition that microbially generated surface roughness may be significant for stromatolite morphogenesis in cryptic Precambrian carbonates.