Modern carbonate microbialites from an asbestos open pit pond, Yukon, Canada


Corresponding author: I. M. Power. Tel.: 1-604-822-1929; fax: 1-604-822-6088; e-mail:


Microbialites were discovered in an open pit pond at an abandoned asbestos mine near Clinton Creek, Yukon, Canada. These microbialites are extremely young and presumably began forming soon after the mine closed in 1978. Detailed characterization of the periphyton and microbialites using light and scanning electron microscopy was coupled with mineralogical and isotopic analyses to investigate the mechanisms by which these microbialites formed. The microbialites are columnar in form (cm scale), have an internal spherulitic fabric (mm scale), and are mostly made of aragonite, which is supersaturated in the subsaline pond water. Initial precipitation is seen as acicular aragonite crystals nucleating onto microbial biomass and detrital particles. Continued precipitation entombs benthic diatoms (e.g. Brachysira vitrea), filamentous algae (e.g. Oedogonium sp.), dinoflagellates, and cyanobacteria. The presence of phototrophs at spherulite centers strongly suggests that these microbes play an important initial role in aragonite precipitation. Substantial growth of individual spherulites occurs abiotically through periodic precipitation of aragonite that forms concentric laminations around spherulite centers while pauses in spherulite growth allow for colonization by microbes. Aragonite associated with biomass (δ13C = −4.6‰ VPDB) showed a 13C-enrichment of 0.8‰ relative to aragonite exhibiting no biomass (δ13C = −5.4‰ VPDB), which suggests a modest removal of isotopically light dissolved inorganic carbon by phototrophs. The combination of a low sedimentation rate, high calcification rate, and low microbial growth rate appears to result in the formation of these microbialites. The formation of microbialites at an historic mine site demonstrates that an anthropogenically constructed environment can foster microbial carbonate formation.