Assessing the distribution of sedimentary C40 carotenoids through time

K. L. French*, D. Rocher, J. E. Zumberge, R. E. Summons

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Citations (Scopus)


A comprehensive marine biomarker record of green and purple sulfur bacteria (GSB and PSB, respectively) is required to test whether anoxygenic photosynthesis represented a greater fraction of marine primary productivity during the Precambrian than the Phanerozoic, as current models of ocean redox evolution suggest. For this purpose, we analyzed marine rock extracts and oils from the Proterozoic to the Paleogene for C40 diagenetic products of carotenoid pigments using new analytical methods. Gas chromatography coupled with tandem mass spectrometry provides a new perspective on the temporal distributions of carotenoid biomarkers for phototrophic sulfur bacteria, specifically okenane, chlorobactane, and paleorenieratane. According to conventional paleoredox interpretations, this revised stratigraphic distribution of the GSB and PSB biomarkers implies that the shallow sunlit surface ocean (<24 m) became sulfidic more frequently in the geologic past than was previously thought. We reexamine whether there is evidence supporting a planktonic source of GSB and PSB pigments in marine systems or whether additional factors are required to explain the marine phototrophic sulfur bacteria record. To date, planktonic GSB and PSB and their pigments have been identified in restricted basins and lakes, but they have yet to be detected in the unrestricted, transiently sulfidic, marine systems. Based on modern observations, additional environmental factors, including basin restriction, microbial mats, or sediment transport, may be required to fully explain GSB and PSB carotenoids in the geologic record.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)139-151
Number of pages13
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2015
Externally publishedYes


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