Hydrocarbon biomarkers from Ordovician sediments and the fossil alga Gloeocapsomorpha prisca Zalessky 1917

C. F. Hoffmann, C. B. Foster, T. G. Powell, R. E. Summons*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Numerous Ordovician oils worldwide are known to show unusual and distinctive distributions of hydrocarbons which, it has been suggested, are derived from a "unique benthonic mat-forming non-photosynthetic prokaryotic organism", Gloeocapsomorpha prisca Zalessky 1917, which is the major contributor of organic matter. Organic matter-rich sediments from the Canning and Amadeus Basins of Australia, known to contain G. prisca fossils and to have the characteristic predominance of odd carbon number (C13-C19) n-alkanes, were investigated to determine other hydrocarbon distributions. Sediments from both basins contained abundant n-alkylcyclohexanes with odd carbon number predominance (C13-C19) and methyl-n-alkylcyclohexanes (C14-C20) which, in immature sediments, showed an even carbon number predominance. The isomer distribution of these latter compounds was determined by direct comparison with synthetic standards. The sediments from both basins also contained very similar distributions of steranes and pentacyclic triterpanes and the derived kerogens had a characteristically light carbon isotope signature. Pyrolysis of a G. prisca-rich kerogen yielded a hydrocarbon mixture with a similar composition to the sediment extract, except that there was a marked increase in the relative abundance of pristane, phytane, alkylcyclohexanes, steranes and hopanes relative to n-alkanes. We argue on the basis of the geological, geochemical and palynological data that G. prisca was probably planktonic, photosynthetic and very possibly eukaryotic and that the striking character of Ordovician oils and sediments derive from bacterial and other diagenetic imprints superimposed on the primary signature of this organism.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2681-2697
Number of pages17
JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 1987


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