The role of serpentinites in cycling of carbon and sulfur

seafloor serpentinization and subduction metamorphism

Jeffrey C. Alt*, Esther M. Schwarzenbach, Gretchen L. Frueh-Green, Wayne C. Shanks, Stefano M. Bernasconi, Carlos J. Garrido, Laura Crispini, Laura Gaggero, Jose Alberto Padron-Navarta, Claudio Marchesi

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

113 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

We summarize the uptake of carbon and sulfur during serpentinization of seafloor peridotites, and discuss the fate of these volatiles during subduction of serpentinite. We use a simplified classification to divide seafloor serpentinization into high-temperature and low-temperature processes. High-temperature serpentinization typically involves heat and mass transfer from gabbro intrusions, leading to addition of hydrothermal sulfide sulfur (up to >1 wt%) having high delta S-34 values (+5 to +10 parts per thousand). Total carbon contents of bulk rocks are elevated (0.008-0.603 wt.%) compared to mantle values and delta C-13(Total) c values of -3 parts per thousand to -17.5 parts per thousand result from mixtures of organic carbon and seawater-derived carbonate. Low-temperature serpentinization is generally characterized by microbial reduction of seawater sulfate, which leads to addition of sulfide sulfur (up to 1.4 wt.%) having negative delta S-34 values (down to -45 parts per thousand), although local closed-system conditions can lead to reservoir effects and positive delta S-34 values (up to +27 parts per thousand). Extensive circulation of cold seawater can cause oxidation, loss of sulfide, and addition of seawater sulfate resulting in high delta S-34(Total-S) values. High total carbon contents (0.006-72 wt%) and delta C-13 values of -26 to +2.2 parts per thousand result from addition of variable proportions of organic carbon and seawater-derived carbonate to serpentinite. We estimate that serpentinization at mid ocean ridges is a sink for 035-0.64x10(11) mol C y(-1) and 0.13-1.46x10(11) mol S y(-1), comparable to the sinks of these elements per unit volume of mafic oceanic crust. Serpentinization in the subducting plate at subduction zones may further affect chemical budgets for serpentinization.

During subduction metamorphism, sulfur and carbon contents remain unaffected by recrystallization of seafloor lizardite and chrysotile to antigorite, and formation of minor olivine. Dehydration of antigorite-serpentinites to chlorite-harzburgites at higher pressure and temperature results in loss of 5 wt.% water, and an average of 260 ppm sulfur is lost as sulfate having delta S-34=14.5 parts per thousand, whereas carbon is unaffected. These volatiles can induce melting and contribute to S-34 enrichments and oxidation of the sub-arc mantle wedge. Serpentinized oceanic peridotites carry isotopically fractionated water, carbon and sulfur into subduction zones. Up to 0.49x10(11) mol sulfur y(-1) and 1.7x10(11) mol carbon y(-1) are subducted in serpentinites, less than 3% of the total subduction budgets for each of these elements. Isotopically fractionated carbon, sulfur, and water remain in serpentinite dehydration products, however, and can be recycled deeper into the mantle where they may be significant for volatile budgets of the deep Earth. (C) 2012 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)40-54
Number of pages15
JournalLithos
Volume178
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 15 Sep 2013
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Serpentinite
  • Carbon
  • Sulfur
  • Geochemical cycling
  • Subduction
  • Stable isotopes
  • MID-ATLANTIC RIDGE
  • CITY HYDROTHERMAL FIELD
  • SLOW-SPREADING RIDGES
  • CERRO DEL ALMIREZ
  • EAST PACIFIC RISE
  • MASSIF MAR 30-DEGREES-N
  • OCEANIC CORE COMPLEXES
  • FLUID-MOBILE ELEMENTS
  • LOST-CITY
  • ULTRAMAFIC ROCKS

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