Microscale mapping of alteration conditions and potential biosignatures in basaltic-ultramafic rocks on early Earth and beyond

Grosch, E G; McLoughlin, N; Lanari, Pierre; Erambert, M; Vidal, O (2014). Microscale mapping of alteration conditions and potential biosignatures in basaltic-ultramafic rocks on early Earth and beyond. Astrobiology, 14(3), pp. 216-228. Mary Ann Liebert 10.1089/ast.2013.1116

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Subseafloor environments preserved in Archean greenstone belts provide an analogue for investigating potential subsurface habitats on Mars. The c. 3.5-3.4 Ga pillow lava metabasalts of the mid-Archean Barberton greenstone belt, South Africa, have been argued to contain the earliest evidence for microbial subseafloor life. This includes candidate trace fossils in the form of titanite microtextures, and sulfur isotopic signatures of pyrite preserved in metabasaltic glass of the c. 3.472 Ga Hooggenoeg Formation. It has been contended that similar microtextures in altered martian basalts may represent potential extraterrestrial biosignatures of microbe-fluid-rock interaction. But despite numerous studies describing these putative early traces of life, a detailed metamorphic characterization of the microtextures and their host alteration conditions in the ancient pillow lava metabasites is lacking. Here, we present a new nondestructive technique with which to study the in situ metamorphic alteration conditions associated with potential biosignatures in mafic-ultramafic rocks of the Hooggenoeg Formation. Our approach combines quantitative microscale compositional mapping by electron microprobe with inverse thermodynamic modeling to derive low-temperature chlorite crystallization conditions. We found that the titanite microtextures formed under subgreenschist to greenschist facies conditions. Two chlorite temperature groups were identified in the maps surrounding the titanite microtextures and record peak metamorphic conditions at 315 ± 40°C (XFe3+(chlorite) = 25-34%) and lower-temperature chlorite veins/microdomains at T = 210 ± 40°C (lower XFe3+(chlorite) = 40-45%). These results provide the first metamorphic constraints in textural context on the Barberton titanite microtextures and thereby improve our understanding of the local preservation conditions of these potential biosignatures. We suggest that this approach may prove to be an important tool in future studies to assess the biogenicity of these earliest candidate traces of life on Earth. Furthermore, we propose that this mapping approach could also be used to investigate altered mafic-ultramafic extraterrestrial samples containing candidate biosignatures.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geological Sciences

UniBE Contributor:

Lanari, Pierre


500 Science > 550 Earth sciences & geology




Mary Ann Liebert




Pierre Dominique Louis Lanari

Date Deposited:

29 Jul 2015 09:49

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 14:48

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