Biogenicity of Spicular Geyserite from Te Kopia, New Zealand: Integrated Petrography, High-Resolution Hyperspectral and Elemental Analysis

Richard J. Murphy, Martin J. Van Kranendonk, Raphael Baumgartner, Chris Ryan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Hyperspectral and micro X-ray fluorescence (μXRF) imagery were used to derive maps of mineralogy and elemental chemistry from a sample of a siliceous hot spring deposit, or sinter, collected from a landslide breccia deposit at the base of the Paeroa fault, which bounds the eastern Taupo Rift at Te Kopia, Taupo Volcanic Zone, New Zealand. The sample is of a known biogenic sinter layer from a paleo-vent area of a recently extinct alkali chloride hot spring. The aim of the study was to distinguish it from other horizons derived from nonbiogenic sources, which is of relevance to early and extraterrestrial life research, specifically to help assess the potential reliability of morphology as an indicator of biology in the geological record. In particular, the distribution of opal, a common mineral in hot springs deposits that is known to preserve microbial features, and the relative abundances of Al-OH clay and water (OH and H2O) were mapped from hyperspectral imagery and element distributions defined by μXRF element mapping. Layers within the sinter sample composed of spicular geyserite - a type of micro-columnar stromatolite - showed contrasting mineralogy and water content in comparison with interspicular clastic sediment. Whereas clay was found to be concentrated in the interspicular sediment, high water contents characterized the spicules. μXRF imagery also showed differences in the composition of the two components of the spicule-bearing layers, with interspicular sediment being enriched in K, Ti, Fe, and Rb relative to the spicules, which are enriched in Ga. The contrasting nature of the mapped components highlights the detailed upward-branching nature of the spicules, identical to those found in living microstromatolites. These discriminants show that the spicular component can be discerned from the geological background through hyperspectral and μXRF mapping and used to define morphological features that may survive burial diagenesis and metamorphism as a biosignature in deep time rocks.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)115-135
Number of pages21
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Biogenicity
  • Hot springs
  • Hyperspectral
  • Spicular geyserite
  • μXRF imagery.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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