Mo-Cr isotope evidence for a reducing Archean atmosphere in 3.46-2.76Ga black shales from the Pilbara, Western Australia

Martin Wille, Oliver Nebel, Martin J. Van Kranendonk, Ronny Schoenberg, Ilka C. Kleinhanns, Michael J. Ellwood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

68 Citations (Scopus)


The distribution of redox-sensitive elements and their stable isotope variations in marine sediments has been employed to track the possible oxygenation of the atmosphere at, and before, the Great Oxidation Event (GOE; 2.4-2.2. Ga). Contrasting datasets have been used to advocate for and against the rise of free oxygen in the atmosphere prior to 2.4. Ga based on various geochemical tracers, and evidence for a partially oxidized environment remains elusive.Herein, we present stable isotope datasets for Mo and Cr, in conjunction with major and trace elements from four black shale horizons spanning a time interval from 3.46 to 2.76. Ga in order to ascertain atmospheric oxygen levels through the Archean. The Mo, Cr and U elemental signatures within all sedimentary units are dominated by continental input. Both Mo isotopic values and Mo and U elemental signatures suggest anoxic conditions with no indication of redox cycling of these elements. This contradicts previous interpretations of an oxidized atmosphere based on published sulfur isotopic data (Ohmoto et al., 2006) and oxidized hematite occurrences at ~. 3.45. Ga (Hoashi et al., 2009).Cr concentration patterns within the sample suites are controlled by continental provenance composition rather than by an authigenic Cr seawater contribution. This interpretation is supported by the relatively homogeneous Cr isotopic compositions across all sample suites and is consistent with high temperature controlled Cr isotopic ratios. Identification of redox cycling processes within detrital dominated sediments with Cr isotopes is likely to be less sensitive compared to Mo isotopes, due to the much smaller authigenic/crustal enrichment factors for Cr.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)68-76
Number of pages9
JournalChemical Geology
Publication statusPublished - Feb 4 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Archean
  • Atmospheric oxygen
  • Chromium isotopes
  • Molybdenum isotopes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geology
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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