Production, preservation, and biological processing of mass-independent sulfur isotope fractionation in the Archean surface environment

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Mass-independent fractionation of sulfur isotopes (S MIF) in Archean and Paleoproterozoic rocks provides strong evidence for an anoxic atmosphere before similar to 2,400 Ma. However, the origin of this isotopic anomaly remains unclear, as does the identity of the molecules that carried it from the atmosphere to Earth's surface. Irrespective of the origin of S MIF, processes in the biogeochemical sulfur cycle modify the primary signal and strongly influence the S MIF preserved and observed in the geological record. Here, a detailed model of the marine sulfur cycle is used to propagate and distribute atmospherically derived S MIF from its delivery to the ocean to its preservation in the sediment. Bulk pyrite in most sediments carries weak S MIF because of microbial reduction of most sulfur compounds to form isotopically homogeneous sulfide. Locally, differential incorporation of sulfur compounds into pyrite leads to preservation of S MIF, which is predicted to be most highly variable in nonmarine and shallow-water settings. The Archean ocean is efficient in diluting primary atmospheric S MIF in the marine pools of sulfate and elemental sulfur with inputs from SO2 and H2S, respectively. Preservation of S MIF with the observed range of magnitudes requires the S MIF production mechanism to be moderately fractionating (+/- 20-40%). Constraints from the marine sulfur cycle allow that either elemental sulfur or organosulfur compounds (or both) carried S MIF to the surface, with opposite sign to S MIF in SO2 and H2SO4. Optimal progress requires observations from nonmarine and shallow-water environments and experimental constraints on the reaction of photoexcited SO2 with atmospheric hydrocarbons.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)17644-17649
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number44
StatePublished - Oct 2013


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