Biogeochemistry of Recently Fossilized Siliceous Hot Spring Sinters from Yellowstone, USA

Bronwyn L. Teece, Jeff R. Havig, Simon C. George, Trinity L. Hamilton, Raphael J. Baumgartner, Julie Hartz, Martin J. Van Kranendonk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Active hot springs are dynamic geobiologically active environments. Heat-and element-enriched fluids form hot spring sinter deposits that are inhabited by microbial and macroscopic eukaryotic communities, but it is unclear how variable heat, fluid circulation, and mineralization within hot spring systems affect the preservation of organic matter in sinters. We present geological, petrographic, and organic geochemical data from fossilized hot spring sinters (<13 Ka) from three distinct hot spring fields of Yellowstone National Park. The aims of this study were to examine the preservation of hydrocarbons and discern whether the hydrocarbons in these samples were derived from in situ communities or transported by hydrothermal fluids. Organic geochemistry reveals the presence of n-Alkanes, methylalkanes, hopanes, and other terpanes, and the distribution of methylheptadecanes is compared to published observations of community composition in extant hot springs with similar geochemistry. Unexpectedly, hopanes have a thermally mature signal, and Raman spectroscopy confirms that the kerogen in some samples has nearly reached the oil window, despite never having been buried. Our results suggest that organic matter maturation occurred through below-surface processes in the hotter, deeper parts of the hydrothermal system and that this exogenous material was then transported and emplaced within the sinter.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)155-171
Number of pages17
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
B.L.T. was supported by an Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship. T.L.H. was supported by NASA Exobiology grant number 80NSSC20K0614. M.J.V.K. was supported by The Australian Research Council through DP180103204. Organic geochemical analyses were carried out in the Organic Geochemistry laboratory of Macquarie University, which is supported by funding from the Australian Research Council and internal sources, both of which are gratefully acknowledged.

Publisher Copyright:
© Copyright 2023, Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., publishers 2023.


  • Astrobiology
  • Biomarkers
  • Cyanobacteria
  • Fluid circulation
  • Kerogen
  • Organic matter
  • Thermal maturity

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.


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