The chemistry of the Early Earth is widely inferred from the elemental and isotopic compositions of sulfidic sedimentary rocks, which are presumed to have formed globally through the reduction of seawater sulfate or locally from hydrothermally supplied sulfide. Here we argue that, in the anoxic Archean oceans, pyrite could form in the absence of ambient sulfate from organic sulfur contained within living cells. Sulfides could be produced through mineralization of reduced sulfur compounds or reduction of organic-sourced sulfite. Reactive transport modeling suggests that, for sulfate concentrations up to tens of micromolar, organic sulfur would have supported 20 to 100% of sedimentary pyrite precipitation and up to 75% of microbial sulfur reduction. The results offer an alternative explanation for the low range of δ34S in Archean sulfides, and raise a possibility that sulfate scarcity delayed the evolution of dissimilatory sulfate reduction until the initial ocean oxygenation around 2.7 Ga.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work benefited from partial support from NSF EAR grants 1754061 and 1660873. M.F. acknowledges support in the form of a summer fellowship from the UMN Water Resources Science Graduate Program and teaching assistantship from the UMD Department of Physics and Astronomy.
© 2019, The Author(s).