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Title: Mercury isotope signatures record photic zone euxinia in the Mesoproterozoic ocean

Photic zone euxinia (PZE) is a condition where anoxic, H2S-rich waters occur in the photic zone (PZ). PZE has been invoked as an impediment to the evolution of complex life on early Earth and as a kill mechanism for Phanerozoic mass extinctions. Here, we investigate the potential application of mercury (Hg) stable isotopes in marine sedimentary rocks as a proxy for PZE by measuring Hg isotope compositions in late Mesoproterozoic (∼1.1 Ga) shales that have independent evidence of PZE during discrete intervals. Strikingly, a significantly negative shift of Hg mass-independent isotope fractionation (MIF) was observed during euxinic intervals, suggesting changes in Hg sources or transformations in oceans coincident with the development of PZE. We propose that the negative shift of Hg MIF was most likely caused by (i) photoreduction of Hg(II) complexed by reduced sulfur ligands in a sulfide-rich PZ, and (ii) enhanced sequestration of atmospheric Hg(0) to the sediments by thiols and sulfide that were enriched in the surface ocean as a result of PZE. This study thus demonstrates that Hg isotope compositions in ancient marine sedimentary rocks can be a promising proxy for PZE and therefore may provide valuable insights into changes in ocean chemistry and its impact more » on the evolution of life.

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Publication Date:
Journal Name:
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Page Range or eLocation-ID:
p. 10594-10599
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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