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  1. Abstract

    Extensive regions of yellow and white (“bleached”) sandstones within the terrestrial Jurassic red bed deposits of the Colorado Plateau reflect widespread interaction with subsurface reduced fluids which resulted in the dissolution of iron‐oxide grain coatings. Reduced fluids such as hydrocarbons, CO2, and organic acids have been proposed as bleaching agents. In this study, we characterize an altered section of the Slick Rock member of the Jurassic Entrada Sandstone that exposes bleached sandstone with bitumen‐saturated pore spaces. We observe differences in texture, porosity, mineralogy, and geochemistry between red, pink, yellow, and gray facies. In the bleached yellow facies we observe quartz overgrowths, partially dissolved K‐feldspar, calcite cement, fine‐grained illite, TiO2‐minerals, and pyrite concretions. Clay mineral content is highest at the margins of the bleached section. Fe2O3concentrations are reduced up to 3× from the red to gray facies but enriched up to 50× in iron‐oxide concretions. Metals such as Zn, Pb, and rare‐earth elements are significantly enriched in the concretions. Supported by a batch geochemical model, we conclude the interaction of red sandstones with reduced hydrocarbon‐bearing fluids caused iron‐oxide and K‐feldspar dissolution, and precipitation of quartz, calcite, clay, and pyrite. Localized redistribution of iron into concretions can account for most of the iron removed during bleaching. Pyrite and carbonate stable isotopic data suggest the hydrocarbons were sourced from the Pennsylvanian Paradox Formation. Bitumen in pore spaces and pyrite precipitation formed a reductant trap required to produce Cu, U, and V enrichment in all altered facies by younger, oxidized saline brines.

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  2. Abstract

    How subsurface microbial life changed at the bottom of the kilometers‐deep (hypo) Critical Zone in response to evolving surface conditions over geologic time is an open question. This study investigates the burial and exhumation, biodegradation, and fluid circulation history of hydrocarbon reservoirs across the Colorado Plateau as a window into the hypo‐Critical Zone. Hydrocarbon reservoirs, in the Paradox and Uinta basins, were deeply buried starting ca. 100 to 60 Ma, reaching temperatures >80–140°C, likely sterilizing microbial communities present since the deposition of sediments. High salinities associated with evaporites may have further limited microbial activity. Upward migration of hydrocarbons from shale source rocks into shallower reservoirs during maximum burial set the stage for microbial re‐introduction by creating organic‐rich “hot spots.” Denudation related to the incision of the Colorado River over the past few million years brought reservoirs closer to the surface under cooler temperatures, enhanced deep meteoric water circulation and flushing of saline fluids, and likely re‐inoculated more permeable sediments up to several km depth. Modern‐ to paleo‐hydrocarbon reservoirs show molecular and isotopic evidence of anaerobic oxidation of hydrocarbons coupled to bacterial sulfate reduction in areas with relatively high SO4‐fluxes. Anaerobic oil biodegradation rates are high enough to explain the removal of at least some portion of postulated “supergiant oil fields” across the Colorado Plateau by microbial activity over the past several million years. Results from this study help constrain the lower limits of the hypo‐Critical Zone and how it evolved over geologic time, in response to changing geologic, hydrologic, and biologic forcings.

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