Laboratory Simulation of an Iron(II)-rich Precambrian Marine Upwelling System to Explore the Growth of Photosynthetic Bacteria

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Maisch, Markus
Wu, Wenfang
Kappler, Andreas
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Swanner, Elizabeth
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Geological and Atmospheric Sciences

The Department of Geological and Atmospheric Sciences offers majors in three areas: Geology (traditional, environmental, or hydrogeology, for work as a surveyor or in mineral exploration), Meteorology (studies in global atmosphere, weather technology, and modeling for work as a meteorologist), and Earth Sciences (interdisciplinary mixture of geology, meteorology, and other natural sciences, with option of teacher-licensure).

The Department of Geology and Mining was founded in 1898. In 1902 its name changed to the Department of Geology. In 1965 its name changed to the Department of Earth Science. In 1977 its name changed to the Department of Earth Sciences. In 1989 its name changed to the Department of Geological and Atmospheric Sciences.

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  • Department of Geology and Mining (1898-1902)
  • Department of Geology (1902-1965)
  • Department of Earth Science (1965-1977)
  • Department of Earth Sciences (1977-1989)

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A conventional concept for the deposition of some Precambrian Banded Iron Formations (BIF) proceeds on the assumption that ferrous iron [Fe(II)] upwelling from hydrothermal sources in the Precambrian ocean was oxidized by molecular oxygen [O2] produced by cyanobacteria. The oldest BIFs, deposited prior to the Great Oxidation Event (GOE) at about 2.4 billion years (Gy) ago, could have formed by direct oxidation of Fe(II) by anoxygenic photoferrotrophs under anoxic conditions. As a method for testing the geochemical and mineralogical patterns that develop under different biological scenarios, we designed a 40 cm long vertical flow-through column to simulate an anoxic Fe(II)-rich marine upwelling system representative of an ancient ocean on a lab scale. The cylinder was packed with a porous glass bead matrix to stabilize the geochemical gradients, and liquid samples for iron quantification could be taken throughout the water column. Dissolved oxygen was detected non-invasively via optodes from the outside. Results from biotic experiments that involved upwelling fluxes of Fe(II) from the bottom, a distinct light gradient from top, and cyanobacteria present in the water column, show clear evidence for the formation of Fe(III) mineral precipitates and development of a chemocline between Fe(II) and O2. This column allows us to test hypotheses for the formation of the BIFs by culturing cyanobacteria (and in the future photoferrotrophs) under simulated marine Precambrian conditions. Furthermore we hypothesize that our column concept allows for the simulation of various chemical and physical environments — including shallow marine or lacustrine sediments.


This article is from J. Vis. Exp. (113), e54251, doi:10.3791/54251 (2016). Posted with permission.

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