Seafloor hydrothermal systems control seawater chemistry: evidence from fluid inclusion in halite

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The Geological Society of America
Long-term changes in the major ion and isotopic composition of seawater coincide with icehouse-greenhouse climate fluctuations, calcite-aragonite seas, and sea level changes. However, there is disagreement over what processes controlled the changes in ocean chemistry. This study uses a new record of Li concentration in paleoseawater to explore how temporal variations in the flux of MOR hydrothermal brines, the largest source of Li to seawater, and reverse weathering of seafloor basalts (important sink) control the oceanic Li cycle on multimillion-year time scales. Here we present a 350-million-year record of seawater lithium concentrations [Li+]sw from direct measurement of primary fluid inclusions in marine halite using combined LA-ICP-MS and cryo SEM-EDS. We also present a 150 Myr forward model of [Li+]sw. From 350-0 Ma, the lithium concentration of seawater oscillated systematically, parallel to secular variations of sea level, greenhouse-icehouse climates, and major ion chemistry such as the Mg2+/Ca2+ ratio. Highest seawater Li occurred during the Cretaceous, up to one order of magnitude higher than modern [Li+]sw, which coincides with low seawater Mg2+/Ca2+ ratios, high atmospheric CO2, and Mesozoic-Early Cenozoic Greenhouse climates. Such high Li concentrations require high MOR hydrothermal activity. Conversely, Permian and Cenozoic (35-0 Ma) seawater had relatively low Li, consistent with high Mg2+/Ca2+ ratios, low atmospheric CO2, and late Paleozoic and Cenozoic icehouse periods. The forward model involves 10 Kyr time steps and variable cycling of hydrothermal fluids through the axial portion of the MOR system and variable rates of low-temperature weathering of seafloor basalts. The model agrees well with paleoseawater fluid inclusion data for Li. The same model parameters, with variable Li isotope fractionation of off-axis oceanic crust, are used to successfully model the 9‰ increase of δ7Li in seawater from 60-0 Ma. Our data and modeling suggest that seafloor hydrothermal systems exerted the dominant control on the [Li+] and δ7Li composition of Phanerozoic seawater. These data will be further used to test the long-term relationships between seafloor MOR activity, the carbon cycle, and climate. © Copyright 2019 The Geological Society of America (GSA)
© Copyright 2019 The Geological Society of America (GSA), all rights reserved. Permission is hereby granted to the author(s) of this abstract to reproduce and distribute it freely, for noncommercial purposes. Permission is hereby granted to any individual scientist to download a single copy of this electronic file and reproduce up to 20 paper copies for noncommercial purposes advancing science and education, including classroom use, providing all reproductions include the complete content shown here, including the author information. All other forms of reproduction and/or transmittal are prohibited without written permission from GSA Copyright Permissions.
Ions, Isotope ratio, Seawater, Sea level, Greenhouse effect, Water chemistry, Sea bed
Weldeghebriel, M. F., Lowenstein, T., Demicco, R. V., Graney, R. V., Collins, D., García-Veigas, J., Cendón, D. I., Bodnar, R. J., & Sendula, E. (2019). Seafloor hydrothermal systems control seawater chemistry: evidence from fluid inclusion in halite. Presentation to the GSA 2019, Phoenix, Arizona, USA, 22-25 September 2019. Retrieved from: