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Composition, nucleation, and growth of iron oxide concretions

Parry, W.T.
Sedimentary geology 2011 v.233 no.1-4 pp. 53-68
aquifers, bacteria, bleaching, coatings, goethite, hematite, illite, iron, kaolinite, lepidocrocite, models, oxidation, oxygen, pH, plateaus, porosity, protons, quartz, sand, sandstone, spatial distribution, Colorado
Iron oxide concretions are formed from post depositional, paleogroundwater chemical interaction with iron minerals in porous sedimentary rocks. The concretions record a history of iron mobilization and precipitation caused by changes in pH, oxidation conditions, and activity of bacteria. Transport limited growth rates may be used to estimate the duration of fluid flow events. The Jurassic Navajo Sandstone, an important hydrocarbon reservoir and aquifer on the Colorado Plateau, USA, is an ideal stratum to study concretions because it is widely distributed, well exposed and is the host for a variety of iron oxide concretions. Many of the concretions are nearly spherical and some consist of a rind of goethite that nearly completely fills the sandstone porosity and surrounds a central sandstone core. The interior and exterior host-rock sandstones are similar in detrital minerals, but kaolinite and interstratified illite–smectite are less abundant in the interior. Lepidocrocite is present as sand-grain rims in the exterior sandstone, but not present in the interior of the concretions. Widespread sandstone bleaching resulted from dissolution of early diagenetic hematite grain coatings by chemically reducing water that gained access to the sandstone through fault conduits. The iron was transported in solution and precipitated as iron oxide concretions by oxidation and increasing pH. Iron diffusion and advection growth time models place limits on minimum duration of the diagenetic, fluid flow events that formed the concretions. Concretion rinds 2mm thick and 25mm in radius would take place in 2000years from transport by diffusion and advection and in 3600years if transport was by diffusion only. Solid concretions 10mm in radius would grow in 3800years by diffusion or 2800years with diffusion and advection. Goethite (α-FeO (OH)) and lepidocrocite (γ-FeO (OH)) nucleated on K-feldspar grains, on illite coatings on sand grains, and on pore-filling illite, but not on clean quartz grains. Model results show that regions of detrital K-feldspar in the sandstone that consume H⁺ more rapidly than diffusion to the reaction site determine concretion size, and spacing is related to diffusion and advection rates of supply of reactants Fe²⁺, O₂, and H⁺.