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Early Archean serpentine mud volcanoes at Isua, Greenland, as a niche for early life
- Pons, Marie-Laure, Quitté, Ghylaine, Fujii, Toshiyuki, Rosing, Minik T., Reynard, Bruno, Moynier, Frederic, Douchet, Chantal, Albarède, Francis
- Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 2011 v.108 no.43 pp. 17639-17643
- amino acids, extracellular fluids, isotope fractionation, isotopes, serpentine, volcanic rocks, volcanoes, zinc, Greenland
- The Isua Supracrustal Belt, Greenland, of Early Archean age (3.81–3.70 Ga) represents the oldest crustal segment on Earth. Its complex lithology comprises an ophiolite-like unit and volcanic rocks reminiscent of boninites, which tie Isua supracrustals to an island arc environment. We here present zinc (Zn) isotope compositions measured on serpentinites and other rocks from the Isua supracrustal sequence and on serpentinites from modern ophiolites, midocean ridges, and the Mariana forearc. In stark contrast to modern midocean ridge and ophiolite serpentinites, Zn in Isua and Mariana serpentinites is markedly depleted in heavy isotopes with respect to the igneous average. Based on recent results of Zn isotope fractionation between coexisting species in solution, the Isua serpentinites were permeated by carbonate-rich, high-pH hydrothermal solutions at medium temperature (100–300 °C). Zinc isotopes therefore stand out as a pH meter for fossil hydrothermal solutions. The geochemical features of the Isua fluids resemble the interstitial fluids sampled in the mud volcano serpentinites of the Mariana forearc. The reduced character and the high pH inferred for these fluids make Archean serpentine mud volcanoes a particularly favorable setting for the early stabilization of amino acids.