AbstractsBiology & Animal Science

Abiotic Methane Formation at the Dun Mountain Ophiolite, New Zealand

by Joanna Frances Pawson

Institution: University of Canterbury
Department: Geological Sciences
Year: 2015
Keywords: abiotic methane; serpentinization; ophiolite; geological processes; carbonates; istopes; hydrocarbon synthesis; hydrogen; methane; olivine; hyperalkaline; ultramafic; low temperature
Record ID: 1312822
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/10092/10280


The production of hydrogen (H2) and methane (CH4) related to olivine hydration (i.e. serpentinization) is considered a major contributor to abiotic hydrocarbon synthesis on Earth. Recent discoveries have highlighted the importance of low temperature (<100oC) serpentinization at continental peridotite outcrops. Such sites produce substantial fluxes of abiotic CH4 from gas seeps and/or springs. A limited number of studies in the southern hemisphere offer research on low temperature abiotic hydrocarbon synthesis in natural ultramafic environments, though large areas of exposed ophiolite are prevalent. This study assesses the origin and flux of CH4 and related water-rock interactions from a previously undiscovered site in the Dun Mountain Ophiolite Belt (DMOB), located at Red Hills, New Zealand. Methane emissions from a hyper-alkaline (pH >11.6) and reduced spring of calcium hydroxide (Ca2+-OH-) type waters near the Maitlands Fault were between 730 to 17,000 mg m 2day 1. The δ13C and δD values of CH4 emitting from this spring are consistent with CH4 of abiotic origin (δ13C: 32.7 ‰ VPDB, δD: 363 ‰ V SMOW). Hyper-alkaline fluids emitting from the spring are concentrated in dissolved CH4 (2.2 mg/L) and H2 (0.7 mg/L) and display δ13CCH4 signatures consistent with other sites worldwide. Extensive and localised carbonate precipitation occurs at the hyper-alkaline Ca-rich spring. Isotopic evaluation of carbonate nodules are kinetically fractionated with 13C and 18O depletions up to 30.8 ‰ and 9.3 ‰, respectively. This disequilibrium between the mineralogy and interacting fluids and gases represents a potential habitable environment for microorganisms. Porous, layered carbonates located on the outer edges of the hyper-alkaline spring are the result of atmospheric CO2 interaction with magnesium bicarbonate (Mg2+-HCO3) and Ca2+-OH- hyper-alkaline waters. The precipitation of these carbonates offers potential insight towards low temperature CO2 sequestration. Additionally, various forms of Fe-rich amorphous material precipitate in association with Mg2+-HCO3 type waters at the Red Hills. The identification of bacteria and diatoms within this material offers supporting information regarding microbial survival in metal-rich, reduced environments. This multidisciplinary study demonstrates the interconnected nature of geological, biological and atmospheric interactions in ultramafic environments at low temperature on Earth.