Biogeochemistry of intertidal microbial mats of Qatar: new insights from organic matter characterization

Mirek Slowakiewicz, Fiona F Whitaker, Lisa Thomas, Maurice Tucker, Yanhong Zheng, Przemyslaw Gedl, Rich D Pancost

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)
189 Downloads (Pure)


Understanding early organic matter alteration and preservation in marine carbonate-evaporite systems could improve understanding of carbon cycling and hydrocarbon source rock prediction in such environments. It is possible that organic-rich microbial mats are important contributors to preserved hydrocarbons, and to explore this we examined changes in lipid composition in such a mat from a mesohaline intertidal lagoon, eastern Qatar. The mat reaches > 5 cm thickness over a carbonate mud substrate, rich in seagrass, gastropods and other small bioclasts. Clear lamination, with distinct downward colour changes from green to pink to brown, reflects different microbial mat communities. The layers contain spheroids of probable dolomite, the precipitation of which was plausibly bacterially-mediated. Lipids [n-alkanes, fatty acids (FAs), hopanoids, isoprenoid hydrocarbons, dialkyl glycerol diethers (DAGEs), and isoprenoid (0 to 4) and branched (Ia to IIIa) GDGTs] reflect the diverse mat-building phototrophic, heterotrophic and chemoorganotrophic microorganisms, as well as some likely allochthonous material (i.e. steroids, n-alkanols, high molecular weight n-alkanes). The lipids clearly document the change in microbial community, with phytene being the predominant hydrocarbon in the phototrophic surface layer. Oxygen and pH drop significantly 0.2 cm below the mat surface, coincident with the predominance of Deltaproteobacteria and increased concentrations of archaeal and bacterial glycerol dialkyl glycerol tetraether lipids andC15/C16 and C16/C17 dialkyl glycerol ether lipids in the deeper layers. Archaeol, likely of methanogen origin, is most abundant in the deepest layer. Allochthonous inputs occur throughout the mat, including abundant steroids, especially dinosterol and dinostanol, that are possibly related to periodic algal (dinoflagellate) blooms in the Arabian Gulf. Both n-alkanes and n-alkanols appear to be derived from seagrass. Organic matter contents decrease in the deepest mat; this suggests an overall low preservation potential of OM in intertidal mesohaline-hypersaline mats of the Arabian Gulf, which in turn suggests that these are not the major source of hydrocarbons in microbially-dominated carbonate-evaporite systems.
Original languageEnglish
JournalOrganic Geochemistry
Early online date3 Oct 2016
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2016


  • microbial mats
  • lipid biomarkers
  • early diagenesis
  • selective preservation
  • Qatar
  • dolomite


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