Evolution of Organic Matter Degradation in Cretaceous Black Shales Inferred from Authigenic Barite: A Reaction-Transport Model

S. Arndt, A Hetzel, H.-J. Brumsack

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)

53 Citations (Scopus)


A reaction-transport model was used to infer the long-term evolution of anaerobic organic matter degradation in Cretaceous black shales from the distribution of authigenic barite in sediments drilled at Demerara Rise (ODP Leg 207, Site 1258). In these sediments, sulfate-reduction and methanogenesis are the major pathways of organic matter decomposition and the depth-distribution of authigenic barite serves as an indicator for the temporal evolution of the sulfate–methane transition zone (SMTZ), the strength of the biogenic methane flux and, ultimately, the organic matter reactivity in the black shales over geological timescales. Organic matter degradation is described according to the reactive continuum model approach and parameters values are determined by inverse modeling, based on present-day porewater and authigenic barite profiles. Fully transient simulations were performed over a period of 100 Myrs and indicate that important features of the biogeochemical dynamics are associated to changes in the boundary forcing. Hiatuses in sediment accumulation rate result in quasi-steady-state conditions and lead to distinct accumulations of authigenic barites in the SMTZ. The inversely determined parameters reveal that the reactivity of the organic matter was already low (apparent first order rate constant ) at the time of its deposition in the Cretaceous. The geochemical characteristics of sediments drilled at Demerara Rise, as well as the presence of specific biomarkers, suggest that this low reactivity is most likely due to the euxinic palaeo-conditions which favored the sulfurization of the organic matter. Simulation results predict average initial organic carbon contents between 8.1 and 9.5 wt%, implying a high preservation efficiency of the organic matter (between 79% and 89%). Calculated mass accumulation rates (between 0.43 and 0.5 ) compare well with estimations for the western basin of the Cretaceous southern North Atlantic. Simulation results thus indicate that the enhanced preservation of organic matter under euxinic conditions may have been the main cause for the formation of organic-rich Cretaceous black shales at Demerara Rise.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2000 - 2022
Number of pages22
JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2009

Bibliographical note

Author of Publication Reviewed: Arndt, S; Hetzel, A.; Brumsack, H.-J
Publisher: Elsevier

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