Chromium isotope fractionation during subduction-related metamorphism, black shale weathering, and hydrothermal alteration Academic Article uri icon


  • Chromium (Cr) isotopes are an emerging proxy for redox processes at Earth’s surface. However, many geological reservoirs and isotope fractionation processes are still not well understood. The purpose of this contribution is to move forward our understanding of (1) Earth’s high temperature Cr isotope inventory and (2) Cr isotope fractionations during subduction-related metamorphism, black shale weathering and hydrothermal alteration. The examined basalts and their metamorphosed equivalents yielded ?53Cr values falling within a narrow range of -0.12±0.13‰ (2SD, n=30), consistent with the previously reported range for the bulk silicate Earth (BSE). Compilations of currently available data for fresh silicate rocks (43 samples), metamorphosed silicate rocks (50 samples), and mantle chromites (39 samples) give ?53Cr values of -0.13±0.13‰, -0.11±0.13‰, and -0.07±0.13‰, respectively. Although the number of high-temperature samples analyzed has tripled, the originally proposed BSE range appears robust. This suggests very limited Cr isotope fractionation under high temperature conditions. Additionally, in a highly altered metacarbonate transect that is representative of fluid-rich regional metamorphism, we did not find resolvable variations in ?53Cr, despite significant loss of Cr. This work suggests that primary Cr isotope signatures may be preserved even in instances of intense metamorphic alteration at relatively high fluid-rock ratios. Oxidative weathering of black shale at low pH creates isotopically heavy mobile Cr(VI). However, a significant proportion of the Cr(VI) is apparently immobilized near the weathering surface, leading to local enrichment of isotopically heavy Cr (?53Cr values up to ~0.5‰). The observed large Cr isotope variation in the black shale weathering profile provides indirect evidence for active manganese oxide formation, which is primarily controlled by microbial activity. Lastly, we found widely variable ?53Cr (-0.2‰ to 0.6‰) values in highly serpentinized peridotites from ocean drilling program drill cores and outcropping ophiolite sequences. The isotopically heavy serpentinites are most easily explained through a multi-stage alteration processes: Cr loss from the host rock under oxidizing conditions, followed by Cr enrichment under sulfate reducing conditions. In contrast, Cr isotope variability is limited in mildly altered mafic oceanic crust.

publication date

  • March 2016