Skip to content
Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter September 20, 2020

The formation of marine red beds and iron cycling on the Mesoproterozoic North China Platform

  • Dongjie Tang , Jianbai Ma , Xiaoying Shi , Maxwell Lechte and Xiqiang Zhou
From the journal American Mineralogist


Marine red beds (MRBs) are common in sedimentary records, but their genesis and environmental implications remain controversial. Genetic models proposed for MRBs variably invoke diagenetic or primary enrichments of iron, with vastly different implications for the redox state of the contemporaneous water column. The Xiamaling Formation (ca. 1.4 Ga) in the North China Platform hosts MRBs that offer insights into the iron cycling and redox conditions during the Mesoproterozoic Era. In the Xiamaling MRBs, well-preserved, nanometer-sized flaky hematite particles are randomly dispersed in the clay (illite) matrix, within the pressure shadow of rigid detrital grains. The presence of hematite flake aggregates with multiple face-to-edge (“cardhouse”) contacts indicates that the hematite particles were deposited as loosely bound, primary iron oxyhydroxide flocs. No greenalite or other ferrous iron precursor minerals have been identified in the MRBs. Early diagenetic ankerite concretions hosted in the MRBs show non-zero I/(Ca+Mg) values and positive Ce anomalies (>1.3), suggesting active redox cycling of iodine and manganese and therefore the presence of molecular oxygen in the porewater and likely in the water column during their formation. These observations support the hypothesis that iron oxyhydroxide precipitation occurred in moderately oxygenated marine waters above storm wave base (likely <100 m). Continentally sourced iron reactivated through microbial dissimilatory iron reduction, and distal hydrothermal fluids may have supplied Fe(II) for the iron oxyhydroxide precipitation. The accumulation of the Xiamaling MRBs may imply a slight increase of seawater oxygenation and the existence of long-lasting adjacent ferruginous water mass.


We appreciate the constructive comments and suggestions from the editor and two anonymous reviewers, which improved the paper greatly. Thanks are also given to Ganqing Jiang for his critical comments, and to Mohan Shang, Yang Li, Haoming Wei, and Zhipeng Wang for their assistance in fieldwork.

  1. Funding

    The study was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Nos. 41930320, 41972028), the Key Research Program of the Institute of Geology & Geophysics, CAS (No. IGGCAS-201905), the Chinese “111” project (B20011), and by the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities (No. 2652018005, 2652019093, 265201925). Maxwell Lechte acknowledges funding from the Fonds de Recherche du Québec—Nature et Technologies.

References cited

Anbar, A.D., and Knoll, A.H. (2002) Proterozoic ocean chemistry and evolution: a bioinorganic bridge? Science, 297, 1137–1142.10.1126/science.1069651Search in Google Scholar

Bau, M., Möller, P., and Dulski, P. (1997) Yttrium and lanthanides in eastern Mediterranean seawater and their fractionation during redox-cycling. Marine Chemistry, 56, 123–131.10.1016/S0304-4203(96)00091-6Search in Google Scholar

Bekker, A., Planavsky, N.J, Krapež, B., Rasmussen, B., Hofmann, A., Slack, J.F., Rouxel, O.J., and Konhauser, K.O. (2014) Iron formations: Their origins and implications for ancient seawater chemistry. In H. Holland and K. Turekian, Eds., Treatise on Geochemistry, 9, 561–628. Elsevier.10.1016/B978-0-08-095975-7.00719-1Search in Google Scholar

Canfield, D.E., Zhang, S., Wang, H., Wang, X., Zhao, W., Su, J., Bjerrum, C.J., Haxen, E.R., and Hammarlund, E.U. (2018) A Mesoproterozoic iron formation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 115, E3895–E3904.10.1073/pnas.1720529115Search in Google Scholar

Chan, C.S., Emerson, D., and Luther, G.W. III (2016) The role of microaerophilic Fe-oxidizing micro-organisms in producing banded iron formations. Geobiology, 14, 509–528.10.1111/gbi.12192Search in Google Scholar

Cole, D.B., Reinhard, C.T., Wang, X., Gueguen, B., Halverson, G.P., Gibson, T., Hodgskiss, M.S.W., McKenzie, N.R., Lyons, T.W., and Planavsky, N.J. (2016) A shale-hosted Cr isotope record of low atmospheric oxygen during the Proterozoic. Geology, 44, 555–558.10.1130/G37787.1Search in Google Scholar

Cox, G.M., Jarrett, A., Edwards, D., Crockford, P.W., Halverson, G.P., Collins, A.S., Poirier, A., and Li, Z.X. (2016) Basin redox and primary productivity within the Mesoproterozoic Roper Seaway. Chemical Geology, 440, 101–114.10.1016/j.chemgeo.2016.06.025Search in Google Scholar

Deirieh, A., Chang, I.Y., Whittaker, M.L., Weigand, S., Keane, D., Rix, J., Germaine, J.T., Joester, D., and Flemings, P.B. (2018) Particle arrangements in clay slurries: The case against the honeycomb structure. Applied Clay Science, 152, 166–172.10.1016/j.clay.2017.11.010Search in Google Scholar

Derry, L.A., and Jacobsen, S.B. (1990) The chemical evolution of Precambrian seawater: evidence from REEs in banded iron formations. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 54, 2965–2977.10.1016/0016-7037(90)90114-ZSearch in Google Scholar

Eren, M., and Kadir, S. (1999) Colour origin of upper Cretaceous pelagic red sediments within the Eastern Pontides, northeast Turkey. International Journal of Earth Sciences, 88, 593–595.10.1007/s005310050287Search in Google Scholar

Franke, W., and Paul, J. (1980) Pelagic redbeds in the Devonian of Germany—deposition and diagenesis. Sedimentary Geology, 25, 231–256.10.1016/0037-0738(80)90043-3Search in Google Scholar

Galloway, J.J. (1922) Red limestones and their geologic significance (Abstract with discussion by I.C. White, G.H. Chadwick, T.W. Stanton, and R.S. Bassler). Geological Society of America Bulletin, 33, 105–107.Search in Google Scholar

Glud, R.N. (2008) Oxygen dynamics of marine sediments. Marine Biology Research, 4, 243–289.10.1080/17451000801888726Search in Google Scholar

Guo, H., Du, Y., Kah, L.C., Huang, J., Hu, C., Huang, H., and Yu, W. (2013) Isotopic composition of organic and inorganic carbon from the Mesoproterozoic Jixian Group, North China: Implications for biological and oceanic evolution. Precambrian Research, 224, 169–183.10.1016/j.precamres.2012.09.023Search in Google Scholar

Halevy, I., Alesker, M., Schuster, E.M., Popovitz-Biro, R., and Feldman, Y. (2017) A key role for green rust in the Precambrian oceans and the genesis of iron formations. Nature Geoscience, 10, 135–139.10.1038/ngeo2878Search in Google Scholar

Hardisty, D.S., Lu, Z., Bekker, A., Diamond, C.W., Gill, B.C., Jiang, G., Kah, L.C., Knoll, A.H., Loyd, S.J., Osburn, M.R., Planavsky, N.J., Wang, C.J., Zhou, X.L., and Lyons, T.W. (2017) Perspectives on Proterozoic surface ocean redox from iodine contents in ancient and recent carbonate. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 463, 159–170.10.1016/j.epsl.2017.01.032Search in Google Scholar

Hu, X.M., Wang, C.S., Li, X.H., and Jansa, L. (2006) Upper Cretaceous oceanic red beds in southern Tibet: Lithofacies, environments and colour origin. Science in China Series D: Earth Sciences, 49, 785–795.10.1007/s11430-006-0785-7Search in Google Scholar

Hu, X.M., Scott, R.W., Cai, Y.F., Wang, C.S., and Melinte-Dobrinescu, M.C. (2012) Cretaceous oceanic red beds (CORBs): Different time scales and models of origin. Earth-Science Reviews, 115, 217–248.10.1016/j.earscirev.2012.09.007Search in Google Scholar

Johnson, K.S., Gordon, R.M., and Coale, K.H. (1997) What controls dissolved iron concentrations in the world ocean? Marine Chemistry, 57, 137–161.10.1016/S0304-4203(97)00043-1Search in Google Scholar

Johnson, J.E., Webb, S.M., Ma, C., and Fischer, W.W. (2016) Manganese mineralogy and diagenesis in the sedimentary rock record. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 173, 210–231.10.1016/j.gca.2015.10.027Search in Google Scholar

Kappler, A., Pasquero, C., Konhauser, K.O., and Newman, D.K. (2005) Deposition of banded iron formations by anoxygenic phototrophic Fe(II)-oxidizing bacteria. Geology, 33, 865–868.10.1130/G21658.1Search in Google Scholar

Li, W., Beard, B.L., and Johnson, C.M. (2015) Biologically recycled continental iron is a major component in banded iron formations. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112, 8193–8198.10.1073/pnas.1505515112Search in Google Scholar PubMed PubMed Central

Lide, D.R., Ed. (2004) CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics, 2661 p. CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida.Search in Google Scholar

Lin, Y.T., Tang, D.J., Shi, X.Y., Zhou, X.Q., and Huang, K.J. (2019) Shallow-marine ironstones formed by microaerophilic iron-oxidizing bacteria in terminal Paleoproterozoic. Gondwana Research, 76, 1–18.10.1016/ in Google Scholar

Liu, M., Chen, D.Z., Zhou, X.Q., Tang, D.J., Them, T.R. II, and Jiang, M.S. (2019a) Upper Ordovician marine red limestones, Tarim Basin, NW China: A product of an oxygenated deep ocean and changing climate? Global and Planetary Change, 183, 103032.10.1016/j.gloplacha.2019.103032Search in Google Scholar

Liu, A.Q., Tang, D.J., Shi, X.Y., Zhou, L.M., Zhou, X.Q., Shang, M.H., Li, Y., and Song, H.Y. (2019b) Growth mechanisms and environmental implications of carbonate concretions from the ~1.4 Ga Xiamaling Formation, North China. Journal of Palaeogeography, 8, 20.10.1186/s42501-019-0036-4Search in Google Scholar

Liu, A.Q., Tang, D.J., Shi, X.Y., Zhou, X.Q., Zhou, L.M., Shang, M.H., Li, Y., and Fang, H. (2020) Mesoproterozoic oxygenated deep seawater recorded by early diagenetic carbonate concretions from the Member IV of the Xiamaling Formation, North China. Precambrian Research, in press, in Google Scholar

Lu, Z.L., Jenkyns, H.C., and Rickaby, R.E. (2010) Iodine to calcium ratios in marine carbonate as a paleo-redox proxy during oceanic anoxic events. Geology, 38, 1107–1110.10.1130/G31145.1Search in Google Scholar

Luo, G.M., Hallmann, C., Xie, S., Ruan, X., and Summons, R.E. (2015) Comparative microbial diversity and redox environments of black shale and stromatolite facies in the Mesoproterozoic Xiamaling Formation. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 151, 150–167.10.1016/j.gca.2014.12.022Search in Google Scholar

Lyons, T.W., and Severmann, S. (2006) A critical look at iron paleoredox proxies: New insights from modern euxinic marine basins. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 70, 5698–5722.10.1016/j.gca.2006.08.021Search in Google Scholar

Lyons, T.W., Reinhard, C.T., and Planavsky, N.J. (2014) The rise of oxygen in Earth’s early ocean and atmosphere. Nature, 506, 307–315.10.1038/nature13068Search in Google Scholar PubMed

Ma, L.F., Qiao, X.F., Ming, L.R., Fan, B.X., and Ding, X.Z. (2002) Atlas of Geological Maps of China, 348 p. Geological Press, Beijing (in Chinese).Search in Google Scholar

Mamet, B., and Préat, A. (2006) Iron-bacterial mediation in Phanerozoic red limestones: state of the art. Sedimentary Geology, 185, 147–157.10.1016/j.sedgeo.2005.12.009Search in Google Scholar

Mukherjee, I., and Large, R.R. (2016) Pyrite trace element chemistry of the Velkerri Formation, Roper Group, McArthur Basin: Evidence for atmospheric oxygenation during the Boring Billion. Precambrian Research, 281, 13–26.10.1016/j.precamres.2016.05.003Search in Google Scholar

Neuhuber, S., Wagreich, M., Wendler, I., and Spötl, C. (2007) Turonian oceanic red beds in the Eastern Alps: Concepts for palaeoceanographic changes in the Mediterranean Tethys. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 251, 222–238.10.1016/j.palaeo.2007.03.049Search in Google Scholar

Nishida, N., Ito, M., Inoue, A., and Takizawa, S. (2013) Clay fabric of fluid-mud deposits from laboratory and field observations: Potential application to the stratigraphic record. Marine Geology, 337, 1–8.10.1016/j.margeo.2012.12.006Search in Google Scholar

Ossa, F.O., Hofmann, A., Wille, M., Spangenberg, J.E., Bekker, A., Poulton, S.W., Eickmann, B., and Schoenberg, R. (2018) Aerobic iron and manganese cycling in a redox-stratified Mesoarchean epicontinental sea. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 500, 28–40.10.1016/j.epsl.2018.07.044Search in Google Scholar

Planavsky, N., Bekker, A., Rouxel, O.J., Kamber, B., Hofmann, A., Knudsen, A., and Lyons, T.W. (2010) Rare earth element and yttrium compositions of Archean and Paleoproterozoic Fe formations revisited: new perspectives on the significance and mechanisms of deposition. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 74, 6387–6405.10.1016/j.gca.2010.07.021Search in Google Scholar

Planavsky, N.J., McGoldrick, P., Scott, C.T., Li, C., Reinhard, C.T., Kelly, A.E., Chu, X., Bekker, A., Love, G.D., and Lyons, T.W. (2011) Widespread iron-rich conditions in the mid-Proterozoic ocean. Nature, 477, 448–451.10.1038/nature10327Search in Google Scholar PubMed

Planavsky, N.J., Reinhard, C.T., Wang, X., Thomson, D., McGoldrick, P., Rainbird, R.H., Johnson, T., Fischer, W.W., and Lyons, T.W. (2014) Low Mid-Proterozoic atmospheric oxygen levels and the delayed rise of animals. Science, 346, 635–638.10.1126/science.1258410Search in Google Scholar PubMed

Planavsky, N.J., Cole, D.B., Isson, T.T., Reinhard, C.T., Crockford, P.W., Sheldon, N.D., and Lyons, T.W. (2018) A case for low atmospheric oxygen levels during Earth’s middle history. Emerging Topics in Life Sciences, 2, 149–159.10.1042/ETLS20170161Search in Google Scholar PubMed

Poulton, S.W., and Canfield, D.E. (2011) Ferruginous conditions: a dominant feature of the ocean through Earth’s history. Elements, 7, 107–112.10.2113/gselements.7.2.107Search in Google Scholar

Poulton, S.W., Fralick, P.W., and Canfield, D.E. (2010) Spatial variability in oceanic redox structure 1.8 billion years ago. Nature Geoscience, 3, 486–490.10.1038/ngeo889Search in Google Scholar

Préat, A.R., de Jong, J.T., Mamet, B.L., and Mattielli, N. (2008) Stable iron isotopes and microbial mediation in red pigmentation of the Rosso Ammonitico (Mid-Late Jurassic, Verona area, Italy). Astrobiology, 8, 841–857.10.1089/ast.2006.0035Search in Google Scholar PubMed

Rasmussen, B., Fletcher, I.R., Bekker, A., Muhling, J.R., Gregory, C.J., and Thorne, A.M. (2012) Deposition of 1.88-billion-year-old iron formations as a consequence of rapid crustal growth. Nature, 484, 498–501.10.1038/nature11021Search in Google Scholar PubMed

Rasmussen, B., Muhling, J.R., Suvorova, A., and Krapež, B. (2016) Dust to dust: Evidence for the formation of “primary” hematite dust in banded iron formations via oxidation of iron silicate nanoparticles. Precambrian Research, 284, 49–63.10.1016/j.precamres.2016.07.003Search in Google Scholar

Rasmussen, B., Muhling, J.R., and Fischer, W.W. (2019) Evidence from laminated chert in banded iron formations for deposition by gravitational settling of iron-silicate muds. Geology, 47, 167–170.10.1130/G45560.1Search in Google Scholar

Ryan, P.C., and Reynolds, R.C. (1996) The origin and diagenesis of grain-coating serpentine-chlorite in Tuscaloosa Formation sandstone, U.S. Gulf Coast. American Mineralogist, 81, 213–225.10.2138/am-1996-1-226Search in Google Scholar

Shang, M.H., Tang, D.J., Shi, X.Y., Zhou, L.M., Zhou, X.Q., Song, H.Y., and Jiang, G.Q. (2019) A pulse of oxygen increase in the early Mesoproterozoic ocean at ca. 1.57–1.56 Ga. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 527, 115797.10.1016/j.epsl.2019.115797Search in Google Scholar

Song, H.J., Jiang, G.Q., Poulton, S.W., Wignall, P.B., Tong, J.N., Song, H.Y., An, Z.H., Chu, D.L., Tian, L., She, Z.B., and Wang, C.S. (2017) The onset of widespread marine red beds and the evolution of ferruginous oceans. Nature Communications, 8, 399.10.1038/s41467-017-00502-xSearch in Google Scholar PubMed PubMed Central

Sperling, E.A., Rooney, A.D., Hays, L., Sergeev, V.N., Vorob’eva, N.G., Sergeeva, N.D., Selby, D., Johnston, D.T., and Knoll, A.H. (2014) Redox heterogeneity of subsurface waters in the Mesoproterozoic ocean. Geobiology, 12, 373–386.10.1111/gbi.12091Search in Google Scholar PubMed

Tang, D.J., Shi, X.Y., Jiang, G.Q., Zhou, X.Q., and Shi, Q. (2017) Ferruginous seawater facilitates the transformation of glauconite to chamosite: An example from the Mesoproterozoic Xiamaling Formation of North China. American Mineralogist, 102, 2317–2332.10.2138/am-2017-6136Search in Google Scholar

Tang, D.J., Shi, X.Y., Jiang, G.Q., Wu, T., Ma, J.B., and Zhou, X.Q. (2018) Stratiform siderites from the Mesoproterozoic Xiamaling Formation in North China: Genesis and environmental implications. Gondwana Research, 58, 1–15.10.1016/ in Google Scholar

Tostevin, R., Wood, R., Shields, G., Poulton, S., Guilbaud, R., Bowyer, F., Penny, A., He, T., Curtis, A., and Hoffmann, K. (2016) Low-oxygen waters limited habitable space for early animals. Nature Communications, 7, 12818.10.1038/ncomms12818Search in Google Scholar PubMed PubMed Central

Van Houten, F.B. (1973) Origin of red beds: a review—1961–1972. Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences, 1, 39–61.10.1146/annurev.ea.01.050173.000351Search in Google Scholar

Wang, H.Z., Chu, X.C., Liu, B.P., Hou, H.F., and Ma, L.F. (1985) Atlas of the Palaeogeography of China, 143 p. Cartographic Publishing House, Beijing (in Chinese and English).Search in Google Scholar

Wang, C.S., Hu, X.M., Huang, Y.J., Wagreich, M., Scott, R., and Hay, W. (2011) Cretaceous oceanic red beds as possible consequence of oceanic anoxic events. Sedimentary Geology, 235, 27–37.10.1016/j.sedgeo.2010.06.025Search in Google Scholar

Wang, X.M., Zhang, S.C., Wang, H.J., Bjerrum, C.J., Hammarlund, E.U., Haxen, E.R., Su, J., Wang, Y., and Canfield, D.E. (2017) Oxygen, climate and the chemical evolution of a 1400 million year old tropical marine setting. American Journal of Science, 317, 861–900.10.2475/08.2017.01Search in Google Scholar

Wang, H.Y., Zhang, Z.H., Li, C., Algeo, T.J., Cheng, M., and Wang, W. (2020) Spatiotemporal redox heterogeneity and transient marine shelf oxygenation in the Mesoproterozoic ocean. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 270, 201–217.10.1016/j.gca.2019.11.028Search in Google Scholar

Zhang, S.H., Zhao, Y., Yang, Z.Y., He, Z.F., and Wu, H. (2009) The 1.35 Ga diabase sills from the Northern North China Craton: implications for breakup of the Columbia (Nuna) supercontinent. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 288, 588–600.10.1016/j.epsl.2009.10.023Search in Google Scholar

Zhang, S.C., Wang, X.M., Hammarlund, E.U., Wang, H.J., Costa, M.M., Bjerrum, C.J., Connelly, J.N., Zhang, B.M., Bian, L.Z., and Canfield, D.E. (2015a) Orbital forcing of climate 1.4 billion years ago. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112, E1406–E1413.10.1073/pnas.1502239112Search in Google Scholar PubMed PubMed Central

Zhang, K., Zhu, X.K., and Yan, B. (2015b) A refined dissolution method for rare earth element studies of bulk carbonate rocks. Chemical Geology, 412, 82–91.10.1016/j.chemgeo.2015.07.027Search in Google Scholar

Zhang, S.C., Wang, X.M., Wang, H.J., Bjerrum, C.J., Hammarlund, E.U., Costa, M.M., Connelly, J.N., Zhang, B.M., Su, J., and Canfield, D.E. (2016) Sufficient oxygen for animal respiration 1,400 million years ago. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113, 1731–1736.10.1073/pnas.1523449113Search in Google Scholar PubMed PubMed Central

Zhang, S.C., Wang, X.M., Wang, H., Hammarlund, E.U., Su, J., Wang, Y., and Canfield, D.E. (2017) The oxic degradation of sedimentary organic matter 1400 Ma constrains atmospheric oxygen levels. Biogeosciences Discussions, 14, 2133–2149.10.5194/bg-14-2133-2017Search in Google Scholar

Zou, Y., Liu, D.N., Zhao, F.H., Kuang, H.W., Song, C.G., Sun, Y.X., Zhou, R., and Cheng, J.B. (2019) Reconstruction of nearshore chemical conditions in the Mesoproterozoic: evidence from red and grey beds of the Yangzhuang formation, North China Craton. International Geology Review, in press, in Google Scholar

Received: 2019-12-14
Accepted: 2020-03-01
Published Online: 2020-09-20
Published in Print: 2020-09-25

© 2020 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

Downloaded on 28.5.2023 from
Scroll to top button