04. June 2012 How does Dolomite form?

Scientists in Kiel show the influence of marine bacteria on mineral formation

The formation of the mineral dolomite is still puzzling scientists.


Research-ers from the Cluster of Excellence "The Future Ocean" and GEOMAR | Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel together with colleagues from Switzerland and Spain have now shown that bacteria can facilitate the formation of dolomite. The study has been published online in the international journal "Geology".

Not only in the Dolomites, but throughout the world dolomite is quite common. More than 90 percent of dolomite is made up of the mineral dolomite. It was first described scientifically in the 18th century. But who would have thought that the formation of this mineral is still not fully understood, although geologists are aware of large deposits of directly formed (primary) dolomite from the past 600 million years. The process of recent primary dolomite formation is restricted to extreme eco-systems such as bacterial mats in highly saline lakes and lagoons. "As these systems are very lim-ited in space, there is an explanation gap for geologists for the widespread presence of fossil dolomite," explains Dr. Stefan Krause, Geomicrobiologist at GEOMAR | Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel.

A team of biologists and geochemists, who are conducting research together in the Cluster of Ex-cellence "Future Ocean", in collaboration with colleagues at the ETH Zurich and the Centro de Ma-drid Astrobiología, have now brought a little light into the darkness of this scientific riddle. Their findings are published in the advance online issue of the international journal "Geology".

In simple laboratory experiments with globally distributed marine bacteria which use sulphur com-pounds instead of oxygen for energy production (sulfaterespiration), the scientists were able to demonstrate the formation of primary dolomite crystals under conditions that prevail today in ma-rine sediments. "The dolomite precipitates exclusively within a mucus matrix, secreted by the bac-teria to form biofilms," says Stefan Krause, for whom this study is an important part of his PhD the-sis. “Different chemical conditions prevail within the biofilm compared to in the surrounding water. In particular, the alteration of the magnesium to calcium ratio plays an important role. These changes allow for the formation of dolomite crystals."

The study has provided further insight. "We were able to show that the ratio of different isotopes of calcium between the ambient water, the biofilm and dolomite crystals is different," explains Dr. Volker Liebetrau from GEOMAR. "This ratio is an important tool for us to reconstruct past environ-mental conditions. The fact that bacteria are involved in this process allows more precise interpre-tations of climate signals that are stored in rocks."

Evidence of primary dolomite formation by a process as common as microbial sulphate respiration under conditions that currently prevail in the seabed, provides new insights into the reconstruction of fossil dolomite deposits. But why are large scale deposits from primary dolomite no longer formed at the ocean floor? "Here we are still faced with a puzzle," says Professor Tina Treude, head of the Working Group at GEOMAR. "One possibility is that massive primary dolomite can form particularly during times when large quantities of organic matter in the seabed are degraded by sulfate-respiring bacteria. Such conditions exist when the sea water above the seafloor is free of oxygen. In Earth’s history, several such oxygen-free periods have occurred, partly consistent with time periods of intensified dolomite deposition. "


Krause, S., V. Liebetrau, S. Gorb, M. Sánchez-Román, J.A. McKenzie, T. Treude, 2012: Microbial nucleation of Mg-rich dolomite in exopolymeric substances under anoxic modern seawater salinity: New insight into an old enigma. Geology, dx.doi.org/10.1130/G32923.1



Images are available for download at www.geomar.de/n754


Prof. Dr. Tina Treude (GEOMAR, FB2-Marine Geosysteme), Tel.: 0431 600 2837, ttreude@geomar.de

Jan Steffen (GEOMAR, Kommunikation & Medien), Tel.: 0431 600-2811, jsteffen@geomar.de

Press material

104 KB / 900x600 px / download

Dr Stefan Krause (GEOMAR/The Future Ocean) in a Lab of GEOMAR.
Die Kieler Meereswissenschaftler konnten nachweisen, dass sulfatatmende Bakterien unter weit verbreiteten Umweltbedingungen Dolomitkristalle bilden können.
Picture: J. Steffen, GEOMAR

116 KB / 600x600 px / download

This picture shows the biofilm of a sulfate respiring bacteria species. Small white dots show Dolomite crystals. Photo taken with a confocal laser microscope (ETH Zurich/Uni Zurich)
Picture: ETH Zürich/Uni Zürich

4 KB / download

Test PDF
Lorem ipsum dolor
Author: Max Mustermann