Anaerobic oxidation of methane alters sediment records of sulfur, iron and phosphorus in the Black Sea
Abstract. The surface sediments in the Black Sea are underlain by extensive deposits of iron (Fe)-oxide-rich lake sediments that were deposited prior to the inflow of marine Mediterranean Sea waters ca. 9000 years ago. The subsequent downward diffusion of marine sulfate into the methane-bearing lake sediments has led to a multitude of diagenetic reactions in the sulfate-methane transition zone (SMTZ), including anaerobic oxidation of methane (AOM) with sulfate. While the sedimentary cycles of sulfur (S), methane and Fe in the SMTZ have been extensively studied, relatively little is known about the diagenetic alterations of the sediment record occurring below the SMTZ.
Here we combine detailed geochemical analyses of the sediment and porewater with multicomponent diagenetic modeling to study the diagenetic alterations below the SMTZ at two sites in the western Black Sea. We focus on the dynamics of Fe, S and phosphorus (P), and demonstrate that diagenesis has strongly overprinted the sedimentary burial records of these elements. In line with previous studies in the Black Sea, we show that sulfate-mediated AOM substantially enhances the downward diffusive flux of sulfide into the deep limnic deposits. During this downward sulfidization, Fe oxides, Fe carbonates and Fe phosphates (e.g., vivianite) are converted to sulfide phases, leading to an enrichment in solid-phase S and the release of phosphate to the porewater. Below the sulfidization front, high concentrations of dissolved ferrous Fe (Fe2+) lead to sequestration of downward-diffusing phosphate as authigenic vivianite, resulting in a transient accumulation of total P directly below the sulfidization front.
Our model results further demonstrate that downward-migrating sulfide becomes partly re-oxidized to sulfate due to reactions with oxidized Fe minerals, fueling a cryptic S cycle and thus stimulating slow rates of sulfate-driven AOM ( ∼ 1–100 pmol cm−3 d−1) in the sulfate-depleted limnic deposits. However, this process is unlikely to explain the observed release of dissolved Fe2+ below the SMTZ. Instead, we suggest that besides organoclastic Fe oxide reduction and reactivation of less reactive Fe oxides by methanogens, AOM coupled to the reduction of Fe oxides may also provide a possible mechanism for the high concentrations of Fe2+ in the porewater at depth. Our results reveal that methane plays a key role in the diagenetic alterations of Fe, S and P records in Black Sea sediments. The downward sulfidization into the limnic deposits is enhanced through sulfate-driven AOM with sulfate, and AOM with Fe oxides may provide a deep source of dissolved Fe2+ that drives the sequestration of P in vivianite below the sulfidization front.