A multiple sulfur record of super-large volcanic eruptions in Archaean pyrite nodules

Andrea Agangi, Axel Hofmann, Benjamin Eickmann, Frantz Ossa Ossa, Perinne Tyler, Boswell Wing, Andrey Bekker

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Archaean supracrustal rocks carry a record of mass-independently fractionated S that is interpreted to be derived from UV-induced photochemical reactions in an oxygen-deficient atmosphere. Experiments with photochemical reactions of SO2 gas have provided some insight into these processes. However, reconciling experimental results with the multiple S isotopic composition of the Archaean sedimentary record has proven difficult and represents one of the outstanding issues in understanding the Archaean surface S-cycle. We present quadruple S isotope data (32S, 33S, 34S, 36S) for pyrite from Mesoarchaean carbonaceous sediments of the Dominion Group, South Africa, deposited in an acidic volcanic lake, which help reconcile observations from the Archaean sedimentary record with the results of photochemical experiments. The data, which show low Δ33S/δ34S ratios (mostly ≪ 1) and very negative Δ36S/Δ33S ratios (−4 and lower), contrast with the composition of most Archaean sedimentary sulfides and sulfates, having Δ36S/Δ33S∼−1 (the so-called ‘Archaean reference array’), but match those of modern photochemical sulfate aerosols produced in the stratosphere, following super-large volcanic eruptions, and preserved in Antarctic ice. These data are also consistent with the results of UV-irradiation experiments of SO2 gas at variable gas pressure. The S isotope composition of the Dominion Group pyrite is here interpreted to reflect the products of photolysis in a low-oxygen-level atmosphere at high SO2 pressure during large volcanic eruptions, mixed with Archaean ‘background’ (having a composition broadly similar to the Archaean reference array) S pools. It is inferred that high sedimentation rates in a terrestrial basin resulted in an instantaneously trapped input of atmospheric S during short-lasted depositional intervals, which faithfully represents transient photochemical signals in comparison with marine sedimentary records.

Original languageBritish English
Article number117737
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
StatePublished - 15 Sep 2022


  • Archaean
  • Kaapvaal
  • multiple-S isotopes
  • pyrite


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