Cobalt and marine redox evolution

Elizabeth D. Swanner, Noah J. Planavsky, Stefan V. Lalonde, Leslie J. Robbins, Andrey Bekker, Olivier J. Rouxel, Mak A. Saito, Andreas Kappler, Stephen J. Mojzsis, Kurt O. Konhauser

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52 Citations (Scopus)


Cobalt (Co) is a bio-essential trace element and limiting nutrient in some regions of the modern oceans. It has been proposed that Co was more abundant in poorly ventilated Precambrian oceans based on the greater utilization of Co by anaerobic microbes relative to plants and animals. However, there are few empirical or theoretical constraints on the history of seawater Co concentrations. Herein, we present a survey of authigenic Co in marine sediments (iron formations, authigenic pyrite and bulk euxinic shales) with the goal of tracking changes in the marine Co reservoir throughout Earth's history. We further provide an overview of the modern marine Co cycle, which we use as a platform to evaluate how changes in the redox state of Earth's surface were likely to have affected marine Co concentrations. Based on sedimentary Co contents and our understanding of marine Co sources and sinks, we propose that from ca. 2.8 to 1.8 Ga the large volume of hydrothermal fluids circulating through abundant submarine ultramafic rocks along with a predominantly anoxic ocean with a low capacity for Co burial resulted in a large dissolved marine Co reservoir. We tentatively propose that there was a decrease in marine Co concentrations after ca. 1.8 Ga resulting from waning hydrothermal Co sources and the expansion of sulfide Co burial flux. Changes in the Co reservoir due to deep-water ventilation in the Neoproterozoic, if they occurred, are not resolvable with the current dataset. Rather, Co enrichments in Phanerozoic euxinic shales deposited during ocean anoxic events (OAE) indicate Co mobilization from expanded anoxic sediments and enhanced hydrothermal sources. A new record of marine Co concentrations provides a platform from which we can reevaluate the role that environmental Co concentrations played in shaping biological Co utilization throughout Earth's history.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)253-263
Number of pages11
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Publication statusPublished - Mar 15 2014


  • Cobalt
  • Iron formation
  • Ocean redox
  • Pyrite
  • Shale
  • Trace element proxies

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science

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    Swanner, E. D., Planavsky, N. J., Lalonde, S. V., Robbins, L. J., Bekker, A., Rouxel, O. J., Saito, M. A., Kappler, A., Mojzsis, S. J., & Konhauser, K. O. (2014). Cobalt and marine redox evolution. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 390, 253-263.