Journal of Sedimentary Research, 2000
Petrographic and geochemical analyses of travertine-depositing hot springs at Angel Terrace, Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park, have been used to define five depositional facies along the spring drainage system. Spring waters are expelled in the vent facies at 71 to 73°C and precipitate mounded travertine composed of aragonite needle botryoids. The apron and channel facies (43–72°C) is floored by hollow tubes composed of aragonite needle botryoids that encrust sulfide-oxidizing Aquificales bacteria. The travertine of the pond facies (30–62°C) varies in composition from aragonite needle shrubs formed at higher temperatures to ridged networks of calcite and aragonite at lower temperatures. Calcite "ice sheets", calcified bubbles, and aggregates of aragonite needles ("fuzzy dumbbells") precipitate at the air–water interface and settle to pond floors. The proximal-slope facies (28–54°C), which forms the margins of terracette pools, is composed of arcuate aragonite needle shrubs that create small microterracettes on the steep slope face. Finally, the distal-slope facies (28–30°C) is composed of calcite spherules and calcite "feather" crystals.
Despite the presence of abundant microbial mat communities and their observed role in providing substrates for mineralization, the compositions of spring-water and travertine predominantly reflect abiotic physical and chemical processes. Vigorous CO2 degassing causes a +2 unit increase in spring water pH, as well as Rayleigh-type covariations between the concentration of dissolved inorganic carbon and corresponding δ13C. Travertine δ13C and δ18O are nearly equivalent to aragonite and calcite equilibrium values calculated from spring water in the higher-temperature (~50–73°C) depositional facies. Conversely, travertine precipitating in the lower-temperature (<~50°C) depositional facies exhibits δ13C and δ18O values that are as much as 4‰ less than predicted equilibrium values. This isotopic shift may record microbial respiration as well as downstream transport of travertine crystals. Despite the production of H2S and the abundance of sulfideoxidizing microbes, preliminary δ34S data do not uniquely define the microbial metabolic pathways present in the spring system. This suggests that the high extent of CO2 degassing and large open-system solute reservoir in these thermal systems overwhelm biological controls on travertine crystal chemistry.
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