Micro-bioerosion in volcanic glass: Extending the ichnofossil record to Archaean basaltic crust

Nicola McLoughlin, Harald Furnes, Neil R. Banerjee, Hubert Staudigel, Karlis Muehlenbachs, Maarten De Wit, Martin J. Van Kranendonk

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

20 Citations (Scopus)


Microbial bioerosion of volcanic glass produces conspicuous ichnofossils in oceanic crusts that are a valuable tracer of sub-surface microorganisms. Two morphologically distinct granular and tubular ichnofossils are produced. The 'Granular form' consists of individual or coalescing, spherical bodies with average diameters of ~0.4 μm. The 'Tubular form' are straight, sometimes branched, to curving and spiralled tubes with average diameters of 1-2 μm and lengths of up to ~200 μm. A biogenic origin for these structures is confirmed by: the concentration of DNA that binds to biological stains in recent examples; enrichments in C, N and P along their margins in both recent and ancient examples; and systematic C isotope shifts measured upon disseminated carbonate in the surrounding glass. The constructing microorganisms are thought to include heterotrophs and chemolithoautotrophs that may utilise Fe and Mn from basaltic glass as electron donors and derive carbon sources and electron acceptors from circulating fluids. These microbial ichnofossils are found at depths of up to 550 metres in the oceanic crust in the glassy rims of pillow basalts and interpillow breccias. A diverse spectrum of ichnofabrics is created by overlapping phases of granular and tubular bioerosion; banded abiotic dissolution; and the precipitation of phyllosilicates, zeolites and iron-oxy-hydroxides. The resulting ichnofabrics have been documented from in situ oceanic crust spanning the youngest to the oldest oceanic basins (0 to 170 Ma). Their geological record extends to include meta-volcanic glass in oceanic crustal fragments from Phanerozoic to Proterozoic ophiolites. Examples infilled by the mineral titanite (CaTiSiO4) have also been found in Palaeo- to Mesoarchaean pillow basalts from the Barberton Greenstone Belt of South Africa and the East Pilbara Terrane of Western Australia. Direct 206Pb/ 238U radiometric dating of the Australia examples has confirmed their Archaean age and thus they represent the oldest candidate ichnofossils on Earth.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCurrent Developments in Bioerosion
PublisherKluwer Academic Publishers
Number of pages26
ISBN (Print)9783540775973
Publication statusPublished - 2008
Externally publishedYes
Event2006 5th International Bioerosion Workshop - Erlangen, Germany
Duration: Sep 12 2006Sep 13 2006

Publication series

NameCurrent Developments in Bioerosion


Other2006 5th International Bioerosion Workshop


  • Bioerosion
  • Deep biosphere
  • Ichnofossils
  • Oceanic crust
  • Origins of life
  • Volcanic glass

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surfaces and Interfaces


Dive into the research topics of 'Micro-bioerosion in volcanic glass: Extending the ichnofossil record to Archaean basaltic crust'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this