Neoproterozoic peritidal phosphorite from the Sete Lagoas Formation (Brazil) and the Precambrian phosphorus cycle

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Abstract

The Neoproterozoic Sete Lagoas Formation (ca 610 Ma) of the São Francisco Basin, Brazil, is a succession of siltstone, limestone and phosphorite. Phosphorite forms part of a previously unrecognized 150 to 200 m thick, unconformity bounded depositional sequence. Lithofacies stacking patterns indicate that deposition was punctuated by higher order fluctuations in base level that produced aggradational parasequences. These shallowing-upward cycles record the progradation of phosphate-rich intertidal flats over shallow subtidal deposits as accommodation filled. The presence of mudcracks, authigenic chert nodules, lack of coarse terrigenous clastics and the abundance of silt with fine, abraded quartz grains suggests accumulation along an arid coastline with significant aeolian input. Delivery of phosphorus adsorbed on aeolian Fe-(oxyhydr)oxide and clay is interpreted as having stimulated phosphogenesis in peritidal environments. Lithofacies associations indicate that windblown phosphorus promoted the establishment of cyanobacterial communities along the coast, which produced photosynthetic oxygen and the suboxic conditions necessary for the precipitation of authigenic carbonate fluorapatite. As in other Precambrian phosphatic systems, nearshore oxygen oases were a prerequisite for phosphorite accumulation because redox sensitive phosphogenic processes were pushed into the sediment to concentrate phosphorus. In more distal, anoxic environments phosphorite could not form because these biotic and abiotic processes were suspended in the water column, which cycled phosphorus in sea water rather than at the sediment–water interface. Such shallow-water phosphorite is unlike larger, younger Neoproterozoic–Phanerozoic phosphatic deposits inferred to have formed in deeper-upwelling related environments. The increasing size of phosphatic deposits through the latest Precambrian is interpreted as reflecting the progressive ventilation of the oceans during the Neoproterozoic Oxygenation Event, and resultant expansion of phosphogenic environments into distal settings. The widespread cycling of bioavailable phosphorus at the sea floor not only produced the first true phosphorite giants, but may have also been an important precondition for the evolution of multicellular animals.

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