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Rethinking the ancient sulfur cycle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


David A. Fike, Alexander S. Bradley, Catherine V. Rose

School/Research organisations


The sulfur biogeochemical cycle integrates the metabolic activity of multiple microbial pathways (e.g., sulfate reduction, disproportionation, and sulfide oxidation) along with abiotic reactions and geological processes that cycle sulfur through various reservoirs. The sulfur cycle impacts the global carbon cycle and climate primarily through the remineralization of organic carbon. Over geological timescales, cycling of sulfur is closely tied to the redox state of Earth's exosphere through the burial of oxidized (sulfate) and reduced (sulfide) sulfur species in marine sediments. Biological sulfur cycling is associated with isotopic fractionations that can be used to trace the fluxes through various metabolic pathways. The resulting isotopic data provide insights into sulfur cycling in both modern and ancient environments via isotopic signatures in sedimentary sulfate and sulfide phases. Here, we review the deep-time δ34S record of marine sulfates and sulfides in light of recent advances in understanding how isotopic signatures are generated by microbial activity, how these signatures are encoded in marine sediments, and how they may be altered following deposition. The resulting picture shows a sulfur cycle intimately coupled to ambient carbon cycling, where sulfur isotopic records preserved in sedimentary rocks are critically dependent on sedimentological and geochemical conditions (e.g., iron availability) during deposition.



Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)593-622
Number of pages30
JournalAnnual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences
StatePublished - 30 May 2015

    Research areas

  • Carbonate-associated sulfate, Microbial sulfate reduction, Pyrite, Seawater sulfate, Sulfur isotopes

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