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September 2021 Bulletin

Methane from microbial hydrogenolysis of sediment organic matter before the Great Oxidation Event
By: Xinyu Xia & Yongli Gao
Methane, along with other short-chain alkanes from some Archean metasedimentary rocks, has unique isotopic signatures that possibly reflect the generation of atmospheric greenhouse gas on early Earth. We find that alkane gases from the Kidd Creek mines in the Canadian Shield are microbial products in a Neoarchean ecosystem. The widely varied hydrogen and relatively uniform carbon isotopic compositions in the alkanes infer that the alkanes result from the biodegradation of sediment organic matter with serpentinization-derived hydrogen gas. This proposed process is supported by published geochemical data on the Kidd Creek gas, including the distribution of alkane abundances, stable isotope variations in alkanes, and CH2D2 signatures in methane. The recognition of Archean microbial methane in this work reveals a biochemical process of greenhouse gas generation before the Great Oxidation Event and improves the understanding of the carbon and hydrogen geochemical cycles.
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