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Experimental simulation of evaporation-driven silica sinter formation and microbial silicification in hot spring systems.

Abstract : Evaporation of silica-rich geothermal waters is one of the main abiotic drivers of the formation of silica sinters around hot springs. An important role in sinter structural development is also played by the indigenous microbial communities, which are fossilized and eventually encased in the silica matrix. The combination of these two factors results in a wide variety of sinter structures and fabrics. Despite this, no previous experimental fossilization studies have focused on evaporative-driven silica precipitation. We present here the results of several experiments aimed at simulating the formation of sinters through evaporation. Silica solutions at different concentrations were repeatedly allowed to evaporate in both the presence and absence of the cyanobacterium Synechococcus elongatus. Without microorganisms, consecutive silica additions led to the formation of well-laminated deposits. By contrast, when microorganisms were present, they acted as reactive surfaces for heterogeneous silica particle nucleation; depending on the initial silica concentration, the deposits were then either porous with a mixture of silicified and unmineralized cells, or they formed a denser structure with a complete entombment of the cells by a thick silica crust. The deposits obtained experimentally showed numerous similarities in terms of their fabric to those previously reported for natural hot springs, demonstrating the complex interplay between abiotic and biotic processes during silica sinter growth.
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François Orange, Stefan V. Lalonde, Kurt O Konhauser. Experimental simulation of evaporation-driven silica sinter formation and microbial silicification in hot spring systems.. Astrobiology, Mary Ann Liebert, 2013, 13 (2), pp.163-76. ⟨10.1089/ast.2012.0887⟩. ⟨insu-00808448⟩

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