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Banded iron formation

  Banded iron formations (also known as banded ironstone formations or BIFs) are a distinctive type of rock often found in primordial sedimentary rocks. The structures consist of repeated thin layers of iron oxides, either magnetite or hematite, alternating with bands of iron-poor shale and chert. Some of the oldest known rock formations, formed around three thousand million years before present (3 Ga), include banded iron layers, and the banded layers are a common feature in sediments for much of the Earth's early history. Banded iron beds are less common after 1.8 Ga, although some are known that are much younger.

The total amount of oxygen locked up in the banded iron beds is estimated to be perhaps twenty times the volume of oxygen present in the modern atmosphere. Banded iron beds are an important commercial source of iron ore, such as the Pilbara region of Western Australia.



The conventional concept is that the banded iron layers were formed in sea water as the result of oxygen released by photosynthetic cyanobacteria, combining with dissolved iron in Earth's oceans to form insoluble iron oxides, which precipitated out, forming a thin layer on the substrate, which may have been anoxic mud (forming shale and chert). Each band is similar to a varve. The banding is assumed to result from cyclic variations in available oxygen. It is unclear whether these banded ironstone formations were seasonal or followed some other cycle. It is assumed that initially the Earth started out with vast amounts of iron dissolved in the world's acidic seas. Eventually, as photosynthetic organisms generated oxygen, the available iron in the Earth's oceans was precipitated out as iron oxides. At the tipping point where the oceans became permanently oxygenated, small variations in oxygen production produced pulses of free oxygen in the surface waters, alternating with pulses of iron oxide deposition  

Snowball Earth scenario

Until fairly recently, it was assumed that the rare later banded iron deposits represent unusual conditions where oxygen was depleted locally and iron-rich waters could form then come into contact with oxygenated water. An alternate explanation of these later deposits is undergoing much research as part of the Snowball Earth hypothesis. This hypothesis states that an early equatorial supercontinent (Rodinia) was totally covered in an ice age (implying the whole planet was frozen at the surface to a depth of several kilometers). This is supported by evidence that the Earth's free oxygen may have been nearly or totally depleted during a severe ice age circa 750 to 580 million years ago (mya). Alternatively, some geochemists suggest that BIFs could form by direct oxidation of iron by (non-photosynthetic) autotrophic microbes.

See also


  • Jelte P. Harnmeijer, 2003, Banded Iron-Formation: A Continuing Enigma of Geology, University of Washington Doc format
  • Klein, Cornelis, 2005, Some Precambrian banded iron-formations (BIFs) from around the world: Their age, geologic setting, mineralogy, metamorphism, geochemistry, and origins, American Mineralogist; October 2005; v. 90; no. 10; p. 1473-1499; DOI: 10.2138/am.2005.1871 abstract.
  • Andreas Kappler, et al., 2005, Deposition of banded iron formations by anoxygenic phototrophic Fe(II)-oxidizing bacteria, Geology; November 2005; v. 33; no. 11; p. 865–868; doi: 10.1130/G21658.1
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Banded_iron_formation". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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