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The Identification and Interpretation of Microbial Biogeomagnetism


Kopp, Robert Evans, III (2007) The Identification and Interpretation of Microbial Biogeomagnetism. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/83R3-VB23.


Microbial activity plays a major role in the sedimentary iron cycle. Some microbes gain energy by reducing or oxidizing iron and thus induce changes in the sedimentary iron mineral assemblage. Magnetotactic bacteria engage in controlled, intracellular precipitation of magnetic iron minerals. These biological transformations are frequently a major influence on the magnetic properties of sediments. Understanding the biogeochemical iron cycle therefore facilitates the interpretation of sedimentary paleomagnetism; conversely, magnetic tools provide a non-destructive and rapid way of analyzing the biogeochemical iron cycle in modern and ancient environments.

Ferromagnetic resonance (FMR) spectroscopy, a form of microwave spectroscopy, provides a rapid means of assessing internal fields generated in magnetic particles by interparticle interactions and particle anisotropy. It can therefore assess particle shape, arrangement, and heterogeneity. Because magnetotactic bacteria typically produce chains of crystals with narrow distributions of size and shape, FMR spectroscopy is well suited as a screening tool for identifying fossil magnetotactic bacteria (magnetofossils).

Application of FMR and other techniques to modern carbonate sediments of the Triple Goose Creek region, Andros Island, Bahamas, reveals the contributions of magnetotactic bacteria, iron metabolizing bacteria, and sulfate reducing bacteria to the magnetization of carbonate sediments. In sediments above mean tide level, magnetofossils dominate sediment magnetism. Although stable remanent magnetization is preserved throughout the sediments, the quantity of biological magnetite diminishes by an order of magnitude in the iron reduction zone. Below this zone, the development of a sulfate reduction interval can lead to the authigenesis of magnetic iron sulfides. Supratidal portions of shallowing-upward parasequences in carbonate rocks therefore likely provide the most accurate record of syndepositional paleomagnetism.

Anomalous magnetic properties of clay deposited in the Atlantic Coastal Plain, New Jersey, during the Paleocene/Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) led previous authors to speculate that an extraterrestrial impact triggered the PETM. Reexamination of the clay using FMR and transmission electron microscopy reveals instead that the clay hosts abundant magnetofossils. The first identification of ancient biogenic magnetite using FMR indicates that the anomalous magnetic properties of PETM sediments were not produced by an impact, but instead reflect paleoenvironmental changes along the western North Atlantic margin.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:Bahamas; carbonate; environmental magnetism; ferromagnetic resonance; magnetotactic bacteria; Paleocene/Eocene Thermal Maximum
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Geological and Planetary Sciences
Major Option:Geobiology
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Kirschvink, Joseph L.
Thesis Committee:
  • Kirschvink, Joseph L. (chair)
  • Newman, Dianne K.
  • Blake, Geoffrey A.
  • Rossman, George Robert
  • Grotzinger, John P.
Defense Date:12 April 2007
Non-Caltech Author Email:robert.kopp (AT)
Record Number:CaltechETD:etd-04122007-135320
Persistent URL:
Kopp, Robert Evans, III0000-0003-4016-9428
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:1365
Deposited By: Imported from ETD-db
Deposited On:19 Apr 2007
Last Modified:12 Feb 2020 19:41

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