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New Insights into the Formation and Modification of Carbonate-Bearing Minerals and Methane Gas in Geological Systems using Multiply Substituted Isotopologues


Stolper, Daniel Aaron (2014) New Insights into the Formation and Modification of Carbonate-Bearing Minerals and Methane Gas in Geological Systems using Multiply Substituted Isotopologues. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/Z9CF9N3Q.


This thesis describes the use of multiply-substituted stable isotopologues of carbonate minerals and methane gas to better understand how these environmentally significant minerals and gases form and are modified throughout their geological histories. Stable isotopes have a long tradition in earth science as a tool for providing quantitative constraints on how molecules, in or on the earth, formed in both the present and past. Nearly all studies, until recently, have only measured the bulk concentrations of stable isotopes in a phase or species. However, the abundance of various isotopologues within a phase, for example the concentration of isotopologues with multiple rare isotopes (multiply substituted or 'clumped' isotopologues) also carries potentially useful information. Specifically, the abundances of clumped isotopologues in an equilibrated system are a function of temperature and thus knowledge of their abundances can be used to calculate a sample’s formation temperature. In this thesis, measurements of clumped isotopologues are made on both carbonate-bearing minerals and methane gas in order to better constrain the environmental and geological histories of various samples.

Clumped-isotope-based measurements of ancient carbonate-bearing minerals, including apatites, have opened up paleotemperature reconstructions to a variety of systems and time periods. However, a critical issue when using clumped-isotope based measurements to reconstruct ancient mineral formation temperatures is whether the samples being measured have faithfully recorded their original internal isotopic distributions. These original distributions can be altered, for example, by diffusion of atoms in the mineral lattice or through diagenetic reactions. Understanding these processes quantitatively is critical for the use of clumped isotopes to reconstruct past temperatures, quantify diagenesis, and calculate time-temperature burial histories of carbonate minerals. In order to help orient this part of the thesis, Chapter 2 provides a broad overview and history of clumped-isotope based measurements in carbonate minerals.

In Chapter 3, the effects of elevated temperatures on a sample’s clumped-isotope composition are probed in both natural and experimental apatites (which contain structural carbonate groups) and calcites. A quantitative model is created that is calibrated by the experiments and consistent with the natural samples. The model allows for calculations of the change in a sample’s clumped isotope abundances as a function of any time-temperature history.

In Chapter 4, the effects of diagenesis on the stable isotopic compositions of apatites are explored on samples from a variety of sedimentary phosphorite deposits. Clumped isotope temperatures and bulk isotopic measurements from carbonate and phosphate groups are compared for all samples. These results demonstrate that samples have experienced isotopic exchange of oxygen atoms in both the carbonate and phosphate groups. A kinetic model is developed that allows for the calculation of the amount of diagenesis each sample has experienced and yields insight into the physical and chemical processes of diagenesis.

The thesis then switches gear and turns its attention to clumped isotope measurements of methane. Methane is critical greenhouse gas, energy resource, and microbial metabolic product and substrate. Despite its importance both environmentally and economically, much about methane’s formational mechanisms and the relative sources of methane to various environments remains poorly constrained. In order to add new constraints to our understanding of the formation of methane in nature, I describe the development and application of methane clumped isotope measurements to environmental deposits of methane. To help orient the reader, a brief overview of the formation of methane in both high and low temperature settings is given in Chapter 5.

In Chapter 6, a method for the measurement of methane clumped isotopologues via mass spectrometry is described. This chapter demonstrates that the measurement is precise and accurate. Additionally, the measurement is calibrated experimentally such that measurements of methane clumped isotope abundances can be converted into equivalent formational temperatures. This study represents the first time that methane clumped isotope abundances have been measured at useful precisions.

In Chapter 7, the methane clumped isotope method is applied to natural samples from a variety of settings. These settings include thermogenic gases formed and reservoired in shales, migrated thermogenic gases, biogenic gases, mixed biogenic and thermogenic gas deposits, and experimentally generated gases. In all cases, calculated clumped isotope temperatures make geological sense as formation temperatures or mixtures of high and low temperature gases. Based on these observations, we propose that the clumped isotope temperature of an unmixed gas represents its formation temperature — this was neither an obvious nor expected result and has important implications for how methane forms in nature. Additionally, these results demonstrate that methane-clumped isotope compositions provided valuable additional constraints to studying natural methane deposits.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:Clumped Isotopes; Methane; Carbonates; Stable Isotopes, Paleotemperature, Natural Gas
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Geological and Planetary Sciences
Major Option:Geobiology
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Eiler, John M. (co-advisor)
  • Grotzinger, John P. (co-advisor)
Thesis Committee:
  • Fischer, Woodward W. (chair)
  • Adkins, Jess F.
  • Sessions, Alex L.
  • Eiler, John M.
  • Grotzinger, John P.
Defense Date:13 May 2014
Non-Caltech Author Email:dstolper (AT)
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:05272014-225828922
Persistent URL:
Stolper, Daniel Aaron0000-0003-3299-3177
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:8404
Deposited By: Daniel Stolper
Deposited On:12 Aug 2015 21:40
Last Modified:04 Oct 2019 00:05

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