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Hydrothermal Experiments on the Thermal Stability of Amino Substances in Sediments


Sellers, George August (1966) Hydrothermal Experiments on the Thermal Stability of Amino Substances in Sediments. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/as0h-1z63.


Aspartic acid, threonine, serine and other thermally unstable amino acids have been found in fine-grained elastic sediments of advanced geologic age. The presence of these compounds in ancient sediments conflicts with experimental data determined for their simple thermal decomposition.

Recent and Late Miocene sediments and their humic acid extracts, known to contain essentially complete suites of amino acids, were heated with H2O in a bomb at temperatures up to 500°C in order to compare the thermal decomposition characteristics of the sedimentary amino compounds.

Most of the amino acids found in protein hydrolyzates are obtained from the Miocene rock in amounts 10 to 100 times less than from the Recent sediment. The two unheated humic acids are rather similar despite their great age difference. The Miocene rock appears uncontaminated by Recent carbon.

Yields of amino acids generally decline in the heated Recent sediment. Some amino compounds apparently increase with heating time in the Miocene rock.

Relative thermal stabilities of the amino acids in sediments are generally similar to those determined using pure aqueous solutions. The relative thermal stabilities of glutamic acid, glycine, and phenylalanine vary in the Recent sediment but are uniform in the Miocene rock.

Amino acids may occur in both proteins and humic complexes in the Recent sediment, while they are probably only present in stabilized organic substances in the Miocene rock. Thermal decomposition of protein amino acids may be affected by surface catalysis in the Recent sediment. The apparent activation energy for the decomposition of alanine in this sediment is 8400 calories per mole. Yields of amino compounds from the heated sediments are not affected by thermal decomposition only.

Amino acids in sediments may only be useful for geothermometry in a very general way.

A better picture of the amino acid content of older sedimentary rocks may be obtained if these sediments are heated in a bomb with H2O at temperatures around 150°C prior to HCl hydrolysis.

Leucine-isoleucine ratios may prove to be useful as indicators of amino acid sources or for evaluating the fractionation of these substances during diagenesis. Leucine-isoleucine ratios of the Recent and Miocene sediments and humic acids are identical. The humic acids may have a continental source.

The carbon-nitrogen and carbon-hydrogen ratios of sediments and humic acids increase with heating time and temperature. Ratios comparable to those in some kerogens are found in the severely heated Miocene sediment and humic acid.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:(Geology and Geochemistry)
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Geological and Planetary Sciences
Major Option:Geology
Minor Option:Geochemistry
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Degens, Egon T.
Thesis Committee:
  • Unknown, Unknown
Defense Date:20 July 1965
Funding AgencyGrant Number
American Association of Petroleum GeologistsUNSPECIFIED
Office of Naval ResearchNonr 2196-6
American Chemical Society1943-A2
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:02182016-153430010
Persistent URL:
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:9564
Deposited By: Benjamin Perez
Deposited On:25 Mar 2016 22:07
Last Modified:08 Mar 2024 00:04

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