Environmental controls on photosynthetic microbial mat distribution and morphogenesis on a 3.42 Ga clastic-starved platform. Academic Article uri icon


  • Three morphotypes of microbial mats are preserved in rocks deposited in shallow-water facies of the 3.42 Ga Buck Reef chert (BRC). Morphotype alpha consists of fine anastomosing and bifurcating carbonaceous laminations, which loosely drape underlying detrital grains or form silica-filled lenses. Morphotype beta consists of meshes of fine carbonaceous strands intergrown with detrital grains and dark laminations, which loosely drape coarse detrital grains. Morphotype gamma consists of fine, even carbonaceous laminations that tightly drape underlying detrital grains. Preservation of nearly uncompacted mat morphologies and detrital grains deposited during mat growth within a well-characterized sedimentary unit makes quantitative correlation between morphology and paleoenvironment possible. All mats are preserved in the shallowest-water interval of those rocks deposited below normal wave base and above storm wave base. This interval is bounded below by a transgressive lag formed during regional flooding and above by a small condensed section that marks a local relative sea-level maximum. Restriction of all mat morphotypes to the shallowest interval of the storm-active layer in the BRC ocean reinforces previous interpretations that these mats were constructed primarily by photosynthetic organisms. Morphotypes alpha and beta dominate the lower half of this interval and grew during deposition of relatively coarse detrital carbonaceous grains, while morphotype gamma dominates the upper half and grew during deposition of fine detrital carbonaceous grains. The observed mat distribution suggests that either light intensity or, more likely, small variations in ambient current energy acted as a first-order control on mat morphotype distribution. These results demonstrate significant environmental control on biological morphogenetic processes independent of influences from siliciclastic sedimentation.

published proceedings

  • Astrobiology

author list (cited authors)

  • Tice, M. M.

citation count

  • 31

complete list of authors

  • Tice, Michael M

publication date

  • December 2009