Triple-oxygen-isotope determination of molecular oxygen incorporation in sulfate produced during abiotic pyrite oxidation (pH=2-11)

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Aqueous oxidation of sulfide minerals to sulfate is an integral part of the global sulfur and oxygen cycles. The current model for pyrite oxidation emphasizes the role of Fe2+-Fe3+ electron shuttling and repeated nucleophilic attack by water molecules on sulfur. Previous δ18O-labeled experiments show that a variable fraction (0-60%) of the oxygen in product sulfate is derived from dissolved O2, the other potential oxidant. This indicates that nucleophilic attack cannot continue all the way to sulfate and that a sulfoxyanion of intermediate oxidation state is released into solution. The observed variability in O2% may be due to the presence of competing oxidation pathways, variable experimental conditions (e.g. abiotic, biotic, or changing pH value), or uncertainties related to the multiple experiments needed to effectively use the δ18O label to differentiate sulfate-oxygen sources. To examine the role of O2 and Fe3+ in determining the final incorporation of O2 oxygen in sulfate produced during pyrite oxidation, we designed a set of aerated, abiotic, pH-buffered (pH=2, 7, 9, 10, and 11), and triple-oxygen-isotope labeled solutions with and without Fe3+ addition. While abiotic and pH-buffered conditions help to eliminate variables, triple oxygen isotope labeling and Fe3+ addition help to determine the oxygen sources in sulfate and examine the role of Fe2+-Fe3+ electron shuttling during sulfide oxidation, respectively. Our results show that sulfate concentration increased linearly with time and the maximum concentration was achieved at pH 11. At pH 2, 7, and 9, sulfate production was slow but increased by 4× with the addition of Fe3+. Significant amounts of sulfite and thiosulfate were detected in pH≥9 reactors, while concentrations were low or undetectable at pH 2 and 7. The triple oxygen isotope data show that at pH≥9, product sulfate contained 21-24% air O2 signal, similar to pH 2 with Fe3+ addition. Sulfate from the pH 2 reactor without Fe3+ addition and the pH 7 reactors all showed 28-29% O2 signal. While the O2% in final sulfate apparently clusters around 25%, the measurable deviations (>experimental error) from the 25% in many reaction conditions suggest that (1) O2 does get incorporated into intermediate sulfoxyanions (thiosulfate and sulfite) and a fraction survives sulfite-water exchange (e.g. the pH 2 with no Fe3+ addition and both pH 7 reactors); and (2) direct O2 oxidation dominates while Fe3+ shuttling is still competitive in the sulfite-sulfate step (e.g. the pH 9, 10, and 11 and the pH 2 reactor with Fe3+ addition). Overall, the final sulfate-oxygen source ratio is determined by (1) rate competitions between direct O2 incorporation and Fe3+ shuttling during both the formation of sulfite from pyrite and from sulfite to final sulfate, and (2) rate competitions between sulfite and water oxygen exchange and the oxidation of sulfite to sulfate. Our results indicate that thiosulfate or sulfite is the intermediate species released into solution at all investigated pH and point to a set of dynamic and competing fractionation factors and rates, which control the oxygen isotope composition of sulfate derived from pyrite oxidation. © 2011 Elsevier Ltd.

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Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta

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