Sulfur isotope patterns of iron sulfide and barite nodules in the Upper Cretaceous Chalk of England and their regional significance in the origin of coloured chalks

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The relationship between the development of iron sulfide and barite nodules in the Cenomanian Chalk of England and the presence of a red hematitic pigment has been investigated using sulfur isotopes. In southern England where red and pink chalks are absent, iron sulfide nodules are widespread. Two typical large iron sulfide nodules exhibit δ34S ranging from −48.6‰ at their core to −32.6‰ at their outer margins. In eastern England, where red and pink chalks occur in three main bands, there is an antipathetic relationship between the coloured chalks and the occurrence of iron sulfide or barite nodules. Here iron sulfide, or its oxidised remnants, are restricted to two situations: (1) in association with hard grounds that developed originally in chalks that contained the hematite pigment or its postulated precursor FeOH3, or (2) in regional sulfidization zones that cut across the stratigraphy. In the Cenomanian Chalk exposed in the cliffs at Speeton, Yorkshire, pyrite and marcasite (both iron sulfide) nodules range in δ34S from −34.7‰ to +40.0‰. In the lower part of the section δ34S vary from −34.8‰ to +7.8‰, a single barite nodule has δ34S between +26.9‰ and +29.9‰. In the middle part of the section δ34S ranges from +23.8‰ to +40.0‰. In the sulfidization zones that cut across the Cenomanian Chalk of Lincolnshire the iron sulfide nodules are typically heavily weathered but these may contain patches of unoxidised pyrite. In these zones, δ34S ranges from −32.9‰ to +7.9‰. The cross-cutting zones of sulfidization in eastern England are linked to three basement faults – the Flamborough Head Fault Zone, the Caistor Fault and the postulated Wash Line of Jeans (1980) – that have affected the deposition of the Chalk. It is argued that these faults have been both the conduits by which allochthonous fluids – rich in hydrogen sulfide/sulfate, hydrocarbons and possibly charged with sulfate-reducing bacteria – have penetrated the Cenomanian Chalk as the result of movement during the Late Cretaceous or Cenozoic. These invasive fluids are associated with (1) the reduction of the red hematite pigment or its praecursor, (2) the subsequent development of both iron sulfides and barite, and (3) the loss of overpressure in the Cenomanian Chalk and its late diagenetic hardening by anoxic cementation. Evidence is reviewed for the origin of the red hematite pigment of the coloured chalks and for the iron involved in the development of iron sulfides, a hydrothermal or volcanogenic origin is favoured.

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