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Another continental pool in the terrestrial silicon cycle


Silicon is the second most abundant element on Earth. It is an important nutrient for phytoplankton1 and is readily absorbed by terrestrial vegetation2; it also assists the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through the weathering of silicates3. But the continental cycle of silicon is not well known, and only a few studies have attempted to use silicon stable isotopes (28Si, 29Si and 30Si)4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13 to quantify the continental silicon reservoirs. Dissolved silicon in sea and river waters forms a reservoir of mean isotopic value +1.1‰ (refs 7, 10). It is enriched in 30Si with respect to the igneous rocks reservoir, which has a mean isotopic value of -0.3‰ (refs 4, 9). This enrichment can only be produced by a major fractionation during weathering, and should result in the formation of a continental 30Si-depleted reservoir. Such a reservoir, however, has not been identified to date. Here we analyse silicon isotopes of in situ quartz from a sandstone series in France, using a new-generation secondary ion mass spectrometry apparatus. We show that quartz that precipitates as siliceous cements forms a strongly 30Si-depleted reservoir with isotopic values down to -5.7‰, a more negative value than any previously published for terrestrial samples. Our findings suggest that quartz re-precipitation plays an important role in the biogeochemical cycle of silicon.

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Figure 1: Schematic section of the Apt series, showing five levels of silicification.
Figure 2: δ30Si of quartz from the five levels of silicified rocks.
Figure 3: Biogeochemical cycle of Si in continental environments (adapted from ref.


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We thank J. Lebihan for technical support for sample preparation; I. Friedman for providing the quartz standard; M. Chaussidon for the development of Si isotope measurements on the SIMS Cameca 1270 (CRPG, Nancy, France); M. Champenois, C. Champion and D. Mangin for their assistance during the National INSU Facility Sessions; and A. Alexandre, M. Chaussidon and W. Stone for improving the manuscript. This work was supported by CEREGE funds and the French national programme “Progamme National sur les Sols et l'Erosion”.Authors' contributions J.D.M. is the instigator of Si isotope measurements in samples formed in weathering systems; C.P. and I.B.D. performed the field sampling and described thin sections; I.B.D. prepared the thin sections with included standards, performed the analysis, developed the model and wrote the Letter.

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Correspondence to Isabelle Basile-Doelsch.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary information

This file encloses details of: (1) the geological setting of silcretes of Apt (South-East of France); (2) a comparison of the three techniques for measuring Si isotopes (IRMS, MC-ICP-MS, SIMS); (3) a state of the art of Si isotope fractionation during chemical or biochemical precipitations of Si; (4) a detailed interpretation of Si isotope fractionation during silicification processes; (5) a discussion about absence of Si isotope fractionation during dissolution of quartz together; (6) the equation of isotopic budget of Si; and (7) an additional technical table which refers to point (2) of the Supplementary Information (Table SI 1 : Comparison of analytical characteristics of IRMS, MC-ICP-MS and SIMS for stable silicon isotope measurements of terrestrial samples.). The relevant references of the different points are listed at the end. (DOC 158 kb)

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Basile-Doelsch, I., Meunier, J. & Parron, C. Another continental pool in the terrestrial silicon cycle. Nature 433, 399–402 (2005).

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