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Climate control on banded iron formations linked to orbital eccentricity

Nature Geosciencevolume 12pages369374 (2019) | Download Citation


Astronomical forcing associated with Earth’s orbital and inclination parameters (Milankovitch forcing) exerts a major control on climate as recorded in the sedimentary rock record, but its influence in deep time is largely unknown. Banded iron formations, iron-rich marine sediments older than 1.8 billion years, offer unique insight into the early Earth’s environment. Their origin and distinctive layering have been explained by various mechanisms, including hydrothermal plume activity, the redox evolution of the oceans, microbial and diagenetic processes, sea-level fluctuations, and seasonal or tidal forcing. However, their potential link to past climate oscillations remains unexplored. Here we use cyclostratigraphic analysis combined with high-precision uranium–lead dating to investigate the potential influence of Milankovitch forcing on their deposition. Field exposures of the 2.48-billion-year-old Kuruman Banded Iron Formation reveal a well-defined hierarchical cycle pattern in the weathering profile that is laterally continuous over at least 250 km. The isotopic ages constrain the sedimentation rate at 10 m Myr−1 and link the observed cycles to known eccentricity oscillations with periods of 405 thousand and about 1.4 to 1.6 million years. We conclude that long-period, Milankovitch-forced climate cycles exerted a primary control on large-scale compositional variations in banded iron formations.

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The authors declare that the data supporting the findings of this study are available within the article and its supplementary information files. Raw data files of the weathering profile logs are available from the corresponding author upon request.

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We thank C. Albutt and Murphy for providing us with access to sections Woodstock and Daniëlskuil; S. Hilgen for help with the logging; H. Tsikos for arranging access to drill core Gasesa-1; N. Beukes for help with organizing the drilling and lutite sampling of drill core UUBH-1, which was drilled by OB Mining & Drilling Pty Ltd; and S. Meyers for advice on the spectral analysis. This study was supported by the Dutch National Science Foundation (grant NWO ALWOP.192), the Swiss National Science Foundation (grant 200021_169086) and the Dr. Schurmannfonds (grant 126-2017).

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Author notes

    • Joshua H. F. L. Davies

    Present address: Département des sciences de la Terre et de l’atmosphère, Université du Québec à Montréal, Montréal, Québec, Canada


  1. Department of Earth Sciences, Utrecht University, Utrecht, the Netherlands

    • Margriet L. Lantink
    • , Paul R. D. Mason
    •  & Frederik J. Hilgen
  2. Department of Earth Sciences, University of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland

    • Joshua H. F. L. Davies
    •  & Urs Schaltegger


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All authors contributed to developing the ideas presented. F.J.H. conceived the project. F.J.H., M.L.L., J.H.F.L.D. and U.S. collected the field data. F.J.H. and M.L.L. did the cyclostratigraphic analyses and interpretation. J.H.F.L.D. carried out U–Pb dating work. M.L.L. wrote the article, with U–Pb contributions from J.H.F.L.D. and help from F.J.H., P.R.D.M. and U.S.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Correspondence to Margriet L. Lantink.

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