Meunier, Alain; Petit, Sabine; Cockell, Charles S.; El Albani, Abderrazzak and Beaufort, Daniel
The Fe-rich clay microsystems in basalt-komatiite lavas: importance of Fe-smectites for pre-biotic molecule catalysis during the Hadean Eon.
Origins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres, 40(3)
During the Hadean to early Archean period (4.5–3.5 Ga), the surface of the Earth’s crust was predominantly composed of basalt and komatiite lavas. The conditions imposed by the chemical composition of these rocks favoured the crystallization of Fe-Mg clays rather than that of Al-rich ones (montmorillonite). Fe-Mg clays were formed inside chemical microsystems through sea weathering or hydrothermal alteration, and for the most part, through post-magmatic processes. Indeed, at the end of the cooling stage, Fe-Mg clays precipitated directly from the residual liquid which concentrated in the voids remaining in the crystal framework of the mafic-ultramafic lavas. Nontronite-celadonite and chlorite-saponite covered all the solid surfaces (crystals, glass) and are associated with tiny pyroxene and apatite crystals forming the so-called “mesostasis”. The mesostasis was scattered in the lava body as micro-settings tens of micrometres wide. Thus, every square metre of basalt or komatiite rocks was punctuated by myriads of clay-rich patches, each of them potentially behaving as a single chemical reactor which could concentrate the organics diluted in the ocean water. Considering the high catalytic potentiality of clays, and particularly those of the Fe-rich ones (electron exchangers), it is probable that large parts of the surface of the young Earth participated in the synthesis of prebiotic molecules during the Hadean to early Archean period through innumerable clay-rich micro-settings in the massive parts and the altered surfaces of komatiite and basaltic lavas. This leads us to suggest that Fe,Mg-clays should be preferred to Al-rich ones (montmorillonite) to conduct experiments for the synthesis and the polymerisation of prebiotic molecules.
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