Cu isotopic fractionation in the supergene environment with and without bacteria

Ryan Mathur, Joaquin Ruiz, Spencer Titley, Laura Liermann, Heather Buss, Susan Brantley

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Abstract

The isotopic composition of dissolved Cu and solid Cu-rich minerals [δ65Cu (‰) = (65Cu/63Cu sample/65Cu/63Custd) - 1)*1000] were monitored in batch oxidative dissolution experiments with and without Thiobacillus ferrooxidans. Aqueous copper in leach fluids released during abiotic oxidation of both chalcocite and chalcopyrite was isotopically heavier (δ65Cu = 5.34‰ and δ65Cu = 1.90‰, respectively, [±0.16 at 2σ]) than the initial starting material (δ65Cu = 2.60 ± 0.16‰ and δ65Cu = 0.58 ± 0.16‰, respectively). Isotopic mass balance between the starting material, aqueous copper, and secondary minerals precipitated in these experiments explains the heavier isotopic values of aqueous copper. In contrast, aqueous copper from leached chalcocite and chalcopyrite inoculated with Thiobacillus ferrooxidans was isotopically similar to the starting material. The lack of fractionation of the aqueous copper in the biotic experiments can best be explained by assuming a sink for isotopically heavy copper present in the bacteria cells with δ65Cu = 5.59 ± 0.16‰. Consistent with this inference, amorphous Cu-Fe oxide minerals are observed surrounding cell membranes of Thiobacillus grown in the presence of dissolved Cu and Fe. Extrapolating these experiments to natural supergene environments implies that release of isotopically heavy aqueous Cu from oxidative leach caps, especially under abiotic conditions, should result in precipitates in underlying enrichment blankets that are isotopically heavy. Where iron-oxidizing cells are involved, isotopically heavy oxidized Cu entrained in cellular material may become associated with leach caps, causing the released aqueous Cu to be less isotopically enriched in the heavy isotope than predicted for the abiotic system. Rayleigh fractionation trends with fractionation factors calculated from our experiments for both biotic and abiotic conditions are consistent with large numbers of individual abiotic or biotic leaching events, explaining the supergene chalcocites in the Morenci and Silver Bell porphyry copper deposits.

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ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geochemistry and Petrology

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