Fire and Brimstone: The Microbially Mediated Formation of Elemental Sulfur Nodules from an Isotope and Major Element Study in the Paleo-Dead Sea Academic Article uri icon


  • We present coupled sulfur and oxygen isotope data from sulfur nodules and surrounding gypsum, as well as iron and manganese concentration data, from the Lisan Formation near the Dead Sea (Israel). The sulfur isotope composition in the nodules ranges between -9 and -11‰, 27 to 29‰ lighter than the surrounding gypsum, while the oxygen isotope composition of the gypsum is constant around 24‰. The constant sulfur isotope composition of the nodule is consistent with formation in an 'open system'. Iron concentrations in the gypsum increase toward the nodule, while manganese concentrations decrease, suggesting a redox boundary at the nodule-gypsum interface during aqueous phase diagenesis. We propose that sulfur nodules in the Lisan Formation are generated through bacterial sulfate reduction, which terminates at elemental sulfur. We speculate that the sulfate-saturated pore fluids, coupled with the low availability of an electron donor, terminates the trithionate pathway before the final two-electron reduction, producing thionites, which then disproportionate to form abundant elemental sulfur.

publication date

  • January 1, 2013