Candidate microbial ichnofossils in continental basaltic tuffs of central Oregon, USA: Expanding the record of endolithic microborings
Nikitczuk et al
The presence of potential microbial trace fossils (endolithic microborings) has been well documented in oceanic basaltic pillow lavas, hyaloclastites, tuffs, and transitional subglacial marine lavas in the past 30 yr. Despite their evident abundance in oceanic to subglacial environments, they have not been observed in continental basalts that were not erupted in marine or subglacial settings. To expand the record of putative endolithic microborings in volcanic rocks to nonmarine, continental lacustrine environments, we examined hydrovolcanic pyroclastic deposits in the Fort Rock volcanic field, central Oregon. This study presents the textures, mineralogy, and geochemistry of basaltic tuffs containing possible endolithic microborings comparable in morphology, size, and distribution to those described in earlier oceanic and subglacial basalt studies. We observed a variety of tubular and granular textures that show evidence of biogenic morphologies and behavior, and a primary geological context that expresses their age and syngenicity. Petrographic relationships with secondary phases (chabazite, nontronite, calcite) indicate that the construction of microtunnels occurred in saline, alkaline fluids at temperatures of 25−80 °C. In addition, positive correlations were observed between the extent of aqueous (abiotic) alteration and both the abundance of microtunnels and morphological type. These correlations suggest that microtunnels were more readily formed where there was greater abiotic alteration-fluid flux and that the resulting change in chemical composition of those fluids may have had a direct influence on the formation process or possibly the type of constructing microbe. This work adds to understanding of factors controlling microtunnel formation and is the first account of putative endolithic microborings in a continental lacustrine setting. This new information may also have implications in the search for habitable extraterrestrial environments, such as on Mars.