Sulfur isotope evidence for microbial sulfate reduction in altered oceanic basalts at ODP Site 801

Olivier Rouxel*, Shuhei Ono, Jeff Alt, Douglas Rumble, John Ludden

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

79 Citations (Scopus)


The subsurface biosphere in the basaltic ocean crust is potentially of major importance in affecting chemical exchange between the ocean and lithosphere. Alteration of the oceanic crust commonly yields secondary pyrite that is depleted in 34S relative to igneous sulfides. Although these 34S depleted sulfur isotope ratios may point to signatures of biological fractionation, previous interpretations of sulfur isotope fractionation in altered volcanic rocks have relied on abiotic fractionation processes between intermediate sulfur species formed during basalt alteration. Here, we report results for multiple S-isotope (32S, 33S, 34S) compositions of altered basalts at ODP Site 801 in the western Pacific and provide evidence for microbial sulfate reduction within the volcanic oceanic crust. In-situ ion-microprobe analyses of secondary pyrite in basement rocks show a large range of δ34S values, between - 45‰ and 1‰, whereas bulk rock δ34S analyses yield a more restricted range of - 15.8 to 0.9‰. These low and variable δ34S values, together with bulk rock S concentrations ranging from 0.02% up to 1.28% are consistent with loss of magmatic primary mono-sulfide and addition of secondary sulfide via microbial sulfate reduction. High-precision multiple sulfur-isotope (32S/33S/34S) analyses suggest that secondary sulfides exhibit mass-dependent equilibrium fractionation relative to seawater sulfate in both δ33S and δ34S values. These relationships are explained by bacterial sulfate reduction proceeding at very low metabolic rates. The determination of the S-isotope composition of bulk altered oceanic crust demonstrates that S-based metabolic activity of subsurface life in oceanic basalt is widespread, and can affect the global S budget at the crust-seawater interface.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)110-123
Number of pages14
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 15 Apr 2008


  • deep biosphere
  • oceanic crust
  • seafloor weathering
  • sulfur cycle
  • sulfur isotopes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Sulfur isotope evidence for microbial sulfate reduction in altered oceanic basalts at ODP Site 801'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this