Fundamental controls on organic matter preservation in organic- and sulfur-rich hydrocarbon source rocks

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Incorporation of reduced inorganic sulfur (S) into organic matter (OM) in euxinic environments is considered a vital route through which OM is preserved for millions of years. However, precipitation of iron sulfides is believed to compete with OM preservation via sulfurisation. High resolution geochemical, petrographic, and electron microprobe (EMPA) analyses were employed to better understand S controls on OM preservation with particular focus on iron sulfides precipitation in organic S-rich mudstones from the Kimmeridge Clay (KCF), Monterey (MF), and Whitby Mudstone [Grey Shale (GS) and Jet Rock (JR) Members] Formations. Analyses indicated that S in the KCF and MF is mostly bound to OM as shown by the relatively high abundance of organic sulfur compounds (OSCs) in their pyrolysates. The relatively low amounts of iron (Fe) in these mudstones permitted extensive reaction of S and OM to occur efficiently, promoting preservation of high amounts OM through sulfurisation. State-of-the-art EMPA imaging of total S and Fe indicated that the S was mainly bound to organics, supporting the geochemical analyses. In contrast, S in the GS and JR was predominantly sequestered as pyrite (FeS2) rather than organically bound, as indicated by the relatively low quantity/absence of OSCs in their pyrolysates, hence, preservation through sulfurisation was less significant in these settings. EMPA imaging of S in these mudstones shows discrete shapes ranging in geometry and size and in most cases correlated with Fe in the corresponding Fe EMPA images, confirming that the S exists in discrete authigenic FeS2. Overall, in line with previous research, this study indicates that preservation of OM through sulfurisation is an important pathway for sequestration of OM. However, an abundance of reactive Fe could hinder this process by preferentially reacting with reduced S, to form iron sulfides (mainly FeS2), thus impeding reactions between OM and S to occur efficiently.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105684
JournalMarine and Petroleum Geology
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2022


  • Electron microprobe imaging
  • Kimmeridge clay formation
  • Monterey formation
  • Phrases: organic matter sulfurisation
  • Pyrite
  • Whitby mudstone formation


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