Vanadium Speciation in Ancient Shales Revealed through Synchrotron-Based X-ray Spectroscopy

William W. Bennett*, Enzo Lombi, Kirk G. Scheckel, Ryo Sekine, Scott G. Johnston, Edward D. Burton, Daryl L. Howard, Peter Kappen, Donald E. Canfield

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Redox-sensitive trace elements, such as vanadium, are frequently used as paleoredox proxies to infer the redox status of ancient marine depositional environments. When applied to vanadium, this approach relies on an accurate understanding of vanadium geochemistry in marine sediments. This, in turn, requires the application of analytical techniques capable of providing reliable chemical information on vanadium host phases of vanadium and thus the ability to distinguish authigenic from detrital phases. The increasing availability of synchrotron-based X-ray spectroscopic techniques capable of providing chemical speciation information at both the bulk and micro-scale presents an opportunity to refine our understanding of vanadium geochemistry in ancient marine sediments. Here, we show the utility of synchrotron-based X-ray absorption near-edge structure (XANES) spectroscopy and scanning X-ray fluorescence microscopy (SXFM) for investigating vanadium host phases in ancient marine sediments. The studied samples from the 1400 Ma Xiamaling Formation came from strongly contrasting depositional settings (ranging from oxic to euxinic) with a wide range of vanadium enrichments (enrichment factors from 0.7 to 9.6), yet vanadium speciation determined by XANES was consistently found to be phyllosilicate-hosted vanadium (III). High-resolution elemental imaging by SXFM coupled with global statistical colocalization analyses revealed strong associations between vanadium and potassium, consistent with vanadium hosted by potassium-rich clay minerals. These findings, while demonstrating the power of synchrotron-based X-ray methods, imply that differentiating authigenic and detrital vanadium in ancient marine sediments is unlikely to be possible given that post-depositional processes result in similar chemical speciation for both fractions. This will also limit the reliability of vanadium isotope system studies that depend on differentiating authigenic and detrital fractions using selective extraction procedures.

Original languageEnglish
JournalACS Earth and Space Chemistry
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)416-426
Publication statusPublished - 16. Feb 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 American Chemical Society.


  • paleoredox
  • sediment
  • speciation
  • synchrotron
  • vanadium


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