Hydrocarbons in Hydrothermal Vent Fluids: The Role of Chromium-Bearing Catalysts

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Science  14 May 2004:
Vol. 304, Issue 5673, pp. 1002-1005
DOI: 10.1126/science.1096033

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Fischer-Tropsch type (FTT) synthesis has long been proposed to account for the existence of hydrocarbons in hydrothermal fluids. We show that iron- and chromium-bearing minerals catalyze the abiotic formation of hydrocarbons. In addition to production of methane (CH4aq), we report abiotic generation of ethane (C2H6aq) and propane (C3H8aq) by mineral-catalyzed hydrothermal reactions at 390°Cand 400 bars. Results suggest that the chromium component in ultramafic rocks could be an important factor for FTT synthesis during water-rock interaction in mid-ocean ridge hydrothermal systems. This in turn could help to support microbial communities now recognized in the subsurface at deep-sea vents.

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