Ooids forming in situ within microbial mats (Kiritimati atoll, central Pacific)

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Ooids (subspherical particles with a laminated cortex growing around a nucleus) are ubiquitous in the geological record since the Archean and have been widely studied for more than two centuries. However, various questions about them remain open, particularly about the role of microbial communities and organic matter in their formation and development. Although ooids typically occur rolling around in agitated waters, here, we describe for the first time aragonite ooids forming statically within microbial mats from hypersaline ponds of Kiritimati (Kiribati, central Pacific). Subspherical particles had been previously observed in these mats and classified as spherulites, but these particles grow around autochthonous micritic nuclei, and many of them have laminated cortices, with alternating radial fibrous laminae and micritic laminae. Thus, they are compatible with the definition of the term ‘ooid’ and are in fact very similar to many modern and fossil examples. Kiritimati ooids are more abundant and developed in some ponds and in some particular layers of the microbial mats, which leads to the discussion and interpretation of their formation processes as product of mat evolution, through a combination of organic and environmental factors. Radial fibrous laminae are formed during periods of increased supersaturation, either by metabolic or environmental processes. Micritic laminae are formed in closer association with the mat exopolymer (EPS) matrix, probably during periods of lower supersaturation and/or stronger EPS degradation. Therefore, this study represents a step forward in the understanding of ooid development as influenced by microbial communities, providing a useful analogue for explaining similar fossil ooids.
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