Fossil micrometeorites from Monte dei Corvi: searching for dust from the Veritas asteroid family and the utility of micrometeorites as a palaeoclimate proxyOPEN ACCESS 

M.D. Suttle, F. Campanale, L. Folco, L. Tavazzani, M.M.M. Meier, C.G. Miller, G. Hughes, M.J. Genge, T. Salge, J. Spratt, M. Anand

Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
Available online 29 June 2023


“We searched late Miocene sedimentary rocks in an attempt to recover fossil micrometeorites derived from the Veritas asteroid family. This study was motivated by the previous identification of a pronounced 3He peak (4-5x above background) within marine sediments with ages between ∼8.5-6.9 Ma ago (Montanari et al. 2017. GSA Bulletin, 129:1357-1376). We processed 118.9 kg of sediment from the Monte dei Corvi beach section (Italy), the global type-section for the Tortonian epoch (11.6-7.2 Ma). Samples were collected both before and within the 3He peak. Although a small number of iron-rich (I-type) fossil micrometeorites were recovered from each horizon studied (Ntotal = 20), there is no clear difference between the pre- and intra- 3He peak samples. All micrometeorites are compositionally similar, and three out of five horizons yielded similar abundances and particle sizes. Micrometeorites extracted from sediments at the base of the 3He peak were exclusively small (ø <75 µm), while micrometeorites extracted from sediments near the highest 3He values were relatively large (ø <270 µm). The recovered fossil micrometeorites are interpreted as samples of the background dust flux derived from metal-bearing chondritic asteroids. The presence of a 3He signature combined with the absence of fossil micrometeorites or extraterrestrial spinels (Boschi et al. 2019, Spec. Pap. Geol. Soc. Am. 542:383-391) unambiguously related to the Veritas event suggests that the Veritas family is composed of highly friable materials that rarely survive on the sea floor to become preserved in the geological record. Our data supports the existing hypothesis that the Veritas asteroid family is an aqueously altered carbonaceous chondrite parent body, one that contains minimal native metal grains or refractory Cr-spinels. The low yield of fossil micrometeorites at Monte dei Corvi is attributed to loss of particles by dissolution whilst they resided on the sea floor but also due to high sedimentation rates leading to dilution of the extraterrestrial dust flux at this site. As with other fossil micrometeorite collections (e.g. Cretaceous chalk [Suttle and Genge, EPSL, 476:132-142]) the I-type spherules have been altered since deposition. In most particles, both magnetite and wüstite remain intact but have been affected by solid state geochemical exchange, characterised by partial leaching of Ni, Co and Cr and implantation of Mn, Mg, Si and Al. In some particles Mn concentrations reach up to 16.6 wt.%. Conversely, in some micrometeorites wüstite has been partially dissolved, or even replaced by calcite or ankerite. Finally, we observe evidence for wüstite recrystallisation, forming a second generation of magnetite. This process is suggested to occur by oxidation during residence on the seafloor and has implications for the use of fossil I-type micrometeorites as a potential proxy for probing Earth’s upper atmospheric composition (oxidative capacity) in the geological past. However, solutions to the limitations of post-depositional recrystallisation are suggested. Fossil I-type spherules remain a potential tool for palaeo-climatic studies.”