Hydrothermal iron-oxyhydroxide chimney mounds (iron mounds) have been discovered in a fishing port in Nagahama Bay, located on the southwest coast of Satsuma Iwo-Jima Island, south of Kyushu Island, Japan. In the fishing port, uncovered ∼1.0-m-high iron mounds in shallow waters formed under relatively calm conditions. Typically, the fishing port has orange-colored turbid waters that mix with outer ocean waters during high tide. Colloidal iron-oxyhydroxides form due to the oxidation of ferrous iron in hydrothermal waters (pH = 5.5; temperature = 55 °C) as they mix with seawater.
The mounds are made of two types of material: hard, dark brown–orange, high-density material; and soft, brownish orange–yellow, low-density material. Computed tomography scans of the harder iron mound material revealed a cabbage-like structure consisting of micropipe structures with diameters of 2–5 mm. These micropipes have relatively hard walls made of iron oxyhydroxides (FeOH) and are identified as discharge pipes. Nucleic acid staining genetic sequencing and scanning electron microscope observations suggest that the mounds formed mainly from bacterial stalks with high concentrations of FeOH colloidal matter. In the harder parts of the mounds, these “fat stalks,” which contain oxyhydroxide colloidal aggregates, are entwined and concentrated. The softer material contains twisted stalk-like structures, which are coated with FeOH colloidal particles. Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) examination of the iron mounds revealed the presence of iron-oxidizing bacteria, especially at the mound surface.
We estimate that the iron mounds accumulated at a rate of ∼1700 tons/1000 m2/yr. This is an order of magnitude higher than the rate of FeOH sedimentation via chemical precipitation of FeOH colloids within the fishing port. This suggests that biogenic activity, resulting in the production of entwined FeOH stalks, leads to the rapid accumulation of FeOH beds and that biogenic activity within the water mass rich in FeOH colloids is an efficient means of generating thick iron-rich sedimentary sequences. As such, we propose that some ancient iron formations may have also formed through the biogenic production of FeOH stalks rather than solely through chemical sedimentation in a water mass rich in FeOH colloids. It appears that these rapidly forming biogenic FeOH iron mounds, distributed over a wide area of ocean floor, are also relatively protected from erosion and diagenetic alteration (reduction). Previous studies have reported that ancient iron formations were commonly deposited in deeper environments via direct iron oxidation from the water column in a ferruginous ocean. However, there are several hydrothermal vent inflows preserved with FeOH that would have formed appropriate redox boundary conditions in an otherwise anoxic ocean. Under these conditions, iron mound mat-type sedimentary deposits might have formed and been well preserved and affected by early diagenesis where higher heat flow occurred in the Archean ocean. The FeOH mounds in Nagahama Bay provide an example of the iron formation sedimentary environment and important information for estimating the past depositional state of iron formations.