Trace metal and rare earth element (REE) abundances in banded iron formations are critical for assessing the chemical composition of ancient seawater and the long-term evolution of the ocean-atmosphere system. Recent studies, however, have highlighted the potential effects of outcrop weathering, raising concerns about whether banded iron formation samples are suitable proxies for ancient redox conditions or if exposure to surficial weathering regimes may have altered key geochemical signals. Here, we present a detailed, high-resolution study of several banded iron formation outcrop samples from the Hamersley Basin, Western Australia, to investigate microscale differences in composition between banded iron formation and weathered surfaces (i.e., weathered crusts). Elemental mapping and bulk-rock geochemical analyses reveal that weathered crust is more enriched in most elements than the banded iron formation, except for silica, which is significantly depleted. There is also a significant loss of redox-sensitive elements (RSEs) in the weathered surface, which suggests that outcrop samples have been affected by higher degrees of chemical leaching than physical erosion. These results are significant, because we clearly show that the geochemical characteristics of the weathered surface—irrespective of how it formed—are distinct from those of the remainder of the sample. This means that with sufficient screening of samples for obvious signs of alteration, banded iron formation outcrop samples may indeed be used as a reliable proxy for the evolution of Earth’s coupled ocean-atmosphere system. This increases the volume of easily accessible Precambrian sample material, so that researchers no longer solely need to rely on core recovered through costly drilling programs.

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