Ancient manganese (Mn) deposits are primarily characterized by the presence of Mn(II) carbonates that likely formed by the diagenetic reduction of precursor Mn(IV) oxides. As such, Precambrian sedimentary Mn deposits have been used as a line of evidence for the evolution of oxygen in Earth’s surface environments. However, recent studies have shown that these Mn(II)-carbonates have the ability to directly accumulate within anoxic water columns, where free oxygen does not play a role in their formation. This alternative pathway casts uncertainty on the robustness of using ancient Mn deposits to constrain the redox fabric of the past marine water columns. Here, we investigate the Wafangzi Mn and Fe ore deposit from the 1.45 billion-year-old Tieling Formation, North China. The deposit contains Mn(II, III) mineral phases (hausmannite, braunite) as inclusions, or unreacted residues, trapped within Mn(II) carbonate (Ca-rhodochrosite). Some nodules and oolites of Mn(II) and Fe(II)-carbonate phases are also present and display a banded structure with concentric rings. Mn(III) oxide (manganite) is present in a paragenetic assemblage along with hematite and replacement textures with braunite. The negative carbon isotope composition (δ13C, –7‰ to –4‰) from Mn(II) carbonate samples in the Wafangzi Mn deposit which are distinct from that of contemporaneous seawater (~0‰), along with petrographic and speciation analyses, collectively suggest that the Mn(II, III)- and Fe(II)-bearing mineral phases formed through the diagenetic reduction of primary Mn(IV)/Fe(III) minerals coupled to the oxidation of organic matter. Therefore, the Wafangzi Mn deposit suggests the presence of sufficiently oxygenated marine waters, overlying anoxic ferruginous deeper waters with a transitional manganous water layer that could have driven the redox cycling of Mn, Fe, and C. Given the contemporaneous economic Mn deposits in the 1.45 Ga Ullawarra Formation in Western Australia, our findings imply the existence of a transient, and perhaps widespread, pulsed oxygenation event in the mid-Proterozoic oceans.

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