The isotopic composition of boron in illite-smectite (I-S) can be important for monitoring fluid/rock interactions in sedimentary basins. Boron substitutes for Si during reaction of smectite to illite and can preserve information about paleofluid B-isotopic composition. Boron is enriched in oilfield brines, therefore the isotopic composition of those brines may be recorded during illitization and represent a monitor of hydrocarbon maturity and migration.
We re-examined previously published experimental results on B-isotope fractionation between I-S and water. By separating B from two crystallographic sites of I-S (tetrahedral and interlayer), we found differences in the δ11B that might be used as a single-mineral geothermometer. Boron incorporation in I-S follows a non-linear kinetic pathway. Maximum interlayer-B incorporation occurs during R1-ordering. R3-ordering approaches equilibrium with expulsion of interlayer-B leaving only tetrahedral layer-B. The important discovery is that tetrahedral layer δ11B does not change between R1 and R3 ordering. Boron substitutes in an equilibrium ratio early in the crystallographic reordering of I-S.
Natural I-S samples were tested from Gulf Coast mudstones, increasingly illitized with burial depth. Diagenetic reaction kinetics differ from hydrothermal experiments, but still reveal large δ11B differences (up to 40‰) between the interlayer and tetrahedral layer. Interlayer δ11B decreases with increasing temperature and illitization. We propose that interlayer δ11B values represent metastable equilibrium, whereas tetrahedral layer B represents a temperature-dependent equilibrium. If this is true, then the B-isotope geochemistry of I-S can be used to determine paleotemperatures and monitor the influence of hydrocarbons on pore fluids associated with diagenetic I-S.