The crater lake of the small volcanic island Satonda, Indonesia, is unique for its red-algal microbial reefs thriving in marine-derived water of increased alkalinity. The lake is a potential analogue for ancient oceans sustaining microbialites under open-marine conditions. Current reef surfaces are dominated by living red algae covered by non-calcified biofilms with scattered cyanobacteria and diatoms. Minor CaCO3 precipitates are restricted to the seasonally flooded reef tops, which develop biofilms up to 500 μm thick dominated by the cyanobacteria Pleurocapsa, Calothrix, Phormidium, and Hyella. Microcrystalline aragonite patches form within the biofilm mucilage, and fibrous aragonite cements grow in exopolymer-poor spaces such as the inside of dead, lysed green algal cells, and reef framework voids. Cementation of lysed hadromerid sponge resting bodies results in the formation of "Wetheredella-like" structures.
Hydrochemistry data and model calculations indicate that CO2 degassing after seasonal mixis can shift the carbonate equilibrium to cause CaCO3 precipitation. Increased concentrations of dissolved inorganic carbon limit the ability of autotrophic biofilm microorganisms to shift the carbonate equilibrium. Therefore, photosynthesis-induced cyanobacterial calcification does not occur. Instead, passive, diffusion-controlled EPS-mediated permineralization of biofilm mucus at contact with the considerably supersaturated open lake water takes place. In contrast to extreme soda lakes, the release of Ca2+ from aerobic degradation of extracellular polymeric substances does not support CaCO3 precipitation in Satonda because the simultaneously released CO2 is insufficiently buffered.
Subfossil reef parts comprise green algal tufts encrusted by microstromatolites with layers of fibrous aragonite and an amorphous, unidentified Mg-Si phase. The microstromatolites probably formed when Lake Satonda evolved from seawater to Ca2+-depleted raised-alkalinity conditions because of sulfate reduction in bottom sediments and pronounced seasonality with deep mixing events and strong CO2 degassing. The latter effect caused rapid growth of fibrous aragonite, while Mg-Si layers replaced the initially Mg-calcite-impregnated biofilms. This could be explained by dissolution of siliceous diatoms and sponge spicules at high pH, followed by Mg-calcite dissolution and Mg-silica precipitation at low pH due to heterotrophic activity within the entombed biofilms.