Correlative Microscopy: a tool for understanding soil weathering in modern analogues of early terrestrial biospheres

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Ria Mitchell, Peter Davies , Paul Kenrick , Tobias Volkenandt, Cameron Pleydell-Pearce, Richard Johnston 


Correlative imaging provides a method of investigating complex systems by combining analytical (chemistry) and imaging (tomography) information across dimensions (2D-3D) and scales (centimetres-nanometres). We studied weathering processes in a modern cryptogamic ground cover (CGC) from Iceland, containing early colonizing, and evolutionary ancient, communities of mosses, lichens, fungi, and bacteria. Targeted multi-scale X-ray Microscopy (XRM) of a grain in-situ within a soil core revealed networks of surficial and internal features (tunnels) originating from organic-rich surface holes. Further targeted 2D grain characterisation by optical microscopy (OM), scanning electron microscopy (SEM), and energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (SEM-EDS), following an intermediate manual correlative preparation step, revealed Fe-rich nodules within the tunnels. Finally, nanotomographic imaging by focussed ion beam microscopy (FIB-SEM) revealed coccoid and filamentous-like structures within subsurface tunnels, as well as accumulations of Fe and S in grain surface crusts, which may represent a biological rock varnish/glaze. We attribute these features to biological processes. This work highlights the advantages and novelty of the correlative imaging approach, across scales, dimensions, and modes, to investigate biological weathering processes. Further, we demonstrate correlative microscopy as a means of identifying fingerprints of biological communities, which could be used in the geologic rock record and on extra-terrestrial bodies.



Biogeochemistry, Geology, Paleobiology, Plant Sciences, Research Methods in Life Sciences, Sedimentology, Soil Science


Tomography, Microscopy, Correlative Microscopy, Plant evolution


Published: 2021-03-18 14:37

Last Updated: 2021-06-17 14:54

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Zenodo: 10.5281/zenodo.4617439