Mercury isotopic compositions of the Precambrian rocks and implications for tracing mercury cycling in Earth's interior

Changzhou DENG, Hongyan GENG, Tingting XIAO, Di CHEN, Guangyi SUN, Runsheng YIN*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


Mercury isotopes undergo unique mass-independent fractionation (MIF) during photochemical processes on Earth's surface. Studies have observed pronounced Hg-MIF signals in sedimentary and magmatic rocks, suggesting recycling of Hg from Earth's surface systems into the lithosphere via sedimentation and magmatism. However, the isotopic signature of Hg in metamorphic rocks and the geochemical fate of Hg during metamorphism remain unclear. Precambrian basements are important components of cratons or orogenic belts on Earth. Here, we study the Hg concentration and isotopic composition of Precambrian metamorphic and sedimentary rocks from the eastern Central Asian Orogenic Belt, and North and South China cratons. Metamorphic rocks show much lower Hg contents (0.21–7.8 ppb) than sedimentary rocks (2.6–694 ppb), indicating a substantial loss of Hg during metamorphism. The lack of correlation between δ202Hg values (–2.41 to 0.18‰) and metamorphic grades indicates no systematic mass-dependent fractionation (MDF) of Hg isotopes during metamorphism. The Δ199Hg/Δ201Hg ratios of ∼ 1.0 for both metamorphic and sedimentary rocks indicate Hg was sourced from Earth's surface systems. The coupling of Hg-MIF signals between the metasedimentary rocks and the sedimentary settings of their protolith suggests no Hg-MIF during metamorphism. The negative Δ199Hg values (–0.30 to –0.02‰) in the Precambrian coastal sedimentary rocks imply the input of Hg into coastal regions via soil erosion. The positive Δ199Hg values (0.06 to 0.31‰) in the Precambrian marine sedimentary rocks suggest deposition of atmospheric Hg(II) to open oceans via wet deposition. The lack of significant Hg-MIF during metamorphism and other underground geological processes shows that Hg-MIF signals can work as a reliable tracer for indicating material cycling in Earth's interior.
Original languageEnglish
Article number106646
JournalPrecambrian Research
Early online date21 Mar 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (41873047, 41603020), the Croucher Chinese Visitorships from Croucher Foundation and the Research Matching Grant (185219) from Lingnan University. Anzong Fu and Sheng Lu are thanked for their help during fieldwork.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Elsevier B.V.


  • Precambrian basement
  • Metamorphism
  • Hg isotope
  • Mass-independent fractionation
  • Material cycling


Dive into the research topics of 'Mercury isotopic compositions of the Precambrian rocks and implications for tracing mercury cycling in Earth's interior'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this