Geospatial insights into the controls of microbialite formation at Laguna Negra, Argentina

Scott R. Beeler, Fernando J. Gomez, Alexander S. Bradley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Microbialites provide a record of the interaction of microorganisms with their environment constituting a record of microbial life and environments through geologic time. Our capacity to interpret this record is limited by an incomplete understanding of the microbial, geochemical, and physical processes that influence microbialite formation and morphogenesis. The modern system Laguna Negra in Catamarca Province, Argentina contains microbialites in a zone of carbonate precipitation associated with physico-chemical gradients and variable microbial community structure, making it an ideal location to study how these processes interact to drive microbialite formation. In this study, we investigated the geospatial relationships between carbonate morphology, geochemistry, and microbial community at the macro- (decimeter) to mega- (meter) scale by combining high-resolution imagery with field observations. We mapped the distribution of carbonate morphologies and allochtonously-derived volcaniclasts and correlated these with sedimentary matrices and geochemical parameters. Our work shows that the macroscale distribution of different carbonate morphologies spatially correlates with microbial mat distributions—a result consistent with previous microscale observations. Specifically, microbialitic carbonate morphologies more commonly occur associated with microbial mats while abiotically derived carbonate morphologies were less commonly associated with microbial mats. Spatial variability in the size and abundance of mineralized structures was also observed, however, the processes controlling this variability remains unclear and likely represent a combination of microbial, geochemical, and physical processes. Likewise, the processes controlling the spatial distribution of microbial mats at Laguna Negra are also unresolved. Our results suggest that in addition to the physical drivers observed in other modern environments, variability in the spatial distribution of microbialites and other carbonate morphologies at the macro- to megascale can be controlled by microbial processes. Overall, this study provides insight into the interpretation of microbialite occurrence and distributions in the geologic record and highlights the utility of geospatial statistics to probe the controls of microbialite formation in other environments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)229-243
Number of pages15
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2023


  • Laguna Negra
  • geospatial
  • megascale
  • microbial mat
  • microbialite


Dive into the research topics of 'Geospatial insights into the controls of microbialite formation at Laguna Negra, Argentina'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this