Cartoon showing a cross section of oceanic lithosphere, extending from the spreading center to the subduction zone. Off-axis hydrothermal flow in the oceanic lithosphere causes oxidation of Fe(II) to Fe(III) and reduction of water to molecular hydrogen. Some Fe(II) and Ni(II) is reduced to native metals. Carbon dioxide is reduced to carbon monoxide and methane, while nitrate and nitrite may be reduced to ammonium and adsorbed on smectites and zeolites. During early subduction the descending plate is heated and dehydrated. Adsorbed carbon monoxide and methane may react with ammonia and form hydrogen cyanide. The released fluid carrying hydrogen cyanide rises from an environment of relatively low pH into hydrated mantle rock of high pH. At the high pH hydrogen cyanide may form HCN oligomers as well as amino acids, purine bases, nucleosides and, perhaps, nucleotides.
Holm and Neubeck Geochemical Transactions 2009 10:9 doi:10.1186/1467-4866-10-9