Theoretical estimates of equilibrium sulfur isotope effects among aqueous polysulfur and associated compounds with applications to authigenic pyrite formation and hydrothermal disproportionation reactions

Daniel L. Eldridge*, Alexey Kamyshny, James Farquhar

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Inorganic polysulfur compounds (polysulfides, Sx2-; polysulfur radical ions, Sx·-; thiosulfate, S2O32-; polythionate, SxO62-; elemental sulfur, e.g. S8) participate in numerous geochemical processes related to the sulfur cycle. These include authigenic pyrite formation in sediments undergoing early stages of diagenesis, reactions associated with magmatic-hydrothermal processes, and numerous other aquatic sulfur redox processes (e.g., pyrite and sulfide oxidation). Sulfur isotope fractionations among many of these and associated compounds (e.g., H2S, HSO4-) are either unknown or unconstrained over wide ranges of temperatures. We present theoretical estimates of equilibrium sulfur isotope fractionation factors among aqueous polysulfur compounds (including select polysulfides, polysulfur radical anions, and polythionates) and select aqueous sulfide and sulfate compounds that correspond to all three stable isotope ratios of sulfur (33S/32S, 34S/32S, 36S/32S). Our estimates are based on electronic structure calculations performed at the B3LYP/6–31+G(d,p) level of theory and basis set implemented in concert with an explicit solvation model whereby molecules are encapsulated in water clusters of varying size (30–52 H2O) to simulate the aqueous solvation environment. These calculations yield relatively small magnitude fractionation factors between aqueous polysulfides, polysulfur radicals, and reduced sulfur moieties in polythionates relative to the aqueous sulfide compounds but reveal numerous crossovers that result in non-intuitive temperature dependencies. Our predictions of 34S/32S-based fractionation factors among aqueous sulfur compounds generally agree with previous experimental constraints where available within estimated uncertainties (e.g., HSO4-/H2S(aq), H2S(aq)/HS-, HSO4-/S0, H2S(aq)/S0). We use our calculations to explore equilibrium isotope fractionations among polysulfur and sulfide compounds that are precursors to authigenic pyrite in the framework of established mechanisms (e.g., the polysulfide mechanism). We examine possible explanations for why pyrite formation may be associated with relatively small isotope fractionation with respect to precursor aqueous sulfur compounds. We additionally use our theoretical calculations to constrain multiple sulfur isotope (33S/32S, 34S/32S, 36S/32S) mass balance models associated with the abiotic hydrolytic disproportionation of intermediate sulfur compounds (SO2, S8, S3·-) relevant to hydrothermal-magmatic-volcanic systems in order to illustrate the potential for subtle but potentially resolvable effects expressed in values of Δ33S and Δ36S associated with these processes. We apply a SO2 disproportionation mass balance model based on previous work but newly constrained by our theoretical calculations to (hyper-) acid crater lakes associated with active volcanoes, and newly highlight the potential for the utility of multiple sulfur isotope analyses in volcanic gas monitoring and constraining sulfur cycling processes in such systems.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)281-319
Number of pages39
JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Elsevier Ltd


  • Acid crater lakes
  • Disproportionation
  • Hydrothermal
  • Polysulfides
  • Pyrite formation
  • Sulfur isotopes


Dive into the research topics of 'Theoretical estimates of equilibrium sulfur isotope effects among aqueous polysulfur and associated compounds with applications to authigenic pyrite formation and hydrothermal disproportionation reactions'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this