Article: Experimentally observed soft-tissue preservation near a marine brine seep
A sea urchin placed on the sea floor near an active brine seep was recovered after 13 years with detailed soft-tissue preservation. Growth of an amorphous calcium carbonate solid with small amounts of the mineral bassanite occurred on the spines and test. The solid also exhibits striations at both the macro- and microscopic scales that preserve the muscle texture of the sea urchin. Such soft-tissue replacement and mineralization could lead to exquisite fossilization. Soft-tissue mineralization has been previously replicated in controlled laboratory conditions; however, this is the first report of the lithologic replication of soft tissues in an open marine experiment. Examples of extraordinary fossil preservation, or Lagersätten, give a distinct snapshot of the past and have led to a greater understanding of the history of life. Soft-tissue lithification occurs in special circumstances in which local chemical conditions (often mediated by decay or bacterial factors) promote early diagenetic mineralization, the first steps of which are observed in this instance. The preservation of articulated skeletons, especially within echinoderms, is normally attributed to rapid burial, but that may not be necessary given that this urchin was at or very near the sediment–water interface for 13 years.