[BARB 3] BARBERTON 3 - BASE - Barberton Archean Surface Environments, Moodies Group

BASE - Drilling Workshop: Archean Surface Environments, Moodies Group, Barberton Greenstone Belt (MOODIES)

Climate & Ecosystems
Deep Life
Element Cycles

Year of Application: 2019

Expedition ID: 5069

Current Status: operation ended

coastal processes
early life ecology
greenstone belt
ocean and athmosphere
south africa
Master Data

Prof. Dr. Christoph Heubeck (First-PI)

Deon Johannes Janse van Rensburg (Scientific Participant)
Dr. Jonathan Engelhardt (Scientific Participant)
Dr. David De Vleeschouwer (Workshop Participant)
Prof. Dr. Heinrich Bahlburg (Workshop Participant)
Nora Bieker (Workshop Participant)
Dr. Dennis Harries (Workshop Participant)
Dr. Inga Köhler (Workshop Participant)

Projektstart: 1 November, 2021
Projektdauer: 9
Geologisches Alter: Archean

Latitude: 25°43'59''S


Regionen & Städte:

Longitude: 31°5'33''E

South Africa



conformable terrestrial-marine transitions for environmental proxies;


diagnostic lithologies (such as various paleosols, nearshore BIFs, evaporites and basaltic lavas) for their environmental significance;


the compositional, facies and morphological variability of thick and laterally extensive microbial mats


sedimentary and mineralogical responses to surface variables, such as tides, climate, potential meteorite impacts, and radiation, in particular in deep-water strata

Drilling Data

Drilling Depth: 3135.0
Core Yield: 93.0
Core Length: 2903.0
Amount of Drill Holes: 8
Amount of Drill Locations: 8

Core Length-Drill Depth-Ratio: 93.0
Core Yield-Core Length-Ratio: 93.0


The evolutionary development of oxygenic photosynthesis is a key question in early Earth research because it was and is responsible for the profound transformation of surface environments across our planet and allowed the rise of eukaryotic and complex multicellular life. Various geochemical clues suggest that there were at least temporary variations in the overall very low level of atmospheric oxygen by ~3 Ga. This is consistent with results of recent molecular clock analyses that suggest the onset of oxygenic photosynthesis prior to that time, probably via microbial consortia which included highly productive benthic cyanobacteria that colonized early shorelines. The oldest strata suitable to test the hypothesis of – perhaps local and/or temporary – oxygenation are the ca. 3.2 billion-year-old sedimentary (and minor volcanic) units of the Moodies Group in the Barberton Greenstone Belt, South Africa. These record surface processes in very well preserved and correlatable fluvial-to-prodeltaic siliciclastic rocks; in addition, the ~3.7 km thick strata provide an extremely high resolution (mean ~1 km/Ma) over a relatively short interval of 1-14 Ma. Despite tight regional folding, the metamorphic grade is only lower greenschist facies, and there is a nearly complete absence of penetrative strain due to widespread early-diagenetic silicification. This has preserved abundant primary micro- and macrotextures. Mapping has documented paleosols, terrestrial evaporites, potentially eolian strata, shoreline systems, tidal microbial mats, deltaic complexes, and marine ferruginous sediments / BIF. They provide a worldwide unique opportunity to robustly reconstruct early bio-geo-atmo-hydrosphere processes and conditions, particularly those related to diverse and well-documented microbial life, at an unrivalled level of regional and temporal resolution and during a critical period in Earth history. The drilling program had the overall objective to drill unweathered strata to avoid the effects of oxidative weathering, a particular problem in fine-grained strata, and to obtain continuous sections suitable for geochemical and time-series analyses.

From November, 2021, through July, 2022, we drilled eight inclined boreholes between 280 and 495 m length by drilling through steeply to subvertically dipping, in part overturned strata. Sections and locations had been prioritized during a 2017 field workshop to (1) provide information that could not be obtained from surface outcrops; (2) address specific scientific questions relating to surface conditions of the Archaean Earth; (3) build on significant prior field studies and laboratory work; and (4) allow technically feasible drilling at economically reasonable costs. In addition to the drilling program, three mine adits and tunnels exposing ca. 1000 m of Moodies Group section were also sampled. All boreholes were logged. Up to three rigs operated concurrently, delivering daily ten to sixty m of high-quality core which was slabbed, described and photographed, typically on the following day, in a large, publicly accessible hall adjacent to the museum in downtown Barberton. An exhibition provided background explanations for visitors and related this project to the recently established Barberton-Makhonjwa Mountains World Heritage Site in which most boreholes were located. A substantial Education, Outreach and Publicity program accompanied the drilling campaign. The archive half of the core is stored at South Africa's National Core Repository in Donkershoek near Pretoria; the working half of the core was shipped to the ICDP core repository at the BGR-Berlin facilities in Berlin Spandau. As of January 2023, initial overview geochemical sampling and scanning is ongoing in preparation for a sampling workshop by the BASE science team.

Related Publications

Janse van Rensburg, D. J., Heubeck, C. E., Reimann, S. (2023). "Constraints from the Ntaba Mhlope Syncline and the Mkomozane Homocline, Moodies Group (3.22 Ga), Eswatini, on the deformation of the southern margin of the Barberton greenstone belt" Journal of African Earth Sciences p104989

Christoph Heubeck, S. Reimann, Martin Homann (2023). "Stromatolite-like Structures Within Microbially Laminated Sandstones of the Paleoarchean Moodies Group, Barberton Greenstone Belt, South Africa " Astrobiology

Zametzer, A., Reimann, S., Heubeck, C. E., Thomsen, T. B., Serre, S. H. (2023). "Tectonic and sedimentary evolution of a potential supra-detachment fault basin, Archaean Moodies Group (~3.22 Ga), central Barberton Greenstone Belt" South African Journal of Geology p235-260

Heubeck, Christoph, Thomsen, Tonny B., Heredia, Benjamin D., Zeh, Armin, Balling, Philipp (2023). "The Malolotsha Klippe: Large-Scale Subhorizontal Tectonics Along the Southern Margin of the Archean Barberton Greenstone Belt, Eswatini" Tectonics 42 pe2022TC007359

Eulenfeld, Tom, Heubeck, Christoph (2022). "Constraints on Moon’s orbit 3.2 billion years ago from tidal bundle data" Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets 128 pe2022JE007466

Heubeck, Christoph, Drabon, Nadja, Byerly, Gary, Leisgang, Isabelle, Linnemann, Ulf, Lowe, Don, Mertz-Kraus, Regina, Gonzalez-Pinzon, Alejandra, Thomsen, Tonny B, Zeh, Armin (2022). "Detrital zircon provenance of the Archean Moodies Group, Barberton Greenstone Belt, South Africa and Eswatini" American Journal of Science 322 p65-107

Heubeck, Christoph, Bläsing, Saskia, Drabon, Nadja, Eulenfeld, Tom, Grund, Marc Ulrich, Homann, Martin, Janse Van Rensburg, Deon, Köhler, Inga, Nabhan, Sami, Rabethge, Carolin (2022). "Reassessing evidence of Moon–Earth dynamics from tidal bundles at 3.2 Ga (Moodies Group, Barberton Greenstone Belt, South Africa)" Sedimentology

Homann, Martin, Heubeck, Christoph (2021). "A comment on “Metamorphic origin of anastomosing and wavy laminas overprinting putative microbial deposits from the 3.22 Ga Moodies Group (Barberton Greenstone Belt)”" Precambrian Research 365 p106395

Schmitz, Matthias, Heubeck, Christoph (2021). "Constraints on deformation mechanisms of the Barberton Greenstone Belt from regional stratigraphic and structural data of the synorogenic Moodies Group" Precambrian Research 362 p106177

Reimann, S, Heubeck, CE, Fugmann, P, Janse van Rensburg, DJ, Zametzer, A, Serre, SH, Thomsen, TB (2021). "Syndepositional hydrothermalism selectively preserves records of one of the earliest benthic ecosystems, Moodies Group (3.22 Ga), Barberton Greenstone Belt, South Africa" South African Journal of Geology 2021 124 p253-278

van Rensburg, DJ Janse, Heubeck, CE, Reimann, S (2021). "Volcanoes in the estuaries: Insights into Earth’s oldest (3.22 Ga) terrestrial microbial habitats, Moodies Group, Barberton Greenstone Belt" Precambrian Research 365 p106325

Nabhan, Sami, Marin‐Carbonne, Johanna, Mason, Paul RD, Heubeck, Christoph (2020). "In situ S‐isotope compositions of sulfate and sulfide from the 3.2 Ga Moodies Group, South Africa: A record of oxidative sulfur cycling" Geobiology 2020:00 p426-444

Bonnand, P, Lalonde, SV, Boyet, M, Heubeck, C, Homann, Martin, Nonnotte, Philippe, Foster, Ian, Konhauser, KO, Köhler, I (2020). "Post-depositional REE mobility in a Paleoarchean banded iron formation revealed by La-Ce geochronology: A cautionary tale for signals of ancient oxygenation" Earth and Planetary Science Letters 547 p116452

Agangi, Andrea, Hofmann, Axel, Eickmann, Benjamin, Marin-Carbonne, Johanna (2019). "Mesoarchaean Gold Mineralisation in the Barberton Greenstone Belt: A Review" The Archaean Geology of the Kaapvaal Craton, Southern Africa Book chapter 7 p171-184

Köhler, I, Heubeck, C (2019). "Microbial-mat-associated tephra of the Archean Moodies Group, Barberton Greenstone Belt (BGB), South Africa: Resemblance to potential biostructures and ecological implications" South African Journal of Geology 2019 2019 p221-236

Stutenbecker, L, Heubeck, C, Zeh, A (2019). "The Lomati delta complex: A prograding tidal delta in the Archean moodies group, Barberton greenstone belt" South African Journal of Geology 2019 2019 p17-38

Heubeck, Christoph (2019). "The Moodies Group—a high-resolution archive of Archaean surface processes and basin-forming mechanisms" The Archaean Geology of the Kaapvaal Craton, Southern Africa p133-169

Byerly, Gary R, Lowe, Donald R, Heubeck, Christoph, Van Kranendonk, MJ, Bennett, VC, Hoffmann, JE (2018). "Geologic evolution of the Barberton Greenstone Belt–a unique record of crustal development, surface processes, and early life 3.55 to 3.20 Ga" Earth’s Oldest Rocks–Second Edition. Elsevier (Amsterdam) p569-613

Homann, Martin, Sansjofre, Pierre, Van Zuilen, Mark, Heubeck, Christoph, Gong, Jian, Killingsworth, Bryan, Foster, Ian S, Airo, Alessandro, Van Kranendonk, Martin J, Ader, Magali (2018). "Microbial life and biogeochemical cycling on land 3,220 million years ago" Nature Geoscience p665-671

Toni Schulz, Christian Koeberl, Ambre Luguet, David van Acken, Tanja Mohr-Westheide, Seda Ozdemir, Wolf Uwe Reimold (2017). "New constraints on the Paleoarchean meteorite bombardment of the Earth – Geochemistry and Re-Os isotope signatures of spherule layers in the BARB5 ICDP drill core from the Barberton Greenstone Belt, South Africa" Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 211 p322-340

Nabhan, Sami, Luber, Tim, Scheffler, Franziska, Heubeck, Christoph (2016). "Climatic and geochemical implications of Archean pedogenic gypsum in the Moodies group (∼ 3.2 Ga), Barberton Greenstone Belt, South Africa" Precambrian Research 275 p119-134

Homann, Martin, Heubeck, Christoph, Bontognali, Tomaso RR, Bouvier, Anne-Sophie, Baumgartner, Lukas P, Airo, Alessandro (2016). "Evidence for cavity-dwelling microbial life in 3.22 Ga tidal deposits" Geology 44 p51-54

Heubeck, C, Biasing, S, Grund, M, Drabon, N, Homann, M, Nabhan, S (2016). "Geological constraints on Archean (3.22 Ga) coastal-zone processes from the Dycedale syncline, Barberton greenstone belt" South African Journal of Geology 2016 2016 p495-518

Heubeck, Christoph (2015). "Fig Tree Group" Encyclopedia of Astrobiology p1-2

Heubeck, Christoph (2015). "Moodies Group" Encyclopedia of Astrobiology

Homann, Martin, Heubeck, Christoph, Airo, Alessandro, Tice, Michael M (2015). "Morphological adaptations of 3.22 Ga-old tufted microbial mats to Archean coastal habitats (Moodies Group, Barberton Greenstone Belt, South Africa)" Precambrian Research 266 p47-64

Heubeck, Christoph, Engelhardt, Jonathan, Byerly, Gary R., Zeh, Armin, Sell, Bryan, Luber, Tim, Lowe, Donald R. (2013). "Timing of deposition and deformation of the Moodies Group (Barberton Greenstone Belt, South Africa): Very-high-resolution of Archaean surface processes" Precambrian Research 231 p236-262

Zeh, Armin, Gerdes, Axel, Heubeck, Christoph (2013). "U–Pb and Hf isotope data of detrital zircons from the Barberton Greenstone Belt: constraints on provenance and Archaean crustal evolution" Journal of the Geological Society 170 p215-223

Gamper, Antonia, Heubeck, Christoph, Demske, Dieter, Hoehse, Marek (2012). "Composition and microfacies of Archean microbial mats (Moodies Group, ca. 3.22 Ga, South Africa)" Society for Sedimentary Geology Special Publication p65-74

Lowe, Donald R, Byerly, Gary R, Heubeck, Christoph (2012). "Geologic map of the west-central Barberton Greenstone Belt, South Africa"

Heubeck, Christoph (2009). "An early ecosystem of Archean tidal microbial mats (Moodies Group, South Africa, ca. 3.2 Ga)" Geology 37 p931-934