Ultramafic rocks exposed on the continent serve as a window into oceanic and continental processes of water–peridotite interaction, so called serpentinization. In both environments there are active carbon and sulfur cycles that contain abiogenic and biogenic processes, which are eventually imprinted in the geochemical signatures of the basement rocks and the calcite and magnesite deposits associated with fluids that issue from these systems. Here, we present the carbon and sulfur geochemistry of ultramafic rocks and carbonate deposits from the Santa Elena ophiolite in Costa Rica. The aim of this study is to leverage the geochemistry of the ultramafic sequence and associated deposits to distinguish between processes that were dominant during ocean floor alteration and those dominant during low-temperature, continental water–peridotite interaction.

The peridotites are variably serpentinized with total sulfur concentrations up to 877 ppm that is typically dominated by sulfide over sulfate. With the exception of one sample the ultramafic rocks are characterized by positive δ34Ssulfide (up to + 23.1‰) and δ34Ssulfatevalues (up to + 35.0‰). Carbon contents in the peridotites are low and are isotopically distinct from typical oceanic serpentinites. In particular, δ13C of the inorganic carbon suggests that the carbon is not derived from seawater, but rather the product of the interaction of meteoric water with the ultramafic rocks. In contrast, the sulfur isotope data from sulfide minerals in the peridotites preserve evidence for interaction with a hydrothermal fluid. Specifically, they indicate closed system abiogenic sulfate reduction suggesting that oceanic serpentinization occurred with limited input of seawater. Overall, the geochemical signatures preserve evidence for both oceanic and continental water–rock interaction with the majority of carbon (and possibly sulfate) being incorporated during continental water–rock interaction. Furthermore, there is evidence for microbial activity that was possibly stimulated by carbon sourced from water–rock interaction with adjacent sediments or fluid inclusions. This study provides detailed insight into the complex hydrothermal history of continental serpentinization systems and adds to our understanding of the carbon and sulfur cycling within peridotite-hosted hydrothermal systems.