Friday, October 30, 2009

Early O2 Levels & The Origin of Life

A Late Archean Sulfidic Sea Stimulated by Early Oxidative Weathering of the Continents. 2009. C. T. Reinhard, et a;. Science 326: 713-716.

Scientists widely accept that around 2.4 billion years ago, the Earth's atmosphere underwent a dramatic change when oxygen levels rose sharply. Called the "Great Oxidation Event" (GOE), the oxygen spike marks an important milestone in Earth's history, the transformation from an oxygen-poor atmosphere to an oxygen-rich one paving the way for complex life to develop on the planet.

By analyzing 2.5 billion-year-old black shales from Western Australia.researchers have corroborated recent evidence that oxygen production began in Earth's oceans at least 100 million years before the GOE.

Specifically, the shales revealed that episodes of hydrogen sulfide accumulation in the oxygen-free deep ocean occurred nearly 100 million years before the GOE and up to 700 million years earlier than such conditions were predicted by past models for the early ocean.

Hydrogen sulfide in the ocean is a fingerprint of photosynthetic production of oxygen 2.5 billion years ago.

"Our data point to oxygen-producing photosynthesis long before concentrations of oxygen in the atmosphere were even a tiny fraction of what they are today" said Reinhard.

The not-very-bright Aquaman © DC Comics
The researchers argue that the presence of small amounts of oxygen may have stimulated the early evolution of eukaryotes – organisms whose cells bear nuclei – millions of years prior to the GOE.