Hypothesized link between Neoproterozoic greening of the land surface and the establishment of an oxygen-rich atmosphere

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Considerable geological, geochemical, paleontological, and isotopic evidence exists to support the hypothesis that the atmospheric oxygen level rose from an Archean baseline of essentially zero to modern values in two steps roughly 2.3 billion and 0.8-0.6 billion years ago (Ga). The first step in oxygen content, the Great Oxidation Event, was likely a threshold response to diminishing reductant input from Earth's interior. Here I provide an alternative to previous suggestions that the second step was the result of the establishment of the first terrestrial fungal-lichen ecosystems. The consumption of oxygen by aerobes respiring this new source of organic matter in soils would have necessitated an increase in the atmospheric oxygen content to compensate for the reduced delivery of oxygen to the weathering environment below the organicrich upper soil layer. Support for this hypothesis comes from the observed spread toward more negative carbon isotope compositions in Neoproterozoic (1.0-0.542 Ga) and younger limestones altered under the influence of ground waters, and the positive correlation between the carbon isotope composition and oxygen content of modern ground waters in contact with limestones. Thus, the greening of the planet's land surfaces forced the atmospheric oxygen level to a new, higher equilibrium state.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)14062-14065
Number of pages4
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number39
StatePublished - Sep 30 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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