Late Archean rise of aerobic microbial ecosystems

Jennifer L. Eigenbrode, Katherine H. Freeman

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192 Scopus citations


We report the 13C content of preserved organic carbon for a 150 million-year section of late Archean shallow and deepwater sediments of the Hamersley Province in Western Australia. We find a 13C enrichment of ≈10‰ in organic carbon of post-2.7-billion-year-old shallow-water carbonate rocks relative to deepwater sediments. The shallow-water organic-carbon 13C content has a 29‰ range in values (-57 to -28‰), and it contrasts with the less variable but strongly 13C-depleted (-40 to -45‰) organic carbon in deepwater sediments. The 13C enrichment likely represents microbial habitats not as strongly influenced by assimilation of methane or other 13C-depleted substrates. We propose that continued oxidation of shallow settings favored the expansion of aerobic ecosystems and respiring organisms, and, as a result, isotopic signatures of preserved organic carbon in shallow settings approached that of photosynthetic biomass. Facies analysis of published carbon-isotopic records indicates that the Hamersley shallow-water signal may be representative of a late Archean global signature and that it preceded a similar, but delayed, 13C enrichment of deepwater deposits. The data suggest that a global-scale expansion of oxygenated habitats accompanied the progression away from anaerobic ecosystems toward respiring microbial communities fueled by oxygenic photosynthesis before the oxygenation of the atmosphere after 2.45 billion years ago.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)15759-15764
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number43
StatePublished - Oct 24 2006

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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