Proterozoic oxygen rise linked to shifting balance between seafloor and terrestrial weathering.
ABSTRACT: A shift toward higher atmospheric oxygen concentration during the late Proterozoic has been inferred from multiple indirect proxies and is seen by many as a prerequisite for the emergence of complex animal life. However, the mechanisms controlling the level of oxygen throughout the Proterozoic and its eventual rise remain uncertain. Here we use a simple biogeochemical model to show that the balance between long-term carbon removal fluxes via terrestrial silicate weathering and ocean crust alteration plays a key role in determining atmospheric oxygen concentration. This balance may be shifted by changes in terrestrial weatherability or in the generation rate of oceanic crust. As a result, the terrestrial chemical weathering flux may be permanently altered--contrasting with the conventional view that the global silicate weathering flux must adjust to equal the volcanic CO2 degassing flux. Changes in chemical weathering flux in turn alter the long-term supply of phosphorus to the ocean, and therefore the flux of organic carbon burial, which is the long-term source of atmospheric oxygen. Hence we propose that increasing solar luminosity and a decrease in seafloor spreading rate over 1,500-500 Ma drove a gradual shift from seafloor weathering to terrestrial weathering, and a corresponding steady rise in atmospheric oxygen. Furthermore, increased terrestrial weatherability during the late Neoproterozoic may explain low temperature, increases in ocean phosphate, ocean sulfate, and atmospheric oxygen concentration at this time.
Project description:The relative influences of tectonics, continental weathering and seafloor weathering in controlling the geological carbon cycle are unknown. Here we develop a new carbon cycle model that explicitly captures the kinetics of seafloor weathering to investigate carbon fluxes and the evolution of atmospheric CO2 and ocean pH since 100 Myr ago. We compare model outputs to proxy data, and rigorously constrain model parameters using Bayesian inverse methods. Assuming our forward model is an accurate representation of the carbon cycle, to fit proxies the temperature dependence of continental weathering must be weaker than commonly assumed. We find that 15-31?°C (1?) surface warming is required to double the continental weathering flux, versus 3-10?°C in previous work. In addition, continental weatherability has increased 1.7-3.3 times since 100 Myr ago, demanding explanation by uplift and sea-level changes. The average Earth system climate sensitivity is ?K (1?) per CO2 doubling, which is notably higher than fast-feedback estimates. These conclusions are robust to assumptions about outgassing, modern fluxes and seafloor weathering kinetics.
Project description:The early Earth's environment is controversial. Climatic estimates range from hot to glacial, and inferred marine pH spans strongly alkaline to acidic. Better understanding of early climate and ocean chemistry would improve our knowledge of the origin of life and its coevolution with the environment. Here, we use a geological carbon cycle model with ocean chemistry to calculate self-consistent histories of climate and ocean pH. Our carbon cycle model includes an empirically justified temperature and pH dependence of seafloor weathering, allowing the relative importance of continental and seafloor weathering to be evaluated. We find that the Archean climate was likely temperate (0-50 °C) due to the combined negative feedbacks of continental and seafloor weathering. Ocean pH evolves monotonically from [Formula: see text] (2?) at 4.0 Ga to [Formula: see text] (2?) at the Archean-Proterozoic boundary, and to [Formula: see text] (2?) at the Proterozoic-Phanerozoic boundary. This evolution is driven by the secular decline of pCO2, which in turn is a consequence of increasing solar luminosity, but is moderated by carbonate alkalinity delivered from continental and seafloor weathering. Archean seafloor weathering may have been a comparable carbon sink to continental weathering, but is less dominant than previously assumed, and would not have induced global glaciation. We show how these conclusions are robust to a wide range of scenarios for continental growth, internal heat flow evolution and outgassing history, greenhouse gas abundances, and changes in the biotic enhancement of weathering.
Project description:The partial pressure of oxygen in Earth's atmosphere has increased dramatically through time, and this increase is thought to have occurred in two rapid steps at both ends of the Proterozoic Eon (?2.5-0.543 Ga). However, the trajectory and mechanisms of Earth's oxygenation are still poorly constrained, and little is known regarding attendant changes in ocean ventilation and seafloor redox. We have a particularly poor understanding of ocean chemistry during the mid-Proterozoic (?1.8-0.8 Ga). Given the coupling between redox-sensitive trace element cycles and planktonic productivity, various models for mid-Proterozoic ocean chemistry imply different effects on the biogeochemical cycling of major and trace nutrients, with potential ecological constraints on emerging eukaryotic life. Here, we exploit the differing redox behavior of molybdenum and chromium to provide constraints on seafloor redox evolution by coupling a large database of sedimentary metal enrichments to a mass balance model that includes spatially variant metal burial rates. We find that the metal enrichment record implies a Proterozoic deep ocean characterized by pervasive anoxia relative to the Phanerozoic (at least ?30-40% of modern seafloor area) but a relatively small extent of euxinic (anoxic and sulfidic) seafloor (less than ?1-10% of modern seafloor area). Our model suggests that the oceanic Mo reservoir is extremely sensitive to perturbations in the extent of sulfidic seafloor and that the record of Mo and chromium enrichments through time is consistent with the possibility of a Mo-N colimited marine biosphere during many periods of Earth's history.
Project description:Protection against arsenic damage in organisms positioned deep in the tree of life points to early evolutionary sensitization. Here, marine sedimentary records reveal a Proterozoic arsenic concentration patterned to glacial-interglacial ages. The low glacial and high interglacial sedimentary arsenic concentrations, suggest deteriorating habitable marine conditions may have coincided with atmospheric oxygen decline after ~2.1 billion years ago. A similar intensification of near continental margin sedimentary arsenic levels after the Cryogenian glaciations is also associated with amplified continental weathering. However, interpreted atmospheric oxygen increase at this time, suggests that the marine biosphere had widely adapted to the reorganization of global marine elemental cycles by glaciations. Such a glacially induced biogeochemical bridge would have produced physiologically robust communities that enabled increased oxygenation of the ocean-atmosphere system and the radiation of the complex Ediacaran-Cambrian life.
Project description:A shift toward a higher oxygen level in both ocean and atmosphere systems during the late Ediacaran to the early Cambrian has been suggested from multiple indirect proxies. However, the mechanism and magnitude of this oxidation remain unclear. To solve this issue, we measured carbon isotopes in both carbonate and organic matter as well as their trace element compositions for an Ediacaran-Cambrian sequence in the Lower Yangtze basin, South China. The δ13Corg and δ13Ccarb excursions of this sequence are coupled and can be compared with contemporaneous global carbon isotope curves. A 2‰ rise in Δ13Ccarb-org occurred from the late Ediacaran to the early Cambrian, suggesting a substantial increase in atmospheric oxygen level from 16% to 30% of the present atmospheric level (PAL). Furthermore, the distribution pattern of rare earth elements and the concentrations of water-insoluble elements in the carbonates indicate a sudden enhancement in chemical weathering of the continental crust during the early Cambrian, which may be a trigger for the rise of atmospheric O2 level. Both the supply of a large amount of nutrients due to the enhanced continental weathering and the contemporary increase of atmospheric oxygen concentrations may have promoted the appearance of large metazoans in the early Cambrian.
Project description:Atmospheric oxygen has evolved from negligible levels in the Archean to the current level of about 21% through 2 major step rises: The Great Oxidation Event (GOE) in the early Proterozoic and the Neoproterozoic Oxygenation Event (NOE) during the late Proterozoic. However, most previous methods for constraining the time of atmospheric oxygenation have relied on evidence from sedimentary rocks. Here, we investigate the temporal variations of the Th/U of arc igneous rocks since 3.0 billion y ago (Ga) and show that 2 major Th/U decreases are recorded at ca. 2.35 Ga and ca. 0.75 Ga, coincident with the beginning of the GOE and NOE. The decoupling of U from Th is predominantly caused by the significant rise of atmospheric oxygen. Under an increasingly oxidized atmosphere condition, more uranium in the surface environment became oxidized from the water-insoluble U4+ to the water-soluble U6+ valance and incorporated in the sea water and altered oceanic crust. Eventually, the subduction of this altered oceanic crust produced the low-Th/U signature of arc igneous rocks. Therefore, the sharp decrease of Th/U in global arc igneous rocks may provide strong evidence for the rise of atmospheric oxygen. We suggest that the secular Th/U evolution of arc igneous rocks could be an effective geochemical indicator recording the global-scale atmospheric oxygen variation.
Project description:How the colonization of terrestrial environments by early land plants over 400 Ma influenced rock weathering, the biogeochemical cycling of carbon and phosphorus, and climate in the Palaeozoic is uncertain. Here we show experimentally that mineral weathering by liverworts—an extant lineage of early land plants—partnering arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi, like those in 410 Ma-old early land plant fossils, amplified calcium weathering from basalt grains threefold to sevenfold, relative to plant-free controls. Phosphate weathering by mycorrhizal liverworts was amplified 9-13-fold over plant-free controls, compared with fivefold to sevenfold amplification by liverworts lacking fungal symbionts. Etching and trenching of phyllosilicate minerals increased with AM fungal network size and atmospheric CO2 concentration. Integration of grain-scale weathering rates over the depths of liverwort rhizoids and mycelia (0.1 m), or tree roots and mycelia (0.75 m), indicate early land plants with shallow anchorage systems were probably at least 10-fold less effective at enhancing the total weathering flux than later-evolving trees. This work challenges the suggestion that early land plants significantly enhanced total weathering and land-to-ocean fluxes of calcium and phosphorus, which have been proposed as a trigger for transient dramatic atmospheric CO2 sequestration and glaciations in the Ordovician.
Project description:Atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) data for the last 420 million years (My) show long-term fluctuations related to supercontinent cycles as well as shorter cycles at 26 to 32 My whose origin is unknown. Periodicities of 26 to 30 My occur in diverse geological phenomena including mass extinctions, flood basalt volcanism, ocean anoxic events, deposition of massive evaporites, sequence boundaries, and orogenic events and have previously been linked to an extraterrestrial mechanism. The vast oceanic crustal carbon reservoir is an alternative potential driving force of climate fluctuations at these time scales, with hydrothermal crustal carbon uptake occurring mostly in young crust with a strong dependence on ocean bottom water temperature. We combine a global plate model and oceanic paleo-age grids with estimates of paleo-ocean bottom water temperatures to track the evolution of the oceanic crustal carbon reservoir over the past 230 My. We show that seafloor spreading rates as well as the storage, subduction, and emission of oceanic crustal and mantle CO2 fluctuate with a period of 26 My. A connection with seafloor spreading rates and equivalent cycles in subduction zone rollback suggests that these periodicities are driven by the dynamics of subduction zone migration. The oceanic crust-mantle carbon cycle is thus a previously overlooked mechanism that connects plate tectonic pulsing with fluctuations in atmospheric carbon and surface environments.
Project description:Recent years have witnessed major upheavals in views about early eukaryotic evolution. One very significant finding was that mitochondria, including hydrogenosomes and the newly discovered mitosomes, are just as ubiquitous and defining among eukaryotes as the nucleus itself. A second important advance concerns the readjustment, still in progress, about phylogenetic relationships among eukaryotic groups and the roughly six new eukaryotic supergroups that are currently at the focus of much attention. From the standpoint of energy metabolism (the biochemical means through which eukaryotes gain their ATP, thereby enabling any and all evolution of other traits), understanding of mitochondria among eukaryotic anaerobes has improved. The mainstream formulations of endosymbiotic theory did not predict the ubiquity of mitochondria among anaerobic eukaryotes, while an alternative hypothesis that specifically addressed the evolutionary origin of energy metabolism among eukaryotic anaerobes did. Those developments in biology have been paralleled by a similar upheaval in the Earth sciences regarding views about the prevalence of oxygen in the oceans during the Proterozoic (the time from ca 2.5 to 0.6 Ga ago). The new model of Proterozoic ocean chemistry indicates that the oceans were anoxic and sulphidic during most of the Proterozoic. Its proponents suggest the underlying geochemical mechanism to entail the weathering of continental sulphides by atmospheric oxygen to sulphate, which was carried into the oceans as sulphate, fueling marine sulphate reducers (anaerobic, hydrogen sulphide-producing prokaryotes) on a global scale. Taken together, these two mutually compatible developments in biology and geology underscore the evolutionary significance of oxygen-independent ATP-generating pathways in mitochondria, including those of various metazoan groups, as a watermark of the environments within which eukaryotes arose and diversified into their major lineages.
Project description:The oceanic magnesium cycle is largely controlled by continental weathering and marine authigenic mineral formation, which are intimately linked to long-term climate. Uncertainties in the magnesium cycle propagate into other chemical budgets, and into interpretations of paleo-oceanographic reconstructions of seawater ?<sup>26</sup>Mg and Mg/Ca ratios. Here, we produce a detailed global map of the flux of dissolved magnesium from the ocean into deeper marine sediments (greater than ?1 meter below seafloor), and quantify the global flux and associated isotopic fractionation. We find that this flux accounts for 15-20% of the output of magnesium from the ocean, with a flux-weighted fractionation factor of ?0.9994 acting to increase the magnesium isotopic ratio in the ocean. Our analysis provides the best constraints to date on the sources and sinks that define the oceanic magnesium cycle, including new constraints on the output flux of magnesium and isotopic fractionation during low-temperature ridge flank hydrothermal circulation.