51 research outputs found

    Rapid oxygenation of Earths atmosphere 2.33 billion years ago

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    Molecular oxygen (O[subscript 2]) is, and has been, a primary driver of biological evolution and shapes the contemporary landscape of Earth’s biogeochemical cycles. Although “whiffs” of oxygen have been documented in the Archean atmosphere, substantial O2 did not accumulate irreversibly until the Early Paleoproterozoic, during what has been termed the Great Oxygenation Event (GOE). The timing of the GOE and the rate at which this oxygenation took place have been poorly constrained until now. We report the transition (that is, from being mass-independent to becoming mass-dependent) in multiple sulfur isotope signals of diagenetic pyrite in a continuous sedimentary sequence in three coeval drill cores in the Transvaal Supergroup, South Africa. These data precisely constrain the GOE to 2.33 billion years ago. The new data suggest that the oxygenation occurred rapidly—within 1 to 10 million years—and was followed by a slower rise in the ocean sulfate inventory. Our data indicate that a climate perturbation predated the GOE, whereas the relationships among GOE, “Snowball Earth” glaciation, and biogeochemical cycling will require further stratigraphic correlation supported with precise chronologies and paleolatitude reconstructions.National Science Foundation (U.S.) (EAR-1338810)National Natural Science Foundation (China) ((grant no. 41472170)Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute ( 111 Project grant no. B08030)National Basic Research Program of China (973 Program)United States. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA Astrobiology Institute award NNA13AA90A

    Depth-dependent δ13 C trends in platform and slope settings of the Campbellrand-Malmani carbonate platform and possible implications for Early Earth oxygenation

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    Highlights • Carbon cycle of Neoarchean carbonate platform and potential oxygen oasis. • Carbon isotopes reveal a shift to aerobic biosphere and increasing oxidation state. • Rare earth element patterns reveal decrease in open ocean water influx. • Rimmed margin architecture was crucial for evolution of aerobic ecosystems. Abstract The evolution of oxygenic photosynthesis is widely seen as the major biological factor for the profound shift from reducing to slightly oxidizing conditions in Earth’s atmosphere during the Archean-Proterozoic transition period. The delay from the first biogenic production of oxygen and the permanent oxidation of Earth’s atmosphere during the early Paleoproteorozoic Great Oxidation Event (GOE) indicates that significant environmental modifications were necessary for an effective accumulation of metabolically produced oxygen. Here we report a distinct temporal shift to heavier carbon isotope signatures in lagoonal and intertidal carbonates (δ13Ccarb from -1.6 to +0.2 ‰, relative to VPDB) and organic matter (δ13Corg from about -40 to -25 ‰, relative to VPDB) from the 2.58–2.50 Gy old shallow–marine Campbellrand-Malmani carbonate platform (South Africa). This indicates an increase in the burial rate of organic matter caused by enhanced primary production as well as a change from an anaerobic to an aerobic ecosystem. Trace element data indicate limited influx of reducing species from deep open ocean water into the platform and an increased supply of nutrients from the continent, both supporting primary production and an increasing oxidation state of the platform interior. These restricted conditions allowed that the dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) pool in the platform interior developed differently than the open ocean. This is supported by coeval carbonates from the marginal slope setting, which had a higher interaction with open ocean water and do not record a comparable shift in δ13Ccarb throughout the sequence. We propose that the emergence of stable shallow-water carbonate platforms in the Neoarchean provided ideal conditions for the evolution of early aerobic ecosystems, which finally led to the full oxidation of Earth’s atmosphere during the GOE

    Deflating the shale gas potential of South Africa’s Main Karoo Basin

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    The Main Karoo basin has been identified as a potential source of shale gas (i.e. natural gas that can be extracted via the process of hydraulic stimulation or ‘fracking’). Current resource estimates of 0.4–11x109 m3 (13–390 Tcf) are speculatively based on carbonaceous shale thickness, area, depth, thermal maturity and, most of all, the total organic carbon content of specifically the Ecca Group’s Whitehill Formation with a thickness of more than 30 m. These estimates were made without any measurements on the actual available gas content of the shale. Such measurements were recently conducted on samples from two boreholes and are reported here. These measurements indicate that there is little to no desorbed and residual gas, despite high total organic carbon values. In addition, vitrinite reflectance and illite crystallinity of unweathered shale material reveal the Ecca Group to be metamorphosed and overmature. Organic carbon in the shale is largely unbound to hydrogen, and little hydrocarbon generation potential remains. These findings led to the conclusion that the lowest of the existing resource estimates, namely 0.4x109 m3 (13 Tcf), may be the most realistic. However, such low estimates still represent a large resource with developmental potential for the South African petroleum industry. To be economically viable, the resource would be required to be confined to a small, well-delineated ‘sweet spot’ area in the vast southern area of the basin. It is acknowledged that the drill cores we investigated fall outside of currently identified sweet spots and these areas should be targets for further scientific drilling projects. Significance:  • This is the first report of direct measurements of the actual gas contents of southern Karoo basin shales. • The findings reveal carbon content of shales to be dominated by overmature organic matter. • The results demonstrate a much reduced potential shale gas resource presented by the Whitehill Formation

    Nitrogen fixation sustained productivity in the wake of the Palaeoproterozoic Great Oxygenation Event

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    The marine nitrogen cycle is dominated by redox-controlled biogeochemical processes and, therefore, is likely to have been revolutionised in response to Earth-surface oxygenation. The details, timing, and trajectory of nitrogen cycle evolution, however, remain elusive. Here we couple nitrogen and carbon isotope records from multiple drillcores through the Rooihoogte–Timeball Hill Formations from across the Carletonville area of the Kaapvaal Craton where the Great Oxygenation Event (GOE) and its aftermath are recorded. Our data reveal that aerobic nitrogen cycling, featuring metabolisms involving nitrogen oxyanions, was well established prior to the GOE and that ammonium may have dominated the dissolved nitrogen inventory. Pronounced signals of diazotrophy imply a stepwise evolution, with a temporary intermediate stage where both ammonium and nitrate may have been scarce. We suggest that the emergence of the modern nitrogen cycle, with metabolic processes that approximate their contemporary balance, was retarded by low environmental oxygen availability

    Nitrogen fixation sustained productivity in the wake of the Palaeoproterozoic Great Oxygenation Event

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    The marine nitrogen cycle is dominated by redox-controlled biogeochemical processes and, therefore, is likely to have been revolutionised in response to Earth-surface oxygenation. The details, timing, and trajectory of nitrogen cycle evolution, however, remain elusive. Here we couple nitrogen and carbon isotope records from multiple drillcores through the Rooihoogte-Timeball Hill Formations from across the Carletonville area of the Kaapvaal Craton where the Great Oxygenation Event (GOE) and its aftermath are recorded. Our data reveal that aerobic nitrogen cycling, featuring metabolisms involving nitrogen oxyanions, was well established prior to the GOE and that ammonium may have dominated the dissolved nitrogen inventory. Pronounced signals of diazotrophy imply a stepwise evolution, with a temporary intermediate stage where both ammonium and nitrate may have been scarce. We suggest that the emergence of the modern nitrogen cycle, with metabolic processes that approximate their contemporary balance, was retarded by low environmental oxygen availability.National Science Foundation (U.S.) (Grant EAR-1338810)National Science Foundation (U.S.) (Grant EAR-1455258

    Life on a Mesoarchean marine shelf – insights from the world’s oldest known granular iron formation

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    Abstract: The Nconga Formation of the Mesoarchean (~2.96–2.84 Ga) Mozaan Group of the Pongola Supergroup of southern Africa contains the world’s oldest known granular iron formation. Three dimensional reconstructions of the granules using micro-focus X-ray computed tomography reveal that these granules are microstromatolites coated by magnetite and calcite, and can therefore be classified as oncoids. The reconstructions also show damage to the granule coatings caused by sedimentary transport during formation of the granules and eventual deposition as density currents. The detailed, three dimensional morphology of the granules in conjunction with previously published geochemical and isotope data indicate a biogenic origin for iron precipitation around chert granules on the shallow shelf of one of the oldest supracratonic environments on Earth almost three billion years ago. It broadens our understanding of biologically-mediated iron precipitation during the Archean by illustrating that it took place on the shallow marine shelf coevally with deeper water, below-wave base iron precipitation in micritic iron formations

    Evidence for oxygenic photosynthesis half a billion years before the Great Oxidation Event

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    The early Earth was characterized by the absence of oxygen in the ocean–atmosphere system, in contrast to the well-oxygenated conditions that prevail today. Atmospheric concentrations first rose to appreciable levels during the Great Oxidation Event, roughly 2.5–2.3 Gyr ago. The evolution of oxygenic photosynthesis is generally accepted to have been the ultimate cause of this rise, but it has proved difficult to constrain the timing of this evolutionary innovation. The oxidation of manganese in the water column requires substantial free oxygen concentrations, and thus any indication that Mn oxides were present in ancient environments would imply that oxygenic photosynthesis was ongoing. Mn oxides are not commonly preserved in ancient rocks, but there is a large fractionation of molybdenum isotopes associated with the sorption of Mo onto the Mn oxides that would be retained. Here we report Mo isotopes from rocks of the Sinqeni Formation, Pongola Supergroup, South Africa. These rocks formed no less than 2.95 Gyr ago in a nearshore setting. The Mo isotopic signature is consistent with interaction with Mn oxides. We therefore infer that oxygen produced through oxygenic photosynthesis began to accumulate in shallow marine settings at least half a billion years before the accumulation of significant levels of atmospheric oxygen
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