49 research outputs found

    Earliest land plants created modern levels of atmospheric oxygen

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    The progressive oxygenation of the Earth’s atmosphere was pivotal to the evolution of life, but the puzzle of when and how atmospheric oxygen (O2) first approached modern levels (~21%) remains unresolved. Redox proxy data indicate the deep oceans were oxygenated during 435-392 Ma, and the appearance of fossil charcoal indicates O2>15-17% by 420-400 Ma. However, existing models have failed to predict oxygenation at this time. Here we show that the earliest plants, which colonized the land surface from ~470 Ma onwards, were responsible for this mid- Paleozoic oxygenation event, through greatly increasing global organic carbon burial – the net long-term source of O2. We use a trait-based ecophysiological model to predict that cryptogamic vegetation cover could have achieved ~30% of today’s global terrestrial net primary productivity by~445 Ma. Data from modern bryophytes suggests this plentiful early plant material had a much higher molar C:P ratio (~2000) than marine biomass (~100), such that a given weathering flux of phosphorus could support more organic carbon burial. Furthermore, recent experiments suggest that early plants selectively increased the flux of phosphorus (relative to alkalinity) weathered from rocks. Combining these effects in a model of long-term biogeochemical cycling, we reproduce a sustained +2‰ increase in the carbonate carbon isotope (δ13C) record by ~445 Ma, and predict a corresponding rise in O2 to present levels by 420-400 Ma, consistent with geochemical data. This oxygen rise represents a permanent shift in regulatory regime to one where fire-mediated negative feedbacks on organic carbon burial stabilise high O2 levels

    No evidence for a volcanic trigger for late Cambrian carbon-cycle perturbations

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    The early Paleozoic was marked by several carbon-cycle perturbations and associated carbon-isotope excursions (CIEs). Whether these CIEs are connected to significant (external) triggers, as is commonly considered to be the case for CIEs in the Mesozoic and Cenozoic, or result from small carbon-cycle imbalances that became amplified through lack of efficient silicate weathering or other feedbacks remains unclear. We present concentration and isotope data for sedimentary mercury (Hg) and osmium (Os) to assess the impact of subaerial and submarine volcanism and weathering during the late Cambrian and early Ordovician. Data from the Alum Shale Formation (Sweden) cover the Steptoean positive carbon-isotope excursion (SPICE; ca. 497–494 Ma), a period marked by marine anoxia and biotic overturning, and several smaller CIEs extending into the early Ordovician. Our Hg and Os data offer no strong evidence that the CIEs present in our record were driven by (globally) elevated volcanism or continental weathering. Organic-carbon and Hg concentrations covary cyclically, providing further evidence of an unperturbed Hg cycle. Mesozoic and Cenozoic CIEs are commonly linked to enhanced volcanic activity and weathering, but similar late Cambrian–early Ordovician events cannot easily be connected to such external triggers. Our results are more consistent with reduced early Paleozoic carbon-cycle resilience that allowed small imbalances to develop into large CIEs

    Devonian Rise in Atmospheric Oxygen Correlated to the Radiations of Terrestrial Plants and Large Predatory Fish

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    The evolution of Earth’s biota is intimately linked to the oxygenation of the oceans and atmosphere. We use the isotopic composition and concentration of molybdenum (Mo) in sedimentary rocks to explore this relationship. Our results indicate two episodes of global ocean oxygenation. The first coincides with the emergence of the Ediacaran fauna, including large, motile bilaterian animals, ca. 550-560 million year ago (Ma), reinforcing previous geochemical indications that Earth surface oxygenation facilitated this radiation. The second, perhaps larger, oxygenation took place around 400 Ma, well after the initial rise of animals and, therefore, suggesting that early metazoans evolved in a relatively low oxygen environment. This later oxygenation correlates with the diversification of vascular plants, which likely contributed to increased oxygenation through the enhanced burial of organic carbon in sediments. It also correlates with a pronounced radiation of large predatory fish, animals with high oxygen demand. We thereby couple the redox history of the atmosphere and oceans to major events in animal evolution.Earth and Planetary SciencesOrganismic and Evolutionary Biolog

    Low atmospheric CO2 levels before the rise of forested ecosystems

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    The emergence of forests on Earth (~385 million years ago, Ma)1 has been linked to an order-of-magnitude decline in atmospheric CO2 levels and global climatic cooling by altering continental weathering processes, but observational constraints on atmospheric CO2 before the rise of forests carry large, often unbound, uncertainties. Here, we calibrate a mechanistic model for gas exchange in modern lycophytes and constrain atmospheric CO2 levels 410–380 Ma from related fossilized plants with bound uncertainties of approximately ±100 ppm (1 sd). We find that the atmosphere contained ~525–715 ppm CO2 before continents were afforested, and that Earth was partially glaciated according to a palaeoclimate model. A process-driven biogeochemical model (COPSE) shows the appearance of trees with deep roots did not dramatically enhance atmospheric CO2 removal. Rather, shallow-rooted vascular ecosystems could have simultaneously caused abrupt atmospheric oxygenation and climatic cooling long before the rise of forests, although earlier CO2 levels are still unknown