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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2005 Aug 9;102(32):11131-6. Epub 2005 Aug 1.

The Paleoproterozoic snowball Earth: a climate disaster triggered by the evolution of oxygenic photosynthesis.

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1
Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences, California Institute of Technology 170-25, Pasadena, CA 91125, USA. rkopp@caltech.edu

Abstract

Although biomarker, trace element, and isotopic evidence have been used to claim that oxygenic photosynthesis evolved by 2.8 giga-annum before present (Ga) and perhaps as early as 3.7 Ga, a skeptical examination raises considerable doubt about the presence of oxygen producers at these times. Geological features suggestive of oxygen, such as red beds, lateritic paleosols, and the return of sedimentary sulfate deposits after a approximately 900-million year hiatus, occur shortly before the approximately 2.3-2.2 Ga Makganyene "snowball Earth" (global glaciation). The massive deposition of Mn, which has a high redox potential, practically requires the presence of environmental oxygen after the snowball. New age constraints from the Transvaal Supergroup of South Africa suggest that all three glaciations in the Huronian Supergroup of Canada predate the Snowball event. A simple cyanobacterial growth model incorporating the range of C, Fe, and P fluxes expected during a partial glaciation in an anoxic world with high-Fe oceans indicates that oxygenic photosynthesis could have destroyed a methane greenhouse and triggered a snowball event on time-scales as short as 1 million years. As the geological evidence requiring oxygen does not appear during the Pongola glaciation at 2.9 Ga or during the Huronian glaciations, we argue that oxygenic cyanobacteria evolved and radiated shortly before the Makganyene snowball.

PMID:
16061801
PMCID:
PMC1183582
DOI:
10.1073/pnas.0504878102
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article
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