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Nature. 2010 Nov 11;468(7321):290-3. doi: 10.1038/nature09538.

Early oxygenation of the terrestrial environment during the Mesoproterozoic.

Author information

1
School of Geosciences, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen AB24 3UE, UK. j.parnell@abdn.ac.uk

Abstract

Geochemical data from ancient sedimentary successions provide evidence for the progressive evolution of Earth's atmosphere and oceans. Key stages in increasing oxygenation are postulated for the Palaeoproterozoic era (∼2.3 billion years ago, Gyr ago) and the late Proterozoic eon (about 0.8 Gyr ago), with the latter implicated in the subsequent metazoan evolutionary expansion. In support of this rise in oxygen concentrations, a large database shows a marked change in the bacterially mediated fractionation of seawater sulphate to sulphide of Δ(34)S < 25‰ before 1 Gyr to ≥50‰ after 0.64 Gyr. This change in Δ(34)S has been interpreted to represent the evolution from single-step bacterial sulphate reduction to a combination of bacterial sulphate reduction and sulphide oxidation, largely bacterially mediated. This evolution is seen as marking the rise in atmospheric oxygen concentrations and the evolution of non-photosynthetic sulphide-oxidizing bacteria. Here we report Δ(34)S values exceeding 50‰ from a terrestrial Mesoproterozoic (1.18 Gyr old) succession in Scotland, a time period that is at present poorly characterized. This level of fractionation implies disproportionation in the sulphur cycle, probably involving sulphide-oxidizing bacteria, that is not evident from Δ(34)S data in the marine record. Disproportionation in both red beds and lacustrine black shales at our study site suggests that the Mesoproterozoic terrestrial environment was sufficiently oxygenated to support a biota that was adapted to an oxygen-rich atmosphere, but had also penetrated into subsurface sediment.

PMID:
21068840
DOI:
10.1038/nature09538
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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