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Title: Identification of an Archean marine oxygen oasis

The early Earth was essentially anoxic. A number of indicators suggest the presence of oxygenic photosynthesis 2700 3000 million years (Ma) ago, but direct evidence for molecular oxygen (O2) in seawater has remained elusive. Here we report rare earth element (REE) analyses of 2800 million year old shallowmarine limestones and deep-water iron-rich sediments at Steep Rock Lake, Canada. These show that the seawater from which extensive shallow-water limestones precipitated was oxygenated, whereas the adjacent deeper waters where iron-rich sediments formed were not. We propose that oxygen promoted limestone precipitation by oxidative removal of dissolved ferrous iron species, Fe(II), to insoluble Fe(III) oxyhydroxide, and estimate that at least 10.25 M oxygen concentration in seawater was required to accomplish this at Steep Rock. This agrees with the hypothesis that an ample supply of dissolved Fe(II) in Archean oceans would have hindered limestone formation. There is no direct evidence for the oxygen source at Steep Rock, but organic carbon isotope values and diverse stromatolites in the limestones suggest the presence of cyanobacteria. Our findings support the view that during the Archean significant oxygen levels first developed in protected nutrient-rich shallow marine habitats. They indicate that these environments were spatially restricted, transient, and promotedmore » limestone precipitation. If Archean marine limestones in general reflect localized oxygenic removal of dissolved iron at the margins of otherwise anoxic iron-rich seas, then early oxygen oases are less elusive than has been assumed.« less
 [1] ;  [2] ;  [3]
  1. University of Tennessee (UT)
  2. Lakehead University, Canada
  3. ORNL
Publication Date:
OSTI Identifier:
DOE Contract Number:
Resource Type:
Journal Article
Resource Relation:
Journal Name: Precambrian Research; Journal Volume: 251
Research Org:
Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL)
Sponsoring Org:
ORNL other overhead
Country of Publication:
United States
oxygenation; carbonate platform