Navigation Links
Deep-sea rocks point to early oxygen on Earth

Red jasper cored from layers 3.46 billion years old suggests that not only did the oceans contain abundant oxygen then, but that the atmosphere was as oxygen rich as it is today, according to geologists.

This jasper or hematite-rich chert formed in ways similar to the way this rock forms around hydrothermal vents in the deep oceans today.

"Many people have assumed that the hematite in ancient rocks formed by the oxidation of siderite in the modern atmosphere," said Hiroshi Ohmoto, professor of geochemistry, Penn State. "That is why we wanted to drill deeper, below the water table and recover unweathered rocks."

The researchers drilled diagonally into the base of a hill in the Pilbara Craton in northwest Western Australia to obtain samples of jasper that could not have been exposed to the atmosphere or water. These jaspers could be dated to 3.46 billion years ago.

"Everyone agrees that this jasper is 3.46 billion years old," said Ohmoto. "If hematite were formed by the oxidation of siderite at any time, the hematite would be found on the outside of the siderite, but it is found inside," he reported in a recent issue of Nature Geoscience.

The next step was to determine if the hematite formed near the water's surface or in the depths. Iron compounds exposed to ultra violet light can form ferric hydroxide, which can sink to the bottom as tiny particles and then converted to hematite at temperatures of at least 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

"There are a number of cases around the world where hematite is formed in this way," says Ohmoto. "So just because there is hematite, there is not necessarily oxygen in the water or the atmosphere."

The key to determining if ultra violet light or oxygen formed the hematite is the crystalline structure of the hematite itself. If the precursors of hematite were formed at the surface, the crystalline structure of the rock would have formed from small particles aggregating producing large crystals with lots of empty spaces between. Using transmission electron microscopy, the researchers did not find that crystalline structure.

"We found that the hematite from this core was made of a single crystal and therefore was not hematite made by ultra violet radiation," said Ohmoto.

This could only happen if the deep ocean contained oxygen and the iron rich fluids came into contact at high temperatures. Ohmoto and his team believe that this specific layer of hematite formed when a plume of heated water, like those found today at hydrothermal vents, converted the iron compounds into hematite using oxygen dissolved in the deep ocean water.

"This explains why this hematite is only found in areas with active submarine volcanism," said Ohmoto. "It also means that there was oxygen in the atmosphere 3.46 billion years ago, because the only mechanism for oxygen to exist in the deep oceans is for there to be oxygen in the atmosphere."

In fact, the researchers suggest that to have sufficient oxygen at depth, there had to be as much oxygen in the atmosphere 3.46 billion years ago as there is in today's atmosphere. To have this amount of oxygen, the Earth must have had oxygen producing organisms like cyanobacteria actively producing it, placing these organisms much earlier in Earth's history than previously thought.

"Usually, we look at the remnant of what we think is biological activity to understand the Earth's biology," said Ohmoto. "Our approach is unique because we look at the mineral ferric oxide to decipher biological activity."

Ohmoto suggests that this approach eliminates the problems trying to decide if carbon residues found in sediments were biologically created or simply chemical artifacts.


Contact: A'ndrea Elyse Messer
Penn State

Related biology news :

1. Scientists launch deep-sea scientific drilling program to study volatile earthquake zone
2. Deep-sea species loss could lead to oceans collapse, study suggests
3. Deep-sea sharks wired for sound
4. Persistent man-made chemical pollutants found in deep-sea octopods and squids
5. Women in Science fellowship to fund postdocs study of deep-sea methane
6. Researchers study acoustic communication in deep-sea fish
7. New deep-sea observatory goes live
8. New deep-sea coral discovered on NOAA-supported mission
9. Elephant shark genome sequence leads to discovery of color perception in deep-sea fish
10. New deep-sea coral discovered on NOAA-supported mission
11. Hot springs microbes hold key to dating sedimentary rocks, researchers say
Post Your Comments:
Related Image:
Deep-sea rocks point to early oxygen on Earth
(Date:4/15/2016)... 2016  A new partnership announced today will ... decisions in a fraction of the time it ... high-value life insurance policies to consumers without requiring ... Force Diagnostics, rapid testing (A1C, Cotinine and HIV) ... pressure, weight, pulse, BMI, and activity data) available ...
(Date:4/14/2016)... 14, 2016 BioCatch ™, ... today announced the appointment of Eyal Goldwerger ... Goldwerger,s leadership appointment comes at a time ... the deployment of its platform at several of the ... which discerns unique cognitive and physiological factors, is a ...
(Date:3/31/2016)... , March 31, 2016   ... ("LegacyXChange" or the "Company") LegacyXChange is excited ... of its soon to be launched online site for ... ) will also provide potential shareholders a ... DNA technology to an industry that is notorious for ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:6/27/2016)... 2016  Liquid Biotech USA ... a Sponsored Research Agreement with The University of ... from cancer patients.  The funding will be used ... with clinical outcomes in cancer patients undergoing a ... be employed to support the design of a ...
(Date:6/24/2016)... ... , ... Researchers at the Universita Politecnica delle Marche in Ancona combed medical ... mesothelioma. Their findings are the subject of a new article on the Surviving Mesothelioma ... in the blood, lung fluid or tissue of mesothelioma patients that can help point ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... 2016 A person commits a crime, and the ... track the criminal down. An outbreak of foodborne ... Administration (FDA) uses DNA evidence to track down the bacteria ... far-fetched? It,s not. The FDA has increasingly used a complex, ... foodborne illnesses. Put as simply as possible, whole genome sequencing ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... June 23, 2016   EpiBiome , a precision ... million in debt financing from Silicon Valley Bank (SVB). ... and to advance its drug development efforts, as well ... "SVB has been an incredible strategic partner ... a traditional bank would provide," said Dr. Aeron ...
Breaking Biology Technology: