Navigation Links
The carbon cycle before humans

Geoengineering -- deliberate manipulation of the Earth's climate to slow or reverse global warming -- has gained a foothold in the climate change discussion. But before effective action can be taken, the Earth's natural biogeochemical cycles must be better understood.

Two Northwestern University studies, both published online recently by Nature Geoscience, contribute new -- and related -- clues as to what drove large-scale changes to the carbon cycle nearly 100 million years ago. Both research teams conclude that a massive amount of volcanic activity introduced carbon dioxide and sulfur into the atmosphere, which in turn had a significant impact on the carbon cycle, oxygen levels in the oceans and marine plants and animals.

Both teams studied organic carbon-rich sediments from the Western Interior Seaway, an ancient seabed stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic Ocean, to learn more about a devastating event 94.5 million years ago when oxygen levels in the oceans dropped so low that one-third of marine life died.

The authors of the first paper, titled "Volcanic triggering of a biogeochemical cascade during Oceanic Anoxic Event 2," reveal that before oxygen levels dropped so precipitously there was a massive increase in oceanic sulfate levels. Their conclusion is based on analyses of the stable isotopes of sulfur in sedimentary minerals from the central basin of the Western Interior Seaway, located in Colorado.

The researchers theorize that a massive amount of volcanic activity caused this sulfate spike, which triggered a cascade of biogeochemical events. More sulfate led to an abundance of the nutrient phosphorous, which allowed phytoplankton populations in the oceans to multiply. The phytoplankton thrived and then died. Their decomposing bodies depleted oxygen levels in the oceans, leading to the widespread death of marine animals.

The sedimentary burial of marine organic carbon during this event was so large, some prior studies hypothesized that it caused a decrease in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. In the second Nature Geoscience paper, titled "Carbon sequestration activated by a volcanic carbon dioxide pulse during ocean anoxic event 2," the researchers tested the carbon dioxide drawdown prediction. By studying fossil plant cuticle material, they determined the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at the time the plants were growing. (The cuticle samples were collected from sites representing the western shore of the Western Interior Seaway, in present-day southwestern Utah.)

This work found that before the onset of ocean anoxia, the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increased by approximately 20 percent. This significant increase is consistent with the volcanic activity invoked by the first Northwestern study (described above). The paleo-carbon dioxide reconstruction also detected two episodes of marked decrease in carbon dioxide levels -- up to 200 parts per million -- at the time of the early phase of marine carbon burial. This observation provides strong support for the carbon dioxide drawdown hypothesis.

"Our research highlights the previously unappreciated role that the sulfur cycle plays in regulating nutrient cycling, the carbon cycle and climate," said Matthew Hurtgen, assistant professor of Earth and planetary sciences in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern and lead researcher of the first study.

"These two complementary studies provide a much clearer picture of how the Earth's carbon cycle was dramatically affected by catastrophic natural events long ago," said Bradley Sageman, professor and chair of Earth and planetary sciences at Northwestern and a co-author of both papers. "Although these events played out over hundreds or thousands of years, the magnitude of the changes, in carbon dioxide levels for example, are similar to those of the last 150 years resulting from human influence on the carbon cycle. The evidence demonstrates that the modern carbon cycle has been accelerated by orders of magnitude."


Contact: Megan Fellman
Northwestern University

Related biology news :

1. New study warns limited carbon market puts 20 percent of tropical forest at risk
2. Mice use specialized neurons to detect carbon dioxide in the air
3. Researchers find new taste in fruit flies: carbonated water
4. Studying component parts of living cells with carbon nanotube cellular probes
5. New membrane strips carbon dioxide from natural gas faster and better
6. Green alga genome project catalogs carbon capture machinery
7. Hungry microbes share out the carbon in the roots of plants
8. Decline in uptake of carbon emissions confirmed
9. Study reveals that nitrogen fertilizers deplete soil organic carbon
10. US fires release large amounts of carbon dioxide
11. Wildfire drives carbon levels in northern forests
Post Your Comments:
(Date:11/26/2015)... 26, 2015 Research and Markets ( ... Fingerprint Sensors - Technology and Patent Infringement Risk Analysis" ... --> --> Fingerprint sensors using capacitive ... The fingerprint sensor vendor Idex forecasts an increase of ... mobile devices and of the fingerprint sensor market between ...
(Date:11/20/2015)... , November 20, 2015 ... company focused on the growing mobile commerce market and ... Gino Pereira , was recently interviewed on ... will air on this weekend on Bloomberg Europe ... America . --> NXTD ) ("NXT-ID" or ...
(Date:11/19/2015)... Nov. 19, 2015  Based on its in-depth analysis ... recognizes BIO-key with the 2015 Global Frost & Sullivan ... & Sullivan presents this award to the company that ... the needs of the market it serves. The award ... and expands on customer base demands, the overall impact ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:11/24/2015)... CITY , Nov. 24, 2015 /PRNewswire/ - Aeterna ... request of IIROC on behalf of the Toronto Stock ... news release there are no corporate developments that would ... --> --> About ... . --> Aeterna Zentaris is ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... , November 24, 2015 ... market research report "Oligonucleotide Synthesis Market by Product & ... Gene Synthesis, Diagnostic, DNA, RNAi), End-User (Research, Pharmaceutical & ... by MarketsandMarkets, the market is expected to reach USD ... 2015, at a CAGR of 10.1% during the forecast ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... IN (PRWEB) , ... November 24, 2015 , ... The ... newest Special Interest Group (SIG), MultiGP, also known as Multirotor Grand Prix, to represent ... the last few years. Many AMA members have embraced this type of racing and ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... , November 24, 2015 ... recent market research report released by Transparency Market Research, ... expand at a CAGR of 17.5% during the period ... Testing Market - Global Industry Analysis, Size, Volume, Share, ... global non-invasive prenatal testing market to reach a valuation ...
Breaking Biology Technology: