PerspectiveEARTH HISTORY

Sulfate Clues for the Early History of Atmospheric Oxygen

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Science  28 Apr 2000:
Vol. 288, Issue 5466, pp. 626-627
DOI: 10.1126/science.288.5466.626

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Summary

The early atmosphere has played a key role on the origin and evolution of life on Earth. The accumulation of substantial concentrations of molecular oxygen is particularly important, but as Paytan explains in this Perspective, getting biological and geological constraints on when and how this change occurred is difficult. Sulfur isotope chemistry can serve as a proxy for molecular oxygen accumulation in the atmosphere. A study by Canfield et al. sheds some light on how the sulfur isotopic signature may be interpreted to reveal the characteristics of the early Earth atmosphere.