A Late Archean Sulfidic Sea Stimulated by Early Oxidative Weathering of the Continents

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Science  30 Oct 2009:
Vol. 326, Issue 5953, pp. 713-716
DOI: 10.1126/science.1176711

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Iron speciation data for the late Archean Mount McRae Shale provide evidence for a euxinic (anoxic and sulfidic) water column 2.5 billion years ago. Sulfur isotope data compiled from the same stratigraphic section suggest that euxinic conditions were stimulated by an increase in oceanic sulfate concentrations resulting from weathering of continental sulfide minerals exposed to an atmosphere with trace amounts of photosynthetically produced oxygen. Variability in local organic matter flux likely confined euxinic conditions to midportions of the water column on the basin margin. These findings indicate that euxinic conditions may have been common on a variety of spatial and temporal scales both before and immediately after the Paleoproterozoic rise in atmospheric oxygen, hinting at previously unexplored texture and variability in deep ocean chemistry during Earth’s early history.

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