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Two-billion-year-old evaporites capture Earth’s great oxidation

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Science  22 Mar 2018:
eaar2687
DOI: 10.1126/science.aar2687

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Abstract

Major changes in atmospheric and ocean chemistry occurred in the Paleoproterozoic Era (2.5–1.6 billion years ago). Increasing oxidation dramatically changed Earth’s surface, but few quantitative constraints exist on this important transition. This study describes the sedimentology, mineralogy, and geochemistry of a two-billion-year-old and ~800 m-thick evaporite succession from the Onega Basin in Russian Karelia. The deposit consists of a basal unit dominated by halite (~100 m) followed by anhydrite-magnesite (~500 m) and dolomite-magnesite (~200 m) dominated units. The evaporite minerals provide a robust constraint that marine sulfate concentrations were at least 10 mmol/kg, representing an oxidant reservoir equivalent to over 20% of the modern ocean-atmosphere oxidizing capacity. These results show that substantial amounts of surface oxidant accumulated during this critical transition in Earth’s oxygenation.

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