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

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Science  20 Apr 2018:
Vol. 360, Issue 6386, pp. 320-323
DOI: 10.1126/science.aar2687

A strongly oxidizing Paleoproterozoic era

Two billion years ago, marine sulfate concentrations were around one-third as high as modern ones, constituting an oxidizing capacity equivalent to more than 20% of that of the modern ocean-atmosphere system. Blättler et al. found this by analyzing a remarkable evaporite succession more than 1 billion years older than the oldest comparable deposit discovered to date. These quantitative results, for a time when only more qualitative information was previously available, provide a constraint on the magnitude and timing of early Earth's response to the Great Oxidation Event 2.3 billion years ago.

Science, this issue p. 320


Major changes in atmospheric and ocean chemistry occurred in the Paleoproterozoic era (2.5 to 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 2-billion-year-old, ~800-meter-thick evaporite succession from the Onega Basin in Russian Karelia. The deposit consists of a basal unit dominated by halite (~100 meters) followed by units dominated by anhydrite-magnesite (~500 meters) and dolomite-magnesite (~200 meters). The evaporite minerals robustly constrain marine sulfate concentrations to at least 10 millimoles per kilogram of water, representing an oxidant reservoir equivalent to more than 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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