Research Article

The geologic history of seawater oxygen isotopes from marine iron oxides

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Science  02 Aug 2019:
Vol. 365, Issue 6452, pp. 469-473
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaw9247

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Not as hot as we thought

Earth's early oceans appear not to have been as hot as some have suggested. The oxygen isotope composition of marine carbonates has changed markedly over the past 3.5 billion years. However, it has been difficult to determine whether that is because of a cooling of the seawater (from temperatures as high as 70°C) or an actual change in the isotope composition of the water. Galili et al. calibrated the temperature-dependent oxygen isotope fractionation between iron oxides and aqueous solutions and constructed an oxygen isotope record in marine iron oxides covering the past 2 billion years. Their findings suggest that a change in the isotope composition of the water, rather than its cooling, underlies the observed geological trend.

Science, this issue p. 469

Abstract

The oxygen isotope composition (δ18O) of marine sedimentary rocks has increased by 10 to 15 per mil since Archean time. Interpretation of this trend is hindered by the dual control of temperature and fluid δ18O on the rocks’ isotopic composition. A new δ18O record in marine iron oxides covering the past ~2000 million years shows a similar secular rise. Iron oxide precipitation experiments reveal a weakly temperature-dependent iron oxide–water oxygen isotope fractionation, suggesting that increasing seawater δ18O over time was the primary cause of the long-term rise in δ18O values of marine precipitates. The 18O enrichment may have been driven by an increase in terrestrial sediment cover, a change in the proportion of high- and low-temperature crustal alteration, or a combination of these and other factors.

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