New constraints on Precambrian ocean composition

J Geol. 1993 Mar;101(2):235-43. doi: 10.1086/648218.


The Precambrian record of carbonate and evaporite sedimentation is equivocal. In contrast to most previous interpretations, it is possible that Archean, Paleoproterozoic, and to a lesser extent, Meso to Neoproterozoic seawater favored surplus abiotic carbonate precipitation, as aragonite and (hi-Mg?) calcite, in comparison to younger times. Furthermore, gypsum/anhydrite may have been only rarely precipitated prior to halite precipitation during evaporation prior to about 1.8 Ga. Two effects may have contributed to these relationships. First, sulfate concentration of seawater may have been critically low prior to about 1.9 Ga so the product mCa++ x mSO4-- would not have produced gypsum before halite, as in the Mesoproterozoic to modern ocean. Second, the bicarbonate to calcium ratio was sufficiently high so that during progressive evaporation of seawater, calcium would have been exhausted before the gypsum field was reached. The pH of the Archean and Paleoproterozoic ocean need not have been significantly different from the modern value of 8.1, even at CO2 partial pressures of a tenth of an atmosphere. Higher CO2 partial pressures require somewhat lower pH values.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Bicarbonates / analysis
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Calcium / analysis
  • Calcium Carbonate / analysis
  • Calcium Sulfate / analysis
  • Carbon Dioxide / analysis
  • Geological Phenomena
  • Geology
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Minerals / analysis
  • Oceans and Seas
  • Partial Pressure
  • Seawater / chemistry*
  • Silicates
  • Sulfates / analysis


  • Bicarbonates
  • Minerals
  • Silicates
  • Sulfates
  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Calcium Carbonate
  • Calcium
  • Calcium Sulfate