The transition to a sulphidic ocean approximately 1.84 billion years ago

Nature. 2004 Sep 9;431(7005):173-7. doi: 10.1038/nature02912.


The Proterozoic aeon (2.5 to 0.54 billion years (Gyr) ago) marks the time between the largely anoxic world of the Archean (> 2.5 Gyr ago) and the dominantly oxic world of the Phanerozoic (< 0.54 Gyr ago). The course of ocean chemistry through the Proterozoic has traditionally been explained by progressive oxygenation of the deep ocean in response to an increase in atmospheric oxygen around 2.3 Gyr ago. This postulated rise in the oxygen content of the ocean is in turn thought to have led to the oxidation of dissolved iron, Fe(II), thus ending the deposition of banded iron formations (BIF) around 1.8 Gyr ago. An alternative interpretation suggests that the increasing atmospheric oxygen levels enhanced sulphide weathering on land and the flux of sulphate to the oceans. This increased rates of sulphate reduction, resulting in Fe(II) removal in the form of pyrite as the oceans became sulphidic. Here we investigate sediments from the approximately 1.8-Gyr-old Animikie group, Canada, which were deposited during the final stages of the main global period of BIF deposition. This allows us to evaluate the two competing hypotheses for the termination of BIF deposition. We use iron-sulphur-carbon (Fe-S-C) systematics to demonstrate continued ocean anoxia after the final global deposition of BIF and show that a transition to sulphidic bottom waters was ultimately responsible for the termination of BIF deposition. Sulphidic conditions may have persisted until a second major rise in oxygen between 0.8 to 0.58 Gyr ago, possibly reducing global rates of primary production and arresting the pace of algal evolution.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Atmosphere / chemistry
  • Canada
  • Carbon / analysis
  • Carbon / chemistry
  • Eukaryota / physiology
  • Geologic Sediments / chemistry
  • Iron / analysis
  • Iron / chemistry
  • Oceans and Seas
  • Oxygen / analysis*
  • Oxygen / chemistry
  • Oxygen / metabolism
  • Seawater / chemistry*
  • Sulfides / analysis*
  • Sulfides / chemistry
  • Sulfides / metabolism
  • Time Factors


  • Sulfides
  • Carbon
  • Iron
  • Oxygen