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, 102 (32), 11131-6

The Paleoproterozoic Snowball Earth: A Climate Disaster Triggered by the Evolution of Oxygenic Photosynthesis

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The Paleoproterozoic Snowball Earth: A Climate Disaster Triggered by the Evolution of Oxygenic Photosynthesis

Robert E Kopp et al. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A.

Abstract

Although biomarker, trace element, and isotopic evidence have been used to claim that oxygenic photosynthesis evolved by 2.8 giga-annum before present (Ga) and perhaps as early as 3.7 Ga, a skeptical examination raises considerable doubt about the presence of oxygen producers at these times. Geological features suggestive of oxygen, such as red beds, lateritic paleosols, and the return of sedimentary sulfate deposits after a approximately 900-million year hiatus, occur shortly before the approximately 2.3-2.2 Ga Makganyene "snowball Earth" (global glaciation). The massive deposition of Mn, which has a high redox potential, practically requires the presence of environmental oxygen after the snowball. New age constraints from the Transvaal Supergroup of South Africa suggest that all three glaciations in the Huronian Supergroup of Canada predate the Snowball event. A simple cyanobacterial growth model incorporating the range of C, Fe, and P fluxes expected during a partial glaciation in an anoxic world with high-Fe oceans indicates that oxygenic photosynthesis could have destroyed a methane greenhouse and triggered a snowball event on time-scales as short as 1 million years. As the geological evidence requiring oxygen does not appear during the Pongola glaciation at 2.9 Ga or during the Huronian glaciations, we argue that oxygenic cyanobacteria evolved and radiated shortly before the Makganyene snowball.

Figures

Fig. 1.
Fig. 1.
Proposed correlation of the Huronian Supergroup and the upper Transvaal Supergroup. The three Huronian glacial units, penetrated and capped by the Nipissing diabase, predate the Makganyene diamictite in the Transvaal. The uppermost Huronian glacial unit, the Gowganda Fm., is overlain by hematitic units, perhaps reflecting a rise in O2. The basal Timeball Hill Fm. contains pyrite with minimal MIF (26), whereas the upper Timeball Hill Fm., which we suggest is correlative to the Lorrain or Bar River Fms., contains red beds. The Makganyene diamictite records a low-latitude, snowball glaciation (29), perhaps triggered by the destruction of a CH4 greenhouse. It is overlain by the Kalahari Mn Field in the Hotazel Fm., the deposition of which requires free O2. Transvaal stratigraphy is based on ref. ; Huronian stratigraphy is based on ref. .

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