Stepwise Earth oxygenation is an inherent property of global biogeochemical cycling

Science. 2019 Dec 13;366(6471):1333-1337. doi: 10.1126/science.aax6459. Epub 2019 Dec 11.


Oxygenation of Earth's atmosphere and oceans occurred across three major steps during the Paleoproterozoic, Neoproterozoic, and Paleozoic eras, with each increase having profound consequences for the biosphere. Biological or tectonic revolutions have been proposed to explain each of these stepwise increases in oxygen, but the principal driver of each event remains unclear. Here we show, using a theoretical model, that the observed oxygenation steps are a simple consequence of internal feedbacks in the long-term biogeochemical cycles of carbon, oxygen, and phosphorus, and that there is no requirement for a specific stepwise external forcing to explain the course of Earth surface oxygenation. We conclude that Earth's oxygenation events are entirely consistent with gradual oxygenation of the planetary surface after the evolution of oxygenic photosynthesis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't