Oxygen, phosphorous and early life on Earth

Nov 17, 2013

Two billion years ago the Earth system was recovering from perhaps the single-most profound modification of its surface environments: the oxygenation of the atmosphere and oceans. This led to a series of major changes in global biogeochemical cycles, as a team around Aivo Lepland of the Norwegian Geological Survey NGU reports in the latest online edition of "Nature Geoscience".

This also resulted in the distribution of one of life's key elements, phosphorous. Studies on the unique organic-rich Zaonega rock formation preserved in Carelia, NW Russia, with an age of around two billion years has revealed an astonishing result: "The formation of Earth's earliest phosphorites was influenced strongly, if not controlled completely, by the activity of sulfur bacteria", says co-author Richard Wirth of the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, who analyzed the rock samples with an electron microscope.

"This activity occurred in an oil field setting that had been influenced by active volcanism and associated venting and seeping." In the modern world, sulfur bacteria inhabit upwelling vent and seep areas known as "Black Smokers" and mediate phosphorite formation. The authors therefore conclude that the formation of the earliest worldwide phosphorites 2 billion years ago can be linked to the establishment of sulfur bacteria habitats, triggered by the oxygenation of the Earth.

Explore further: Atmospheric oxygenation three billion years ago

More information: Nature Geoscience Advance Online Publication, DOI: 10.1038/ngeo2005

Related Stories

Atmospheric oxygenation three billion years ago

Sep 25, 2013

Oxygen appeared in the atmosphere up to 700 million years earlier than we previously thought, according to research published today in the journal Nature, raising new questions about the evolution of ear ...

Pilbara home to 3.5 billion-year-old bacterial ecosystems

Nov 11, 2013

(Phys.org) —Evidence of complex microbial ecosystems dating back almost 3.5 billion years has been found in Western Australia's Pilbara region by an international team including UWA Research Assistant Professor ...

Iron in primeval seas rusted by bacteria

Apr 25, 2013

(Phys.org) —Researchers from the University of Tübingen have been able to show for the first time how microorganisms contributed to the formation of the world's biggest iron ore deposits. The biggest known ...

Recommended for you

Magnitude-7.2 earthquake shakes Mexican capital

11 hours ago

A powerful magnitude-7.2 earthquake shook central and southern Mexico on Friday, sending panicked people into the streets. Some walls cracked and fell, but there were no reports of major damage or casualties.

User comments : 0

More news stories

Magnitude-7.2 earthquake shakes Mexican capital

A powerful magnitude-7.2 earthquake shook central and southern Mexico on Friday, sending panicked people into the streets. Some walls cracked and fell, but there were no reports of major damage or casualties.

New research on Earth's carbon budget

(Phys.org) —Results from a research project involving scientists from the Desert Research Institute have generated new findings surrounding some of the unknowns of changes in climate and the degree to which ...

Impact glass stores biodata for millions of years

(Phys.org) —Bits of plant life encapsulated in molten glass by asteroid and comet impacts millions of years ago give geologists information about climate and life forms on the ancient Earth. Scientists ...