Oxygen, phosphorous and early life on Earth

November 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: Large bacterial population colonized land 2.75 billion years ago

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

Related Stories

Iron in primeval seas rusted by bacteria

April 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 deposits – ...

Atmospheric oxygenation three billion years ago

September 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 early life.

Pilbara home to 3.5 billion-year-old bacterial ecosystems

November 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 David Wacey.

Recommended for you

Clues from ancient Maya reveal lasting impact on environment

September 3, 2015

Evidence from the tropical lowlands of Central America reveals how Maya activity more than 2,000 years ago not only contributed to the decline of their environment but continues to influence today's environmental conditions, ...

Ice sheets may be more resilient than thought

September 3, 2015

Sea level rise poses one of the biggest threats to human systems in a globally warming world, potentially causing trillions of dollars' worth of damages to flooded cities around the world. As surface temperatures rise, ice ...

Climate ups odds of 'grey swan' superstorms

August 31, 2015

Climate change will boost the odds up to 14-fold for extremely rare, hard-to-predict tropical cyclones for parts of Australia, the United States and Dubai by 2100, researchers said Monday.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.