But in the context of billions of years, how much difference does 60 million years make? 😉
Biologists from Trinity College Dublin have rewritten the evolutionary history books by finding that oxygen-producing life forms were present on Earth some 3 billion years ago — a full 60 million years earlier than previously thought. These life forms were responsible for adding oxygen (O2) to our atmosphere, which laid the foundations for more complex life to evolve and proliferate.
There was virtually no atmospheric O2 present 3.4 billion years ago, but recent work from South African paleosols suggested that by about 2.96 billion years ago O2 levels may have begun to increase. Professor Crowley’s finding therefore moves the goalposts back at least 60 million years, which, given humans have only been on the planet for around a tenth of that time, is not an insignificant drop in the evolutionary ocean.
See also: Is there a good reason to believe that life’s origin must be a fully natural event?
Does nature just “naturally” produce life?
Here’s the abstract:
It is widely believed that atmospheric oxygen saturation rose from <10–5 present atmospheric level (PAL) in the Archean to >10–2 PAL at the Great Oxidation Event (GOE) at ca. 2.4 Ga, but it is unclear if any earlier oxygenation events occurred. Here we report U-Pb zircon data indicating that a pyrophyllite-bearing paleosol, from Keonjhar in the Precambrian Singhbhum Craton of eastern India, formed between 3.29 and 3.02 Ga, making it one of very few known Archean paleosols globally. Field and geochemical evidence suggests that the upper part of the paleosol was eroded prior to unconformable deposition of an overlying sequence of shallow-marine siliciclastic sediments. A negative cerium anomaly within the currently preserved level of the paleosol indicates that ancient oxidative weathering occurred in the original upper soil profile. The presence of redox-sensitive detrital uraninite and pyrite together with a complete absence of pyrophyllite in the overlying sediments indicate that the mineralogical and geochemical features of the paleosol were established prior to the unconformable deposition of the sediments and are not related to subsequent diagenetic or hydrothermal effects. We suggest that a transient atmospheric oxygenation event occurred at least 600 m.y. prior to the GOE and ~60 m.y. prior to a previously documented Archean oxygenation event. We propose that several pulsed and short-lived oxygenation events are likely to have occurred prior to the GOE, and that these changes to atmospheric composition arose due to the presence of organisms capable of oxygenic photosynthesis. (paywall)
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