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Study: Plate tectonics explains early Earth’s oxygen

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If early Earth even had much oxygen.

From Rice University:

Based on a new model that draws from research in diverse fields including petrology, geodynamics, volcanology and geochemistry, the team’s findings were published online this week in Nature Geoscience. They suggest that the rise of oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere was an inevitable consequence of the formation of continents in the presence of life and plate tectonics.

“It’s really a very simple idea, but fully understanding it requires a good bit of background about how the Earth works,” said study lead author Cin-Ty Lee, professor of Earth science at Rice. “The analogy I most often use is the leaky bathtub. The level of water in a bathtub is controlled by the rate of water flowing in through the faucet and the efficiency by which water leaks out through the drain. Plants and certain types of bacteria produce oxygen as a byproduct of photosynthesis. This oxygen production is balanced by the sink: reaction of oxygen with iron and sulfur in the Earth’s crust and by back-reaction with organic carbon. For example, we breathe in oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide, essentially removing oxygen from the atmosphere. In short, the story of oxygen in our atmosphere comes down to understanding the sources and sinks, but the 3-billion-year narrative of how this actually unfolded is more complex.”More.

See also: The early Earth oxygen debate Resolved: We don’t know.


Claim: Early life “could indeed” have been simple. (We’re actually not short of “could have been’s” and “plausibles.” After all this time, the obvious answer is that the origin of life wasn’t simple and didn’t happen by accident. On the other hand, if one likes complex verb structures, this is the field to be in.)


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2 Replies to “Study: Plate tectonics explains early Earth’s oxygen

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