Earth’s oxygen comes from an unexpectedly deep and hot source, study suggests – ScienceAlert

Earth’s oxygen comes from an unexpectedly deep and hot source, study suggests – ScienceAlert

The amount of oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere makes it a habitable planet.

Twenty-one percent of the atmosphere consists of this life-giving element. But in the deep past, as far back as the Neoarchaic era, 2.8 to 2.5 billion years ago, this oxygen was almost absent.

So how did Earth’s atmosphere become oxygenated?

Our researchpublished in Geoscience of natureadds a tantalizing new possibility: that at least some of Earth’s early oxygen came from a tectonic source through movement and destruction of Earth’s crust.

The Archaic Earth

The Archaean Eon represents a third of our planet’s history, from 2.5 billion years ago to 4 billion years ago.

This alien Earth was a water world, covered green oceanssurrounded by methane fog, and completely lacks multicellular life. Another aspect alien to this world was the nature of its tectonic activity.

On the modern Earth, the dominant tectonic activity is called plate tectonics, where the oceanic crust, the outermost layer of the Earth beneath the oceans, sinks into the Earth’s mantle (the area between the Earth’s crust and its core) at points of convergence called subduction zones. .

However, there is considerable debate as to whether plate tectonics was at work in the Archaean.

A characteristic of modern subduction zones is their association with oxidized magmas.

These magmas form when oxidized sediments and bottom waters (cold, dense water near the ocean floor) introduced into the Earth’s mantle. This produces magmas with a high content of oxygen and water.

Our research aimed to test whether the absence of oxidized materials in Archaean bottom waters and sediments could prevent the formation of oxidized magmas.

Identifying these magmas in Neoarchaean igneous rocks could provide evidence that subduction and plate tectonics occurred 2.7 billion years ago.

the experiment

We collected samples of granitoid rocks between 2750 and 2670 million years old from the entire Abitibi-Wawa subprovince of the Superior Province, the largest preserved Archaean continent extending over 2,000 kilometers (1,243 mi) from from Winnipeg, Manitoba to the far east. Quebec.

This allowed us to investigate the level of oxidation of the magmas generated during the Neoarchaic era.

Measuring the oxidation state of these igneous rocks, formed through the cooling and crystallization of magma or lava, is challenging. Post-crystallization events may have modified these rocks through subsequent deformation, burial, or heating.

So, we decided to look into it mineral apatite which is present in the zircon crystals in these rocks

Zircon crystals can withstand the intense temperatures and pressures of post-crystallization events. They retain clues about the environments in which they were originally formed and provide precise ages for the rocks themselves.

Small apatite crystals that are less than 30 microns across (the size of a human skin cell) are trapped in the zircon crystals. They contain sulfur. By measuring the amount of sulfur in the apatite, we can establish whether the apatite grew from an oxidized magma.

We were able to measure successfully oxygen fugacity of the original Archean magma, which is essentially how much free oxygen is there, using a specialized technique called near-X-ray absorption structure spectroscopy (S-XANE) at the Advanced Photon Source synchrotron a Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois.

Creating oxygen from water?

We found that the sulfur content of magma, which was initially around zero, increased to 2,000 parts per million around 2.705 million years. This indicated that the magmas had become richer in sulfur.

In addition, the predominance of S6+, a type of sulfur ion, in apatite suggested that the sulfur was from an oxidized source, coincidentally the data of the host zircon crystals.

These new findings indicate that the oxidized magmas formed in the Neoarchean era 2.7 billion years ago. The data show that the lack of dissolved oxygen in Archean ocean reservoirs did not prevent the formation of oxidized, sulfur-rich magmas in subduction zones.

The oxygen in these magmas must have come from another source and was eventually released into the atmosphere during volcanic eruptions.

We found that the occurrence of these oxidized magmas correlates with major gold mineralization events in the Upper Province and Yilgarn Craton (Western Australia), demonstrating a connection between these oxygen-rich sources and the global formation of world-class ore deposits.

The implications of these oxidized magmas go beyond the understanding of early Earth geodynamics. Previously, it was thought unlikely that Archaean magmas could oxidize, when the ocean water i rocks or sediments from the ocean floor they weren’t

Although the exact mechanism is unclear, the appearance of these magmas suggests that the process of subduction, where ocean water is brought hundreds of kilometers to our planet, generates free oxygen. It then oxidizes the upper mantle.

Our study shows that Archaean subduction could have been a vital and unforeseen factor in Earth’s oxygenation, the first smells of oxygen 2.7 billion years ago and also the Great Oxidation Event, which marked a two percent increase in atmospheric oxygen between 2.45 and 2.32 billion years ago..

As far as we know, Earth is the only place in the solar system, past or present, with active plate tectonics and subduction. This suggests that this study could partly explain the lack of oxygen and ultimately life on the other rocky planets in the future as well.

David Molepostdoctoral fellow, Earth Sciences, Laurentian University; Adam Charles SimonArthur F. Thurnau Professor, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Michigani Xuyang Mengpostdoctoral fellow, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Michigan

This article is republished from the conversation under a Creative Commons license. read the original article.

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