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Oxygen, phosphorus and early life on Earth

Date:
November 17, 2013
Source:
Helmholtz Centre Potsdam - GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences
Summary:
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.

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.
Credit: Image courtesy of Helmholtz Centre Potsdam - GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences

Two billion years ago 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, phosphorus. 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 Earth.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Helmholtz Centre Potsdam - GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Aivo Lepland, Lauri Joosu, Kalle Kirsimäe, Anthony R. Prave, Alexander E. Romashkin, Alenka E. Črne, Adam P. Martin, Anthony E. Fallick, Peeter Somelar, Kärt Üpraus, Kaarel Mänd, Nick M. W. Roberts, Mark A. van Zuilen, Richard Wirth, Anja Schreiber. Potential influence of sulphur bacteria on Palaeoproterozoic phosphogenesis. Nature Geoscience, 2013; DOI: 10.1038/ngeo2005

Cite This Page:

Helmholtz Centre Potsdam - GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences. "Oxygen, phosphorus and early life on Earth." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 November 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131117155502.htm>.
Helmholtz Centre Potsdam - GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences. (2013, November 17). Oxygen, phosphorus and early life on Earth. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 18, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131117155502.htm
Helmholtz Centre Potsdam - GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences. "Oxygen, phosphorus and early life on Earth." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131117155502.htm (accessed April 18, 2014).

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