Author Posting. © National Academy of Sciences, 2019. This article is posted here by permission of National Academy of Sciences for personal use, not for redistribution. The definitive version was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 116 (35), (2019): 17207-17212, doi:10.1073/pnas.1900325116.
It has been hypothesized that the overall size of—or efficiency of carbon export from—the biosphere decreased at the end of the Great Oxidation Event (GOE) (ca. 2,400 to 2,050 Ma). However, the timing, tempo, and trigger for this decrease remain poorly constrained. Here we test this hypothesis by studying the isotope geochemistry of sulfate minerals from the Belcher Group, in subarctic Canada. Using insights from sulfur and barium isotope measurements, combined with radiometric ages from bracketing strata, we infer that the sulfate minerals studied here record ambient sulfate in the immediate aftermath of the GOE (ca. 2,018 Ma). These sulfate minerals captured negative triple-oxygen isotope anomalies as low as ∼ −0.8‰. Such negative values occurring shortly after the GOE require a rapid reduction in primary productivity of 〉80%, although even larger reductions are plausible. Given that these data imply a collapse in primary productivity rather than export efficiency, the trigger for this shift in the Earth system must reflect a change in the availability of nutrients, such as phosphorus. Cumulatively, these data highlight that Earth’s GOE is a tale of feast and famine: A geologically unprecedented reduction in the size of the biosphere occurred across the end-GOE transition.
Olivia M. J. Dagnaud assisted during fieldwork. S. V. Lalonde and E. A. Sperling provided helpful comments on an early version of the manuscript. We thank N. J. Planavsky and an anonymous reviewer for their constructive feedback. M.S.W.H. was supported by an NSERC PGS-D and student research grants from National Geographic, the APS Lewis and Clark Fund, Northern Science Training Program, McGill University Graduate Research Enhancement and Travel Awards, Geological Society of America, Mineralogical Association of Canada, and Stanford University. P.W.C. acknowledges support from the University of Colorado Boulder, the Agouron Institute Geobiology postdoctoral Fellowship program, a Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada Postgraduate Scholarship–Doctoral Program scholarship, and the NSTP. Y.P. was supported by the Strategic Priority Research Program of CAS (XDB26000000). T.J.H. thanks Maureen E. Auro for laboratory assistance and the NSF for supporting isotope research in the NIRVANA Labs.
Great Oxidation Event
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