Earth's Oxygen Increased in Gradual Steps Rather Than Big Bursts | 9/2/2018 | Staff (Posted by) Level 4
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A carbon cycle anomaly discovered in carbonate rocks of the Neoproterozoic Hüttenberg Formation of north-eastern Namibia follows a pattern similar to that found right after the Great Oxygenation Event, hinting at new evidence for how Earth's atmosphere became fully oxygenated.

By using the Hüttenberg Formation, which formed between a billion and half a billion years ago, to study the time between Earth's change from an anoxic environment (i.e. one lacking oxygen) to a more hospitable environment that heralded the animal kingdom, a team of researchers led by Dr. Huan Cui of the NASA Astrobiology Institute at the University of Wisconsin–Madison discovered a sustained, high level of carbon. This influx of carbon, coupled with changes in other elements, indicates how changing levels of oceanic oxygen may have lent a helping hand to early animal evolution.

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The University of Maryland's Dr. Alan J. Kaufman, who is the second author of the study and the lead author of the 2009 carbon isotope study, says that the paired data "suggest that the rise of oxygen was oscillatory through this 50- to 75-million year interval associated with the Hüttenberg Anomaly and the Neoproterozoic Oxidation Event or NOE at the end of the Proterozoic."

The anomaly shows how the carbon isotope ratios (13C/12C) experienced a sustained 12 to 14 parts per thousand increase in abundance for roughly 15 million years before returning to prior low levels. As oxygen levels in the ocean increased, sulfides were converted to sulfates, which some microbes use in their metabolism to digest and recycle organic carbon on the seafloor. The isotopes of oxygen, carbon, and sulfur moved in tandem during the Hüttenberg Anomaly, convincing the scientists that what they were seeing wasn't just a coincidence.

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Although it has long been accepted that high levels of atmospheric oxygen paved the way for animals to...
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