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New research strongly suggests that the distinct 'oxygenation events' that created Earth's breathable atmosphere happened spontaneously, rather than being a consequence of biological or tectonic revolutions.
The University of Leeds study, published in the journal Science, not only shines a light on the history of oxygen on our planet, it gives new insight into the prevalence of oxygenated worlds other than our own.
Earth - Oxygen - Atmosphere - Oceans - Years
The early Earth had no oxygen in its atmosphere or oceans until roughly 2.4 billion years ago when the first of three major oxygenation events occurred. The reasons for these 'stepwise' increases of oxygen on Earth have been the subject of ongoing scientific debate.
In a new study, Leeds researchers modified a well-established conceptual model of marine biogeochemistry so that it could be run over the whole of Earth history, and found that it produced the three oxygenation events all by itself.
Findings - Microbes - Initiation - Plate - Tectonics—both
Their findings suggest that beyond early photosynthetic microbes and the initiation of plate tectonics—both of which were established by around three billion years ago—it was simply a matter of time before oxygen would reach the necessary level to support complex life.
This new theory drastically increases the possibility of high-oxygen worlds existing elsewhere.
Study - Author - Lewis - Alcott - Postgraduate
Study lead author Lewis Alcott, a postgraduate researcher in the School of Earth and Environment at Leeds, said: "This research really tests our understanding of how the Earth became oxygen rich, and thus became able to support intelligent life.
"Based on this work, it seems that oxygenated planets may be much more common than previously thought, because they do not require multiple—and very unlikely—biological advances, or chance happenings of tectonics."
Great - Oxidation - Event - Paleoproterozoic - Years
The first "Great Oxidation Event" occurred during the Paleoproterozoic era—roughly 2.4 billion years ago. The subsequent wholesale oxygenation events occurred in the Neoproterozoic era around 800 million years ago and finally in the Paleozoic Era roughly 450 million years ago,...
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