Fossilized Plankton Provide Insight into Earth's Ancient Atmosphere
February 23, 2011 4:40 PM
comment(s) - last by
Study shows plankton became more diverse during a time when oxygen levels spiked in Earth's earliest breathable atmosphere
Ohio State University
have found that plankton play a large part in understanding the origin of Earth's first breathable atmosphere.
Matthew Saltzman, study leader and associate professor of earth sciences at Ohio State University, and a team of researchers, have discovered that
plankton are the key
to understanding the gap between the atmosphere and 500 million-year-old chemical isotopes found in rocks.
The Ohio State University team previously conducted a study that showed that upward displacements in the Earth's crust 500 million years ago lead to a reverse greenhouse effect, which cooled the oceans producing large plankton blooms, and sent oxygen into the atmosphere.
Now, Saltzman and his team have discovered how oxygen disappeared from Earth's atmosphere during the Cambrian Period and then reappeared at higher levels. The team was able to quantify exactly how much oxygen was released during this period, and linked the amount of sulfur in oceans at that time with atmospheric carbon dioxide and oxygen. They also looked at how oxygen allowed a large amount of new life to thrive after it returned.
"We know that oxygen levels in the ocean dropped dramatically [a condition called anoxia] during the Cambrian, and that coincides with
the time of a global extinction
," said Saltzman. "We still don't know why the anoxia spread all over the world. We may never know. But there have been many other extinction events in Earth's history, and with the exception of those caused by meteor impacts, others likely share elements of this one - changes in the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and oceans."
When searching for what may have allowed oxygen back into the atmosphere and oceans 500 million years ago, researchers found that plankton played a huge role. During that time period, life didn't exist on land and life in the oceans was not as diverse as it is today, which made plankton a very big deal as far as ancient lifeforms go.
Then a geologic event called the Steptoean Positive Carbon Isotope Excursion (SPICE) occurred, burying large amounts of organic matter in ocean sediments. This pulled carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and in turn, released oxygen. As plankton encounter oxygen, they become more selective for the "light isotope of carbon in carbon dioxide" and absorb it.
Saltzman and his team looked at isotopes in fossilized plankton found in rocks located in the central United States,
and the Australian outback. They discovered that "plankton revolution," which is when plankton became more diverse, occurred around the same time as the SPICE event.
"The amount of oxygen rebounded, and so did the diversity of life," said Saltzman. "We were able to bring together independent lines of evidence that showed that if the total oxygen was around 5-10 percent before the SPICE, then it rose to just above modern levels for the first time after the SPICE."
Information that the plankton have provided could be used to possibly deter
by changing the chemistry of the ocean to remove carbon dioxide.
"When it comes to ancient life, they don't sound as exciting as dinosaurs, but the plankton are critical to this story," said Saltzman.
was published in
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled
2/23/2011 4:53:26 PM
well.. i guess its time to queue the SPICE jokes and DUNE references
"We’re Apple. We don’t wear suits. We don’t even own suits." -- Apple CEO Steve Jobs
Study: Even if All Emissions Were Cut Now, Warming Could Continue
February 16, 2011, 2:39 PM
Study Shows Dinosaurs Lived 700,000 Years After Mass Extinction
January 31, 2011, 10:27 AM
Massive China Dig Reveals How Evolution Conquered Mass Extinction
December 23, 2010, 12:13 PM
United Airlines Puts Boeing's 787 Dreamliner Back in Service
May 20, 2013, 2:52 PM
Obama to "Clarify" His Position on Killing Americans With Drone Strikes
May 20, 2013, 11:22 AM
High School Student Creates Storage Device that Can Charge in 20 Seconds
May 20, 2013, 6:51 AM
Obama Admin Looks to Revive Bill for Greater Media Protection in Wake of AP Controversy
May 16, 2013, 1:47 PM
Notre Dame Designs Camera to Detect Age of Bruise for Abuse Checks
May 16, 2013, 9:05 AM
Report: Climate Change Could Wash Away Historic Jamestown Site Within 100 Years
May 15, 2013, 5:39 PM
Most Popular Articles
Windows 8.1 Will Be Free; Microsoft Holds Onto Struggling ARM Variant
May 14, 2013, 2:57 PM
Google Announces "Pure" Galaxy Nexus S4 for $649, Android Updates
May 15, 2013, 1:42 PM
Bill Gates Gets Teary-Eyed While Discussing Steve Jobs, Shows Off Life-Saving Tech on 60 Minutes
May 13, 2013, 12:30 PM
U.S. Federal Traffic Board Wants to Make Drunk Driving Threshold Far Harsher
May 15, 2013, 11:32 AM
Google's Eric Schmidt: "Don't Be Evil" was Stupid
May 14, 2013, 11:00 AM
Latest Blog Posts
Quick Note: Sony "Teases" PS4 Ahead of Xbox Reveal in New Video
May 20, 2013, 12:33 PM
Nokia Introduces Instagram-Like App of Its Own to Help Lumia Sales
May 20, 2013, 7:10 AM
Parents of Pre-Teen Drivers Commonly Practice Distracted Driving Says Study
May 9, 2013, 7:16 AM
Apple's iOS 7 Running Into Internal Delays Due to Massive Overhaul
May 1, 2013, 4:26 PM
Elon Musk Willing to Spend More Money on Widening of 405 Freeway
Apr 26, 2013, 7:28 PM
More Blog Posts
Copyright 2013 DailyTech LLC. -
Terms, Conditions & Privacy Information