Proterozoic oxygen rise linked to shifting balance between seafloor and terrestrial weathering.
Lenton, Timothy M.
Watson, Andrew J.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
National Academy of Sciences
Freely available online through the PNAS open access option.
A shift toward higher atmospheric oxygen concentration during the late Proterozoic has been inferred from multiple indirect proxies and is seen by many as a prerequisite for the emergence of complex animal life. However, the mechanisms controlling the level of oxygen throughout the Proterozoic and its eventual rise remain uncertain. Here we use a simple biogeochemical model to show that the balance between long-term carbon removal fluxes via terrestrial silicate weathering and ocean crust alteration plays a key role in determining atmospheric oxygen concentration. This balance may be shifted by changes in terrestrial weatherability or in the generation rate of oceanic crust. As a result, the terrestrial chemical weathering flux may be permanently altered-contrasting with the conventional view that the global silicate weathering flux must adjust to equal the volcanic CO2 degassing flux. Changes in chemical weathering flux in turn alter the long-term supply of phosphorus to the ocean, and therefore the flux of organic carbon burial, which is the long-term source of atmospheric oxygen. Hence we propose that increasing solar luminosity and a decrease in seafloor spreading rate over 1,500-500 Ma drove a gradual shift from seafloor weathering to terrestrial weathering, and a corresponding steady rise in atmospheric oxygen. Furthermore, increased terrestrial weatherability during the late Neoproterozoic may explain low temperature, increases in ocean phosphate, ocean sulfate, and atmospheric oxygen concentration at this time.
types: JOURNAL ARTICLE