Atmospheric oxygen regulation at low Proterozoic levels by incomplete oxidative weathering of sedimentary organic carbon.
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It is unclear why atmospheric oxygen remained trapped at low levels for more than 1.5 billion years following the Paleoproterozoic Great Oxidation Event. Here, we use models for erosion, weathering and biogeochemical cycling to show that this can be explained by the tectonic recycling of previously accumulated sedimentary organic carbon, combined with the oxygen sensitivity of oxidative weathering. Our results indicate a strong negative feedback regime when atmospheric oxygen concentration is of order pO2∼0.1 PAL (present atmospheric level), but that stability is lost at pO2<0.01 PAL. Within these limits, the carbonate carbon isotope (δ(13)C) record becomes insensitive to changes in organic carbon burial rate, due to counterbalancing changes in the weathering of isotopically light organic carbon. This can explain the lack of secular trend in the Precambrian δ(13)C record, and reopens the possibility that increased biological productivity and resultant organic carbon burial drove the Great Oxidation Event.
This work was supported by the Leverhulme Trust (RPG-2013-106) and the Natural Environment Research Council (NE/N018508/1). We thank Andrey Bekker, Jim Kasting and Tom Laakso for thorough reviews that helped improve the paper.
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Vol. 8, pp. 14379 -
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