Origin & Evolution of Life

Oxygen's Stops and Starts

By Keith Cowing
January 23, 2012

Based on studies of rock cores, a team of geoscientists that include members of NAI’s Penn State Team have determined that oxygen did not appear in Earth’s atmosphere in a single event. Instead, atmospheric oxygen came about in a long series of starts and stops.

The research was conducted using samples collected in the summer of 2007 during the Fennoscandia Arctic Russia – Drilling Early Earth Project (FAR DEEP). Scientists drilled a series of shallow, two-inch diameter cores and overlapped them to create a record of the Proterozoic Eon–2,500 million to 542 million years ago.

“We’ve always thought that oxygen came into the atmosphere really quickly during an event,” said Lee Kump, a geoscientist at Penn State University. “We are no longer looking for an event. Now we’re looking for when and why oxygen became a stable part of the Earth’s atmosphere.”

The research was published in the December 1, 2011 issue of Science Express under lead author Lee Kump.

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