Biogeochemical Cycles & Geobiology

New Study Sheds Light on Early Earth's Atmosphere

By Keith Cowing
April 20, 2012

Geological background of the samples analyzed in this study. Panel A shows the geological map at Marble Bar and the location of the ABDP-1 drill core. Panel B shows the simplified stratigraphic column of the lower part of the Pilbara Supergroup, with ages constrained by zircon U-Pb geochronology.

Astrobiologists from NAI’s team at the University of Wisconsin, Madison have recently published a study of drill cores obtained through the NAI-funded Archean Biosphere Drilling Project which sampled the 3.4 billion year old Apex Basalt from the Pilbara Craton in Western Australia. Their innovative approach directly dates oxidation products of the ancient rock, and they show that oxidation occurred in the Phanerozoic during deep weathering. Their results indicate that oxidation of the Apex Basalt did not occur in the Archean, and therefore cannot be used to infer an oxygenated atmosphere at that time. Their paper appears in Earth and Planetary Science Letters.

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