Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Hazy shades of life on early Earth

19.03.2012
A 'see-sawing' atmosphere over 2.5 billion years ago preceded the oxygenation of our planet and the development of complex life on Earth, a new study has shown.
Research, led by experts at Newcastle University, UK, and published today in the journal Nature Geoscience, reveals that the Earth's early atmosphere periodically flipped from a hydrocarbon-free state into a hydrocarbon-rich state similar to that of Saturn's moon, Titan.

This switch between "organic haze" and a "haze-free" environment was the result of intense microbial activity and would have had a profound effect on the climate of the Earth system.

Similar to the way scientists believe our climate behaves today, the team say their findings provide us with an insight into the Earth's surface environment prior to oxygenation of the planet.

Study lead Dr Aubrey Zerkle, based in the School of Civil Engineering and Geosciences at Newcastle University, explains: "Models have previously suggested that the Earth's early atmosphere could have been warmed by a layer of organic haze.

"Our geochemical analyses of marine sediments from this time period provide the first evidence for such an atmosphere.

"However, instead of evidence for a continuously 'hazy' period we found the signal flipped on and off, in response to microbial activity.

"This provides us with insight into Earth's surface environment prior to oxygenation of the planet and confirms the importance of methane gas in regulating the early atmosphere."

Dr Zerkle, working along with Dr James Farquhar at the University of Maryland, USA, and Dr Simon Poulton at Newcastle University, UK, analysed the geochemistry of marine sediments deposited between 2.65 and 2.5 billion years ago in what is now South Africa.

They found evidence of local production of oxygen by microbes in the oceans, but carbon and sulphur isotopes indicate that little of that oxygen entered the atmosphere.

Instead, the authors suggest that the atmosphere transitioned repeatedly between two states: one with a thin, hydrocarbon haze and the other haze-free. These geochemical records were supported by models of the ancient atmosphere performed by colleagues at the NASA Astrobiology Institute, led by Dr Mark Claire (currently at the University of East Anglia, UK) and Dr Shawn Domagal-Goldman, which demonstrated how the transitions could be caused by changes in the rate of methane production by microbes.
The conditions which enabled the bi-stable organic haze to form permanently ended when the atmosphere became oxygenated some 100 million years after the sediments were laid down.

"What is most surprising about this study is that our data seems to indicate the atmospheric events were discrete in nature, flip-flopping between one stable state into another," explains co-author Dr Farquhar.

"This type of response is not all that different from the way scientists think climate operates today, and reminds us how delicate the balance between states can be."

Professor Mark Thiemens, Dean of Physical Sciences at the University of California San Diego, adds: "Another important facet of the work is that it provides insight into the formation of atmospheric aerosols, particularly organic ones.

"Besides the obvious importance for the evolution of the atmosphere, the role of aerosol formation is one of the most poorly understood components in the present day climate models. This provides a new look into this process that is quite new and valuable."

Dr. Aubrey Zerkle | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.newcastle.ac.uk

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Hundreds of bubble streams link biology, seismology off Washington's coast
22.03.2019 | University of Washington

nachricht Atmospheric scientists reveal the effect of sea-ice loss on Arctic warming
11.03.2019 | Institute of Atmospheric Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: The taming of the light screw

DESY and MPSD scientists create high-order harmonics from solids with controlled polarization states, taking advantage of both crystal symmetry and attosecond electronic dynamics. The newly demonstrated technique might find intriguing applications in petahertz electronics and for spectroscopic studies of novel quantum materials.

The nonlinear process of high-order harmonic generation (HHG) in gases is one of the cornerstones of attosecond science (an attosecond is a billionth of a...

Im Focus: Magnetic micro-boats

Nano- and microtechnology are promising candidates not only for medical applications such as drug delivery but also for the creation of little robots or flexible integrated sensors. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research (MPI-P) have created magnetic microparticles, with a newly developed method, that could pave the way for building micro-motors or guiding drugs in the human body to a target, like a tumor. The preparation of such structures as well as their remote-control can be regulated using magnetic fields and therefore can find application in an array of domains.

The magnetic properties of a material control how this material responds to the presence of a magnetic field. Iron oxide is the main component of rust but also...

Im Focus: Self-healing coating made of corn starch makes small scratches disappear through heat

Due to the special arrangement of its molecules, a new coating made of corn starch is able to repair small scratches by itself through heat: The cross-linking via ring-shaped molecules makes the material mobile, so that it compensates for the scratches and these disappear again.

Superficial micro-scratches on the car body or on other high-gloss surfaces are harmless, but annoying. Especially in the luxury segment such surfaces are...

Im Focus: Stellar cartography

The Potsdam Echelle Polarimetric and Spectroscopic Instrument (PEPSI) at the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) in Arizona released its first image of the surface magnetic field of another star. In a paper in the European journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, the PEPSI team presents a Zeeman- Doppler-Image of the surface of the magnetically active star II Pegasi.

A special technique allows astronomers to resolve the surfaces of faraway stars. Those are otherwise only seen as point sources, even in the largest telescopes...

Im Focus: Heading towards a tsunami of light

Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology and the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, have proposed a way to create a completely new source of radiation. Ultra-intense light pulses consist of the motion of a single wave and can be described as a tsunami of light. The strong wave can be used to study interactions between matter and light in a unique way. Their research is now published in the scientific journal Physical Review Letters.

"This source of radiation lets us look at reality through a new angle - it is like twisting a mirror and discovering something completely different," says...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

International Modelica Conference with 330 visitors from 21 countries at OTH Regensburg

11.03.2019 | Event News

Selection Completed: 580 Young Scientists from 88 Countries at the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting

01.03.2019 | Event News

LightMAT 2019 – 3rd International Conference on Light Materials – Science and Technology

28.02.2019 | Event News

 
Latest News

Solving the efficiency of Gram-negative bacteria

22.03.2019 | Life Sciences

Bacteria bide their time when antibiotics attack

22.03.2019 | Life Sciences

Open source software helps researchers extract key insights from huge sensor datasets

22.03.2019 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>