A sluggish mid-Proterozoic biosphere and its effect on Earth's redox balance.Geobiology. 2019 01; 17(1):3-11.G
The possibility of low but nontrivial atmospheric oxygen (O2) levels during the mid-Proterozoic (between 1.8 and 0.8 billion years ago, Ga) has important ramifications for understanding Earth's O2 cycle, the evolution of complex life and evolving climate stability. However, the regulatory mechanisms and redox fluxes required to stabilize these O2 levels in the face of continued biological oxygen production remain uncertain. Here, we develop a biogeochemical model of the C-N-P-O2 -S cycles and use it to constrain global redox balance in the mid-Proterozoic ocean-atmosphere system. By employing a Monte Carlo approach bounded by observations from the geologic record, we infer that the rate of net biospheric O2 production was <mml:math xmlns:mml="http://www.w3.org/1998/Math/MathML"><mml:mrow><mml:mn>3</mml:mn> <mml:mo>.</mml:mo> <mml:msubsup><mml:mn>5</mml:mn> <mml:mrow><mml:mo>-</mml:mo> <mml:mn>1.1</mml:mn></mml:mrow> <mml:mrow><mml:mo>+</mml:mo> <mml:mn>1.4</mml:mn></mml:mrow> </mml:msubsup> </mml:mrow> </mml:math> Tmol year[-1] (1σ), or ~25% of today's value, owing largely to phosphorus scarcity in the ocean interior. Pyrite burial in marine sediments would have represented a comparable or more significant O2 source than organic carbon burial, implying a potentially important role for Earth's sulphur cycle in balancing the oxygen cycle and regulating atmospheric O2 levels. Our statistical approach provides a uniquely comprehensive view of Earth system biogeochemistry and global O2 cycling during mid-Proterozoic time and implicates severe P biolimitation as the backdrop for Precambrian geochemical and biological evolution.