A Caltech Library Service

Mercury abundance and isotopic composition indicate subaerial volcanism prior to the end-Archean “whiff” of oxygen

Meixnerová, Jana and Blum, Joel D. and Johnson, Marcus W. and Stüeken, Eva E. and Kipp, Michael A. and Anbar, Ariel D. and Buick, Roger (2021) Mercury abundance and isotopic composition indicate subaerial volcanism prior to the end-Archean “whiff” of oxygen. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 118 (33). Art. No. e2107511118. ISSN 0027-8424. PMCID PMC8379933. doi:10.1073/pnas.2107511118.

[img] PDF - Published Version
See Usage Policy.

[img] PDF - Supplemental Material
See Usage Policy.


Use this Persistent URL to link to this item:


Earth’s early atmosphere witnessed multiple transient episodes of oxygenation before the Great Oxidation Event 2.4 billion years ago (Ga) [e.g., A. D. Anbar et al., Science 317, 1903–1906 (2007); M. C. Koehler, R. Buick, M. E. Barley, Precambrian Res. 320, 281–290 (2019)], but the triggers for these short-lived events are so far unknown. Here, we use mercury (Hg) abundance and stable isotope composition to investigate atmospheric evolution and its driving mechanisms across the well-studied “whiff” of O₂ recorded in the ∼2.5-Ga Mt. McRae Shale from the Pilbara Craton in Western Australia [A. D. Anbar et al., Science 317, 1903–1906 (2007)]. Our data from the oxygenated interval show strong Hg enrichment paired with slightly negative ∆¹⁹⁹Hg and near-zero ∆²⁰⁰Hg, suggestive of increased oxidative weathering. In contrast, slightly older beds, which were evidently deposited under an anoxic atmosphere in ferruginous waters [C. T. Reinhard, R. Raiswell, C. Scott, A. D. Anbar, T. W. Lyons, Science 326, 713–716 (2009)], show Hg enrichment coupled with positive ∆¹⁹⁹Hg and slightly negative ∆²⁰⁰Hg values. This pattern is consistent with photochemical reactions associated with subaerial volcanism under intense UV radiation. Our results therefore suggest that the whiff of O₂ was preceded by subaerial volcanism. The transient interval of O₂ accumulation may thus have been triggered by diminished volcanic O₂ sinks, followed by enhanced nutrient supply to the ocean from weathering of volcanic rocks causing increased biological productivity.

Item Type:Article
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription Information
Blum, Joel D.0000-0001-5389-8633
Stüeken, Eva E.0000-0001-6861-2490
Kipp, Michael A.0000-0003-1844-3670
Anbar, Ariel D.0000-0002-6015-7750
Buick, Roger0000-0003-0139-1659
Additional Information:© 2021 National Academy of Sciences. Published under the PNAS license. Contributed by Joel D. Blum, June 30, 2021 (sent for review April 21, 2021; reviewed by James Farquhar, Thomas M. Johnson, and Lee R. Kump). This study was supported by National Aeronautics and Space Administration Exobiology Grant NNX16AI37G (R.B.) and by the MacArthur Professorship (J.D.B.) at the University of Michigan. M.A.K. acknowledges support from an Agouron Institute postdoctoral fellowship. We thank James Farquhar, Lee Kump, and one anonymous reviewer for helpful comments that improved the manuscript. Data Availability: All study data are included in the article and/or supporting information. Author contributions: J.D.B., E.E.S., and A.D.A. designed research; J.M. performed research; J.D.B. and M.W.J. contributed new reagents/analytic tools; J.D.B., M.W.J., E.E.S., M.A.K., A.D.A., and R.B. analyzed data; and J.M., J.D.B., E.E.S., M.A.K., A.D.A., and R.B. wrote the paper. Reviewers: J.F., University of Maryland, College Park; T.M.J., University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign; and L.R.K., Pennsylvania State University. The authors declare no competing interest. This article contains supporting information online at
Funding AgencyGrant Number
University of MichiganUNSPECIFIED
Agouron InstituteUNSPECIFIED
Subject Keywords:Archean; mercury isotopes; atmospheric oxygenation
Issue or Number:33
PubMed Central ID:PMC8379933
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20210809-213015534
Persistent URL:
Official Citation:Mercury abundance and isotopic composition indicate subaerial volcanism prior to the end-Archean “whiff” of oxygen. Jana Meixnerová, Joel D. Blum, Marcus W. Johnson, Eva E. Stüeken, Michael A. Kipp, Ariel D. Anbar, Roger Buick. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Aug 2021, 118 (33) e2107511118; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2107511118
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:110183
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:09 Aug 2021 21:44
Last Modified:21 Sep 2021 23:57

Repository Staff Only: item control page