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The Continuing Puzzle of the Great Oxidation Event

Sessions, Alex L. and Doughty, David M. and Welander, Paula V. and Summons, Roger E. and Newman, Dianne K. (2009) The Continuing Puzzle of the Great Oxidation Event. Current Biology, 19 (14). R567-R574. ISSN 0960-9822.

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The rise of atmospheric O_2 was a milestone in the history of life. Although O_2 itself is not a climate-active gas, its appearance would have removed a methane greenhouse present on the early Earth and potentially led to dramatic cooling. Moreover, by fundamentally altering the biogeochemical cycles of C, N, S and Fe, its rise first in the atmosphere and later in the oceans would also have had important indirect effects on Earth's climate. Here, we summarize major lines of evidence from the geological literature that pertain to when and how O_2 first appeared in significant amounts in the atmosphere. On the early Earth, atmospheric O_2 would initially have been very low, probably <10^(−5) of the present atmospheric level. Around 2.45 billion years ago, atmospheric O_2 rose suddenly in what is now termed the Great Oxidation Event. While the rise of oxygen has been the subject of considerable attention by Earth scientists, several important aspects of this problem remain unresolved. Our goal in this review is to provide a short summary of the current state of the field, and make the case that future progress towards solving the riddle of oxygen will benefit greatly from the involvement of molecular biologists.

Item Type:Article
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription
Sessions, Alex L.0000-0001-6120-2763
Summons, Roger E.0000-0002-7144-8537
Newman, Dianne K.0000-0003-1647-1918
Additional Information:© 2009 Elsevier. Available online 27 July 2009. We thank the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (D.K.N.), the NASA Astrobiology and Exobiology programs (A.L.S., D.K.N. and R.E.S.) and NSF (P.V.W., R.E.S.) for supporting our work.
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI)UNSPECIFIED
Issue or Number:14
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20090817-144818780
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Official Citation:Alex L. Sessions, David M. Doughty, Paula V. Welander, Roger E. Summons, Dianne K. Newman, The Continuing Puzzle of the Great Oxidation Event, Current Biology, Volume 19, Issue 14, 28 July 2009, Pages R567-R574, ISSN 0960-9822, (
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:15122
Deposited By: George Porter
Deposited On:08 Sep 2009 16:39
Last Modified:09 Mar 2020 13:19

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