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Changes in Arsenic Levels in the Precambrian Oceans in Relation to the Upcome of Free Oxygen
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Science and Technology, Earth Sciences, Department of Earth Sciences, Palaeobiology.
2013 (English)Independent thesis Advanced level (degree of Master (Two Years)), 20 credits / 30 HE creditsStudent thesis
Abstract [en]

Life on Earth could have existed already 3.8 Ga ago, and yet, more complex, multicellular life did not evolve until over three billion years later, about 700 Ma ago. Many have searched for the reason behind this apparent delay in evolution, and the dominating theories put the blame on the hostile Precambrian environment with low oxygen levels and sulphide-rich oceans. There are, however, doubts whether this would be the full explanation, and this thesis therefore focuses on a new hypothesis; the levels of the redox sensitive element arsenic increased in the oceans as a consequence of the change in weathering patterns that followed the upcome of free oxygen in the atmosphere at about 2.4 billion years ago. Given its toxicity, this could have had negative effects upon the life of the time. To test the hypothesis, 66 samples from drill cores coming from South Africa and Gabon with ages between 2.7 and 2.05 Ga were analysed for their elemental composition, and their arsenic content were compared with carbon isotope data from the same samples. These confirmed that a rise in arsenic concentration following the upcome of free oxygen in the atmosphere and the onset of oxidative weathering of continental sulphides. Arsenic, which is commonly found in sulphide minerals, was weathered together with the sulphide and delivered into the oceans, where it in the Palaeoproterozoic increased to over 600% compared to the older Archaean levels, at least locally. Iron had the strongest control over the arsenic levels in the anoxic (ferruginous and sulphidic) oceans, probably due to its ability to remove arsenic through adsorption. During oxygenated conditions, sulphur instead had the strongest influence upon arsenic, likely because of the lack of dissolved iron. The highest arsenic levels were found in samples recognised as coming from oxygenated conditions, although this might be due to the oxygenation state of arsenic affecting its solubility. Arsenic is toxic already at low doses, especially if the necessary arsenic detoxification systems had not yet evolved. However, the lack of correlation between arsenic and changes in δ13C indicated that the increase of arsenic did not affect the primary production between 2.7 and 2.05 Ga. Thus, whether arsenic could have affected the evolution of life during the Mesoproterozoic remains to be shown.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2013. , 108 p.
Examensarbete vid Institutionen för geovetenskaper, ISSN 1650-6553 ; 269
Keyword [en]
Arsenic, Precambrian, ocean chemistry, Great Oxygenation Event, GOE, evolution of multicellularity
National Category
Other Earth and Related Environmental Sciences
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-210481OAI: diva2:662871
Educational program
Master Programme in Earth Science
2013-09-13, Department of Earth Sciences, Villavägen 16, Uppsala, 14:00 (English)
Available from: 2013-11-08 Created: 2013-11-08 Last updated: 2013-11-08Bibliographically approved

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