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Earth's Early Biosphere and the Biogeochemical Carbon CycleOur biosphere has altered the global environment principally by influencing the chemistry of those elements most important for life, e g., C, N, S, O, P and transition metals (e.g., Fe and Mn). The coupling of oxygenic photosynthesis with the burial in sediments of photosynthetic organic matter, and with the escape of H2 to space, has increased the state of oxidation of the Oceans and atmosphere. It has also created highly reduced conditions within sedimentary rocks that have also extensively affected the geochemistry of several elements. The decline of volcanism during Earth's history reduced the flow of reduced chemical species that reacted with photosynthetically produced O2. The long-term net accumulation of photosynthetic O2 via biogeochemical processes has profoundly influenced our atmosphere and biosphere, as evidenced by the O2 levels required for algae, multicellular life and certain modem aerobic bacteria to exist. When our biosphere developed photosynthesis, it tapped into an energy resource that was much larger than the energy available from oxidation-reduction reactions associated with weathering and hydrothermal activity. Today, hydrothermal sources deliver globally (0.13-1.1)x10(exp l2) mol yr(sup -1) of reduced S, Fe(2+), Mn(2+), H2 and CH4; this is estimated to sustain at most about (0.2-2)xl0(exp 12)mol C yr(sup -1) of organic carbon production by chemautotrophic microorganisms. In contrast, global photosynthetic productivity is estimated to be 9000x10(exp 12) mol C yr(sup -1). Thus, even though global thermal fluxes were greater in the distant geologic past than today, the onset of oxygenic photosynthesis probably increased global organic productivity by some two or more orders of magnitude. This enormous productivity materialized principally because oxygenic photosynthesizers unleashed a virtually unlimited supply of reduced H that forever freed life from its sole dependence upon abiotic sources of reducing power such as hydrothermal emanations and weathering. Communities sustained by oxygenic photosynthesis apparently thrived wherever supplies of sunlight, moisture and nutrients were sufficient. Prior to the development of oxygenic photosynthesis, the net global effect of the ancient global biosphere was to facilitate chemical equilibrium between reduced species from thermal activity and weathering and more oxidized constituents in the surface environment. But even this ancient biosphere might have been globally pervasive. The global geothermal heat flow was substantially higher during Earth's first billion years, and thus reduced chemical species might have persisted in sunlit aquatic environments. Perhaps the substantial decline in thermal activity between 4000 and 3000 Ma created a driver for oxygenic photosynthesis to develop.
Document ID
Document Type
Preprint (Draft being sent to journal)
DesMarais, David (NASA Ames Research Center Moffett Field, CA, United States)
Date Acquired
August 22, 2013
Publication Date
October 7, 2004
Subject Category
Funding Number(s)
WBS: WBS 390-30-1D
Distribution Limits
Work of the US Gov. Public Use Permitted.