Oxygen isotope data from ancient sedimentary rocks appear to suggest that the early Earth was significantly warmer than today, with estimates of surface temperatures between 45 and 85°C. We argue, following others, that this interpretation is incorrect - the same data can be explained via a change in isotopic composition of seawater with time. These changes in the isotopic composition could result from an increase in mean depth of the mid-ocean ridges caused by a decrease in geothermal heat flow with time. All this implies that the early Earth was warm, not hot. A more temperate early Earth is also easier to reconcile with the long-term glacial record. However, what triggered these early glaciations is still under debate. The Paleoproterozoic glaciations at approximately 2.4 Ga were probably caused by the rise of atmospheric O 2 and a concomitant decrease in greenhouse warming by CH4. Glaciation might have occurred in the Mid-Archaean as well, at approximately 2.9 Ga, perhaps as a consequence of anti-greenhouse cooling by hydrocarbon haze. Both glaciations are linked to decreases in the magnitude of mass-independent sulphur isotope fractionation in ancient rocks. Studying both the oxygen and sulphur isotopic records has thus proved useful in probing the composition of the early atmosphere.
|Original language||English (US)|
|Number of pages||10|
|Journal||Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences|
|State||Published - Oct 29 2006|
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)