Letter | Published:

Possible limits on the composition of the Archaean ocean

Naturevolume 302pages518520 (1983) | Download Citation



It has been suggested that the partial pressure of carbon dioxide in the terrestrial atmosphere was larger in the past than it is at present1–4. In particular, partial pressures of 100–1,000 times those of the present have been invoked for the early Earth as a means of insuring equable climates at a time when the Sun was significantly less luminous5–7. While the climatic argument is not conclusive8, it is worth considering whether the geological record is in any way inconsistent with the proposed high partial pressures of carbon dioxide. I now examine the potential impact of high carbon dioxide partial pressure on ocean chemistry and ask what constraints are imposed by the known record of chemical sedimentation through time. The evidence consists of the persistence throughout almost the entire sedimentary rock record of calcium carbonate and sulphate precipitation. I adopt a uniformitarian point of view that assumes no very great change in the conditions for the deposition of these chemical sediments. The methods of Holland9 are used to set limits on the composition of the water from which precipitation occurred. I find no inconsistencies between the sedimentary rock record and presumed higher partial pressure of carbon dioxide early in Earth history, provided that high partial pressure was accompanied by a generally lower pH for seawater, higher concentrations of calcium and bicarbonate ions, and lower concentrations of carbonate and sulphate ions.

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  1. Space Physics Research Laboratory, Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Science, The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 48109, USA

    • James C. G. Walker


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