For approximately the first 2 billion years of the Earth’s history, atmospheric oxygen levels were extremely low. It was not until at least half a billion years after the evolution of oxygenic photosynthesis, perhaps as early as 3 billion years ago, that oxygen rose to appreciable levels during the Great Oxidation Event. Shortly after, marine carbonates underwent a large positive spike in carbon isotope ratios known as the Lomagundi event. The mechanisms responsible for the Great Oxidation and Lomagundi events remain debated. Using a carbon–oxygen box model that tracks the Earth’s surface and interior carbon fluxes and reservoirs, while also tracking carbon isotopes and atmospheric oxygen levels, we demonstrate that about 2.5 billion years ago a tectonic transition that resulted in increased volcanic CO2 emissions could have led to increased deposition of both carbonates and organic carbon (organic C) via enhanced weathering and nutrient delivery to oceans. Increased burial of carbonates and organic C would have allowed the accumulation of atmospheric oxygen while also increasing the delivery of carbon to subduction zones. Coupled with preferential release of carbonates at arc volcanoes and deep recycling of organic C to ocean island volcanoes, we find that such a tectonic transition can simultaneously explain the Great Oxidation and Lomagundi events without any change in the fraction of carbon buried as organic C relative to carbonate, which is often invoked to explain carbon isotope excursions.
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Data used in the generation of Fig. 1 were taken directly, without any alteration, from the references given in the figure caption and can be accessed in the original publications cited therein. In addition, the original author has made available the data compilation of C isotopes on his personal website: http://www.krisstott.com/publications.html. The data used in Fig. 2a are reported in Supplementary Table 2 and can be accessed from the original publications cited in that table. The data in Supplementary Table 2 have been made publicly available at http://www.earthchem.org (https://doi.org/10.1594/IEDA/111406). The compiled data used in Fig. 3 are reported in Supplementary Table 3 and can be accessed from the original publications cited in the table. The data in Supplementary Table 3 have been made publicly available at http://www.earthchem.org (https://doi.org/10.1594/IEDA/111406).
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The authors thank the reviewers for their constructive reviews. R.D. acknowledges support from the NSF (grant no. OCE-1338842), NASA (grant no. 80NSSC18K0828) and the Deep Carbon Observatory. J.E. acknowledges support from a NASA Postdoctoral Program fellowship with the NASA Astrobiology Institute.
The authors declare no competing interests.
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Eguchi, J., Seales, J. & Dasgupta, R. Great Oxidation and Lomagundi events linked by deep cycling and enhanced degassing of carbon. Nat. Geosci. 13, 71–76 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-019-0492-6
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