Apr 21, 2019 | Updated: 07:00 AM EDT

Life On Earth Began From A Whiff Of Oxygen, According To Scientists

Nov 22, 2015 11:08 PM EST

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Life on Earth started from whiffs of oxygen in the atmosphere, according to study
(Photo : University of Waterloo)

Scientists discover the possible early origin of the Earth. In collaboration with various universities, they found that life gradually began some 2.5 million years ago. They claimed that it all started from an oxygen blast or "whiffs" from a blue-green type of algae found in the shallow ocean.

Earth scientists from the University of Alberta, University of California Riverside, University of Waterloo, Arizona State University and Georgia Institute of Technology called this phase the Great Oxidation Event, the Oxygen Catastrophe or the Oxygen Crisis. Burst of oxygen due to photosynthetic cyanobacteria temporarily increased the concentration of oxygen in the Earth's atmosphere. The study utilized geochemical data from Western Australia's sedimentary rocks.

"We are tracking atmospheric changes through time to understand how oxygen increased to the level needed to support complex life," said University of Alberta's professor of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Rob Creaser. "When the Earth first formed, there was no oxygen in the atmosphere. Our analytical facilities here at the U of A allowed us to conduct precise analyses of this rock sample to understand the tempo at which that oxygen built up through photosynthesis."

The new research emerges that Earth's ability to sustain life is a result of fluctuation then permanent accumulation of oxygen levels in the atmosphere. "The onset of Earth's surface oxygenation may have been a complex process characterized by multiple 'whiffs' of O2 until a tipping point was crossed," University of Waterloo professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences Brian Kendall said.

This new study is an update of the group's early theory in 2007 that the Earth's surface is composed of a small amount of oxygen some 2.5 billion years ago. Trying to complete the puzzle, they are on their way to answer some of their remaining questions. "How and why Earth developed an oxygenated atmosphere is one of the most profound puzzles in understanding the history of our planet," Arizona's professor Ariel Anbar said.

There are one few in the laboratories in the world that could take the exact measurements of osmium needed for the analysis. One of these handful labs is The Canadian Centre for Isotopic Microanalysis, Creaser's lab in the University of Alberta. "Without this type of facility, we wouldn't be able to write this paper or investigate this process," he said. 

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