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Earliest land plants created modern levels of atmospheric oxygen
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Number of Authors: 7
2016 (English)In: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, ISSN 0027-8424, E-ISSN 1091-6490, Vol. 113, no 35, 9704-9709 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

The progressive oxygenation of the Earth's atmosphere was pivotal to the evolution of life, but the puzzle of when and how atmospheric oxygen (O-2) first approached modern levels (similar to 21%) remains unresolved. Redox proxy data indicate the deep oceans were oxygenated during 435-392 Ma, and the appearance of fossil charcoal indicates O-2 > 15-17% by 420-400 Ma. However, existing models have failed to predict oxygenation at this time. Here we show that the earliest plants, which colonized the land surface from similar to 470 Ma onward, were responsible for this mid-Paleozoic oxygenation event, through greatly increasing global organic carbon burialthe net long-term source of O-2. We use a trait-based ecophysiological model to predict that cryptogamic vegetation cover could have achieved similar to 30% of today's global terrestrial net primary productivity by similar to 445 Ma. Data from modern bryophytes suggests this plentiful early plant material had a much higher molar C:P ratio (similar to 2,000) than marine biomass (similar to 100), such that a given weathering flux of phosphorus could support more organic carbon burial. Furthermore, recent experiments suggest that early plants selectively increased the flux of phosphorus (relative to alkalinity) weathered from rocks. Combining these effects in a model of long-term biogeochemical cycling, we reproduce a sustained +2% increase in the carbonate carbon isotope (delta C-13) record by similar to 445 Ma, and predict a corresponding rise in O-2 to present levels by 420-400 Ma, consistent with geochemical data. This oxygen rise represents a permanent shift in regulatory regime to one where fire-mediated negative feedbacks stabilize high O-2 levels.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2016. Vol. 113, no 35, 9704-9709 p.
Keyword [en]
oxygen, Paleozoic, phosphorus, plants, weathering
National Category
Other Natural Sciences
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-135098DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1604787113ISI: 000383090700034PubMedID: 27528678OAI: diva2:1048752
Available from: 2016-11-22 Created: 2016-10-31 Last updated: 2016-11-22Bibliographically approved

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Porada, Philipp
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Department of Environmental Science and Analytical Chemistry
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