Anomalous fractionation of mercury isotopes in the Late Archean atmosphere
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Earth’s surface underwent a dramatic transition ~2.3 billion years ago when atmospheric oxygen first accumulated during the Great Oxidation Event, but the detailed composition of the reducing early atmosphere is not well known. Here we develop mercury (Hg) stable isotopes as a proxy for paleoatmospheric chemistry and use Hg isotope data from 2.5 billion-year-old sedimentary rocks to examine changes in the Late Archean atmosphere immediately prior to the Great Oxidation Event. These sediments preserve evidence of strong photochemical transformations of mercury in the absence of molecular oxygen. In addition, these geochemical records combined with previously published multi-proxy data support a vital role for methane in Earth’s early atmosphere.
Zerkle , A L , Yin , R , Chen , C , Li , X , Izon , G & Grasby , S 2020 , ' Anomalous fractionation of mercury isotopes in the Late Archean atmosphere ' , Nature Communications , vol. 11 , 1709 . https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-020-15495-3
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DescriptionThis work was funded by a Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Fellowship NE/H016805/2 and Standard Grant NE/J023485/2 (to A.L.Z.). R.Y. was funded by the Chinese Academy of Sciences through the Hundred Talent Plan. G.J.I. recognizes continued support from R. Summons under the auspices of the Simons Collaboration on the Origin of Life. We thank J. Kirschvink, J. Grotzinger, A. Knoll, and the Agouron Institute for organizing and funding the Agouron Drilling Project, and the Council for Geoscience in South Africa, specifically those at the National Core Library in Donkerhoek, for facilitating access to the core materials.
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