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OxygenA Four Billion Year History$
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Donald Eugene Canfield

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780691145020

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: October 2017

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691145020.001.0001

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The Early History of Atmospheric Oxygen: Geological Evidence

The Early History of Atmospheric Oxygen: Geological Evidence

Chapter:
(p.85) Chapter 7 The Early History of Atmospheric Oxygen: Geological Evidence
Source:
Oxygen
Author(s):

Donald Eugene Canfield

Publisher:
Princeton University Press
DOI:10.23943/princeton/9780691145020.003.0007

This chapter explores geological and chemical evidence for the history of atmospheric oxygen on early Earth, with a focus on the Archean Eon. It starts by investigating some of the evidence in the gold mines of South Africa. Some of these mines, located in the Witwatersrand Basin near Johannesburg, have been dug to depths of over 3.9 km (2.4 miles). A closer look at the rocks shows that they represent an ancient river deposit dated to some 2.8 to 3.1 billion years ago. The gold in these deposits was transported by strong river currents and was occasionally trapped among the cobbles and sands forming the riverbed. The presence of oxygen-sensitive minerals in ancient river deposits is pretty compelling evidence for low oxygen concentrations in the early Earth atmosphere.

Keywords:   atmospheric oxygen, chemical evidence, early Earth, Archean Eon

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