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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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What Controls Atmospheric Oxygen Concentrations?

What Controls Atmospheric Oxygen Concentrations?

(p.56) Chapter 5 What Controls Atmospheric Oxygen Concentrations?

Donald Eugene Canfield

Princeton University Press

This chapter deals with the fundamental question of why there is oxygen in the atmosphere at all. It seeks to identify the main processes controlling the oxygen concentration. Plants and cyanobacteria produce the oxygen, but it accumulates only because some of the original photosynthetically produced organic matter is buried and preserved in sediments. Another oxygen source is an anaerobic microbial process called sulfate reduction that respires organic matter using sulfate and produces sulfide. This process is quite common in nature but are most prominent in relatively isolated basins like the Black Sea, and in most marine sediments at depths where oxygen has been consumed by respiration. If there is iron around, the sulfide reacts with the iron, forming a mineral called pyrite. While organic carbon burial has been the main oxygen source to the atmosphere over the past several hundred million years, for some intervals further back in time, pyrite burial may well have dominated as an oxygen source.

Keywords:   oxygen concentration, atmosphere, Earth, pyrite oxidation, organic matter, sulfate reduction

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