99% of life on Earth killed 2 billion years ago
A new study found extreme changes in the atmosphere killed almost 100% of life on Earth about 2 billion years ago. Researchers sampled barite, a mineral more than 2 billion years old, in subarctic Canada’s Belcher Islands. Rocks that old “lock in chemical signatures,” helpful clues for researchers to uncover what the atmosphere was like when the rocks first formed, co-lead author and Stanford University Ph.D. candidate Malcolm Hodgskiss told.
The Great Oxidation Event
The study focused on a phenomenon called the “Great Oxidation Event”. It goes like this: Billions of years ago, only micro-organisms survived on Earth. When they photosynthesized, they altered the chemical composition of the atmosphere, creating a glut of oxygen they ultimately could not sustain. Micro-organisms exhausted the nutrients they needed to create oxygen, which knocked the Earth’s atmosphere off-kilter. This led to an “enormous drop” in the biosphere — the amount of life on Earth. Scientists weren’t sure just how drastic the drop was until now. The team’s calculations showed that anywhere from 80 to 99.5% of organisms were wiped out at the end of the Great Oxidation Event, Hodgskiss said. There were simply too many of them, and they produced too much oxygen.”Even our most conservative estimates would exceed estimates for the amount of life that died off during the extinction of the dinosaurs approximately 65 million years ago” he said.
How Earth behaves throughout time
The findings shed light into ancient processes that eventually resulted in Earth as we know it today. By further studying how Earth behaves throughout time, scientists say they can better understand how atmospheres operate on planets outside of our solar system, specifically the interlink between the biosphere (where organisms live) and how that relates to levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.