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2001 Annual Science Report

Pennsylvania State University Reporting  |  JUL 2000 – JUN 2001

Evolution of Atmospheric O2, Climate, and the Terrestrial Biosphere

4 Institutions
3 Teams
0 Publications
0 Field Sites
Field Sites

Project Progress

Evolution of Atmospheric O2, Climate, and the Terrestrial Biosphere (dm)

We are continuing work on paleosols (ancient soil horizons) in order to determine atmospheric conditions and evidence for possible terrestrial biota at the time of soil formation. We are focusing on the major and trace element characteristics of the ~3 Ga Steep Rock paleosol, Ontario, Canada. We have found striking trace element and Nd isotope patterns through a combination of whole rock and laser ablation inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) analysis, including a possible preserved Sm-Nd isochron recording soil formation age. We have also initiated work on the ~2.4 Ga Hokkalampi paleosol, Finland. Results show possible preservation of Sm-Nd soil formation ages from at least two profiles in the Hokkalampi sequence, with a range of redox conditions from oxidized, Fe-rich areas to reduced, Fe-depleted areas. We are also comparing oxidized and reduced paleosols from the Permo-Pennsylvanian Monongahela Group. This work also shows rare earth element (REE) fractionation during pedogenesis, independent of redox conditions. The paleosol isotopic results provide the groundwork for development of an in situ geochronology instrument for planetary surfaces. To understand the similarities and differences between modern and ancient soils, we are working to study the isotopic and geochemical evolution of Hawaiian basalts.

Additional work centers on ancient and modern carbonate as recorders of secular variations in marine chemistry, depositional environment, and paleoclimate indicator. We continue to apply Nd isotopes to Paleoproterozoic marine carbonate sequences from Australia and South Africa. Our work to date suggests that most REE in the carbonate is derived from hydrothermal rather than continental sources, consistent with banded iron formation studies. Our studies of Pleistocene carbonate from Owens Lake, California are designed to understand the water-carbonate speciation of REE, and to relate chemical variations to climate shifts. This provides the baseline for studies of ancient carbonates.

    Rosemary Capo
    Project Investigator

    Hiroshi Ohmoto
    Project Investigator

    Brian Stewart
    Project Investigator

    Oliver Chadwick

    Gwendolyn Macpherson

    Michael Bau

    Sherry Stafford
    Doctoral Student

    Joseph Minervini
    Graduate Student

    Amanda Reynolds
    Graduate Student

    Objective 5.0
    Describe the sequences of causes and effects associated with the development of Earth's early biosphere and the global environment.

    Objective 7.0
    Identify the environmental limits for life by examining biological adaptations to extremes in environmental conditions.

    Objective 11.0
    Determine (theoretically and empirically) the ultimate outcome of the planet-forming process around other stars, especially the habitable ones.

    Objective 12.0
    Define climatological and geological effects upon the limits of habitable zones around the Sun and other stars to help define the frequency of habitable planets in the universe.

    Objective 14.0
    Determine the resilience of local and global ecosystems through their response to natural and human-induced disturbances.