Researchers are still trying to find solution to the puzzle of when oxygen first entered Earth’s atmosphere and in a hunt for answers, an international team of scientists has bagged $2.7 million in funding from the European Research Council.
The team will be carrying out a study of the rocks near Red Lake area of Northwestern Ontario where 2.93 billion year old limestone, which formed in the ocean, is present. Studies have shown that these rocks have fossil structures called stromatolites that hint at the presence of photosynthesizing organisms.
It is known that such structures are formed by bacteria in the current times; however, it is unknown whether the very old fossils were also built by photosynthesizing bacterial and to find an answer scientists will be carrying out a thorough investigation of these rocks. The aim of the study is to use the chemistry of the limestone to ascertain if photosynthesis was adding oxygen to the marine environment almost three billion years ago.
Dr. Philip Fralick, Department of Geology, Lakehead University, is part of the team that will be carrying out the study and according to the team, it is important to know when oxygen was first introduced in the atmosphere as it acted as the catalyst that brought about a massive change to surface conditions since this became a solid planet. It was oxygen that enabled the creation of more complex organisms than bacteria to evolve.
Primitive photosynthesizing organisms were responsible for adding oxygen to the planet’s ocean-atmosphere system, but it is unknown when this occurred. Dr. Fralick, who is very excited about the project, says that this funding and the study will help them ascertain when photosynthesis started on Earth that paved way for development of multicellular life.