FunWhere does the oxygen we breathe come from?

Where does the oxygen we breathe come from?

Oxygen is undoubtedly an essential component in the development of complex life on Earth . But do you know where the oxygen we breathe comes from? The answer is in a sea of lava.

Where does the oxygen we breathe come from?

Our planet has undergone several oxygenation events, the best known of which dates back to 2.4 billion years ago. But before this, there was a phenomenon of “microoxygenation” , which occurred 100 million years ago and the causes of which are now emerging.

An international research group, led by scientists from the University of Washington, seems to have provided evidence of the causes that characterized this first oxygenation phenomenon.

The analysis of geological finds from Mount McRae Shale, in Western Australia, dating back 2.5 billion years , obtained by drilling techniques of volcanic sediments, allowed the researchers to verify an accentuated presence of metal-chemical residues, especially phosphoric and mercury , which would attest to a marked volcanic activity.

The researchers hypothesize that these pyroclastic events were the triggering cause , acting as “environmental catalysts”, which would have induced an accentuated evolutionary development in cyanobacteria and aerobic species of the time. These species, in fact, would have used the nutrients from the residues of volcanic activity, largely phosphorus, to develop the first phenomena of introduction of oxygen from biotic events to the Earth’s atmosphere.

“It is important, because the presence of oxygen in the atmosphere is fundamental: it is the main engine for the evolution of complex life ,” explained Roger Buick, a geologist at the University of Washington.

Although the researchers have not been able to identify the exact areas of manifestation of volcanic activity from this study, they remain firmly convinced of the volcano-induced “oxygen trigger” hypothesis.

Jana Meixnerová , an astrobiologist at the University of Washington, in relation to the event that followed the eruptions, said: “ During the sedimentary erosion of the Archaea, the fresh basalt rock would slowly dissolve, releasing phosphorus, an essential macronutrient in rivers … This would have fed microbes living in shallow coastal areas and caused an increase in biological productivity that would have created an oxygen spike as a by-product . ‘

This study represents a great step forward to understand the development of the Earth’s atmosphere , in conjunction with geological changes and the evolution of organisms capable of metabolizing the nutrients present in the Earth’s substrate and actively producing oxygen. The results obtained allow giving due importance to biological processes as key factors for the establishment of equilibrium in the atmospheric layers.

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