The Archean Eon (4000 ma ma)

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1 The Archean Eon (4000 ma ma) December November October September August July June May April March February January 0 Ma Phanerozoic 540 Ma Proterozoic 2500 Ma Archean 4000 Ma Hadean 4600 Ma C M P Modern Geologic Time Scale Four Eons of Geologic Time first large continents oldest surviving rocks Oldest surviving continental crust = Ga stable continents, atmosphere, and oceans plate tectonics? Acasta Gneiss, Canada World s Oldest Rock!!

2 Early Archean Rocks Gneiss - granite plutons Greenstone - volcanic island arcs, ocean crust Banded Iron Formation deep ocean sediments Isua Supercrustal Rocks and Akia Terrane volcano-sedimentary rocks BIFs Cherts Greywacke Pillow Basalts No terrestrial sediments. No shallow shelf sediments. Steep-sided volcanic islands. Banded Iron Formation (BIF) Ga Chert interlayered with iron oxide (magnetite). Deposition on deep ocean floor. Must be a source of oxygen - photosynthesis? Mechanism for depositing BIF is unknown (why the alternating layers of silica and iron?

3 3.5 Ga Pillow Basalts, Komati Greenstone Belt, South Africa Pillow Basalts - formed by the eruption of lava underwater. Warrawoona Group, Australia Archean Plate Tectonics Many small plates - oceanic crust and volcanic island arcs. Mantle is hotter than today. Crust is recycled rapidly. Island arcs collide, forming many small proto-continents.

4 Archean Crust Continental crust develops in island arcs over subduction zones. Granite plutons are emplaced within the arcs by rising magma. Erosion of volcanic islands produces greywacke. island arc Lava flows and greywacke Archean Crust Collision of island arcs creates larger masses of continental crust (cratons). Archean cratons consist of pods of gneiss (metamorphosed granite) surrounded by greenstone belts (regions of metamorphosed basalt and greywacke. gneiss greenstone belt Pilbara Archean Shield, Northwestern Australia

5 Archean greenstone belts and cratons gneiss gneiss gneiss gneiss Greenstone belt gneiss Archean Cratons, North America Continental Cores of Archean Rock

6 What about life? Let s start with the evidence. What are the characteristics of early life? Assume earliest life is simplest - Archaea / Bacteria. First organisms appear to have been hyperthermophiles. Characteristics of Early Life Hyperthermophiles - thrive at high temperatures. Most are anaerobic methane producers Obsidian Hole, Yellowstone Pk. Octopus Spring, Yellowstone Pk.

7 What can we look for? Assume earliest life is simple - Archaea / Bacteria. Microfossils - organic remains in chert. Sedimentary structures produced by bacterial mats. Chemical signatures of metabolism. Carbon isotope fractionation Carbon isotope fractionation CO 2 can contain either isotope of carbon- 12 C or 13 C Most metabolic chemical reactions prefer 12 C Chemoautotrophism Photosynthesis Methanogenesis Organic carbon becomes enriched in 12 C - it is isotopically light relative to inorganic carbon. Few known inorganic processes produce light carbon. However - some hydrothermal processes might!!!! Isotopic ratios can be measured. Ratio not affected by metamorphism! Graphite (carbon) in chert Isua Banded Iron Formation (BIF) Ga Carbon in chert is isotopically light (enriched in C 12 ). May have been produced by life. Circumstantial evidence for life if found in rock with a sedimentary origin. Archean BIF

8 Isua Chert hand sample Pilbara Supergroup Warrawoona Gp. Western Australia 3.45 Ga Apex Chert microfossils? North Pole stromatolites? Apex Chert Microfossils 3.45 Ga Brasier et al. (2002) NOT microfossils! NOT organic in origin! Hydrothermal springs can produce similar structures in chert from inorganic carbon.

9 Apex Chert cyanobacterial fossils? Living Cyanobacteria (also called blue-green algae ) Fig Tree Chert, South Africa, 3.0 Ga Microfossils in various stages of cell division?

10 Buck Reef Chert South Africa 3.4 Ga Buck Reef Chert carbonaceous filaments 12C enrichment consistent with photosynthesis banded chert deposits interpreted to be the remains of microbial mats Photosynthesis under anaerobic conditions. Photosynthetic microbial mats in the 3,416-Myr-old ocean Michael M. Tice and Donald R. Lowe Nature 431, (30 September 2004) carbonaceous filaments Stromatolites Bacteria form mat-like colonies. Sediment particles settle on the mat. Bacterial grow upward, trapping sediment. Process repeats, forming stacked laminae of mud. Stacks take on a variety of shapes and sizes. Laminated sediment is preserved in rock. Problem: similar structures can be produced inorganically. Modern Stromatolites, Shark Bay, Australia

11 Fossil Stromatolite Pilbara Supergroup, Warrawoona Gp. Late Archean Stromatolites, South Africa

12 Life in the Archean When did it evolve - Hadean, Archean? Methanogens - anerobic, methane-producing bacteria Cyanobacteria? - photosynthesis - oxygen producing. Bacterial mat communities - stromatolites? We really don t know much about Archean life - very little good fossil evidence preserved in unmetamorphosed rock. Late Archean: Evidence for oldest large continent with river systems Pongola Group and Witwatersrand Supergroup, South Africa. 3.0 to 2.7 Ga. Tidal flat sedimentary rocks. Large area of terrestrial sedimentary rocks - conglomerates, sandstones, shales. Oldest well-preserved subaerial environments. Witwatersrand Conglomerate, South Africa, 3.0 Ga

13 Witwatersrand Conglomerate, South Africa, 3.0 Ga Archean Atmosphere Similar to Hadean - high CO 2, N 2, low O 2 Oxygen must have been produced by cyanobacteria in the oceans - quickly combined with iron (BIFs). Evidence in sedimentary rocks for < 1% present levels of oxygen in the atmosphere. Detrital pyrite and uraninite in conglomerates. Lack of red beds - sediments with oxidized iron. Pyrite is destroyed by exposure to oxygen - it is not found as a detrital mineral in terrestrial sedimentary rocks after the Archean. Pyrite in Witwatersrand Conglomerate

14 Archean Atmosphere What kept the Archean Earth warm? No evidence of glaciation, yet Sun was 80% as bright as today. Need a Greenhouse Gas like CO 2. Not enough CO 2 in the Archean to warm the Earth. CH 4 (methane) is produced by anaerobic bacteria that metabolize hydrogen. Very little methane in the modern atmosphere - reacts quickly with oxygen. Methane haze in the atmosphere of Saturn s moon Titan Archean Atmosphere 1000X present level of methane? Warming Earth favorable to methanogenic bacteria - more methane - more greenhouse. Did the Earth become very hot? Methane reacts with sunlight to form a smog-like haze. Too much methane = too much haze, blocks sunlight, cooling the Earth. Negative feedback - tends toward equilibrium.

15 Earth in the Archean - N 2, CO 2, CH 4 atmosphere No blue skies!

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