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Investigations into Crustal Composition and Oxidative Weathering in the Archean

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Archean oxidative weathering reactions were likely important O2 sinks that delayed the oxygenation of Earth’s atmosphere, as well as sources of bio-essential trace metals such as Mo to the biosphere. However, the rates of these reactions are difficult to quantify

Archean oxidative weathering reactions were likely important O2 sinks that delayed the oxygenation of Earth’s atmosphere, as well as sources of bio-essential trace metals such as Mo to the biosphere. However, the rates of these reactions are difficult to quantify experimentally at relevantly low concentrations of O2. With newly developed O2 sensors, weathering experiments were conducted to measure the rate of sulfide oxidation at Archean levels of O2, a level three orders of magnitude lower than previous experiments. The rate laws produced, combined with weathering models, indicate that crustal sulfide oxidation by O2 was possible even in a low O2 Archean atmosphere.

Given the experimental results, it is expected that crustal delivery of bio-essential trace metals (such as Mo) from sulfide weathering was active even prior to the oxygenation of Earth’s atmosphere. Mo is a key metal for biological N2 fixation and its ancient use is evidenced by N isotopes in ancient sedimentary rocks. However, it is typically thought that Mo was too low to be effectively bioavailable early in Earth’s history, given the low abundances of Mo found in ancient sediments. To reconcile these observations, a computational model was built that leverages isotopic constraints to calculate the range of seawater concentrations possible in ancient oceans. Under several scenarios, bioavailable concentrations of seawater Mo were attainable and compatible with the geologic record. These results imply that Mo may not have been limiting for early metabolisms.

Titanium (Ti) isotopes were recently proposed to trace the evolution of the ancient continental crust, and have the potential to trace the distribution of other trace metals during magmatic differentiation. However, significant work remains to understand fully Ti isotope fractionation during crust formation. To calibrate this proxy, I carried out the first direct measurement of mineral-melt fractionation factors for Ti isotopes in Kilauea Iki lava lake and built a multi-variate fractionation law for Ti isotopes during magmatic differentiation. This study allows more accurate forward-modeling of isotope fractionation during crust differentiation, which can now be paired with weathering models and ocean mass balance to further reconstruct the composition of Earth’s early continental crust, atmosphere, and oceans.

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2020