Production of hydrogen peroxide in the atmosphere of a Snowball Earth and the origin of oxygenic photosynthesis

December 12, 2006
103 (50) 18896-18899

Abstract

During Proterozoic time, Earth experienced two intervals with one or more episodes of low-latitude glaciation, which are probable “Snowball Earth” events. Although the severity of the historical glaciations is debated, theoretical “hard Snowball” conditions are associated with the nearly complete shutdown of the hydrological cycle. We show here that, during such long and severe glacial intervals, a weak hydrological cycle coupled with photochemical reactions involving water vapor would give rise to the sustained production of hydrogen peroxide. The photochemical production of hydrogen peroxide has been proposed previously as the primary mechanism for oxidizing the surface of Mars. During a Snowball, hydrogen peroxide could be stored in the ice; it would then be released directly into the ocean and the atmosphere upon melting and could mediate global oxidation events in the aftermath of the Snowball, such as that recorded in the Fe and Mn oxides of the Kalahari Manganese Field, deposited after the Paleoproterozoic low-latitude Makganyene glaciation. Low levels of peroxides and molecular oxygen generated during Archean and earliest Proterozoic non-Snowball glacial intervals could have driven the evolution of oxygen-mediating and -using enzymes and thereby paved the way for the eventual appearance of oxygenic photosynthesis.

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Acknowledgments

We thank C. Boxe, J. R. Leadbetter, and A. L. Sessions for helpful discussions and R. Pierrehumbert and an anonymous referee for helping improve this work. M.-C.L. and Y.L.Y. were supported by National Aeronautics and Space Administration Grant NNG06GF33G and astrobiology institutional support under Cooperative Agreement CAN-00-OSS-01. H.H. was supported by National Science Foundation Grant 00205512. J.L.K. and R.E.K. were supported by the Agouron Institute.

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Information & Authors

Information

Published in

Go to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Vol. 103 | No. 50
December 12, 2006
PubMed: 17138669

Classifications

Submission history

Received: November 15, 2005
Published online: December 12, 2006
Published in issue: December 12, 2006

Keywords

  1. atmospheric processes
  2. Paleoproterozoic
  3. photochemistry

Acknowledgments

We thank C. Boxe, J. R. Leadbetter, and A. L. Sessions for helpful discussions and R. Pierrehumbert and an anonymous referee for helping improve this work. M.-C.L. and Y.L.Y. were supported by National Aeronautics and Space Administration Grant NNG06GF33G and astrobiology institutional support under Cooperative Agreement CAN-00-OSS-01. H.H. was supported by National Science Foundation Grant 00205512. J.L.K. and R.E.K. were supported by the Agouron Institute.

Authors

Affiliations

Mao-Chang Liang [email protected]
Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences, California Institute of Technology, 1200 East California Boulevard, Pasadena, CA 91125;
Research Center for Environmental Changes, Academia Sinica, 128 Academia Road, Section 2, Nankang, Taipei 115, Taiwan
Hyman Hartman
Center for Biomedical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 31 Ames Street, Cambridge, MA 02139-4307; and
Robert E. Kopp
Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences, California Institute of Technology, 1200 East California Boulevard, Pasadena, CA 91125;
Joseph L. Kirschvink
Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences, California Institute of Technology, 1200 East California Boulevard, Pasadena, CA 91125;
Yuk L. Yung
Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences, California Institute of Technology, 1200 East California Boulevard, Pasadena, CA 91125;

Notes

To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: [email protected]
Communicated by Norman H. Sleep, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, October 6, 2006
Author contributions: M.-C.L., H.H., J.L.K., and Y.L.Y. designed research; M.-C.L. performed research; and M.-C.L., H.H., R.E.K., J.L.K., and Y.L.Y. wrote the paper.

Competing Interests

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

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    Production of hydrogen peroxide in the atmosphere of a Snowball Earth and the origin of oxygenic photosynthesis
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
    • Vol. 103
    • No. 50
    • pp. 18877-19213

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