New insights into the burial history of organic carbon on the early Earth

TitleNew insights into the burial history of organic carbon on the early Earth
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2004
AuthorsBjerrum, CJ, Canfield, DE
JournalGeochemistry Geophysics Geosystems

[1] The isotope record of organic matter and calcium carbonate is often used to infer the burial history of organic carbon through time. As organic carbon burial is widely held to control long-term oxygen production, the isotope record also relates to the production rates of oxygen on Earth. Current interpretations of the record suggest a long-term consistency in the proportion of total carbon buried as organic carbon (f ratio), with some important periods of much higher burial proportions. The isotope record is analyzed here with a new carbon isotope mass balance model, which considers submarine hydrothermal weathering of ocean crust as a significant removal pathway of inorganic carbon. With this model the f ratio is considerably reduced if isotopically depleted inorganic carbon is precipitated during hydrothermal weathering and if hydrothermal weathering dominates inorganic carbon removal from the surface environment. In contrast to previous calculations, our analysis of the carbon isotope record shows that organic carbon burial in the Archean accounted for only between 0% and 10% of the total carbon burial. These low burial proportions would have contributed to a slow accumulation of atmospheric oxygen in the Archean.