The world of science is full of mysteries and puzzles, and scientists are always willing to do their best in the pursuit of answers to these fascinating questions. One of the most interesting and difficult to ascertain questions scientists had to answer was the unknown origin of life on our planet. Well,
- The Earth was covered by thick sheets of ice 720 to 640 million years ago
- There used to be one single huge continent – Rodinia
- As the continent began to split, sediments reached the ocean, draining the CO2 and locking the Earth in ice
- Carbon dioxide was pumped into the atmosphere by huge underwater eruptions
- Sediments from the volcanoes heated up the planet and made it ideal for multicellular life
The study’s lead author, Dr. Tom Gernon from the University of Southampton published the British team’s findings in the journal Nature Geoscience.
The Earth could be found rotating around its star 720 to 640 million years ago, covered in ice; all of a sudden, its single huge continent, Rodinia, began to crack.
As it did so, huge quantities of sediments started falling into the oceans, and sucking up all of the atmosphere’s carbon dioxide.
By doing so, the planet’s heat trapping mechanism became unusable, and Earth remained frozen in ice like a fancy party sculpture.
However, underwater volcanoes soon woke up; huge volcanic creases started spewing carbon dioxide into the air, along with sediments trapped in the planet’s core.
These sediments contained a few elements vital to the existence of multicellular life – phosphorus, calcium, and magnesium, and managed to form huge lumps of minerals called cap carbonates.
As this volcanic material, so vital to life, began depositing itself on the ocean floors, it started a chemical chain reaction that deeply and profoundly changed the Earth’s ocean’s biogeochemistry.
The unusually high phosphorous deposits on the ocean floor in that time frame were widely believed to be the origin of animal life on the planet.
Along with the cap carbonates that contained all these minerals essential to life, the atmosphere also saw a huge increase in its oxygen levels.
As it was known before, life forms before this literally world shattering event were single cellular organisms, mostly bacteria, floating around the ocean floor.
With the life-essential phosphorous now present in huge quantities in the world oceans, and with levels of atmospheric oxygen never before seen, multicellular organisms like algae started to appear.
After that, the algae and cyanobacteria started to photosynthesize, as algae and cyanobacteria are known to do, leading to an even bigger increase in atmospheric oxygen, and producing the necessary minerals for animal life to start evolving.
The importance of the study is very easy to underestimate. Scientists have been trying pretty much forever to discover how animal life managed to evolve on Earth, and now they finally have an answer.
This research could very well turn out to be a Rosetta stone for biologists, geologists, chemists, biogeochemists, and even astrophysicists, as they all know more about the origin of animal life.
Plus, the fact that one of the most powerful and destructive forces on the planet was actually the source of animal life is quite impressive indeed.
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