back to article Oxygen pollution began earlier than we ever thought

Earth's atmosphere had oxygen in it 50-100m years earlier than anyone ever thought, according to new research from NASA. The scientists were studying kilometre long core samples from Western Australia, in a bid to understand conditions on our planet before the rise of oxygen in the atmosphere, known as the Great Oxidation Event …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Some mistake surely

    The results do not support the conclusion. The results just say that O2 was found earlier than first thought. No one has ever suggested that the O2 in our atmosphere has anything other than a biological origin. Whats next FFS abiogenesis of oil.

  2. Mike Richards Silver badge

    'Whats next FFS abiogenesis of oil'?

    Strange you should mention that - abiogenic petroleum still has its believers.

    Thomas Gold's Mantle methane hypothesis suggests that organic molecules have migrated upwards from the deep interior and becoem trapped in shallow structures. There was an intriguing project in Central Sweden where the state energy company Vattenfall drilled several kilometres into the igneous rocks of the Siljan Ring. The rocks at that depth should have been devoid of hydrocarbons, but in fact the well recovered around 100 barrels of an oily substance whose chemistry suggests it did NOT come from the overlying sediments or had migrated from conventional hydrocarbon reserves.

    AFAIK there has never been a satisfactory answer to what came out of the Siljan Ring.

    The MMT still has some adherents in Russia and amongst those who believe that the suggested source rocks for Arabian oil could never have produced so much petroleum. But it's fair to say that 99% of geologists think the tiger in your tank started with pond slime.

  3. Outcast

    patently obvious

    The Perthians shoulda took a patent out on the oxygen around WA back then... They'd have made a killing !!

    Outcast (Aussie)

  4. Tanuki

    The more things change....

    How long before the environmentalists start complaining about Oxygen as a 'pollutant' and saying we should push to go back to a Methane-based atmosphere?

    [They'll be arguing for the re-unification of Pangea next]

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  6. Steve Brammer

    What will the creationists think?

    What will the creationists in the current US government think. I thought that they believed that the whole Earth is only 6000 years old. They're not going to take too kindly to their tax dollars paying for NASA to do research that disproves their creationist beliefs. :-)

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re Oxygen pollution began earlier than we ever thought

    There's probably a prehistoric scrapyard full of rusting cars yet to be discovered.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ Tanuki

    Heh heh heh, nice !

    I had wondered if anybody else had noticed that the "let the earth return to a natural state" bigots are now advocating we halt climate change.

    Next up - prevent earthquakes, weld the plates together.

    Whatever happened to " it's warm in here, open a window" ?

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    No don't stop it.

    Good god why would you want to stop climate change all the lovely things this planet has been through and we would try to defang the one way it has of ridding it's self of unhealthy concentrations of a single species you would then have to wait on the gentle mercies of a nice asteroid coming in and doing the same thing. Pretty rich for a race of beings that can't be bothered to use condoms to avoid disease . We can't even stop killing each other for stupid reasons much less change the climate the way we want why worry about some deluded peoples wants yes I know we should do this and that to help save the earth leave it alone it will save it's self and get rid of most of us in the process if thats starting now or not it will eventually happen so what.

  10. heystoopid


    And the answer to the question is 42 , said "Deep Thought"

  11. Dominic (The Pimp) Connor

    The Earth is a garden

    Even without CO2 and CH4 altering the weather, we know of many events like the Oxygen one which would make us extinct.

    For the vast majority of Earth's history, humans would be killed stone dead by the atmosphere. But we are well enough evolved for the current conditions that many religious people genuinely believe the environment was designed for us. Greenpeace et al have a modern version of this myth that "natural" always equals good for us.

    Even with the most scary and improbable events of climate change, Earth will have a viable ecosystem, the variable is whether there any any humans in it.

    The long term survival of humans can only be engineered, it we let it "just happen natrually", an ordinary non-artificial event will kill us off. We are going to have to manage the Earth.

    We don't have all the technology we need for that, and neither do we demonstrate the necessary wisdom either. Look at the number of major decision makers who believe in homoeopathy, or have a superstitious fear oif nuclear or genetic technologies, or even who ask God what they should do.

  12. Ole Juul Silver badge

    Re: The Earth is a garden

    Thanks Dominic, for a very sensible perspective on the environmental issue. My take, however, is a little more radical.

    It's those damned plants. Once they really got going, they just wouldn't stop reproducing. Eventually they got completely out of control and completely polluted the earth with their rotting waste while all the time spewing oxygen into the atmosphere until most other life forms were destroyed. The earth was never the same after that.

    Fight back! Chop down a tree today and help save the earth! Actually, Christmas is my favourite time of year. I get to take one of those nasty trees into the house, dress it up like an idiot, and torture it until it finally dries up and dies. It's a very satisfying time of year for anyone who wants to do their bit to help save the earth.

  13. Edward Amsden

    Re: What will the creationists think?

    The methods NASA (and any other agency) use to date samples etc are based on evolutionary assumptions. Dating these samples at 50-100 million years does not "prove" that the earth is millions or billions of years old because the dating method is based on the assumption that the earth is millions of years old. That's called "circular reasoning."

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  15. David Wilkinson

    Massive climate change = mass extinction.

    I am not an environmental nut, but I vote for a climate consistent with humans still thriving a 1000 years from now.

  16. Dave

    Religious Recycling

    The obvious way to reconcile the dinosaurs and the creationists is to assume that whoever built the planet in 4000BC recycled stuff from previous planets, hence finding all the dinosaur remains and core samples that suggest it's a lot older.

    Green creationism!

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Re: What will the creationists think?

    Unless of course we look at carbon dating, which is proven due to the half life of the carbon atoms, which gives us good reason to assume the Earth is millions of years old at least, so no, it isn't what you'd really call circular reasoning.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Tape recorder?

    ".......someone had left a giant tape recorder running, keeping a tidy record of the state of the planet throughout the ages."

    Wait 'til they get to the bit where God forgot how important it was and taped his Michael Bolton collection over it.

    Okay, okay, I know. I'm getting my coat now, see?


  19. David Ralston

    @Re: What will the creationists think?

    "Unless of course we look at carbon dating, which is proven due to the half life of the carbon atoms, which gives us good reason to assume the Earth is millions of years old at least, so no, it isn't what you'd really call circular reasoning."

    Dare I say carbon dating is only a theory! This is what the scientific community states as a "fact". Which is the basic problem with creationism vs evolution. You are trying to shove "theories presented as facts" down our throats. Present them as theories and the scientific community in evolution would have more acceptance. Just like the creationism side of the house use "theories presented as facts" -- although I have more belief in the creationists viewpoint.

  20. Michael Carter

    Re: Dare I say carbon dating is only a theory!

    Carbon dating isn't a "theory", it's a example of radiometric dating which is based on a well established scientific fact: radioactive decay. Furthermore, carbon dating is used primarily in archaeological dating, not geological dating. The half-life of carbon-14 is far too short for dating rocks and fossils.

    It sounds to me that you are exceptionally ignorant of the means by which scientists obtain knowledge about the world. I've never had anything "shoved" down my throat by a scientist and I can feel fully justified in believing that most scientists aren't interested in trying to force their views on the masses. The same cannot be said for certain members of the religious community.

  21. Dave

    @David Ralston

    Carbon dating is only a theory that is backed up by observations. Core samples taken from rocks match the theory and, as is common with science, the theory is accepted as fact until or unless something comes along to cast doubt upon it. Newton's Laws of Motion are pretty accurate at slow speeds, but break down when you go fast enough, hence the revision by Einstein.

    After the nuclear tests last century the system breaks down due to the increase in radiocarbon from manmade causes.

  22. David Ralston

    Dare I say carbon dating is only a theory!

    But when Carbon or RD is presented as FACTUAL evidence is bull. We have NO idea what the world was like in 100BC -- ziltch nothing. We have no idea how much radiation, oxygen, carbon, smog, etc.. existed .. NOTHING. Our obvservational window on these theories is way to short to extrapolate that information back gazillions of years.

    Ever put a frog in a hyperbaric chamber?? They grow HUGE!! What about a tomato? yes there is scientific evidence available on these one. Wonder what would happen if you put a lizard in there.. Maybe Mr. Dino himself appears.

  23. Alistair

    @Nasty Ralston

    Eugh. You are a frog-torturing creationist.

    If you really think the Earth in 100BC (i.e. 2107 spins around the sun ago) was so different to today, that we know "ziltch" about it, then I suppose you are entitled to your beliefs. The rest of us are somewhat more enlightened.

  24. Fogcat

    @David Ralston

    Oh please oh please.... let's see the scientific evidence for giant frogs. A link will do.

  25. Aaron

    @David Ralston

    "Our obvservational window on these theories is way to short to extrapolate that information back gazillions of years."

    That's 'observational', David. I know you have trouble with the long words, though, so don't sweat it this time. I shall have to take marks off if you do it again, though.

    And it's awfully funny how the 'obvservational' window is 'way to short' to extrapolate when someone is trying to do so in support of a claim opposed to yours, while when it's in *support* of what you're saying you apparently have no difficulty in finding the creationist viewpoint more plausible.

    I'm not even going to try to sort you out, because I know good and well you are not at home to it. I shall simply call you a babbling fool and move on.

  26. David Ralston

    @Aaron (tomatoes)

    The point I am making here, that you obviously aren't understanding is that "scientific theories presented as facts" are just as good as "religious theories presented as facts".

    Both are theories once you accept them as theories (not facts) life is much better.

    What the atmosphere is like for either carbon or RD plays a HUGE role in the date determined. Since we don't know what that was like for either method we assume this to be true, which may/may not be. Look what happened in Yemen over the weekend. What kind of atmospheric changes exist in that area, now? Does carbon/RD science even care? Probably not.

  27. Aaron


    Are you too stupid to recognize the difference between theories for which there is reproducible support both empirical and experimental, and 'theories' for which the only support is you and other idiots really, really, *really* wanting them to be accurate?

  28. Sweep

    @David Ralston


    Scientific theories are based on observable facts, and are used to explain and interpret those facts.

    Religious theories on the other hand are based on a work of fiction.

  29. David Ralston


    Again, RD/carbon dating are NOT observable FACTS. You are subjecting your belief that this must be accurate. There is no FACTUAL dating mechanism in place today. They are all based upon assumptions that this thing I just found decomposed meets these guidelines established by "the scientific community" so it must be xxx years old. The theory of RD/carbon dating is too frequently cited as fact -- when in reality there is no way this is accurate +/- any number of years without knowing what happen to the enviroment around it during all of those years. Eg;. Yemen has just did what to the artifacts/bodies located there? How old are they now? Did they just age hundreds of years? Unfortunately as I said before -- RD/carbon dating doesn't care about atmosphere .. only that this theory is subjected to my belief system that this thing must be xxx years old.

  30. Peter Mellor

    Theories vs "facts" (was Re: What will the creationists think?)

    David Ralston comments (1st October 2007): "Dare I say carbon dating is only a theory! This is what the scientific community states as a "fact". Which is the basic problem with creationism vs evolution. You are trying to shove "theories presented as facts" down our throats. Present them as theories and the scientific community in evolution would have more acceptance."

    Here we go again! Science does not deal in "facts", in the naive sense of indisputable absolute truths; it can only establish theories. A scientific theory is a conceptual model of the universe which unites a certain class of observations so that they can be understood as a whole and which enables us to predict future observations so that the theory can be tested. A theory becomes "established" by having been tested (exposed to being contradicted by observation) and not falsified (in other words, its predictions are borne out by observation). An established theory is as close to a fact as scientific truth gets, and many scientific truths are so well established that only the deranged would seriously doubt them, but all scientific theories are open to test and possible falsification.

    Science proceeds by continually improving its theories. The ultimate "truth" may be unknowable, but successive theories are ever more accurate approximations to "truth", as shown by the accuracy of the predictions that we can make using them.

    This is now the generally accepted view of science, and was first systematically described by the philosopher Karl Popper in "The Logic of Scientific Discovery" in 1959 (originally published in German in 1934). Popper was inspired by the supplanting of Newtonian dynamics in the early 1900's by Einstein's theory of relativity: a view of the universe that had been accepted as "fact" for nearly 200 years had been rejected in favour of a new theory that better explained certain experimental and astronomical observations.

    Popper held that what makes scientific knowledge "scientific" is that it is open to experimental falsification and replacement by better theories. Other types of statement may be "true", but are not falsifiable, and so are not scientific, e.g., "Your face is beautiful." may be true for your mother, but not for me.

    I said "Here we go again!" at the outset, since it is necessary to explain the nature of scientific knowledge ad infinitum (or ad nauseam), to people who seem unable to grasp that it is always necessary to live with some residual doubt, and that science is not just another fixed body of unquestionable dogma, but a self-correcting process of acquisition of knowledge. Above all, it is based upon objective evidence gained from experiment and observation.

    Scientific theories fit together. (Where they don't yet match up, scientists are working hard to reconcile them, as in the current attempts to reconcile general relativity with quantum theory.) Theories of nuclear behaviour (e.g., decay of radioactive substances), chemistry (e.g., reactions between oxygen and other elements), physics (e.g., the greenhouse effect), and geology (e.g., vulcanism, plate tectonics) can all be brought to bear on the problem of explaining the early history of planet Earth.

    Carbon dating is not a "theory": it is a method of dating substances based upon the theory of the decay of radiocarbon. It can only be applied with reasonable accuracy to human artifacts and to biological remains up to around 60,000 years old, due to the relatively short half-life of carbon-14. For older substances, longer lived radio-isotopes must be used for radiometrics, or other evidence must be used (geological, astronomical, etc.). The investigators of the ice cores would have used every shot in their scientific lockers to have dated their samples, and loads of theories about the chemical reactions between oxygen and iron, silicon, etc., to estimate the proportion of oxygen in the atmosphere at the relevant times.

    Guesswork? Of course! All science is "guesswork" (i.e., theory) but it is the kind of sublime inspired guesswork that raises mankind above the brutes and closer to the gods (if these exist, of course).

    Given everything that we have learned through science (even just during the past two hundred years), the theories that the Earth is around 4.5 billion years old, that evolution gave rise to all of the living species that we now observe, and that free oxygen was not present in the Earth's original atmosphere but first appeared at some intermediate point (to be measured more precisely by the investigations described in the article) now have the same status as the "fact" that the Earth is round (or a slightly oblate spheroid, to be more scientifically precise).

    Belief in the literal truth of primitive myths belongs to the infancy of humanity. The fundamentalist belief in the inerrancy of bronze-age middle-eastern texts is a wish to revert to that infantile state: Daddy (God) knows best and will tell us what to think! (I say "revert" advisedly, since the fundamentalist mind-set arose (in Christianity at least) only in the late 19th Century.)

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ Ole Juul

    You are my hero! And here I thought I was alone in my one-man-crusade against the evils of dihydrogen monoxide.

    Nature kills people! She kills indiscriminately and she needs to be put into her place. In short, we need to make Earth our bitch, so to speak.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ 'Whats next FFS abiogenesis of oil'?

    Good grief - there's one born every day, eh?

    The Siljan drilling was a monumental failure. Unlike geologically-supported oil prospects, T. Gold's chosen site in Sweden yielded oil at a cost of around $1,000,000 per barrel.

    Most of that oil was shown to have been produced by lubricants used in the drilling process itself, while the rest had clearly migrated from nearby tar pits.

    Effectively, T Gold's drilling operation at Siljan was ample proof that Abiogenetic Oil is an utter crock.

    He was never qualified to offer opinions and theories on geology, and his abiogenetic oil theory is geologically-illiterate enough to prove as much.

    He mistakenly seems to consider oil to be a deposit, like other minerals we mine, and he offers the mistaken theory that primeval CH4 can *somehow* combine to form heavier organic molecules whilst migrating up through the earth's crust.

    To put the final nail in the coffin for this ridiculous nonsense of T. Gold's, I can simply point out that C14 analysis shows that the oil we mine has an organic origin - T.Gold's pathetically inadequate response to that is that his primeval CH4 has been "tainted" by organic carbon during its migration.

    PFFFFFTTTTTT!!!!!!!!!!! T.Gold's lunatic rubbish is *almost* as silly as the utter rubbish spouted by creationists.

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