Global Biogeochemical Changes at Both Ends of the Proterozoic: Insights from Phosphorites

  • Papineau D
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The distribution of major phosphate deposits in the Precambrian sedimentary rock record is restricted to periods that witnessed global biogeochemical changes, but the cause of this distribution is unclear. The oldest known phosphogenic event occurred around 2.0 Ga and was followed, after more than 1.3 billion years, by an even larger phosphogenic event in the Neoproterozoic. Phosphorites (phosphate-rich sedimentary rocks that contain more than 15% P(2)O(5)) preserve a unique record of seawater chemistry, biological activity, and oceanographic changes. In an attempt to emphasize the potentially crucial significance of phosphorites in the evolution of Proterozoic biogeochemical cycles, this contribution provides a review of some important Paleoproterozoic phosphate deposits and of models proposed for their origin. A new model is then presented for the spatial and temporal modes of occurrence of phosphorites along with possible connections to global changes at both ends of the Proterozoic. Central to the new model is that periods of atmospheric oxygenation may have been caused by globally elevated rates of primary productivity stimulated by high fluxes of phosphorus delivery to seawater as a result of increased chemical weathering of continental crust over geological timescales. The striking similarities in biogeochemical evolution between the Paleo- and Neoproterozoic are discussed in light of the two oldest major phosphogenic events and their possible relation to the stepwise rise of atmospheric oxygen that ultimately resulted in significant leaps in biological evolution.

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  • Dominic Papineau

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