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Ultraviolet radiation and the photobiology of earth's early oceans

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)467-499
Number of pages33
JournalOrigins of life and evolution of biospheres
Volume30
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2000

Abstract

During the Archean era (3.9-2.5 Ga ago) the earth was dominated by an oceanic lithosphere. Thus, understanding how life arose and persisted in the Archean oceans constitutes a major challenge in understanding early Life on earth. Using a radiative transfer model of the late Archean oceans, the photobiological environment of the photic zone and the surface microlayer is explored at the time before the formation of a significant ozone column. DNA damage rates might have been approximately three orders of magnitude higher in the surface layer of the Archean oceans than on the present-day oceans, but at 30 m depth, damage may have been similar to the surface of the present-day oceans. However at this depth the risk of being transported to surface waters in the mixed layer was high. The mixed layer may have been inhabited by a low diversity W-resistant biota. But it could have been numerically abundant. Repair capabilities similar to Deinococcus radiodurans would be sufficient to survive in the mixed layer. Diversity may have been greater in the region below the mixed layer and above the light compensation point corresponding to today's 'deep chlorophyll maximum'. During much of the Archean the air-water interface was probably an uninhabitable extreme environment for neuston. The habitability of some regions of the photic zone is consistent with the evidence embodied in the geologic record, which suggests an oxygenated upper layer in the Archean oceans. During the early Proterozoic, as ozone concentrations increased to a column abundance above 1 x 10(17) cm(-2), UV stress would have been reduced and possibly a greater diversity of organisms could have inhabited the mixed layer. However, nutrient upwelling from newly emergent continental crusts may have been more significant in increasing total planktonic abundance in the open oceans and coastal regions than photobiological factors. The photobiological environment of the Archean oceans has implications for the potential cross-transfer of Life between other water bodies of the early Solar System, possibly on early Mars or the water bodies of a wet, early Venus.

    Research areas

  • DEEP-CHLOROPHYLL MAXIMUM, CARBON-DIOXIDE CONCENTRATIONS, UV-B IRRADIATION, SOLAR ULTRAVIOLET, OZONE DEPLETION, DEINOCOCCUS-RADIODURANS, ANTARCTIC PHYTOPLANKTON, MARINE PHOTOSYNTHESIS, OPTICAL-PROPERTIES, EARLY EVOLUTION

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