Simple calculations show that if deep-water H2S concentrations increased beyond a critical threshold during oceanic anoxic intervals of Earth history, the chemocline separating sulfidic deep waters from oxygenated surface waters could have risen abruptly to the ocean surface (a chemocline upward excursion). Atmospheric photochemical modeling indicates that resulting fluxes of H2S to the atmosphere (>2000 times the small modern flux from volcanoes) would likely have led to toxic levels of H2S in the atmosphere. Moreover, the ozone shield would have been destroyed, and methane levels would have risen to >100 ppm. We thus propose (1) chemocline upward excursion as a kill mechanism during the end-Permian, Late Devonian, and Cenomanian–Turonian extinctions, and (2) persistently high atmospheric H2S levels as a factor that impeded evolution of eukaryotic life on land during the Proterozoic.

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