Abstract

Filamentous and shrub-like carbonate fabrics produced by in vivo cyanobacterial sheath calcification in stromatolites of the ca. 1200 Ma Society Cliffs Formation, Baffin and Bylot Islands, Arctic Canada, are 400 m.y. older than previously reported examples. In vivo sheath calcification is promoted by carbon dioxide concentrating mechanisms (CCMs) and is a direct ecophysiological link to atmospheric CO2 concentration. CCMs are induced in present-day cyanobacteria under experimental conditions when pCO2 is below ∼0.36% (∼10 times present atmospheric level, PAL). Society Cliffs calcified cyanobacteria consequently imply pCO2 levels of <0.36% at ca. 1200 Ma. This inference is consistent with marine carbon isotope modeling that suggests pCO2 of 7–10 PAL in the late Mesoproterozoic. Combined, petro-graphic, experimental, and modeling results therefore suggest that Mesoproterozoic pCO2 concentrations were not substantially different from Phanerozoic values and were significantly less than previous estimates of up to 200 PAL. Assuming 10% lower solar luminosity in the late Mesoproterozoic, pCO2 levels of 10 PAL or less require the presence of additional greenhouse gases for maintenance of an ice-free Earth. At 10 PAL pCO2, methane concentrations of 100–200 ppm would have been sufficient to sustain warm Earth surface conditions. The low atmospheric oxygen and limited marine sulfate concentrations required to sustain atmospheric methane provide additional support for sulfur isotope models that suggest protracted oxygenation of Earth's Proterozoic biosphere.

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