Abstract

The loss of Fe from some pre–2.2 Ga paleosols has been considered by previous investigators as the best evidence for a reduced atmosphere prior to 2.2 Ga. I have examined the behavior of Fe in both pre–and post–2.2 Ga paleosols from depth profiles of Fe3+Ti, Fe2+Ti, and ΣFe/Ti ratios, and Fe3+Ti vs. Fe2+Ti plots. This new approach reveals a previously unrecognized history of paleosols. Essentially all paleosols, regardless of age, retain some characteristics of soils formed under an oxic atmosphere, such as increased Fe3+Ti ratios from their parental rocks. The minimum oxygen pressure (PO2) for the 3.0–2.2 Ga atmosphere is calculated to be about 1.5% of the present atmospheric level, which is the same as that for the post–1.9 Ga atmosphere.

The loss of ΣFe, common in paleosol sections of all ages, was not due to a reducing atmosphere, but to reductive dissolution of ferric hydroxides formed under an oxic atmosphere. This reductive dissolution of ferric hydroxides occurred either (1) after soil formation by hydrothermal fluids or (2) during and/or after soil formation by organic acids generated from the decay of terrestrial organic matter. Terrestrial biomass on the early continents may have been more extensive than previously recognized.

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