by Huang G. et al., Nov 2021 in PrecambrianResearch
It is widely accepted that atmospheric pO2 < 1 ppm before the Great Oxidation Event. Yet a recent study found fossil micrometeorites (MMs) containing the oxidized iron species wüstite (FeO) and magnetite (Fe3O4) formed 2.7 billion years ago (Ga). How these MMs became oxidized is uncertain. Abundant O2 in the upper atmosphere and iron oxidation by CO2 have been suggested. However, photochemical reactions cannot produce sufficient O2, and oxidation by CO2 can only produce FeO, each individually failing to explain the formation of Fe3O4-only MMs. Using an oxidation model of iron MMs including photochemistry, we show that a >32% CO2 Archean atmosphere and different entry angles can generate the Fe3O4-only and Fe-FeO mixed composition MMs that have been discovered. Oxidation happens in two stages: by CO2 under brief melting, then by O2. Our results challenge existing constraints on Earth’s atmospheric CO2 concentration at 2.7 Ga and support a warm Late Archean despite the ‘faint young Sun’.