Experiment sheds new light on prehistoric ocean conditions

A NEW EXPERIMENT BY IOWA STATE UNIVERSITY’S ELIZABETH SWANNER THAT EVALUATES THE REDUCTION OF IRON IN PREHISTORIC OCEANS MAY REINTERPRET THE CONDITIONS UNDER WHICH IRON-RICH SEDIMENTARY ROCK IS FORMED.

Swanner, an assistant professor of geological and atmospheric sciences, was part of an international research team including researchers from the University of Tuebingen in Germany and the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing. The team modeled the prehistoric ocean, similar to that of the Archean Era 2.5 billion years ago within a graduated cylinder.

“We really only wanted to simulate it in the vertical dimension, so we used a graduated cylinder and modified it,” Swanner said.

In a previous experiment, the researchers had modified the cylinder to simulate an Archean ocean with large amounts of iron and no oxygen except for what was made by cyanobacteria. Ports along the cylinder’s side allowed for sampling at various levels.

“We were studying cyanobacteria because these are the organisms which we think put all of the oxygen in the atmosphere originally,” she said.

The research, recently published by Scientific Reports, showed that despite the oxygenation by the cyanobacteria, much of the iron did not remain oxidized but was reduced again into its dissolved form.

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