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Life Exploded On Earth 600 Million Years Ago After Slow Rise Of Oxygen

First Posted: Dec 22, 2015 11:14 AM EST

Researchers have arrived at the conclusion that life exploded on Earth 600 million years ago, after there was a gradual increase of oxygen levels in the oceans and atmosphere. It took about 100 million years for oxygen levels to lead to the creation of life, according to a study led by the University College London.

"Oxygen was like a slow fuse to the explosion of animal life. Tracking how oxygen increased is the first step towards understanding why it took so long," David Catling, coauthor of the study said in a news release. "Ultimately, a grasp of geologic controls on oxygen levels can help us understand whether animal-like life might exist or not on Earth-like planets elsewhere."

Scientists have always questioned how the Earth's oceans and atmosphere became oxygenated and if animal life existed before or after there was increasing oxygen levels. The researchers' found that there were oxygen levels began increasing earlier than previously thought. This led to the early animal evolution, which increased as oxygen levels rose.

The team took their research back to 770-520 million years ago (Ma) where they used new tracers in rocks found in Canada, the U.S. and China to investigate what was happening as oxygen levels were widespread across the globe. The researchers gathered rock samples were taken from different locations from under the ocean to determine the oxygen levels in the Earth's oceans and atmosphere. The researchers measured the rocks' selenium isotopes, which indicated that it took about 100 million years for the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere to increase from under one percent to over 10 percent.   

"We want to find out how the evolution of life links to the evolution of our climate," said Dr. Philip Pogge von Strandmann, lead author of the study from UCL. "The question on how strongly life has actively modified Earth's climate, and why the Earth has been habitable for so long is extremely important for understanding both the climate system, and why life is on Earth in the first place."

The researchers' findings indicates that animal life began taking place much earlier as oxygen levels rose, this was the first big expansion of animal life.

The findings of this study were published in Nature Communications.

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