By Greg Neyman
© 2009, Old Earth Ministries
First Published 8 Apr 09
Today's Institute for Creation Research news article concerns a find of a supposed oxygen-rich rock that predates any previously known. The article by Brian Thomas is titled "Ancient Oxygen-Rich Rocks Confound Evolutionary Timescale."1
As Thomas points out, most scientists argue that the early earth had a 'reducing' atmosphere, which means it had little free oxygen. The reasons for this belief are spelled out in Thomas' article, so I urge you to read it first, before reading this rebuttal, so that you have the background information about this topic. I will include only a few of the key features here.
Why do scientists say the early earth had little oxygen? There are two main reasons. First, oxidized metals in rocks appear red. Ancient rocks called 'red beds' are often thought to indicate the earliest point in earth's history where there was free oxygen. The oldest of these red rock beds is about 2.3 billion years. Second, the first life forms had to be anaerobic. Cyanobacteria, otherwise known as blue-green algae, was the only life on earth for billions of years. It is this algae that contributed most of the oxygen to our ancient atmosphere, turning it into an atmosphere that could be used by animals to breathe. Cyanobacteria still exists today, and it thrives in oxygen-poor environments. Where there is an abundance of oxygen, it dies. Therefore, scientists conclude that since they thrived billions of years ago, there must not have been much oxygen.
As Thomas reports, geologists at Penn State have taken rock cores in Australia, and dated them to 3.46 billion years old. These core samples include jasper that is rich in hematite, which is an iron oxide, and indicates the presence of oxygen at the time that it formed. According to Thomas, the researchers have proven that the early earth had an oxygen atmosphere, which is, according to Thomas, exactly what the creation-flood model would predict.
The geologists examined the possibilities of how the hematite formed.2 (To read their news report on Penn State's website, click here). To summarize, the concluded that "this could only happen if the deep ocean contained oxygen and the iron rich fluids came into contact at high temperatures." The researchers then claim that to have this much oxygen at depth, there would have to be as much oxygen in the atmosphere as there is today. In other words, earth's early atmosphere was not a reducing atmosphere at all.
It is interesting to note that the geologists apparently make a mistake, or more appropriately, they did not do enough research to uncover all the facts...
To have this amount of oxygen, the Earth must have had oxygen producing organisms like cyanobacteria actively producing it, placing these organisms much earlier in Earth's history than previously thought.
Of course, Thomas jumps on this, claiming that "the evolutionary story must be amended yet again." Remember that the jasper was dated at 3.46 billion years. The oldest fossil evidence for cyanobacteria is about the same age, with two samples dated at 3.49 and 3.46 billion years.3,4 Since there is already cyanobacteria present at this time, there is no need whatsoever to alter earth's history books, nor amend the evolutionary story, as Thomas suggests.
The solution to this problem is found when you put the whole picture together, with the help of another research article.5,6 To summarize, prior to 2.5 billion years ago, the earth's atmosphere lacked oxygen. However, oxygen-producing cyanobacteria were present before this, and their oxygen output was apparently the same as it is today. The researchers in another article wondered where the oxygen was going, since it wasn't showing up in the rocks. Because of the algae, the ancient earth should have had an oxygen atmosphere, but something was converting, or reducing the oxygen and removing it from the atmosphere. The researchers suggest that submarine volcanoes,."
The researchers noted that about 2.5 billion years ago, stabilized continental land masses arose and terrestrial volcanoes appeared. Prior to this time, there were hardly any terrestrial volcanoes. Terrestrial volcanoes remove oxygen at a lesser rate than submarine volcanoes. Thus, the change from submarine to terrestrial volcanoes aided in the build-up of oxygen in our atmosphere.
Now, let's go back to the jasper. The researchers postulated that...
This could only happen if the deep ocean contained oxygen and the iron rich fluids came into contact at high temperatures. Ohmoto and his team believe that this specific layer of hematite formed when a plume of heated water, like those found today at hydrothermal vents, converted the iron compounds into hematite using oxygen dissolved in the deep ocean water.2
Hydrothermal vents are found at locations were active submarine volcanoes are located. So we have cyanobacteria producing oxygen, and underwater volcanics reducing the oxygen. Interestingly, one of the physical properties of vents is the presence of a significant amount of dissolved iron, thus we have a ready-made hematite factory.
By finding this jasper that was rich in hematite, the researchers validated the work of the other set of researchers by actually finding rocks that were the result of the reducing of our early atmosphere.
Contrary to young earth claims, there is no need to rewrite evolutionary history. The lack of free oxygen, even in the presence of oxygen-producing algae, can be explained by the tectonics of the Archaean Eon. Even though cyanobacteria was hard at work producing oxygen, oxygen-reducing zones at submarine volcanic sites (of which there were a lot during the Archaean Eon) elimated much of the free oxygen.
The end of the Archaean Eon, approximately 2.5 billion years ago, marks the division point where the earth's tectonics became more stabilized, and terrestrial volcanoes appeared, which led to a gradual increase in earth's oxygen.
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2 Deep Sea Rocks Point to Early Oxygen on Earth, Penn State news release, dated 24 Mar 2009. Located at http://live.psu.edu/story/38514
3 Archean Microfossils: A Reappraisal of Early Life on Earth, by Wladyslaw Altermann and Józef Kazmierczak, Research in Microbiology, Vol. 154, Issue 9, November 2003, pp. 611-617. Abstract available online.
5 Volcanoes Key to Earth's Oxygen Atmosphere, press release on Astrobiology.com, 3 September 2007
6 Palaeoclimate: Oxygen's Rise Reduced, by Timothy W. Lyons, Nature 448, 1005-1006 (30 August 2007). Online Summary.
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