Origins of life

, Volume 12, Issue 3, pp 245–259

The prebiological paleoatmosphere: Stability and composition


  • Joel S. Levine
    • Atmospheric Sciences DivisionNASA Langley Research Center
  • Tommy R. Augustsson
    • Atmospheric Sciences DivisionNASA Langley Research Center
  • Murali Natarajan
    • Systems and Applied Sciences Corporation
Atmospheres and Planetology

DOI: 10.1007/BF00926894

Cite this article as:
Levine, J.S., Augustsson, T.R. & Natarajan, M. Origins Life Evol Biosphere (1982) 12: 245. doi:10.1007/BF00926894


In the past, it was generally assumed that the early atmosphere of the Earth contained appreciable quantities of methane (CH4) and ammonia (NH3). This was the type of atmosphere believed to be the most suitable environment for chemical evolution, the nonbiological formation of complex organic molecules, the precursors of living systems. Photochemical considerations suggest that a CH4−NH3 dominated early atmosphere was probably very short-lived, if it ever existed at all. Instead, an early atmosphere of carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitrogen (N2) is favored by photochemical as well as geological and geochemical considerations. Photochemical calculations also indicate that the total oxygen column density of the prebiological paleoatmosphere did not exceed 10−7 of the present atmospheric level.

Copyright information

© D. Reidel Publishing Co 1982