The biota as ancient and modern modulator of the Earth's atmosphere
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The composition of the Earth's atmosphere is thought to have been highly modified by surface microbiotas and modulated around quantities of gases optimized for growth of these microbiotas. Three diagrams are presented: The first shows a probable order of appearance of major metabolic pathways in microbes that interact with sediment and atmosphere. It is based on evolutionary considerations and was devised independently of the fossil record. The second diagram shows the qualitative emissions and removals of atmospheric gases by obligately anaerobic organisms; it approximates those processes thought to have dominated the Earth's atmosphere in Archean times. The third diagrams gaseous emissions and removals by the major groups of organisms, including oxygen-releasing and utilizing forms. Biological gas exchange processes thought to have dominated the atmosphere since the Proterozoic are thus represented.
Key WordsGaia Paleoatmospheres Atmospheric oxygen Photosynthesis Microbial gas exchange
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