Encyclopedia of Astrobiology

Living Edition
| Editors: Muriel Gargaud, William M. Irvine, Ricardo Amils, Henderson James Cleaves, Daniele Pinti, José Cernicharo Quintanilla, Michel Viso

Oxygenation of the Earth’s Atmosphere

  • David C. Catling
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-642-27833-4_1141-3



Earth’s oxygenation is an increase in the concentration of atmospheric molecular oxygen (O2) from levels of less than 1 ppmv before 2.45 Ga to 21 % by volume today. Larger amounts of atmospheric oxygen became possible because of shifts in the competition between the production of oxygen derived from photosynthesis and the rate of consumption of oxygen by different geological processes. Evidence from ancient rocks suggests that oxygenation happened in steps, with a first rise of O2 at 2.45–2.32 Ga and a second around 0.75–0.58 Ga. The latter increase was a precursor to the appearance of macroscopic animals.


The present atmosphere contains (by volume) 78.05 % N2, 20.95 % O2, 0.93 % Ar, 0.038 % CO2, and various trace gases. With the exception of argon, the concentrations of all of the major gases are biologically modulated. Oxygen, in particular, is almost solely biogenic because it has no significant abiotic source....


Rise of oxygen Oxygenation 
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References and Further Reading

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Earth and Space SciencesUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA