UW News

Roger Buick

November 27, 2017

Less life: Limited phosphorus recycling suppressed early Earth’s biosphere

As Earth's oxygen levels rose to near-modern levels over the last 800 million years, phosphorus levels increased, as well, according to modeling led by the UW's Michael Kipp and others. Accordingly, Kipp says, large phosphate deposits show up in abundance in the rock record at about this time. This is a Wyoming portion of The Phosphoria Formation, a deposit that stretches across several states in the western United States and is the largest source of phosphorus fertilizer in the country. The photo shows layers of phosphorus that are 10s of meters thick, shales the contain high concentrations of organic carbon and phosphorus. Kipp said many such deposits are documented over time but are rare in the Precambrian era. "Thus, they might represent a conspicuous temporal record of limited phosphorus recycling."

The amount of biomass – life – in Earth’s ancient oceans may have been limited due to low recycling of the key nutrient phosphorus, according to new research by the University of Washington and the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

January 17, 2017

Conditions right for complex life may have come and gone in Earth’s distant past

A 1.9-billion-year-old stromatolite — or mound made by microbes that lived shallow water — called the Gunflint Formation in northern Minnesota. The environment of the oxygen "overshoot" described in research by Michael Kipp, Eva Stüeken and Roger Buick may have included this sort of oxygen-rich setting that is suitable for complex life.

Conditions suitable to support complex life may have developed in Earth’s oceans — and then faded — more than a billion years before life truly took hold, a new University of Washington-led study has found.

May 9, 2016

Early Earth’s air weighed less than half of today’s atmosphere

swirly rocks

The idea that the young Earth had a thicker atmosphere turns out to be wrong. New research from the University of Washington uses bubbles trapped in 2.7 billion-year-old rocks to show that air at that time exerted at most half the pressure of today’s atmosphere. The results, published online May 9 in Nature Geoscience, reverse…

February 16, 2015

Ancient rocks show life could have flourished on Earth 3.2 billion years ago

photo of red rocks and blue sky

Some of the oldest rocks on the planet push back scientific estimates of when life could have covered the Earth by 1 billion years.