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Proceedings Paper

The evolution of ocean color
Author(s): Victor Ariel Gallardo; Carola Espinoza
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Paper Abstract

Analog examples of what primeval oceans might have looked in the Precambrian are probably extant in various regions and at various size scales in present day oceans albeit they have not been sufficiently recognized and/or studied. The Eastern Boundary Current Ecosystems (EBCEs), with their characteristic high productivity-inducing coastal upwelling events, their extensive and intensive anoxic/hypoxic water column and methane and sulfide-rich benthic environment, appear to represent such analogs. Moreover, recent studies have shown that they possess diverse anaerobic prokaryotic communities of mat-forming large multi-cellular filamentous bacteria similar to fossils found in Archean and Proterozoic rocks. Observations in the Bay of Concepcion, central Chile (~36°S), inserted in the second most productive EBCE of the world, suggests that given similar oceanographic dynamics, past oceans may have presented different predominant colorations after the first probable "red" color of the reduced iron-rich Archean ocean and prior to the present day "blue" color. In this coastal ecosystem a "black" coloration has been observed to form as the result of the floating to the surface layer of sulfide-blackened benthic detritus together with chunks of microbial mats, and a "milky to turquoise" coloration resulting from different concentrations of colloidal, nano-sized particles which may include elemental sulfur and/or microorganisms. If the present is the key to the past we posit that "black" color oceans could have existed during the Proterozoic "Canfield sulfidic ocean" followed by "milky to turquoise" colored oceans during later stages of the Proterozoic. Meso-scale examples of "milky" and "turquoise" portions of oceans, caused by elemental sulfur from oxidized hydrogen sulfide eruptions, have been described from off Namibia and there appear to also exist elsewhere. Examples of "black" oceans have apparently not been reported but the name of the Black Sea, the largest permanent anoxic basin on Earth, suggests that at some point in time it may have been black, at least locally and/or for short periods, prompting the name. We conclude suggesting that analogous to the present "Blue Planet" denomination, in the past our Earth could possibly have deserved the successive names of "Red", "Black" and "Milky-Turquoise" Planet.

Paper Details

Date Published: 28 August 2008
PDF: 7 pages
Proc. SPIE 7097, Instruments, Methods, and Missions for Astrobiology XI, 70970G (28 August 2008); doi: 10.1117/12.794742
Show Author Affiliations
Victor Ariel Gallardo, Lab. de Bentos, Departamento de Oceanografía and Ctr. for Biotechnology (Chile)
Univ. de Concepción (Chile)
Carola Espinoza, Lab. de Bentos, Departamento de Oceanografía and Ctr. for Biotechnology (Chile)


Published in SPIE Proceedings Vol. 7097:
Instruments, Methods, and Missions for Astrobiology XI
Richard B. Hoover; Gilbert Victor Levin; Alexei Yu. Rozanov; Paul C.W. Davies, Editor(s)

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