Too Much Oxygen in the Past

“This fire needs more wood!” said my oldest daughter as we sat around the campfire after setting up in the rain. I couldn’t agree more. One of my favorite activities is roasting s’mores over the campfire in the cool of the evening. Everyone knows you need graham crackers, chocolate squares, and marshmallows to make s’mores. But one essential “ingredient” that often goes unnoticed is the atmosphere’s oxygen content. For the last 50 million years, this important gas comprised 20 percent of the atmosphere. New research indicates that this value fluctuated dramatically in earlier times.

Attempts to measure Earth’s past oxygen content often give conflicting results. This difficulty arises because scientists cannot directly measure the ancient atmospheric gases but must use proxies instead. Numerous variables affect the geological record, oxygen being just one of those variables. However, a team of scientists recently found a way to control for all the other variables by using coal as a proxy for past oxygen content.

Without oxygen, nothing burns—but with enough oxygen, even wet objects readily combust. Thus, the researchers were able to use charcoal (burned organic matter) formed in water-rich environments as the proxy. The amount of charcoal in coal depends primarily on the amount of gaseous oxygen available and coal’s economic value means a large database of charcoal compositions already exists. The information in this database demonstrates that even with dramatic climate changes over the last few million years the amount of coal remained relatively uniform. This matches the expectation that the oxygen content of the atmosphere remained constant over the past 50 million years.  

However, over the last 400 million years, the oxygen showed dramatic increases and decreases compared to current values.1 Past life on Earth may have been well adapted to these changes, but similar changes today would cause significant problems for humanity. Too much oxygen in the atmosphere leads to explosive and destructive wildfires. Too little oxygen means less energy is available to fuel biochemical reactions inside large-bodied organisms, like humans.

An increasing body of evidence shows that Earth’s environment changed numerous times in ways that altered the kinds of life able to survive on the planet. Yet humanity arrived on the scene during a stable period when the atmospheric oxygen met all the criteria that advanced life requires. Such fine-timing follows if a supernatural Designer is preparing a place for human life.

Endnotes:
1. Ian J. Glasspool and Andrew C. Scott, “Phanerozoic Concentrations of Atmospheric Oxygen Reconstructed from Sedimentary Charcoal,” Nature Geoscience 3 (September 2010): 627–30.

About these ads

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

  • Hidden Treasures in the Book of Job

    Arguably the oldest book in the Bible, the book of Job has a surprising amount to say about some of the newest scientific discoveries and controversies. With careful consideration and exegesis, Hugh Ross shows that the Bible is an accurate predictor of scientific discoveries, and that both the book of Scripture and the book of nature are consistent both internally and externally.
  • Creating Life in the Lab

    Representing the best of RTB's efforts to anticipate scientific breakthroughs and explain their contribution to the case for Christian faith, biochemist Fuz Rana shows how recent advances in synthetic biology actually undermine the evolutionary explanation for the origin of life. Creating Life in the Lab addresses the scientific, theological, and philosophical aspects on both the dangers and promises of synthetic biology.
  • If God Made the Universe…Why Is It the Way It Is?

    Drawing from his popular book Why the Universe Is the Way It Is, Dr. Hugh Ross shares Scripture, stunning satellite photos, and the most recent scientific findings to explain the great love story that is our universe. This DVD series invites you to be a part of Dr. Ross’ small group. Each session includes a brief presentation (about 20 minutes), followed by Q&A.
  • Impact Events: The Earth

    In this unique student devotional, astrophysicist Jeff Zweerink and seasoned small-group leader Ken Hultgren connect little-known facts about our planet with faith-building insights about the Creator. The booklet includes practical, yet thought-provoking questions to help students apply each lesson’s principles to their lives. This Impact Events series is designed to transform your life and faith with truth from God’s Word and evidence from God’s world. God wants to impact your life. Will you let Him?
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 136 other followers

%d bloggers like this: