Publications by authors named "Donald R Lowe"

7 Publications

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Heterogeneous Hadean crust with ambient mantle affinity recorded in detrital zircons of the Green Sandstone Bed, South Africa.

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2021 Feb;118(8)

Department of Geological Sciences, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305.

The nature of Earth's earliest crust and the processes by which it formed remain major issues in Precambrian geology. Due to the absence of a rock record older than ∼4.02 Ga, the only direct record of the Hadean is from rare detrital zircon and that largely from a single area: the Jack Hills and Mount Narryer region of Western Australia. Here, we report on the geochemistry of Hadean detrital zircons as old as 4.15 Ga from the newly discovered Green Sandstone Bed in the Barberton greenstone belt, South Africa. We demonstrate that the U-Nb-Sc-Yb systematics of the majority of these Hadean zircons show a mantle affinity as seen in zircon from modern plume-type mantle environments and do not resemble zircon from modern continental or oceanic arcs. The zircon trace element compositions furthermore suggest magma compositions ranging from higher temperature, primitive to lower temperature, and more evolved tonalite-trondhjemite-granodiorite (TTG)-like magmas that experienced some reworking of hydrated crust. We propose that the Hadean parental magmas of the Green Sandstone Bed zircons formed from remelting of mafic, mantle-derived crust that experienced some hydrous input during melting but not from the processes seen in modern arc magmatism.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2004370118DOI Listing
February 2021

Photosynthetic microbial mats in the 3,416-Myr-old ocean.

Nature 2004 Sep;431(7008):549-52

Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305, USA.

Recent re-evaluations of the geological record of the earliest life on Earth have led to the suggestion that some of the oldest putative microfossils and carbonaceous matter were formed through abiotic hydrothermal processes. Similarly, many early Archaean (more than 3,400-Myr-old) cherts have been reinterpreted as hydrothermal deposits rather than products of normal marine sedimentary processes. Here we present the results of a field, petrographic and geochemical study testing these hypotheses for the 3,416-Myr-old Buck Reef Chert, South Africa. From sedimentary structures and distributions of sand and mud, we infer that deposition occurred in normal open shallow to deep marine environments. The siderite enrichment that we observe in deep-water sediments is consistent with a stratified early ocean. We show that most carbonaceous matter was formed by photosynthetic mats within the euphotic zone and distributed as detrital matter by waves and currents to surrounding environments. We find no evidence that hydrothermal processes had any direct role in the deposition of either the carbonaceous matter or the enclosing sediments. Instead, we conclude that photosynthetic organisms had evolved and were living in a stratified ocean supersaturated in dissolved silica 3,416 Myr ago.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature02888DOI Listing
September 2004

A lower limit for atmospheric carbon dioxide levels 3.2 billion years ago.

Nature 2004 Apr;428(6984):736-8

Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305-2115, USA.

The quantification of greenhouse gases present in the Archaean atmosphere is critical for understanding the evolution of atmospheric oxygen, surface temperatures and the conditions for life on early Earth. For instance, it has been argued that small changes in the balance between two potential greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane, may have dictated the feedback cycle involving organic haze production and global cooling. Climate models have focused on carbon dioxide as the greenhouse gas responsible for maintaining above-freezing surface temperatures during a time of low solar luminosity. However, the analysis of 2.75-billion-year (Gyr)-old palaeosols--soil samples preserved in the geologic record--have recently provided an upper constraint on atmospheric carbon dioxide levels well below that required in most climate models to prevent the Earth's surface from freezing. This finding prompted many to look towards methane as an additional greenhouse gas to satisfy climate models. Here we use model equilibrium reactions for weathering rinds on 3.2-Gyr-old river gravels to show that the presence of iron-rich carbonate relative to common clay minerals requires a minimum partial pressure of carbon dioxide several times higher than present-day values. Unless actual carbon dioxide levels were considerably greater than this, climate models predict that additional greenhouse gases would still need to have a role in maintaining above-freezing surface temperatures.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature02471DOI Listing
April 2004

Spherule beds 3.47-3.24 billion years old in the Barberton Greenstone Belt, South Africa: a record of large meteorite impacts and their influence on early crustal and biological evolution.

Astrobiology 2003 ;3(1):7-48

Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305-2115, USA.

Four layers, S1-S4, containing sand-sized spherical particles formed as a result of large meteorite impacts, occur in 3.47-3.24 Ga rocks of the Barberton Greenstone Belt, South Africa. Ir levels in S3 and S4 locally equal or exceed chondritic values but in other sections are at or only slightly above background. Most spherules are inferred to have formed by condensation of impact-produced rock vapor clouds, although some may represent ballistically ejected liquid droplets. Extreme Ir abundances and heterogeneity may reflect element fractionation during spherule formation, hydraulic fractionation during deposition, and/or diagenetic and metasomatic processes. Deposition of S1, S2, and S3 was widely influenced by waves and/or currents interpreted to represent impact-generated tsunamis, and S1 and S2 show multiple graded layers indicating the passage of two or more wave trains. These tsunamis may have promoted mixing within a globally stratified ocean, enriching surface waters in nutrients for biological communities. S2 and S3 mark the transition from the 300-million-year-long Onverwacht stage of predominantly basaltic and komatiitic volcanism to the late orogenic stage of greenstone belt evolution, suggesting that regional and possibly global tectonic reorganization resulted from these large impacts. These beds provide the oldest known direct record of terrestrial impacts and an opportunity to explore their influence on early life, crust, ocean, and atmosphere. The apparent presence of impact clusters at 3.26-3.24 Ga and approximately 2.65-2.5 Ga suggests either spikes in impact rates during the Archean or that the entire Archean was characterized by terrestrial impact rates above those currently estimated from the lunar cratering record.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1089/153110703321632408DOI Listing
January 2004

Molecular identification of cyanobacteria associated with stromatolites from distinct geographical locations.

Astrobiology 2002 ;2(3):271-80

Departments of Geological and Environmental Sciences and Microbiology and Immunology, Stanford University, Stanford, California, USA.

Modern stromatolites represent a significant resource for studying microbial ecology and evolution. A preliminary investigation was undertaken employing specific genetic probes to characterize the cyanobacteria responsible for stromatolite construction in a range of environments, including microbial mats found in Australia not previously examined with molecular methods. Isolates of cyanobacteria were collected from stromatolites in thermal springs, hypersaline lakes, and oceanic fringes on two continents. A polymerase chain reaction specific for DNA of cyanobacterial 16S rRNA was developed, the resulting products of the DNA amplification reaction were sequenced, and the data were used to infer relatedness between the isolates studied and other members of the cyanobacterial radiation. Complete sequence was generated for the region from position 27 to 408 for 13 strains of cyanobacteria associated with stromatolites. All stromatolite-derived sequences were most closely related to cyanobacteria, as indicated by local sequence alignment. It was possible to correlate genetic identity with morphological nomenclatures and to expand the phylogeny of benthic cyanobacteria. These inferences were also expanded to temporal variation in the dominant resident cyanobacterial species based on sampling of surface and core sinter laminations. Under the methods employed, only one cyanobacterial strain was detected in each sample, suggesting the possible dominance of a specific clonal population of cyanobacteria at any one time in the biota of the samples tested. The data indicate that internal core samples of a stromatolite at least 10 years old can be successfully analyzed by DNA-based methods to identify preserved cyanobacteria.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1089/153110702762027853DOI Listing
July 2003

An archean impact layer from the Pilbara and Kaapvaal cratons.

Science 2002 Aug;297(5585):1325-7

Department of Geology and Geophysics, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA 70803-4101, USA.

The Barberton greenstone belt of South Africa and the eastern Pilbara block of Western Australia provide information about Earth's surface environments between 3.2 and 3.5 billion years ago, including evidence for four large bolide impacts that likely created large craters, deformed the target rocks, and altered the environment. We have obtained identical single-zircon uranium-lead ages of 3470 +/- 2 million years ago for the oldest impact events from each craton. These deposits represent a single global fallout layer that is associated with sedimentation by an impact-generated tsunami and in Western Australia is represented by a major erosional unconformity.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.1073934DOI Listing
August 2002