A copper isotope investigation of methane cycling in Late Archaean sediments

Natalya A. V. Zavina-James, Aubrey L. Zerkle, Robert C. J. Steele, Matthew R. Warke, Gareth Izon, Paul S. Savage

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The rise of oxygenic photosynthesis arguably represents the most important evolutionary step in Earth history. Recent studies, however, suggest that Earth’s pre-oxidative atmosphere was also heavily influenced by biological feedbacks. Most notably, recent geochemical records propose the existence of a hydrocarbon haze which periodically formed in response to enhanced biospheric methane fluxes. Copper isotopes provide a potential proxy for biological methane cycling; Cu is a bioessential trace metal and a key element in the aerobic oxidation of methane to carbon dioxide (methanotrophy). In addition, Cu isotopes are fractionated during biological uptake. Here, we present a high-resolution Cu isotope record measured in a suite of shales and carbonates from core GKF01, through the ~2.6–2.5 Ga Campbellrand-Malmani carbonate platform. Our data show a 0.85‰ range in Cu isotope composition and a negative excursion that predates the onset of a haze event. We interpret this excursion as representing a period of enhanced aerobic methane oxidation before the onset of the Great Oxidation Event. This places valuable time constraints on the evolution of this metabolism and firmly establishing Cu isotopes as a biomarker in Late Archaean rocks.
Original languageEnglish
Article number106267
Number of pages10
JournalPrecambrian Research
VolumeIn press
Early online date16 Jun 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 16 Jun 2021


  • Copper isotopes
  • Aerobic methantrophy
  • Methane haze
  • Archaean
  • Atmospheric evolution


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