The Proterozoic (pronEng|ˌproʊtərəˈzoʊ
ɪk) is a geological eon representing a period before the first abundant complex life on Earth. The Proterozoic Eon extended from 2500 Ma to 542.0 ± 1.0 Ma (million years ago), and is the most recent part of the old, informally named ‘ Precambrian’ time.
The Proterozoic consists of 3 geologic eras, from oldest to youngest:
The well-identified events were:
*The transition to an
oxygenated atmosphere during the Mesoproterozoic.
*Several glaciations, including the hypothesized
Snowball Earthduring the Cryogenianperiod in the late Neoproterozoic.
EdiacaranPeriod (635 to 542 Ma) which is characterized by the evolution of abundant soft-bodied multicellular organisms.
The Proterozoic record
The geologic record of the Proterozoic is much better than that for the preceding
Archean. In contrast to the deep-water deposits of the Archean, the Proterozoic features many strata that were laid down in extensive shallow epicontinental seas; furthermore, many of these rocks are less metamorphosed than Archean-age ones, and plenty are unaltered. [cite book| last=Stanley| first=Steven M.| title=Earth System History| location=New York| publisher=W.H. Freeman and Company| year=1999| id=ISBN 0-7167-2882-6 | pages= 315] Study of these rocks show that the eon featured massive, rapid continental accretion (unique to the Proterozoic), supercontinent cycles, and wholly-modern orogenic activity. [Stanley, 315-18, 329-32]
The first known glaciations occurred during the Proterozoic, one began shortly after the beginning of the eon, while there were at least four during the Neoproterozoic, climaxing with the
Snowball Earthof the Varangian glaciation. [Stanley, 320-1, 325]
The build-up of oxygen
One of the most important events of the Proterozoic was the gathering up of oxygen in the Earth's atmosphere. Though oxygen was undoubtedly released by
photosynthesiswell back in Archean times, it could not build up to any significant degree until chemical sinks — unoxidized sulfurand iron— had been filled; until roughly 2.3 billion years ago, oxygen was probably only 1% to 2% of its current level. [Stanley, 323] Banded iron formations, which provide most of the world's iron ore, were also a prominent chemical sink; most accumulation ceased after 1.9 billion years ago, either due to an increase in oxygen or a more thorough mixing of the oceanic water column.Stanley, 324] Red beds, which are colored by hematite, indicate an increase in atmospheric oxygen after 2 billion years ago; they are not found in older rocks. The oxygen build-up was probably due to two factors: a filling of the chemical sinks, and an increase in carbonburial, which sequestered organic compounds that would have otherwise been oxidized by the atmosphere.Stanley, 325]
Mackenzie dike swarmin Canada's Canadian Shieldis the largest known dike swarmon Earth, and was a source for significant massive flood basalteruptions throughout the Proterozoic period. The source for the Mackenzie dike swarm is thought to have been a mantle plumecenter called the Mackenzie hotspot. [ [http://www.lpi.usra.edu/meetings/lpsc97/pdf/1247.PDF Lunar and Planetary Science XXVIII] ]
The first advanced single-celled and multi-cellular life roughly coincides with the start of the accumulation of free oxygen; this may have been due to an increase in the oxidized
nitrates that eukaryotesuse, as opposed to cyanobacteria. It was also during the Proterozoic that the first symbiotic relationships between mitochondria(for nearly all eukaryotes) and chloroplasts (for plants and some protists only) and their hosts evolved. [Stanley 321-2]
The blossoming of eukaryotes such as
acritarchs did not preclude the expansion of cyanobacteria; in fact, stromatolites reached their greatest abundance and diversity during the Proterozoic, peaking roughly 1.2 billion years ago. [Stanley, 321-3]
Classically, the boundary between the Proterozoic and the
Phanerozoiceons was set at the base of the Cambrianperiod when the first fossils of animals known as trilobites and archeocyathids appeared. In the second half of the 20th century, a number of fossil forms have been found in Proterozoic rocks, but the upper boundary of the Proterozoic has remained fixed at the base of the Cambrian, which is currently placed at 542 Ma.
Timetable of the Precambrian
* [http://www.palaeos.com/Proterozoic/Proterozoic.htm Proterozoic] - "Palaeos"
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