Oregon’s oldest Oxygen adventure
Oregon’s oldest is fleeting honor for the oldest baseball bat, coffee mug or trees before fire, winds or rains remove these oldest anything. This fact is always true with organic things; but geology or rocks seem unimpressed by rants of nature. Maybe they have seen worse?
The cover photo is prehistoric Banded Iron Formation (BIF) with an amazing story to tell. The slide show exhibits ancient nickel-iron nuggets.
As Outdoor adventurers, we tend to visit things we can see and appreciate as a family. Everyone likes to visit a redwood tree.
However, geo-stones are not as easily understood & enjoyed; compared to a redwood.
IN SEARCH OF ANCIENT OREGON author Ellen Bishop Morris addresses this issue or nature in her PROLOGUE; like oysters, geology is an acquired taste.
“Geologists inhabit a world of four dimensions. Like most people, we navigate the landscape’s ups and downs and byways. But in addition, our (ROCK LOVERS) journeys take us into the fourth dimension: TIME. Every rock has a history.
The geologist’s mission is to translate the mute stuff of solid stories into a planetary biography. We are in a sense time travelers, deciphering past processes into a palpable vision of what the world once was.”
However some knowledge of geology can open prehistoric world views that shatter our commonly held notions today.
Geologist Morris writes on page 19 & 20:
“Oregon’s oldest rocks are found as exotic terranes in disparate corners of the state: the Blue Mountains in the Northeast and the Klamath Mountains in the southwest...These ancient rocks….have similar geologic histories. Both include fragments of volcanic islands and subduction zones, bits of seafloor and coral reefs, bulky bodies of intrusive granites, and scraps of Mantle.
Both collided with North America during the Cretaceous period more than 100 million years ago, a time when dinosaurs roamed Montana…In the Blues…exotic terranes are exposed from Hell’s Canyon west to Mitchell,..scattered throughout the high plateau country between Burns and Post, Seneca and Suplee…These ancient arcs of island volcanoes represented in Oregon’s exotic terranes are even more long lived than their modern Cascades kin.”
What Morris does not mention is BIF and nickel-iron alloy found between Seneca and Suplee.
The author is maybe a bit different in that when not outdoors, he tries to figure out what he encountered outdoor earlier, as a part-time hobby; even though it might take years. This research phase actually adds value to the brief memories of being outdoors that day so long ago.
We all take day trips and the author was on one during a drive up the notorious Eastern Oregon’s historical “Murderer’s Creek” (Check out 1878 Bannock Indian War), the author tripped over dozens of native iron nuggets in a dirt road. This was odd; as anyone with any modern iron tool knows it rusts away to nothing quickly if not protected indoors. Have you ever seen dozens of shiny iron nuggets on the ground before outdoors?
Frankly, outdoors, we see modern signs of iron all around us every day, in the steel building that house our offices, the rusting push lawn mower in the garage. Scientifically speaking, natural Brown IRON rust is called “LIMONITE”; but moms just see it in their kid’s dirty clothes after playing outside. “HEMATITE” is another iron ore that rusts red and it creates our typical red soils and volcanic cinders. The slide show also shows “GOETHITE” which is basically Iron Sulfides or pretty “PYRITE” rusted totally away. Lastly, we have black “MAGNETITE” that gives us natural iron magnets –not pictured.
All these natural iron metals today simply rust away naturally and these metals dissolve into the air.
Today’s modern “rust” factor is due to a 1.8 billion year old Oxygen Catastrophe and it is amazing Oregon has clues to this traumatic event so very long ago!
“The Great Oxygenation Event (GOE), also called the Oxygen Catastrophe or Oxygen Crisis or Great Oxidation, was the biologically induced appearance of free oxygen (O2) in Earth's atmosphere. Geological, isotopic, and chemical evidence suggest this major environmental change happened around 2.4 billion years ago (2.4 Ga).
Cyanobacteria, which appeared about 200 million years before the GOE,  began producing oxygen by photosynthesis. Before the GOE, any free oxygen they produced was chemically captured by dissolved iron organic matter. The GOE was the point when these oxygen sinks became saturated and could not capture all of the oxygen that was produced by cyanobacterial photosynthesis. After the GOE the excess free oxygen started to accumulate in the atmosphere.
Free oxygen is toxic to anaerobic organisms and the rising concentrations may have wiped out most of the Earth's anaerobic inhabitants at the time. From their perspective it was a catastrophe. Cyanobacteria were therefore responsible for one of the most significant extinction events in Earth's history. Additionally the free oxygen reacted with the atmospheric methane, a greenhouse gas, triggering the Huronian glaciation, possibly the longest snowball Earth episode. Free oxygen has been an important constituent of the atmosphere ever since.”
FOR MORE INSIGHT: Great Oxygenation Event
Meanwhile, modern Science trying to explore and explain Earth early methane geologic history has done hundreds of lab experiments and these iron nuggets are clues for what scientists call the “Snowball Earth Hypothesis”
Proponents of the hypothesis argue that it best explains sedimentary deposits generally regarded as of glacial origin at tropical paleolatitudes, and other otherwise enigmatic features in the geological record. Opponents of the hypothesis contest the implications of the geological evidence for global glaciation, the geophysical feasibility of an ice- or slush-covered ocean, and the difficulty of escaping an all-frozen condition.
There are a number of unanswered questions, including whether the Earth was a full snowball, or a "slushball" with a thin equatorial band of open (or seasonally open) water.
The geological time frames under consideration come before the sudden multiplication of life forms on Earth known as the Cambrian explosion, and the most recent snowball episode may have triggered the evolution of multi-cellular life on Earth. Another, much earlier and longer, snowball episode, the Huronian glaciation, which occurred 2400 to 2100 Ma may have been triggered by the oxygen catastrophe.”
We are talking about our primitive Earth after the molten cores cooled enough to allow rainwaters to cover the molten planet MANTLE rocks (Olivine Layer) with seawater or freshwater turned to salt waters; as the eroding land dumps eroded soil irons-nickel & various salts into the seas for millions of years.
The primitive Earth apparently had a methane atmosphere until “plants” with photosynthesis and oxygen creation capabilities were created. Oxygen was lethal to all previous life forms living in methane Earth and their demise led to opening for oxygen breathing life forms to evolve very long ago – obviously us!
The author or humans were not alive back then so any reference to age is simply someone’s best guess.
- Now, what about the cover photo of Banded Iron Layers?
See Snow ball Earth citation above:
Banded iron formations (BIF) are sedimentary rocks of layered iron oxide and iron-poor chert. In the presence of oxygen, iron naturally rusts and becomes insoluble in water. The banded iron formations are commonly very old and their deposition is often related to the oxidation of the Earth's atmosphere during the Paleoproterozoic era, when dissolved iron in the ocean came in contact with photosynthetically produced oxygen and precipitated out as iron oxide.
The bands were produced at the tipping point between an anoxic and an oxygenated ocean. Since today's atmosphere is oxygen rich (nearly 21 percent by volume) and in contact with the oceans, it is not possible to accumulate enough iron oxide to deposit a banded formation. The only extensive iron formations that were deposited after the Paleoproterozoic (after 1.8 billion years ago) are associated with Cryogenian glacial deposits.
For such iron-rich rocks to be deposited there would have to be anoxia in the ocean, so that much dissolved iron (as ferrous oxide) could accumulate before it met an oxidant that would precipitate it as ferric oxide. For the ocean to become anoxic it must have limited gas exchange with the oxygenated atmosphere. Proponents of the hypothesis argue that the reappearance of BIF in the sedimentary record is a result of limited oxygen levels in an ocean sealed by sea ice,  “
Here is another explanation to consider:
Banded Iron Formation
This research article shows a chemically dated 2.1 billion year old banded iron formation?
A typical BIF consists of repeated, thin layers (a few millimeters to a few centimeters in thickness) of silver to black iron oxides, either magnetite (Fe3O4) or hematite (Fe2O3), alternating with bands of iron-poor shales and cherts, often red in color, of similar thickness, and containing microbands (sub-millimeter) of iron oxides. Some of the oldest known rock formations, formed over 3,700 million years ago, include banded iron layers. Banded layers rich in iron were a common feature in sediments for much of the Earth's early history but are now rare.”
2) The Southfork of the John Day River also has bizarre nickel-iron native nuggets lying around from a previous meteorite strike or modern BLACK SMOKERS today kick out these metals?
These prehistoric Nickel-Iron nuggets seem to not erode like pure iron nuggets surely would today.
Nickel and iron are common metals associated with meteorites and also Earth’s heavy original molten core.
Primitive molten Earth was daily bathed by direct solar UV radiation.
These prehistoric Nickel-Iron nuggets seem to be created back billions of years ago when Nickel was common upon the Earth –before our modern Earth Oxygen atmosphere.
Modern Nickel famine
Chemosynthetic organisms were a source of methane, which was an important trap for molecular oxygen, because oxygen readily oxidizes methane to carbon dioxide (CO2) and water in the presence of UV radiation. Modern methanogens require nickel as an enzyme cofactor. As the Earth's crust cooled, the supply of nickel from volcanoes was reduced and consequently less methane was produced allowing oxygen to increase in concentration in the atmosphere. From 2.7 to 2.4 billion years ago, the levels of nickel deposited declined steadily; it was originally 400 times today's levels.
Oregon Public TV now has a video out on these modern hyper-heated Iron & Nickel spitters!
“In the frigid depths far beneath the ocean surface, at the ridges where new crust is born, lies a landscape more alien than earthly. Here, strange long-necked barnacles, giant clams, and bizarre worms, their blood-red gills fanned out of bodies like bone-white tubes, clump beside towering spires of mineral. Nearby, sooty black clouds billow out from fissures in the seafloor, and organisms swim by, glowing with their own, otherworldly light.
The setting for this surreal scene is the submarine hydrothermal vents of Earth's mid-ocean spreading ridges. At the mid-ocean ridges, molten rock bubbles up from the mantle to the sea floor and cools to form new oceanic crust. Cold sea water percolates down through the fissures in these ridges, and many types of minerals -- like sulfur, copper, zinc, gold, and iron -- are transferred from the hot, new crust into the water.
The water, now rich with dissolved metals, is heated and then gushes back up through the cracks, forming hydrothermal vents.
As the hot water -- which can reach temperatures of over 700 degrees Fahrenheit -- escapes from the vents and comes in contact with the near-freezing water of the ocean bottom, the metals quickly rain out of their solution. The result are surging clouds of particle-rich water called "black smokers," which often erupt out of tall chimneys of previously deposited solidified mineral.”
Apparently, another reference calls these Nickel-Iron-alloy by a scientific name
Further research shows PETERSON FIRST GUIDES- ROCKS AND MINERALS by Frederick H. Pough (Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston MASS.,1991 page 44 states: “…a natural iron-nickel alloy, Josefinite, has been found in waterworn nuggets freed from an Oregon seafloor serpentine”.
Readers, we usually explore some unique Oregon place here as ONE; but this article is a two’-fer talking about what outdoor recreationist can encounter in the Klamath Wilderness Area in SW Oregon and the odd Blue mountains of eastern Oregon.
Look for (BIF) BANDED IRON FORMATION out during your travels!
What if oxygen never overtook methane as Earth’s Dominant Atmosphere gas?
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Dave has already written almost 250 “Must see” Oregon wonders articles on file here for planning your future special outdoor recreation adventures. He writes non-fiction books for sell as EBooks and hardcovers on nature & history on Amazon.com
Personal website www.fncbooks.com