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Do We Owe Everything to Volcanoes?

September 5, 2007
clipped from news.nationalgeographic.com

A rise in oxygen levels around 2.5 billion years ago may have occurred after a massive tectonic shift forced many submerged volcanoes above water, a new study says.

These above-ground volcanoes, such as the Piton de La Fournaise volcano on the island of La Réunion (above, erupting in April 2007) stopped spewing oxygen-destroying chemicals into the air—allowing vital ingredients for complex life to build up.

clipped from news.nationalgeographic.com

At that time, Earth’s early atmosphere wasn’t fit to breathe. Filled with nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and sulfurous fumes, the air would have left humans gasping.

These noxious fumes held a clamp on evolution: Complex life didn’t really get going until the planet’s skies began to fill with oxygen, allowing more efficient methods of extracting energy from nutrients.

Submerged volcanoes spew a different set of gases than those that erupt into the air.

Magma from aerial volcanoes, on the other hand, stays hot and releases gases like carbon dioxide
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