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Sep 4, 2022
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Plant evolution has radically changed the composition of the Earth

Plant evolution has radically changed the composition of the Earth

The evolution of land plants has radically changed the chemical composition of the Earth since their appearance 430 million years ago. This conclusion was made by an international group of scientists led by the University of Southampton.

Study lead author Dr. Christopher Spencer explained the impact land plants have had on Earth:

“Plants have caused a fundamental change in river systems, leading to more meandering rivers and muddy floodplains, as well as denser soils. This shift has been linked to the development of plant root systems, which have contributed to the formation of enormous amounts of mud (by breaking up rocks) and stabilized riverbeds. rivers that retained this mud for a long time.”

The researchers looked at the process of converting soil into stone. They explain that mud travels from rivers to oceans to the molten interior of the Earth and eventually melts into new rock.

“When these rocks crystallize, they retain remnants of past history. So we hypothesized that plant evolution should drastically slow down the delivery of dirt to the oceans, and this feature should be preserved in rocks – it’s simple,” explained study co-author Dr. Tom Gernon.

To conduct the study, scientists analyzed thousands of zircon crystals, which contained information about the chemical composition of the Earth at the time of their formation.

Through this analysis, the experts determined that the composition of the rocks changed dramatically at almost the same time that the emergence of land plants occurred. At the same time, it seemed that sediments were entering the ocean more slowly than previously observed. Both of these findings support their hypothesis.

“It’s amazing to think that the greening of the continents has been felt in the depths of the Earth. I hope this previously unrecognized connection between the Earth’s interior and surface environment will serve as a stimulus for further research,” Dr. Spencer said.

“Together, our results suggest that the evolution of vascular plants is related to the degree of weathering and the timing of the routing of sedimentary rocks into depositional basins, where they subsequently underwent subduction and melting,” the researchers write. “Late Paleozoic zircon isotope shift indicates that continent greening has been recorded in the Earth’s depths.”

The study is published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

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