Another mechanism for salt removal is the subduction of oceanic crust, impregnated with salt water inevery pore---steam is released in volcanoes, but not much salt (usually---there are a few volcanoes alongsubduction zones that have very salty magma)Proponents of GAIA theorypropose that ocean salinity is under biological control. They propose two mainmechanisms---salt being captured/incorporated into diatom and coccolith shells as they drift to the oceanfloor after the animals die. The higher the salinity, the more salt they would capture. This hypothesis wastossed around a lot in the 1970s, but has since been found wanting. Diatoms do not capture more salt intheir shells when salinity rises---and at much above 4.5% salinity they die.The other is that reef building organisms help create restricted basins that trap salt deposits under sediments and marine skeletons. This does have some backing to it--coral atolls do trap layers of salt inlagoons and bury it under coral skeletons, and the Great Barrier Reef could certainly trap many billions of tons of salt.But even this hypothesis seems weak. Reef building organisms have existed for several hundred millionyears, with different types of organisms forming them in different periods. But the oceans formed morethan 4 billion years ago. So reef-building organisms cannot account for the stability of the salinity of theoceans for over 3 billion years. (Yes there werestromatolites3 billion years ago. And they do trap salt, toa degree. Quite avidly, actually. But they live in tidal zones, and not in shallow marine seas, where theycould trap salt on a much larger scale. Stromatolites simply can't trap enough salt to keep the salinitystable)There are some negative feedbacks that help stabilize the salinity of the oceans in the absence of biological control. During the time of Pangaea, all the continents were together, and there were nomarginal, enclosed seas, or very few compared to today (The Gulf of Mexico, the Red Sea, theMediterranean Sea, the Persian Gulf, the Caspian Sea, among other examples). But computer modelingand geologic evidence also shows that most of Pangaea was very arid--far away from the oceans and their moisture bearing winds. Much like the interior of Asia, only more so. And large endorheic basins trappedsalt carried by what rivers there were in evaporite deposits in the interior of continents. (although thesecould get washed out later when exposed to rainfall when the continents separated)So, supercontinent---not many marginal seas to form evaporite deposits, but not much salt transport fromthe land. Continents scattered about--more rainfall on land but more marginal/partially enclosed seas totrap salt.But it's still hard to see how there wouldn't be salinity crises occasionally. Until recently, we didn't evenknow how continents assembled and broke apart very well before Pangaea. But over the last 15 yearsthere has been a revolution in paleocontinent studies---through careful exploration and analysis of isotopes in rocks, geologists believe that they have identified all the prior supercontinents!It has to be said that supercontinents have been increasing in size ascontinental crustincreases withtime. Before Vallbara, there is no evidence for continents at all. Earth seems to have removed its heatthroughhot spots. 4 billion years ago, if we had seen the Earth we would have seen a planet-wide ocean,probably less than 3% coverage of land, but lots of volcanic island chains, and some island arcs assubductionbegan. The first "continents" were probably large islands similar in size to Borneo andMadagascar today. That is not to say these were the first "continents"---they were not.Continental crust is considerably less dense than oceanic crust, and much less dense than the mantle.Granites and other "light" rocks form from differentiation in subduction zones. Less dense minerals stayon the surface of the Earth, and heavier minerals form oceanic crust or remain in themantle. Continents,includingcontinental shelves, cover almost 40% of the surface of the Earth.This addition of continental crust, currently a few cubic kilometers a year, has some interestingimplications. Assuming that the volume of the oceans has been broadly similar for the past 4 billionyears, small, isolated subcontinents would not have had marine continental shelves. A few percent of thesurface of the earth in elevated continental crust would have let the oceans "fit" around them. Ascontinents took up more and more surface area, oceans would necessarily shrink in area and becomedeeper. When continental crust reached a large fraction of the surface of the earth, the oceans would nothave as much room, and spread over the lower margins of continents.Think of it this way. If
the Earth was covered by continental crust, the oceans would still exist andsimply cover the lower areas of the continents. There would be less land area than today, with highmountain chains and plateaus like Tibet being the only land areas.This helps find the solution to a mystery--why did photosynthetic bacteria "wait" over 1.5 billion years tochange the atmosphere, releasing enough oxygen to become a part of the atmosphere (oxygen is a veryreactive gas). Fossil bacteria from over 2.5 billion years ago have very similar appearances to modernphotosynthetic bacteria today. In fact, some may be the same species! Bacteria multiply very quickly---if we found an earthlike planet, devoid of life, with oceans and continents, a similar climate and enoughtrace elements and minerals that bacteria need, we could seed the planet with bacteria and they wouldmultiply and become ubiquitous in a few years. So why didn't bacteria do that during theArchean era?
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