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A large perturbation in atmospheric CO2 and O2 or bioproductivity will result in a drastic pulse of 17O change in atmospheric O2, as seen in the Marinoan Oxygen-17 Depletion (MOSD) event in the immediate aftermath of a global deglaciation 635 Mya. The exact nature of the perturbation, however, is debated. Here we constructed a coupled, four-box, and quick-response biosphere-atmosphere model to examine both the steady state and dynamics of the MOSD event. Our model shows that the ultra-high CO2 concentrations proposed by the "snowball' Earth hypothesis produce a typical MOSD duration of less than 106 y and a magnitude of 17O depletion reaching approximately -35‰. Both numbers are in remarkable agreement with geological constraints from South China and Svalbard. Moderate CO2 and low O2 concentration (e.g., 3,200 parts per million by volume and 0.01 bar, respectively) could produce distinct sulfate 17O depletion only if postglacial marine bioproductivity was impossibly low. Our dynamic model also suggests that a snowball in which the ocean is isolated from the atmosphere by a continuous ice cover may be distinguished from one in which cracks in the ice permit ocean-atmosphere exchange only if partial pressure of atmospheric O2 is larger than 0.02 bar during the snowball period and records of weathering-derived sulfate are available for the very first few tens of thousands of years after the onset of the meltdown. In any case, a snowball Earth is a precondition for the observed MOSD event.

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Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

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