Sulfate was a trace constituent of Archean seawater
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In the low-oxygen Archean world (>2400 million years ago), seawater sulfate concentrations were much lower than today, yet open questions frustrate the translation of modern measurements of sulfur isotope fractionations into estimates of Archean seawater sulfate concentrations. In the water column of Lake Matano, Indonesia, a low-sulfate analog for the Archean ocean, we find large (>20 per mil) sulfur isotope fractionations between sulfate and sulfide, but the underlying sediment sulfides preserve a muted range of δ(34)S values. Using models informed by sulfur cycling in Lake Matano, we infer Archean seawater sulfate concentrations of less than 2.5 micromolar. At these low concentrations, marine sulfate residence times were likely 10(3) to 10(4) years, and sulfate scarcity would have shaped early global biogeochemical cycles, possibly restricting biological productivity in Archean oceans.
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