Reinventing the Planet: The Neoproterozoic revolution in oxygenation, biogeochemistry and biological complexity

Project Leader: Dr Simon Poulton
Sponsors: NERC (The Long-Term Co-Evolution of Life and the Planet)
Partners: Professor Tim Lenton, Exeter; Dr Nick Butterfield, Cambridge; Dr Graham Shields, UCL; Professor Andrew Watson, UEA; Dr Philip Wilby, BGS; Dr Rachel Wood, Edinburgh
Start/end dates: 2011-2015

Project Details

reinventing the planetOur objective is to improve scientific understanding of the co-evolution of life and the planet during the Neoproterozoic Era (1000 to 542 million years ago), which witnessed the most fundamental change in planetary expression of the past two billion years.

To achieve this we will test hypotheses for the causal relations between the evolution of life and the development of the Earth system. Our approach will be to develop models to represent hypothesised co-evolutionary mechanisms and iteratively compare their predictions against geochemical data, with three primary hypotheses:

  • enhanced weathering associated with eukaryotic land colonisation was responsible for major environmental changes, including stepwise increase(s) in atmospheric oxygen and extreme glaciations;
  • major environmental changes in the mid Neoproterozoic triggered the emergence of animals;
  • the dramatic expansion of animals through the late Neoproterozoic and early Cambrian was coupled to fundamental shifts in global biogeochemical cycles via complex co-evolutionary feedbacks.


Johnston DT, Poulton SW, Dehler C, Porter S, Husson J, Canfield DE, Knoll AH. An emerging picture of Neoproterozoic ocean chemistry: Insights from the Chuar Group, Grand Canyon, USA. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 2010, 290(1-2), 64-73.

Frei R, Gaucher C, Poulton SW, Canfield DE. Fluctuations in Precambrian atmospheric oxygenation recorded by chromium isotopes. Nature 2009, 461, 250-253.

Canfield DE, Poulton SW, Knoll AH, Narbonne GM, Ross G, Goldberg T, Strauss H. Ferruginous conditions dominated later neoproterozoic deep-water chemistry. Science 2008, 321(5891), 949-952.

Academic Staff