Re-inventing the planet: The Neoproterozoic revolution in oxygenation, biogeochemistry and biological complexity (NERC grant NE/I005862/1)

Dataset description

The Earth is a truly remarkable planet. In addition to the physical processes driving plate tectonics, climate and ocean-atmospheric exchange, it supports an extraordinary diversity of living organisms, from microbes to mammals and everything in between. Such wasn't always the case, however, and it is clear that both the planet and its biosphere have evolved - indeed, co-evolved - over deep time. In the past two billion years, by far the most fundamental shift in this co-evolutionary process occurred during the Neoproterozoic (1000 to 542 million years ago), a planetary revolution that culminated in the modern Earth system. The Neoproterozoic begins with a biosphere populated almost exclusively by microbes, and ends in the midst of its greatest ever evolutionary radiation - including the diverse macroscopic and biomineralizing organisms that define the modern biosphere. At the same time, it witnessed the greatest climatic and biogeochemical perturbations that the planet has ever experienced, alongside major palaeogeographic reconfigurations and a deep ocean that is becoming oxygenated for the first time. There is no question that these phenomena are broadly interlinked, but the tangle of causes, consequences and co-evolutionary feedbacks has yet to be convincingly teased apart. In order to reconstruct the Neoproterozoic revolution, we propose a multidisciplinary programme of research that will capture its evolving geochemical and biological signatures in unprecedented detail. Most significantly, these collated data will be assessed and modeled in the context of a co-evolving Earth system, whereby developments in one compartment potentially facilitate and escalate those in another, sometimes to the extent of deriving entirely novel phenomena and co-evolutionary opportunities. Our approach will be guided by three general hypotheses, testable against accruing data and theory: H1) that the enhanced weathering associated with land-dwelling eukaryotes was initiated in the early Neoproterozoic leading to major environmental change, including extreme glaciations and stepwise increase(s) in atmospheric oxygen concentration; H2) that major environmental changes in the mid Neoproterozoic triggered the emergence of animals; and H3) that the late Neoproterozoic-Cambrian radiations of animals and biomineralization were themselves responsible for much of the accompanying biogeochemical perturbation. Primary data for this project will be assembled from field studies of key geological sections in the UK and North China, along with contributed sample sets from Namibia, Spitsbergen and various archived collections. Together, these offer close to comprehensive coverage of the Neoproterozoic - not least, spectacular new surfaces of Ediacaran macrofossils from Charnwood Forest. Collected samples will be analysed to assess associated weathering and climate (Sr, C, O and S isotopes), oceanic redox conditions (Fe speciation and trace metals), nutrient dynamics (P speciation and trace metals) and biological constituents (microfossils, macrofossils and biomarker molecules). These data will be integrated and interrogated through the development of heuristic, spatial and evolutionary models. Beyond its integrative approach, the strength of this proposal lies in the diversity of the contributing researchers. Alongside our own expertise in biogeochemistry, palaeobiology and Earth system modelling, we are very pleased to have attracted world-class project partners in Neoproterozoic stratigraphy, geochronology and biomarker analysis. Further insight will come from our contingent of two PDRAs and three PhD students working across the range of topics and linked via a schedule of regular team meetings. Taken together, we anticipate a fundamentally improved understanding of the Neoproterozoic Earth system and the co-evolutionary interplay between the biosphere and planet.

Further information

For more information please contact:


Environmental Science Centre, Nicker Hill, Keyworth
NG12 5GG

Tel : +44 (0)115 936 3143
Fax :+44 (0)115 936 3276


Dataset details

Author(s) Prof Simon Poulton
Principal Investigator(s) Prof Simon Poulton
School of Earth and Environment
University of Leeds
Language English
Curator British Geological Survey
Supply media/format Not available
Storage format Not available
Frequency of update not applicable
Start of capture {ts '2011-02-07 00:00:00'} Not known
End of capture {ts '2012-09-08 00:00:00'} Before 8th September 2012
Contact details
Department Enquiries
Organisation British Geological Survey
Address Environmental Science Centre, Nicker Hill, Keyworth
City Nottingham
County Nottinghamshire
Country United Kingdom
Postcode NG12 5GG
Telephone +44 (0)115 936 3143
Fax +44 (0)115 936 3276
Topic category code (ISO) geoscientificInformation (information pertaining to earth sciences)
Keyword source BGS Keyphrases
Spatial details
Spatial Reference System Geographical, topographical or geological place names and locations, including postal address
Dataset extent
Coverage (Lat/Long) North boundary : 90
East boundary  : 180
South boundary : -90
West boundary  : -180
Metadata language English
Metadata last updated 6th November 2018
Metadata standard compliance NERC profile of ISO19115:2003
Copyright and IPR
The copyright of materials derived from the British Geological Survey's work is vested in the Natural Environment Research Council [NERC]. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a retrieval system of any nature, without the prior permission of the copyright holder, via the BGS Intellectual Property Rights Manager. Use by customers of information provided by the BGS, is at the customer's own risk. In view of the disparate sources of information at BGS's disposal, including such material donated to BGS, that BGS accepts in good faith as being accurate, the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) gives no warranty, expressed or implied, as to the quality or accuracy of the information supplied, or to the information's suitability for any use. NERC/BGS accepts no liability whatever in respect of loss, damage, injury or other occurence however caused.