Geological sulfur isotopes indicate elevated OCS in the Archean atmosphere, solving faint young sun paradox
Distributions of sulfur isotopes in geological samples would provide a record of atmospheric composition if the mechanism producing the isotope effects could be described quantitatively. We determined the UV absorption spectra of 32SO2, 33SO2, and 34SO2 and use them to interpret the geological record. The calculated isotopic fractionation factors for SO2 photolysis give mass independent distributions that are highly sensitive to the atmospheric concentrations of O2, O3, CO2, H2O, CS2, NH3, N2O, H2S, OCS, and SO2 itself. Various UV-shielding scenarios are considered and we conclude that the negative Δ33S observed in the Archean sulfate deposits can only be explained by OCS shielding. Of relevant Archean gases, OCS has the unique ability to prevent SO2 photolysis by sunlight at λ >202 nm. Scenarios run using a photochemical box model show that ppm levels of OCS will accumulate in a CO-rich, reducing Archean atmosphere. The radiative forcing, due to this level of OCS, is able to resolve the faint young sun paradox. Further, the decline of atmospheric OCS may have caused the late Archean glaciation.