Letter | Published:

No climate paradox under the faint early Sun

Nature volume 464, pages 744747 (01 April 2010) | Download Citation

Abstract

Environmental niches in which life first emerged and later evolved on the Earth have undergone dramatic changes in response to evolving tectonic/geochemical cycles and to biologic interventions1,2,3, as well as increases in the Sun’s luminosity of about 25 to 30 per cent over the Earth’s history4. It has been inferred that the greenhouse effect of atmospheric CO2 and/or CH4 compensated for the lower solar luminosity and dictated an Archaean climate in which liquid water was stable in the hydrosphere5,6,7,8. Here we demonstrate, however, that the mineralogy of Archaean sediments, particularly the ubiquitous presence of mixed-valence Fe(IIIII) oxides (magnetite) in banded iron formations9 is inconsistent with such high concentrations of greenhouse gases and the metabolic constraints of extant methanogens. Prompted by this, and the absence of geologic evidence for very high greenhouse-gas concentrations10,11,12,13, we hypothesize that a lower albedo on the Earth, owing to considerably less continental area and to the lack of biologically induced cloud condensation nuclei14, made an important contribution to moderating surface temperature in the Archaean eon. Our model calculations suggest that the lower albedo of the early Earth provided environmental conditions above the freezing point of water, thus alleviating the need for extreme greenhouse-gas concentrations to satisfy the faint early Sun paradox.

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Acknowledgements

This study was carried out at the Nordic Center for Earth Evolution funded by the Danish National Research Foundation and the research was supported by an Allan C. Cox Professorship to M.T.R. and endowment funds from the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences from Stanford University to D.K.B., and NSF grants to N.H.S. We are grateful for comments from D. Lowe, D. Canfield, F. Selsis, P. Ditlevsen and the “Ice and climate group” of the Niels Bohr Institute. We thank R. Caballero and J. Bendtsen for comments on the radiation balance model. We thank J. Kasting, A. Lenardic and N. Sheldon for constructive reviews.

Author Contributions All authors have contributed to developing the ideas presented. M.T.R. and D.K.B. carried out the thermodynamic modelling, and C.J.B. carried out the radiative climate modelling, based on surface albedo change (M.T.R.) and low CCN (C.J.B.).

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Affiliations

  1. Nordic Center for Earth Evolution, Øster Voldgade 5-7,

    • Minik T. Rosing
    • , Dennis K. Bird
    •  & Christian J. Bjerrum
  2. Natural History Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen, Øster Voldgade 5-7,

    • Minik T. Rosing
  3. Department of Geography and Geology, University of Copenhagen, Øster Voldgade 10, DK-1350 København K., Denmark

    • Christian J. Bjerrum
  4. Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences,

    • Minik T. Rosing
    •  & Dennis K. Bird
  5. Department of Geophysics, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305, USA

    • Norman H. Sleep

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Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Minik T. Rosing.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nature08955

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