The presence of valleys on ancient terrains of Mars suggests that liquid water flowed on the martian surface 3.8 Gyr ago or before. The above-freezing temperatures required to explain valley formation could have been transient, in response to the frequent large meteorite impacts on early Mars, or they could have been caused by long-lived greenhouse warming. Climate models that consider only the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and water have been unable to recreate warm surface conditions, given the lower solar luminosity at that time. Here we use a one-dimensional climate model to demonstrate that an atmosphere containing 1.3–4 bar of CO2 and water, in addition to 5–20% H2, could have raised the mean surface temperature of early Mars above the freezing point of water. Vigorous volcanic outgassing from a highly reduced early martian mantle is expected to provide sufficient atmospheric H2 and CO2—the latter from the photochemical oxidation of outgassed CH4 and CO—to form a CO2 and H2 greenhouse. Such a dense early martian atmosphere is consistent with independent estimates of surface pressure based on cratering data.
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This paper benefited from reviews by B. Toon and R. Wordsworth. Support for this work came from the NASA Exobiology Program and the NASA Astrobiology Institute.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
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Ramirez, R., Kopparapu, R., Zugger, M. et al. Warming early Mars with CO2 and H2. Nature Geosci 7, 59–63 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo2000
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