Article | Published:

Onset and ending of the late Palaeozoic ice age triggered by tectonically paced rock weathering

Nature Geoscience volume 10, pages 382386 (2017) | Download Citation

Abstract

The onset of the late Palaeozoic ice age about 340 million years ago has been attributed to a decrease in atmospheric CO2 concentrations associated with expansion of land plants, as plants both enhance silicate rock weathering—which consumes CO2—and increase the storage of organic carbon on land. However, plant expansion and carbon uptake substantially predate glaciation. Here we use climate and carbon cycle simulations to investigate the potential effects of the uplift of the equatorial Hercynian mountains and the assembly of Pangaea on the late Palaeozoic carbon cycle. In our simulations, mountain uplift during the Late Carboniferous caused an increase in physical weathering that removed the thick soil cover that had inhibited silicate weathering. The resulting increase in chemical weathering was sufficient to cause atmospheric CO2 concentrations to fall below the levels required to initiate glaciation. During the Permian, the lowering of the mountains led to a re-establishment of thick soils, whilst the assembly of Pangaea promoted arid conditions in continental interiors that were unfavourable for silicate weathering. These changes allowed CO2 concentrations to rise to levels sufficient to terminate the glacial event. Based on our simulations, we suggest that tectonically influenced carbon cycle changes during the late Palaeozoic were sufficient to initiate and terminate the late Palaeozoic ice age.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

References

  1. 1.

    & The Late Paleozoic ice age: an evolving paradigm. Annu. Rev. Earth Planet. Sci. 41, 629–656 (2013).

  2. 2.

    et al. Glacial paradoxes during the late Paleozoic ice age: evaluating the equilibrium line altitude as a control on glaciation. Gondwana Res. 22, 1–19 (2012).

  3. 3.

    et al. Climate, pCO2 and terrestrial carbon cycle linkages during late Paleozoic glacial–interglacial cycles. Nat. Geosci. 9, 824–828 (2016).

  4. 4.

    & in Tectonic Uplift and Climate Change (ed. Ruddiman, W. F.) 399–426 (Springer, 1997).

  5. 5.

    The Phanerozoic Carbon Cycle (Oxford Univ. Press, 2004).

  6. 6.

    , & COPSE: a new model of biogeochemical cycling over Phanerozoic time. Am. J. Sci. 304, 397–437 (2004).

  7. 7.

    & The sedimentary record of Carboniferous river: continuing influence of land plant evolution on alluvial process and Palaeozoic ecosystems. Earth Sci. Rev. 120, 40–79 (2013).

  8. 8.

    , , & Delayed fungal evolution did not cause the Paleozoic peak in coal production. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 9, 2442–2447 (2016).

  9. 9.

    A late Paleozoic climate window of opportunity. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 113, 2334–2336 (2016).

  10. 10.

    Relating chemical and physical erosion. Rev. Mineral. 31, 543–564 (1995).

  11. 11.

    & A theoretical model coupling chemical weathering rates with denudation rates. Geology 37, 151–154 (2009).

  12. 12.

    , , , & Competition between erosion and reaction kinetics in controlling silicate-weathering rates. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 293, 191–199 (2010).

  13. 13.

    , , & Mean bedrock-to-saprolite conversion and erosion rates during mountain growth and decline. Geomorphology 209, 39–52 (2014).

  14. 14.

    et al. A GEOCLIM simulation of climatic and biogeochemical consequences of Pangea breakup. Geochem. Geophys. Geosyst. 7, Q11019 (2006).

  15. 15.

    , , , & The role of palaeogeography in the Phanerozoic history of atmospheric CO2 and climate. Earth-Sci. Rev. 128, 122–138 (2014).

  16. 16.

    , & Chemical weathering in granitic crystalline environments. Chem. Geol. 202, 225–256 (2003).

  17. 17.

    , , , & A better-ventilated ocean triggered by Late Cretaceous changes in continental configuration. Nat. Commun. 7, 10316 (2016).

  18. 18.

    , , & Shield effect on continental weathering: implication for climatic evolution of the Earth at the geological timescale. Geoderma 145, 439–448 (2008).

  19. 19.

    & Geochemistry of the Amazon: 3. Weathering chemistry and limits to dissolved inputs. J. Geophys. Res. 92, 8293–8302 (1987).

  20. 20.

    , & Emergence of pediments, tors, and piedmont junction from a bedrock weathering-regolith thickness feedback. Geology 34, 805–808 (2006).

  21. 21.

    Thickness of the chemical weathering zone and implications for erosional and climatic drivers of weathering and for carbon-cycle feedbacks. Geology 40, 811–814 (2012).

  22. 22.

    in Phanerozoic Reef Patterns Vol. 72 (eds Kiessling, W., Flügel, E. & Golonka, J.) 21–75 (SEPM Special Publications, 2002).

  23. 23.

    in The Atmopshere History Vol. 6 (ed. Farquhar, J.) 251–267 (Elsevier, 2014).

  24. 24.

    & Paleoclimate across the Late Pennsylvanian–Early Permian tropical paleolatitudes: a review of climate indicators, their distribution, and relation to paleophysiographic climate factors. Palaeogeogr. Palaeoclimatol. Palaeoecol. 268, 293–310 (2008).

  25. 25.

    , , , & Thresholds for Paleozoic ice sheet initiation. Geology 42, 627–630 (2014).

  26. 26.

    & The Cenozoic evolution of the strontium and carbon cycles: relative importance of continental erosion and mantle exchanges. Chem. Geol. 126, 169–190 (1995).

  27. 27.

    , & The strontium isotopic budget of Himalayan rivers in Nepal and Bangladesh. Geochem. Cosmochim. Acta 63, 1905–1925 (2002).

  28. 28.

    & Evolution of carbon cycle over the past 100 million years. Geochem. Cosmochim. Acta 103, 11–25 (2013).

  29. 29.

    , , & The global control of silicate weathering rates and the coupling with physical erosion: new insights from rivers of the Canadian Shield. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 196, 83–98 (2002).

  30. 30.

    , & Tectonic and climatic controls on silicate weathering. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 235, 211–228 (2005).

  31. 31.

    et al. Efficient organic carbon burial in the Bengal fan sustained by the Himalayan erosional system. Nature 450, 407–410 (2007).

  32. 32.

    , & Global carbon export from the terrestrial biosphere controlled by erosion. Nature 521, 204–207 (2015).

  33. 33.

    et al. 87Sr/86Sr, δ13C and δ18O evolution of Phanerozoic seawater. Chem. Geol. 161, 59–88 (1999).

  34. 34.

    in Treatise on Geochemistry Vol. 6 (eds Holland, H. D. & Turekian, K. K.) 251–267 (Elsevier, 2014).

  35. 35.

    & Isotopic constraints on the Cenozoic evolution of the carbon cycle. Chem. Geol. 145, 177–212 (1998).

  36. 36.

    & Interpreting carbon-isotope excursions: carbonates and organic matter. Chem. Geol. 161, 181–198 (1999).

  37. 37.

    , & The carbonate–silicate geochemical cycle an its effects on atmospheric carbon dioxide over the past 100 million years. Am. J. Sci. 284, 641–683 (1983).

  38. 38.

    , & A negative feedback mechanism for the long-term stabilization of Earth’s surface temperature. J. Geophys. Res. 86, 9776–9782 (1981).

  39. 39.

    & The need for mass balance and feedback in the geochemical carbon cycle. Geology 25, 955 (1997).

  40. 40.

    & Close mass balance of long-term carbon fluxes from ice-core CO2 and ocean chemistry records. Nat. Geosci. 1, 312–315 (2008).

  41. 41.

    Low Frequency Variability in a Simulated Atmosphere Ocean System PhD thesis, Univ. Winsconsin (1997).

  42. 42.

    High levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide necessary for the termination of global glaciation. Nature 429, 646–649 (2004).

  43. 43.

    , , , & Deciphering the role of southern gateways and carbon dioxide on the onset of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current. Paleoceanography 27, PA002345 (2012).

  44. 44.

    Solar interior structure and luminosity variations. Sol. Phys. 74, 21–34 (1981).

  45. 45.

    , , & Global silicate weathering and CO2 consumption rates deduced from the chemistry of the large rivers. Chem. Geol. 159, 3–30 (1999).

  46. 46.

    , , , & Basalt weathering laws and the impact of basalt weathering on the global carbon cycle. Chem. Geol. 202, 257–273 (2003).

  47. 47.

    & Dynamics of the stream-power river incision model: implications for height limits of mountain ranges, landscapes response timescales, and research needs. J. Geophys. Res. 104, 17661–17674 (1999).

  48. 48.

    , & The ‘humped’ soil production function: eroding Arnhem Land, Australia. Earth Surf. Process. Landf. 34, 1674–1684 (2009).

  49. 49.

    Report on the Geology of the Henry Mountains (Utah) (Department of the Interior, 1877).

  50. 50.

    , & The role of climate-driven chemical weathering on soil production. Geomorphology 204, 510–517 (2014).

  51. 51.

    & Bedrock erosion by root fracture and tree throw: a coupled biogeomorphic model to explore the humped soil production function and the persistence of hillslope soils. J. Geophys. Res. 115, F04005 (2010).

  52. 52.

    , , & Predicting the terrestrial flux of sediment to the global ocean: a planetary perspective. Sedim. Geol. 162, 5–24 (2003).

  53. 53.

    et al. The shuttle radar topography mission. Rev. Geophys. 45, RG2004 (2007).

Download references

Acknowledgements

CNRS INSU/SYSTER program and the ANR projects TERRES and Anox-Sea have provided funding for this work. We thank the CEA/CCRT for providing access to the HPC resources of TGCC under the allocation 2015–012212 made by GENCI.

Author information

Author notes

    • Yves Goddéris
    •  & Yannick Donnadieu

    These authors contributed equally to this work.

Affiliations

  1. Géosciences Environnement Toulouse, CNRS—Université Paul Sabatier - IRD, 31400 Toulouse, France

    • Yves Goddéris
    • , Sébastien Carretier
    • , Markus Aretz
    • , Guillaume Dera
    • , Mélina Macouin
    •  & Vincent Regard
  2. Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l’Environnement, LSCE-IPSL, CEA-CNRS-UVSQ, Université Paris-Saclay, 91191 Gif-sur-Yvette, France

    • Yannick Donnadieu
  3. Aix-Marseille Univ, CNRS, IRD, CEREGE, 13545 Aix-en-Provence, France

    • Yannick Donnadieu

Authors

  1. Search for Yves Goddéris in:

  2. Search for Yannick Donnadieu in:

  3. Search for Sébastien Carretier in:

  4. Search for Markus Aretz in:

  5. Search for Guillaume Dera in:

  6. Search for Mélina Macouin in:

  7. Search for Vincent Regard in:

Contributions

Y.G. and Y.D. conceived the study and wrote the paper with contributions from all co-authors. The physical erosion model was developed by Y.G., S.C. and Y.D.; Y.G. and Y.D. performed the simulations. G.D., M.A., M.M. and V.R. reconstructed the palaeogeographic settings of the late Palaeozoic (five maps).

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Yves Goddéris or Yannick Donnadieu.

Supplementary information

PDF files

  1. 1.

    Supplementary Information

    Supplementary Information

About this article

Publication history

Received

Accepted

Published

DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo2931

Further reading