Palaeoclimates: The first two billion years

James F. Kasting, Shuhei Ono

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

92 Scopus citations

Abstract

Earth's climate during the Archaean remains highly uncertain, as the relevant geologic evidence is sparse and occasionally contradictory. Oxygen isotopes in cherts suggest that between 3.5 and 3.2 Gyr ago (Ga) the Archaean climate was hot (55-85 °C); however, the fact that these cherts have experienced only a modest amount of weathering suggests that the climate was temperate, as today. The presence of diamictites in the Pongola Supergroup and the Witwatersrand Basin of South Africa suggests that by 2.9 Ga the climate was glacial. The Late Archaean was relatively warm; then glaciation (possibly of global extent) reappeared in the Early Palaeoproterozoic, around 2.3-2.4 Ga. Fitting these climatic constraints with a model requires high concentrations of atmospheric CO2 or CH4, or both. Solar luminosity was 20-25% lower than today, so elevated greenhouse gas concentrations were needed just to keep the mean surface temperature above freezing. A rise in O 2 at approximately 2.4 Ga, and a concomitant decrease in CH 4, provides a natural explanation for the Palaeoproterozoic glaciations. The Mid-Archaean glaciations may have been caused by a drawdown in H2 and CH4 caused by the origin of bacterial sulphate reduction. More work is needed to test this latter hypothesis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)917-929
Number of pages13
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Volume361
Issue number1470
DOIs
StatePublished - 2006

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)

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