The role of plate tectonic-climate coupling and exposed land area in the development of habitable climates on rocky planets

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The long-term carbon cycle is vital for maintaining liquid water oceans on rocky planets due to the negative climate feedbacks involved in silicate weathering. Plate tectonics plays a crucial role in driving the long-term carbon cycle because it is responsible for CO2 degassing at ridges and arcs, the return of CO2 to the mantle through subduction, and supplying fresh, weatherable rock to the surface via uplift and orogeny. However, the presence of plate tectonics itself may depend on climate according to recent geodynamical studies showing that cool surface temperatures are important for maintaining vigorous plate tectonics. Using a simple carbon cycle model, I show that the negative climate feedbacks inherent in the long-term carbon cycle are uninhibited by climate's effect on plate tectonics. Furthermore, initial atmospheric CO2 conditions do not impact the final climate state reached when the carbon cycle comes to equilibrium, as long as liquid water is present and silicate weathering can occur. Thus an initially hot, CO2 rich atmosphere does not prevent the development of a temperate climate and plate tectonics on a planet. However, globally supply limited weathering does prevent the development of temperate climates on planets with small subaerial land areas and large total CO2 budgets because supply limited weathering lacks stabilizing climate feedbacks. Planets in the supply limited regime may become inhospitable for life and could experience significant water loss. Supply limited weathering is less likely on plate tectonic planets because plate tectonics promotes high erosion rates and thus a greater supply of bedrock to the surface.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number36
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Oct 10 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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