"It's the same phenomenon you will experience if you drive to Wal-Mart on a hot day and step out of your car onto the asphalt," Bird said. "It's really hot walking across the blacktop until you get onto the white concrete sidewalk."
Another key component of the theory is in the clouds. "Not all clouds are the same," Bird said.
Clouds reflect sunlight back into space to a degree, cooling Earth, but how effective they are depends on the number of tiny particles available to serve as nuclei around which the water droplets can condense. An abundance of nuclei means more droplets of a smaller size, which makes for a denser cloud and a greater reflectivity, or albedo, on the part of the cloud.
Most nuclei today are generated by plants or algae and promote the formation of numerous small droplets. But plants and algae didn't flourish until much later in Earth's history, so their contribution of potential nuclei to the early atmosphere circa 4 billion years ago would have been minimal. The few nuclei that might have been available would likely have come from erosion of rock on the small, rare landmasses of the day and would have caused larger droplets that were essentially transparent to the solar energy that came in to Earth, according to Bird.
"We put together some models that demonstrate, with the slow continental growth and with a limited amount of clouds, you could keep water above freezing throughout geologic history," Bird said.
"What this shows is that there is no faint early sun paradox," said Sleep.
The modeling work was done with climate modeler Christian Bjerrum, a professor in the Department of Geography and Geology, University of Copenhagen, also a co-author of the Nature paper.
The rocks that the team analyzed are a type of marine sedimentary rock called a banded iron formation. It is characterized by thin alternating bands of quartz, magnetite, an iron-rich mineral, and sideri
|Contact: Louis Bergeron|