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Early Earth may have been prone to deep freezes, says CU-Boulder study
Date:12/5/2011

Two University of Colorado Boulder researchers who have adapted a three-dimensional, general circulation model of Earth's climate to a time some 2.8 billion years ago when the sun was significantly fainter than present think the planet may have been more prone to catastrophic glaciation than previously believed.

The new 3-D model of the Archean Eon on Earth that lasted from about 3.8 billion years to 2.5 billion years ago, incorporates interactions between the atmosphere, ocean, land, ice and hydrological cycles, said CU-Boulder doctoral student Eric Wolf of the atmospheric and oceanic sciences department. Wolf has been using the new climate model -- which is based on the Community Earth System Model maintained by the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder -- in part to solve the "faint young sun paradox" that occurred several billion years ago when the sun's output was only 70 to 80 percent of that today but when geologic evidence shows the climate was as warm or warmer than now.

In the past, scientists have used several types of one-dimensional climate models -- none of which included clouds or dynamic sea ice -- in an attempt to understand the conditions on early Earth that kept it warm and hospitable for primitive life forms. But the 1-D model most commonly used by scientists fixes Earth's sea ice extent at one specific level through time despite periodic temperature fluctuations on the planet, said Wolf.

"The inclusion of dynamic sea ice makes it harder to keep the early Earth warm in our 3-D model," Wolf said. "Stable, global mean temperatures below 55 degrees Fahrenheit are not possible, as the system will slowly succumb to expanding sea ice and cooling temperatures. As sea ice expands, the planet surface becomes highly reflective and less solar energy is absorbed, temperatures cool, and sea ice continues to expand."

Wolf and CU-Boulder Professor Brian Toon are continuing to search for the heating
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Contact: Eric Wolf
eric.wolf@colorado.edu
303-735-3545
University of Colorado at Boulder
Source:Eurekalert

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