One theory solves two ancient climate paradoxes

San Francisco, Calif. -- A Penn State meteorologist has a single theory that could solve both the Faint Young Sun problem and the Snowball Earth problem if it proves to be correct.

"I looked at the climate problems in the Archean, 3.8 to 2.5 billion years ago, where the environment was very warm with a sun that is much cooler than today's," says Dr. Gregory S. Jenkins, assistant professor of meteorology. "Then I looked at the late Proterozoic, where some researchers suggest episodes of snowball Earth where the entire globe ices up and I realized that the same solution could solve both problems.

Jenkins of Penn State's College of Earth and Mineral Sciences explains his solution in two papers presented today (Dec. 14) and tomorrow (Dec. 15) at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco. The papers are "The high obliquity solution to understanding Archean climate and the faint-young sun paradox," and "Climate model solutions to late Proterozoic glaciation," written with Steven R. Smith, a recent Penn State meteorology graduate.

According to Jenkins, tilt is the key to both events in Earth's past. Many scientists believe that the collision of a large planetoid with Earth created the moon and some believe that collision also altered the Earth's tilt.

"If the Earth were tilted to 70 degrees from vertical, then both the faint young sun problem and the snowball Earth problem would be solved," says Jenkins.

The faint young sun problem arises because young stars are 20 to 30 percent less bright, and consequently less warm, than older stars. Geological evidence shows that the Earth was much warmer in the early Precambrian than it is today, despite a weaker sun. Most solutions to this problem suggest that levels of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane were much higher then and these gases where what warmed the Earth.

Jenkins used a global climate model of the Earth during the Archean with only slightly elevated

Contact: A'ndrea Elyse Messer
Penn State

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