Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Atmospheric & Oceanic Sciences
Owen B. Toon
The faint young Sun paradox has dominated our thinking regarding early climate. Geological evidence abounds for warm, possibly hot, seawater temperatures and the proliferation of early life during the Archean period of Earth's history (3.8−2.5 Ga). However the standard solar model indicates that the Sun was only 75 to 82 percent as bright as today, implying an apparent contradiction between warm surface temperatures and weak solar irradiance. Geological evidence also places constraints on the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide present early in Earth's history. Over the past four decades there has been much debate amongst geological, planetary, and climate science communities regarding how to properly resolve the issue of the faint young Sun. Up until very recently, 1-dimensional radiative convective models were the standard tool for deep paleoclimate modeling studies. These studies have notably lacked the ability to treat clouds, surface ice, and meridional energy transport. However, advancements in computing technology now allow us to tackle the faint young Sun paradox using a three-dimensional climate model. Here we use a modified version of the Community Atmosphere Model version 3 from the National Center for Atmospheric Research to study early climate. We find that resolving the faint young Sun paradox becomes less problematic when viewing a full representation of the climate system. Modest amounts of carbon dioxide and methane can provide adequate warming for the Archean within given constraints. Cooler climates with large ice caps but temperate tropical regions can be supported with even less carbon dioxide. The incorporation of systematic climate system differences expected during the Archean, such as fewer cloud condensation nuclei, reduced land albedos, and increased atmospheric nitrogen, can provide additional non-greenhouse means of warming the early Earth. A warm Archean no longer appears at odds with a faint young Sun. Here, we will also discuss the consequences of the oft-suggested Titan-like photochemical haze that may have enshrouded the early Earth if methane was a significant constituent of the atmosphere. Finally, we briefly consider the inverse problem. What fate may be in store for the Earth as the Sun continues to brighten far past its present level?
Wolf, Eric Theodore, "Solutions to the Faint Young Sun Paradox Simulated by a General Circulation Model" (2014). Atmospheric & Oceanic Sciences Graduate Theses & Dissertations. 42.