Carbon cycling and interior evolution of water-covered plate tectonics and stagnant-lid planets

D. Höning, Nicola Tosi, Tilman Spohn

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Aims. The long-term carbon cycle for planets with a surface entirely covered by oceans works differently from that of the present-day Earth because inefficient erosion leads to a strong dependence of the weathering rate on the rate of volcanism. In this paper, we investigate the long-term carbon cycle for these planets throughout their evolution.

Methods. We built box models of the long-term carbon cycle based on CO2 degassing, seafloor-weathering, metamorphic decarbonation, and ingassing and coupled them with thermal evolution models of plate tectonics and stagnant-lid planets.

Results. The assumed relationship between the seafloor-weathering rate and the atmospheric CO2 or the surface temperature strongly influences the climate evolution for both tectonic regimes. For a planet with plate tectonics, the atmospheric CO2 partial pressure is characterized by an equilibrium between ingassing and degassing and depends on the temperature gradient in subduction zones affecting the stability of carbonates. For a stagnant lid planet, partial melting and degassing are always accompanied by decarbonation, such that the combined carbon content of the crust and atmosphere increases with time. While the initial mantle temperature on planets with plate tectonics only affects the early evolution, it influences the evolution of the surface temperature of stagnant-lid planets for much longer.

Conclusions. For both tectonic regimes, mantle cooling results in a decreasing atmospheric CO2 partial pressure. For a planet with plate tectonics this is caused by an increasing fraction of subduction zones that avoid crustal decarbonation, and for stagnant-lid planets this is caused by an increasing decarbonation depth. This mechanism may partly compensate for the increase of the surface temperature due to increasing solar luminosity with time, and thereby contribute to keeping planets habitable in the long-term.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberA48
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalAstronomy and Astrophysics
Early online date1 Jul 2019
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2019


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