Climatic consequences of very high carbon dioxide levels in the earth's early atmosphere

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Science  12 Dec 1986:
Vol. 234, Issue 4782, pp. 1383-1385
DOI: 10.1126/science.11539665


The possible consequences of very high carbon dioxide concentrations in the earth's early atmosphere have been investigated with a radiative-convective climate model. The early atmosphere would apparently have been stable against the onset of a runaway greenhouse (that is, the complete evaporation of the oceans) for carbon dioxide pressures up to at least 100 bars. A 10- to 20-bar carbon dioxide atmosphere, such as may have existed during the first several hundred million years of the earth's history, would have had a surface temperature of approximately 85 degrees to 110 degrees C. The early stratosphere should have been dry, thereby precluding the possibility of an oxygenic prebiotic atmosphere caused by photodissociation of water vapor followed by escape of hydrogen to space. Earth's present atmosphere also appears to be stable against a carbon dioxide-induced runaway greenhouse.