PerspectiveClimate Change

Mineral clues to past volcanism

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Science  22 Apr 2016:
Vol. 352, Issue 6284, pp. 411-412
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf6612

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Over tens to hundreds of millions of years, Earth's climate has repeatedly swung from icehouse, with large ice sheets like today, to greenhouse, when even near-polar climates were temperate (1). The modern paradigm attributes these swings to a dynamic interplay of volcanism, which spews carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere, and the chemical weathering of rocks on land, which removes CO2 from the atmosphere (2). Documenting how these driving forces have varied through time has been a challenge. On page 444 of this issue, McKenzie et al. (3) argue that volcanic CO2 emissions have been the main driver of climate change over the past several hundred million years.