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GEOCARB III: A revised model of atmospheric CO2 over Phanerozoic time

by R. A. Berner
American Journal of Science ()

Abstract

Revision of the GEOCARB model (Berner, 1991, 1994) for paleolevels of atmospheric CO2, has been made with emphasis on factors affecting CO2 uptake by continental weathering. This includes: (1) new GCM (general circulation model) results: for the dependence of global mean surface temperature and runoff on CO2, for both glaciated and non-glaciated periods, coupled with new results for the temperature response to changes hi solar radiation; (2) demonstration that values for the weathering-uplift factor f(R)(t) based on Sr isotopes as was done in GEOCARB II are in general agreement with independent values calculated from the abundance of terrigenous sediments as a measure of global physical erosion rate over Phanerozoic time; (3) more accurate estimates of the timing and the quantitative effects on Ca-Mg silicate weathering of the rise of large vascular plants on the continents during the Devonian; (4) inclusion of the effects of changes in paleogeography alone (constant CO2 and solar radiation) on global mean land surface temperature as it affects the rate of weathering; (5) consideration of the effects of volcanic weathering, both in subduction zones and on the seafloor (6) use of new data on the delta C-13 values for Phanerozoic limestones and organic matter; (7) consideration of the relative weathering enhancement by gymnosperms versus angiosperms; (8) revision of paleo land area based on more recent data and use of this data, along with GCM-based paleo-runoff results, to calculate global water discharge from the continents over time. Results show a similar overall pattern to those for GEOCARB II: very high CO2 values during the early Paleozoic, a large drop during the Devonian and Carboniferous, high values during the early Mesozoic, and a gradual decrease from about 170 Ma to low values during the Cenozoic. However, the new results exhibit considerably higher CO2 values during the Mesozoic, and their downward trend with time agrees with the independent estimates of Ekart and others (1999). Sensitivity analysis shows that results for paleo-CO2 are especially sensitive to: the effects of CO2 fertilization and temperature on the acceleration of plant-mediated chemical weathering; die quantitative effects of plants on mineral dissolution rate for constant temperature and CO2; the relative roles of angiosperms and gymnosperms in accelerating rock weathering; and the response of paleo-temperature to the global climate model used. This emphasizes the need for further study of the role of plants in chemical weathering and the application of GCMs to study of paleo-CO2 and the long term carbon cycle.

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