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Onset and ending of the late Palaeozoic ice age triggered by tectonically paced rock weathering

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Abstract

The onset of the late Palaeozoic ice age about 340 million years ago has been attributed to a decrease in atmospheric CO 2 concentrations associated with expansion of land plants, as plants both enhance silicate rock weathering - which consumes CO 2 - and increase the storage of organic carbon on land. However, plant expansion and carbon uptake substantially predate glaciation. Here we use climate and carbon cycle simulations to investigate the potential effects of the uplift of the equatorial Hercynian mountains and the assembly of Pangaea on the late Palaeozoic carbon cycle. In our simulations, mountain uplift during the Late Carboniferous caused an increase in physical weathering that removed the thick soil cover that had inhibited silicate weathering. The resulting increase in chemical weathering was sufficient to cause atmospheric CO 2 concentrations to fall below the levels required to initiate glaciation. During the Permian, the lowering of the mountains led to a re-establishment of thick soils, whilst the assembly of Pangaea promoted arid conditions in continental interiors that were unfavourable for silicate weathering. These changes allowed CO 2 concentrations to rise to levels sufficient to terminate the glacial event. Based on our simulations, we suggest that tectonically influenced carbon cycle changes during the late Palaeozoic were sufficient to initiate and terminate the late Palaeozoic ice age.

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Goddéris, Y., Donnadieu, Y., Carretier, S., Aretz, M., Dera, G., MacOuin, M., & Regard, V. (2017). Onset and ending of the late Palaeozoic ice age triggered by tectonically paced rock weathering. Nature Geoscience, 10(5), 382–386. https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo2931

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