Climate-tectonic coupling: Variations in the mean, variations about the mean, and variations in mode

A. Lenardic, A. M. Jellinek, B. Foley, C. O’Neill, and W. B. Moore
Abstract Interactions among tectonics, volcanism, and surface weathering are critical to the long-term
climatic state of a terrestrial planet. Volcanism cycles greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. Tectonics
creates weatherable topography, and weathering reactions draw greenhouse gasses out of the atmosphere.
Weathering depends on physical processes governed partly by surface temperature, which allows for the
potential that climate-tectonic coupling can buffer the surface conditions of a planet in a manner that allows
liquid water to exist over extended timescales (a condition that allows a planet to be habitable by life as we
know it). We discuss modeling efforts to explore the level to which climate-tectonic coupling can or cannot
regulate the surface temperature of a planet over geologic time. Thematically, we focus on how coupled
climate-tectonic systems respond to the following: (1) changes in the mean pace of tectonics and associated
variations in mantle melting and volcanism, (2) large-amplitude fluctuations about mean properties such as
mantle temperature and surface plate velocities, and (3) changes in tectonic mode.We consider models that
map the conditions under which plate tectonics can or cannot provide climate buffering as well as models
that explore the potential that alternate tectonic modes can provide a level of climate buffering that allows
liquid water to be present at a planet’s surface over geological timescales. We also discuss the possibility
that changes in the long-term climate state of a planet can feedback into the coupled system and initiate
changes in tectonic mode.

Lenardic, A., M. Jellinek, B. Foley, C. O’Neill, and W. B. Moore (2016),
Climate-tectonic coupling: Variations in the mean, variations about the mean, and variations in mode, J. Geophys. Res. Planets, 121, doi:10.1002/2016JE005089.

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