Origins of life and evolution of the biosphere

, Volume 16, Issue 2, pp 117-127

First online:

Carbon dioxide on the early earth

  • James C. G. WalkerAffiliated withSpace Physics Research Laboratory, Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Science, The University of Michigan

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This paper uses arguments of geochemical mass balance to arrive at an estimate of the partial pressure of carbon dioxide in the terrestrial atmosphere very early in earth history. It appears that this partial pressure could have been as large as 10 bars. This large estimate depends on two key considerations. First, volatiles were driven out of the interior of the earth during the course of earth accretion or very shortly thereafter. This early degassing was a consequence of rapid accretion, which gave the young earth a hot and rapidly convecting interior. Second, the early earth lacked extensive, stable continental platforms on which carbon could be stored in the form of carbonate minerals for geologically significant periods of time. In the absence of continental platforms on the early earth, the earth's carbon must have been either in the atmosphere or ocean or in the form of shortlived sedimentary deposits on ephemeral sea floor.