Bio-controlled thermostasis involving the sulfur cycle
- Cite this article as:
- Shaw, G.E. Climatic Change (1983) 5: 297. doi:10.1007/BF02423524
The Gaia hypothesis proposed by Lovelock and Margulis presumes the existence of an unspecified biological means of ameliorating climate that has operated since the emergence of life 3500 Myr ago: Recently it was suggested that the mechanism of thermostasis may involve biospheric cycling of atmospheric carbon dioxide.
We suggest an alternative hypothesis of biothermostasis operating through the sulfur cycle, rather than the carbon cycle. The mechanism would operate by altering planetary albedo through the selective creation of biospheric organic sulfide gases which go on to metamorphize into submicron particles and introduce cooling. In contrast to the carbon-cycle mechanism, sulfur-based cooling would have the ability to ameliorate climate well into the future, in principle over stellar Main Sequence time intervals. The main feature of interest is that the S cycle represents a particularly favorable thermodynamic pathway, involving three to four orders of magnitude less mass of active material cycled through the biospheric-atmospheric system (in response to a given temperature-imposed stress) than would be the case for a greenhouse gas hypothesis.
There is no evidence that the suggested biospheric controlled particle-albedo change mechanism is actually operating, but we speculate that the probability of its rising importance and perhaps eventual dominance will improve when the partial pressure of atmospheric CO2 drops low enough to impose stress on metabolic processes. The intriguing thing about the process is its extremely high efficiency.