Climatic Change

, Volume 5, Issue 3, pp 297–303 | Cite as

Bio-controlled thermostasis involving the sulfur cycle

  • Glenn E. Shaw


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.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Bigg, E. K.: 1980, ‘Comparison of Aerosol at Four Baseline Atmospheric Monitoring Stations’,J. Appl. Meteor. 19, 521–533.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bolin, B., Degens, E. T., Duvigneaud, P., and Kempe, S.: 1979, ‘The Global Biogeochemical Carbon Cycle’, in B. Bolin, E. T. Degens, S. Kempe, and P. Ketner (ed.),The Global Carbon Cycle, John Wiley and Sons, N.Y., 491 pp.Google Scholar
  3. Cunningham, W. C. and Zoller, W. H.: 1981, ‘The Chemical Composition of Remote Area Aerosols’,J. Aerosol. Sci. 12, 367–384.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Delmas, R. and Boutron, C.: 1980, ‘Are the Past Variations of the Stratospheric Sulfate Burden Recorded in Central Antarctic Snow and Ice Layers?’,J. Geophys. Res. 85, 5645–5649.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Graedel, T. E.: 1979, ‘Reduced Sulfur Emission from the Open Ocean’,Geophys. Res. Lett. 6, 329–331.Google Scholar
  6. Hansen, J. and Travis, L.: 1974, ‘Light Scattering in Planetary Atmospheres’,Space Sci. Rev. 16, 527–610.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Hanst, P. E., Spiller, L. L., Watts, D. M., Spencer, S. W., and Miller, M. F.: 1975, ‘Infrared Measurements of Flurocarbons, Carbon Tetrachloride, Carbonyl Sulphide and other Trace Gases’,J. Air Pollut. Contr. Assoc. 25(12).Google Scholar
  8. Logan, J. A., McElroy, M. B., Wofsy, S., and Prather, M.: 1979, ‘Oxidation of CS2 and COS: Sources for Atmospheric SO2’,Nature 281, 185–188.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Lovelock, J. E., Maggs, J., and Rasmussen, R. A.: 1972, ‘Atmospheric Dimethylsulphide and the Natural Sulfur Cycle’,Nature 237, 452–453.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Lovelock, J. E. and Margulis, L.: 1974, ‘Atmospheric Homostasis by and for the Biosphere: The Gaia Hypothesis’,Tellus 26, 1–10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Lovelock, J. E. and Whitfield, M.: 1982, ‘Life Span of the Biosphere’,Nature 296, 561–563.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Manabe, S. and Wetherald, R. T.: 1967, ‘Thermal Equilibrium of the Atmosphere with a Given Distri- bution of Relative Humidity’,J. Atmos. Sci. 24, 241.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Nguyen, B. C., Gaudry, A., Bonsang, B., Lambert, G.: 1978, ‘Reevaluation of the Role of Dimethyl Sulphide in the Sulfur Budget’,Nature 275, 637–639.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Rasmussen, R. A.: 1974, ‘Emission of Biogenic Hydrogen Sulfide’,Tellus 26, 254–260.Google Scholar
  15. Sagan, C., Toon, B., and Pollack, J. B.: 1979, ‘Anthropogenic Albedo Changes and the Earth's Climate’,Science 206, 1363–1368.Google Scholar
  16. Sandalls, F. J. and Penkett, S. A.: 1977, ‘Measurements of Carbonyl Sulphide and Carbon Disulphide in the Atmosphere’,Atmos. Env. 11, 197–199.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Shaw, G. E.: 1982, ‘On the Residence Time of the Antarctic Ice Sheet Sulfate Aerosol’,J. Geophys. Res. 87, 4309–4313.Google Scholar
  18. Stratton, J. A.: 1941,Electromagnetic Theory, McGraw Hill Publishing Co., New York, NY. 615 pp.Google Scholar
  19. Sze, N. D. and Ko, M. K. W.: 1979, ‘Is CS2 a Precursor for Atmospheric COS?’,Nature 278, 731–732.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Toon, O. B. and Pollack, J. B.: 1976, ‘A Global Average Model of Atmospheric Aerosols for Radiative Transfer Calculation’,J. Appl. Meteor. 15, 225–246.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Twomey, S.: 1977,Atmospheric Aerosols, Elsevier Scientific Publ. Co. Amsterdam, 301 pp.Google Scholar
  22. Wetherald, R. T. and Manabe, S.: 1975, ‘The Effects of Changing the Solar Constant on the Climate of a General Circulation Model’,J. Atmos. Sci. 32, 2044.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Winchester, J. W., Lu Weixiu, Ren Lixin, Wang, Mong Xing, and Maenhaut, W.: 1981, ‘Fine and Course Aerosol Composition from a Rural Area in North China’,Atmos. Env. 15, 933–937.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Wiscombe, W. and Grams, G.: 1976, ‘The Backscattered Fraction in Two-Stream Approximations’,J. Atmos. Sci. 33, 2440–2451.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© D. Reidel Publishing Company 1983

Authors and Affiliations

  • Glenn E. Shaw
    • 1
  1. 1.Geophysical Institute, University of AlaskaFairbanksUSA

Personalised recommendations