Randy McDonald (rfmcdpei) wrote,

[BRIEF NOTE] On a cold early Mars

James Nicoll and Will Baird each linked to a paper published at arXiv, "3D modelling of the early Martian Climate under a denser CO2 atmosphere: Temperatures and CO2 ice clouds", suggesting that even with the densest plausible carbon dioxide atmospheres, the faintness of the early Sun makes it unlikely that Mars would have been more hospitable than Antarctica in winter. This has obvious implications for the potential for life.

On the basis of geological evidence, it is often stated that the early martian climate was warm enough for liquid water to flow on the surface thanks to the greenhouse effect of a thick atmosphere. We present 3D global climate simulations of the early martian climate performed assuming a faint young sun and a CO2 atmosphere with pressure between 0.1 and 7 bars. The model includes a detailed radiative transfer model using revised CO2 gas collision induced absorption properties, and a parameterisation of the CO2 ice cloud microphysical and radiative properties. A wide range of possible climates is explored by using various values of obliquities, orbital parameters, cloud microphysic parameters, atmospheric dust loading, and surface properties.

Unlike on present day Mars, for pressures higher than a fraction of a bar, surface temperatures vary with altitude because of the adiabatic cooling and warming of the atmosphere when it moves vertically. In most simulations, CO2 ice clouds cover a major part of the planet but greenhouse effect does not exceed +15 K. We find that a CO2 atmosphere could not have raised the annual mean temperature above 0{\deg}C anywhere on the planet. The collapse of the atmosphere into permanent CO2 ice caps is predicted for pressures higher than 3 bar, or conversely at pressure lower than one bar if the obliquity is low enough. Summertime diurnal mean surface temperatures above 0{\deg}C (a condition which could have allowed rivers to form) are predicted for obliquity larger than 40{\deg} at high latitudes but not in locations where most valley networks are observed. In the absence of other warming mechanisms, our climate model results are thus consistent with a cold early Mars scenario in which non climatic mechanisms must occur to explain the evidence for liquid water. In a companion paper by Wordsworth et al., we
simulate the hydrological cycle on such a planet.

In the comments to James' post, Will wonders whether the existence of an ocean--such as is hypothesized for Mars' northern hemispheric North Polar Basin--might have changed things. Thoughts?
Tags: extraterrestrial life, history, links, mars, science, space science
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