Nature Geoscience. doi:10.1038/ngeo2728
Author: Ramses Ramirez
Frequent storms on the young Sun would have ejected energetic particles and compressed Earth's magnetosphere. Simulations suggest that the particles penetrated the atmosphere and initiated reactions that warmed the planet and fertilized life.
Nature Geoscience. doi:10.1038/ngeo2719
Authors: V. S. Airapetian, A. Glocer, G. Gronoff, E. Hébrard & W. Danchi
Nitrogen is a critical ingredient of complex biological molecules. Molecular nitrogen, however, which was outgassed into the Earth’s early atmosphere, is relatively chemically inert and nitrogen fixation into more chemically reactive compounds requires high temperatures. Possible mechanisms of nitrogen fixation include lightning, atmospheric shock heating by meteorites, and solar ultraviolet radiation. Here we show that nitrogen fixation in the early terrestrial atmosphere can be explained by frequent and powerful coronal mass ejection events from the young Sun—so-called superflares. Using magnetohydrodynamic simulations constrained by Kepler Space Telescope observations, we find that successive superflare ejections produce shocks that accelerate energetic particles, which would have compressed the early Earth’s magnetosphere. The resulting extended polar cap openings provide pathways for energetic particles to penetrate into the atmosphere and, according to our atmospheric chemistry simulations, initiate reactions converting molecular nitrogen, carbon dioxide and methane to the potent greenhouse gas nitrous oxide as well as hydrogen cyanide, an essential compound for life. Furthermore, the destruction of N2, CO2 and CH4 suggests that these greenhouse gases cannot explain the stability of liquid water on the early Earth. Instead, we propose that the efficient formation of nitrous oxide could explain a warm early Earth.
Nature Geoscience. doi:10.1038/ngeo2720
Authors: Núria Catalán, Rafael Marcé, Dolly N. Kothawala & Lars. J. Tranvik
The loss of organic carbon during passage through the continuum of inland waters from soils to the sea is a critical component of the global carbon cycle. Yet, the amount of organic carbon mineralized and released to the atmosphere during its transport remains an open question, hampered by the absence of a common predictor of organic carbon decay rates. Here we analyse a compilation of existing field and laboratory measurements of organic carbon decay rates and water residence times across a wide range of aquatic ecosystems and climates. We find a negative relationship between the rate of organic carbon decay and water retention time across systems, entailing a decrease in organic carbon reactivity along the continuum of inland waters. We find that the half-life of organic carbon is short in inland waters (2.5 ± 4.7 yr) compared to terrestrial soils and marine ecosystems, highlighting that freshwaters are hotspots of organic carbon degradation. Finally, we evaluate the response of organic carbon decay rates to projected changes in runoff. We calculate that regions projected to become drier or wetter as the global climate warms will experience changes in organic carbon decay rates of up to about 10%, which illustrates the influence of hydrological variability on the inland waters carbon cycle.
Nature Geoscience. doi:10.1038/ngeo2715
Authors: Laura C. Jackson, K. Andrew Peterson, Chris D. Roberts & Richard A. Wood
The Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) has weakened substantially over the past decade. Some weakening may already have occurred over the past century, and global climate models project further weakening in response to anthropogenic climate change. Such a weakening could have significant impacts on the surface climate. However, ocean model simulations based on historical conditions have often found an increase in overturning up to the mid-1990s, followed by a decrease. It is therefore not clear whether the observed weakening over the past decade is part of decadal variability or a persistent weakening. Here we examine a state-of-the-art global-ocean reanalysis product, GloSea5, which covers the years 1989 to 2015 and closely matches observations of the AMOC at 26.5° N, capturing the interannual variability and decadal trend with unprecedented accuracy. The reanalysis data place the ten years of observations—April 2004 to February 2014—into a longer-term context and suggest that the observed decrease in the overturning circulation is consistent with a recovery following a previous increase. We find that density anomalies that propagate southwards from the Labrador Sea are the most likely cause of these variations. We conclude that decadal variability probably played a key role in the decline of the AMOC observed over the past decade.