Send to

Choose Destination
Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 Jun 16;106(24):9576-9. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0809436106. Epub 2009 Jun 1.

Atmospheric pressure as a natural climate regulator for a terrestrial planet with a biosphere.

Author information

Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA 91125, USA.


Lovelock and Whitfield suggested in 1982 that, as the luminosity of the Sun increases over its life cycle, biologically enhanced silicate weathering is able to reduce the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO(2)) so that the Earth's surface temperature is maintained within an inhabitable range. As this process continues, however, between 100 and 900 million years (Ma) from now the CO(2) concentration will reach levels too low for C(3) and C(4) photosynthesis, signaling the end of the solar-powered biosphere. Here, we show that atmospheric pressure is another factor that adjusts the global temperature by broadening infrared absorption lines of greenhouse gases. A simple model including the reduction of atmospheric pressure suggests that the life span of the biosphere can be extended at least 2.3 Ga into the future, more than doubling previous estimates. This has important implications for seeking extraterrestrial life in the Universe. Space observations in the infrared region could test the hypothesis that atmospheric pressure regulates the surface temperature on extrasolar planets.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for HighWire Icon for PubMed Central
Loading ...
Support Center