Continental Breakup Triggered Massive CO2 emissions

Currently human activity is the primary driver of elevating atmospheric CO2, but the Earth fluctuated from greenhouse to icehouse conditions and back long before humans existed. The question is: what triggered these long-term climate cycles?

Now research at the University of Sydney’s EarthByte Group, in collaboration with the German Research Centre for Geosciences, reveals how a supercontinent’s life cycle drives CO2 emissions and climate change over geological time.

The model has been published in the journal ‘Nature Geoscience’.

With the help of computer simulations of supercontinent breakup and carbon cycle models supported by the Sydney Informatics Hub, the team uncovered how the gradual breaking up of continents triggers enhanced CO2 emissions through deep crustal fault systems.

Professor Simon Ringer, who oversees the University of Sydney’s core research facilities, said: “This work reflects a new way of doing science, re-using published research data and software, and developing open-source community software to synthesise and model geodata in space and time.

Read more here.

The same Nature Geoscience issue also contains a timely companion paper by two researchers from Macquarie Univ. and the Univ. of New Mexico, who focus on the role of continental cratons (the oldest bits of continents) – “An essential role for continental rifts and lithosphere in the deep carbon cycle”. The results of the two papers together are summarised in a News and Views “Sketch-Up” piece – see featured graphic.