The response of phanerozoic surface temperature to variations in atmospheric oxygen concentration

Rebecca C. Payne, Amber V. Britt, Howard Chen, James F. Kasting, David C. Catling

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6 Scopus citations


Recently, Poulsen et al. (2015) suggested that O2 has played a major role in climate forcing during the Phanerozoic. Specifically, they argued that decreased O2 levels during the Cenomanian stage of the middle Cretaceous (94-100 Ma) could help explain the extremely warm climate during that time. The postulated warming mechanism involves decreased Rayleigh scattering by a thinner atmosphere, which reduces the planetary albedo and allows greater surface warming. This warming effect is then amplified by cloud feedbacks within their 3-D climate model. This increase in shortwave surface forcing, in their calculations, exceeds any decrease in the greenhouse effect caused by decreased O2. Here we use a 1-D radiative-convective climate model (with no cloud feedback) to check their results. We also include a self-consistent calculation of the change in atmospheric ozone and its effect on climate. Our results are opposite to those of Poulsen et al.: we find that the climate warms by 1.4 K at 35% O2 concentrations as a result of increased pressure broadening of CO2 and H2O absorption lines and cools by 0.8 K at 10% O2 as a result of decreased pressure broadening. The surface temperature changes are only about 1 K either way, though, for reasonable variations in Phanerozoic O2 concentrations (10%-35% by volume). Hence, it seems unlikely that changes in atmospheric O2 account for the warm climate of the Cenomanian. Other factors, such as a higher-than-expected sensitivity of climate to increased CO2 concentrations, may be required to obtain agreement with the paleoclimate data.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)10,089-10,096
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research
Issue number17
StatePublished - 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • Forestry
  • Oceanography
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Soil Science
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Palaeontology


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