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Earth System Dynamics An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 2, issue 1
Earth Syst. Dynam., 2, 139-160, 2011
https://doi.org/10.5194/esd-2-139-2011
© Author(s) 2011. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Earth Syst. Dynam., 2, 139-160, 2011
https://doi.org/10.5194/esd-2-139-2011
© Author(s) 2011. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Research article 28 Jun 2011

Research article | 28 Jun 2011

Towards understanding how surface life can affect interior geological processes: a non-equilibrium thermodynamics approach

J. G. Dyke, F. Gans, and A. Kleidon J. G. Dyke et al.
  • Max Planck Institut für Biogeochemie, Jena, Germany

Abstract. Life has significantly altered the Earth's atmosphere, oceans and crust. To what extent has it also affected interior geological processes? To address this question, three models of geological processes are formulated: mantle convection, continental crust uplift and erosion and oceanic crust recycling. These processes are characterised as non-equilibrium thermodynamic systems. Their states of disequilibrium are maintained by the power generated from the dissipation of energy from the interior of the Earth. Altering the thickness of continental crust via weathering and erosion affects the upper mantle temperature which leads to changes in rates of oceanic crust recycling and consequently rates of outgassing of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Estimates for the power generated by various elements in the Earth system are shown. This includes, inter alia, surface life generation of 264 TW of power, much greater than those of geological processes such as mantle convection at 12 TW. This high power results from life's ability to harvest energy directly from the sun. Life need only utilise a small fraction of the generated free chemical energy for geochemical transformations at the surface, such as affecting rates of weathering and erosion of continental rocks, in order to affect interior, geological processes. Consequently when assessing the effects of life on Earth, and potentially any planet with a significant biosphere, dynamical models may be required that better capture the coupled nature of biologically-mediated surface and interior processes.

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