Why has CO2 decreased in the history of the Earth?

In summary, the Co2 concentrations in the Earth's atmosphere have decreased over time. This could be due to the growth of lush vegetations or forests which absorbed the Co2 through photosynthesis. The Great Oxygenation Event occurred about 2.3 Ga ago, and was one of the largest and most significant extinction events in Earth's history. The graph shown is based on a hypothesis rather than real data.
  • #1
Kior
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yZuxn.png

I noticed that the Co2 is actually decreasing in the Eon time.

My guess is lush vegetations or forests began to grow which absorbed the Co2 by photosynthesis? Would anyone give me any clue?
 
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  • #2
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  • #3
The concentration of any molecular species depends on the sources and sinks. When the rate of absorption by the sinks exceeds the rate of production by sources, then the concentration decreases. Sinks for CO2 would of course be plants (includes algae in the oceans and lakes) and animals, which tie up the CO2 and H2O in the form of sugar, cellulose, proteins, fat and various other large/complex organic compounds. CO2 would also form carbonates with minerals.

Note that a lot of plant matter became coal, petroleum and an natural gas.

The rise of free O2 should coincide with plants, both terrestrial and aquatic.
 
  • #4
The creation of carbonate, oil, and coal deposits can account for a significant reduction in CO2.
We have only had algae and plants in the last 1Ga so that does not explain the big initial drop.
I think it would be quite difficult to get the data needed to draw the graph you show.
The graph also looks like it is based on a hypothesis, not real data.
Where is the graph from?
 
  • #5
A bit off the cuff here, but anyway
When I was young It seemed to me that plants must grow because they get stuff out of the ground somehow by using light energy to push stuff up.
It's more satisfying now I know that the majority of a plant's mass is made from atmospheric CO2, with only a bit of water and some other essential nutrients coming out of the ground.
 
  • #6
What is the Y-axis? Is it %? If so, why does it show the atmosphere to be over 50% O2? This is not correct - it is about 21% O2.
 
  • #7
A more correct graph would be like this:
atmosphere-composition.gif
 
  • #8
Maybe, but still I think it is required in this forum to state the source when you are are offering information.
(That huge spike of H2O early on is very interesting)
 
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  • #9
Well, I got that off the images from Bing.
There could be some extrapoltaion for earlier times.

It is similar to one that can be found at
http://universe-review.ca/F11-monocell.htm



I11-02-atmocompo.jpg

where credit is given to the book Life in the Universe, Scientific American, 1995.

The outgassing from magma is considered the main source of early atmospheric constituents.
The lighter H and He would be lost to space.
Any early O2 would combine with other elements, say Fe, for example, and depletion would be as rapid as production from UV with the H2O and CO2.

Not only the atmosphere, but the oceans would have had to be of different composition that of today.
 
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  • #10
Still, pretty much N2 all the way.
Is there something unique about this planet which makes it, well a rocky planet with a mostly N2 atmosphere?.
 
  • #11
rootone said:
Is there something unique about this planet which makes it, well a rocky planet with a mostly N2 atmosphere?.
That is a self referential question. If it was not, you would not be here to ask the question.
Everything is unique when examined close enough.
 
  • #12
rootone said:
Still, pretty much N2 all the way.
Is there something unique about this planet which makes it, well a rocky planet with a mostly N2 atmosphere?.

Eeeks, that's a tall order. We probably understand the CMB better than atmospheric interactions.

As they say in real estate - location, location location. Add in the size of the Earth with its gravitational field,and the composition of the nebula from which the solar system formed. Jupitor, which has held onto its gases quite well due to it being farther out from the sun and colder, and its larger mass and accompianing greater gravitational field, can be used as a reference to the nebula cloud constiuents.

Being cold, in this case the part of the Jovian atmosphere that reaches into space, the percentage of molecules and atoms that have a kinetic energy that allow them to escape the Jovian gravity ( escape velocity ) is a tiny number. Put another way, the time for a molecule on the edge of the Jovian atmosphere to obtain escape velocity would be 10exp(x) where x is very large.

For very early earth, being hot and lessor gravity, the original atmosphere from the nebula cloud would have pretty much escaped into space. 10exp(x) would be measured in years or thousands of years depending upon the species of gas. With cooling, ( note that it is not the actual surface temperature that predominates loss of an atmosphere, but the temperature at the "edge of space ), an atmosphere can be retained.

Surface temperature, does though play a role in which elements can be locked up as compounds, either gaseous, liquid, or solid. The temperature dependence upon reaction rate may enable some compounds or species to become inert, such as the retention of N2 in the atmosphere, at a temperature sufficiently cool enough so that the 10exp(x) becomes large enough so that little is lost to space. ( Inert gases, not forming compounds, were never locked in and once released into the "early atmosphere" pretty much all escaped due to the higher temperatures at the earlier times ).

Anyways, the story goes on with greenhouse effect to keep the Earth surface warm and not frozen, UV production of ozone shileding the surface so that surface life could prosper, a change from a reducing atmosphere to oxygenated, an active planet with plate tectonics which enables recycling, condensation of water vapour to form the oceans, the magnetic field of the earth, increased output from the sun ( around 70% billions of years ago ), a long list..

It is just tremendously facsinating what the Earth has gone through in its history, so that we able to be here now. Are we lucky that just a little bit was not different and the Earth did not end up as a Venus.
 
  • #13
Baluncore said:
The creation of carbonate, oil, and coal deposits can account for a significant reduction in CO2.
We have only had algae and plants in the last 1Ga so that does not explain the big initial drop.
I think it would be quite difficult to get the data needed to draw the graph you show.
The graph also looks like it is based on a hypothesis, not real data.
Where is the graph from?
From a powerpoint I downloaded from Umich AOSS department site. It seems to be made by a UM professor
 
  • #14
A predominantly N2 atmosphere is, I think, unique in this solar system,
I wonder if any exoplanets have been discovered where that is a likely condition.
 
  • #15
Venus
The atmosphere of Venus is made up almost completely of carbon dioxide. Nitrogen exists in small doses, as do clouds
icon1.png
of sulfuric acid. The air of Venus is so dense that the small traces of nitrogen are four times the amount found on Earth, although nitrogen makes up more than three-fourths of the terrestrial atmosphere
http://www.space.com/18527-venus-atmosphere.html

Ironically, the most Earth-like atmosphere in the solar system occurs 30 to 40 miles (50 to 60 kilometers) above the surface of Venus. Both oxygen and hydrogen rise above the heavier gas layer covering the ground, and the pressures are similar to our planet.
  • Carbon dioxide: 96 percent
  • Nitrogen: 3.5 percent
  • Carbon monoxide, argon, sulfur dioxide, and water vapor: less than 1 percent

Remove the Carbon dioxide from the atmosphere of Venus and what is left is mostly Nitrogen.
Add in some life that oxygenates, and Venus could be much similar to the Earth.
 
  • #16
256bits said:
A more correct graph would be like this:
atmosphere-composition.gif

256bits said:
It is similar to one that can be found at
http://universe-review.ca/F11-monocell.htm
I11-02-atmocompo.jpg

I'm not thrilled with any of the graphs, including the one in the opening post. At least your second one is honest and starts with "ATMOSPHERE UNKNOWN". The scientific literature shows huge uncertainties. One thing is clear: There wasn't much oxygen until about 2.4 Gya (2400 million years ago). How much carbon dioxide and nitrogen there was is in the Earth's early atmosphere remains highly debated.

That said, it's widely accepted that CO2 levels fell from an initially high value prior to the evolution of photosynthesis. CO2 dissolves in water. Some of that dissolved carbon dioxide became carbonic acid, which combined with rock to form carbonate rock.
 
  • #17
D H said:
That said, it's widely accepted that CO2 levels fell from an initially high value prior to the evolution of photosynthesis. CO2 dissolves in water. Some of that dissolved carbon dioxide became carbonic acid, which combined with rock to form carbonate rock.

The whole thread question was probably answered by rootone in post 2, with CO2 consuming and oxygen producing photosynthesis, along with the removal of carbon by said geological methods, along with the formation of stromatolites from generations of cyanobacteria.
 
  • #18
"Extrapolation?" Duhhhh! Now who do you know on this blog who has been around in the pre-Cambrian period who can give the real data?
 
  • #19
Some silicates also absorb CO2, Volcanic sources provide tons of it, as well as CO2. New research indicates more absorption than production, over time.
 
  • #20
stevmg said:
"Extrapolation?" Duhhhh!
Who wrote anything about extrapolation?
In Geology, "the present is the key to the past", and we have the Geological Record. Extrapolation is only needed for forward prediction. Forty years ago I spent quite a bit of time studying the evidence of life in the Precambrian. I am happier interpolating within the geological record than extrapolating 1000 years into the future.
 
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  • #21
David Scalone said:
Some silicates also absorb CO2, Volcanic sources provide tons of it, as well as CO2. New research indicates more absorption than production, over time.
So you are claiming that all the data collected indicating rising levels of CO2 over time, is false either due to bad measurements, or it has been falsified deliberately?
I think you had better post a link to that new research you speak of.
Sure it's true that in the very distant past CO2 concentration was higher since there were no photosynthetic organisms replacing it with O2, but that is not exactly new research.
In recent times the levels are rising and that has been repeatedly verified.
 
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  • #22
phyzguy said:
What is the Y-axis? Is it %? If so, why does it show the atmosphere to be over 50% O2? This is not correct - it is about 21% O2.

Has anyone answered this yet?

I traced the image to Thailand. Unfortunately, I do not read their language. Do we have any Thai speakers at the forum?

anyone.read.thai.jpg
 
  • #23
Look to the geologic data and figure out how much CO2 is locked up in carbonates like calcite and dolomite. Then go figure when these huge CO2 deposits were formed. You will find all that CO2 was in the early atmosphere and the carbonates currently store ~97% of all the CO2 on our lovely planet. Even before oil,gas&coal deposits were laid down by photosysthesis processes most of the CO2 on Earth was locked away in calcite ect.
 
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  • #24
Any atmosphere graph that doesn't have water vapor ~ 4.4 billion years ago [zircon oxygen isotope record], or the Great Oxygenation Event ramp up oxygen ~ 2.5 billion years ago [sulfur isotope record], is dated. It is always a good practice to locate references and to check their dates against the latest reviews in the area.

[Of course, no one I know of do that every time, it is such an effort. :biggrin:]

Baluncore said:
The creation of carbonate, oil, and coal deposits can account for a significant reduction in CO2.
We have only had algae and plants in the last 1Ga so that does not explain the big initial drop.

The initial CO2 atmosphere disappeared gradually as plate tectonics buried carbonates.

Cyanobacteria are the first oxygen producers, who were solely responsible for the GOE. (Admittedly algae and plants are more efficient.)

rootone said:
Still, pretty much N2 all the way.
Is there something unique about this planet which makes it, well a rocky planet with a mostly N2 atmosphere?.

rootone said:
A predominantly N2 atmosphere is, I think, unique in this solar system,

Titan's atmosphere is, like some other distant ice moons, nitrogen rich and is, like Earth's atmosphere, dense. [ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Titan_(moon)#Atmosphere ]

The source of Earth's nitrogen is controversial. Some recent research implies nitrogen may be released when water affects ammonia rich rocks during plate tectonic subduction of ocean plates.

If so, the Hadean atmosphere was not as nitrogen rich. But there is evidence from raindrop impressions in volcanic ash sediments that show the atmosphere in the late Archean was about as dense as today. Early Earth had much more tectonic activity, which may explain why the nitrogen release dropped off.
 
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Related to Why has CO2 decreased in the history of the Earth?

1. Why has CO2 decreased in the history of the Earth?

CO2 levels have varied throughout Earth's history due to a variety of natural factors, including changes in volcanic activity, ocean circulation patterns, and the Earth's position in its orbit around the sun. Additionally, the evolution of plant life has played a role in regulating CO2 levels through photosynthesis and carbon burial.

2. How do we know about past CO2 levels?

Scientists can study past CO2 levels by analyzing air bubbles trapped in ice cores, sediment layers, and fossilized plant material. These methods provide a record of CO2 levels dating back hundreds of thousands of years.

3. What impact does decreasing CO2 have on the Earth?

Decreasing CO2 levels can have a cooling effect on the Earth's climate, as CO2 is a greenhouse gas that helps trap heat in the atmosphere. This can lead to changes in global temperature, weather patterns, and sea level.

4. Has CO2 always decreased in the Earth's history?

No, there have been periods in Earth's history where CO2 levels have increased due to natural factors such as increased volcanic activity or changes in ocean circulation. However, the current rate of CO2 increase is much higher than natural fluctuations and is primarily caused by human activities such as burning fossil fuels.

5. Can we reverse the decrease in CO2 levels?

While it is possible for CO2 levels to decrease naturally, it is difficult to reverse the current decrease in CO2 levels caused by human activities. However, reducing our carbon footprint through sustainable practices and transitioning to renewable energy sources can help slow down the decrease and mitigate its impact on the Earth's climate.

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