Evolution of the Geohydrologic Cycle During the Past 700 Million Years

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Date
2018-04-20
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Publisher
Virginia Tech
Abstract

Water is a primary driver of the physical, geochemical and biological evolution of the Earth. The near-surface hydrosphere (exosphere) includes the atmosphere, cryosphere (glacial and polar ice), the biosphere, surface water, groundwater, and the oceans. The amounts of water in these various reservoirs of the hydrologic cycle have likely varied significantly over the past 700 Ma, with the cryosphere and continental biosphere reservoirs likely showing the most dramatic variations relative to the modern. For example, 700 Ma, during snowball-Earth conditions, the planet may have been almost entirely enveloped in ice, whereas throughout much of the Phanerozoic, greenhouse conditions predominately prevailed and the Earth had a much smaller cryosphere. Similarly, before about 444 Ma and the proliferation of land plants, the continental biosphere reservoir would have effectively non-existent. However, today, plants play a critical role in storage and transfer of water within the hydrologic cycle. Because the amount of water in the exosphere is thought to have remained relatively constant during the past 700 Ma, variations in the amounts of water held by the in the various exogenic reservoirs exert concomitant effects on other reservoirs in the exosphere.

We present a conceptual and numerical model that examines variations in the amount of water in the various reservoirs of the near-surface hydrologic cycle (exosphere) during the past 700 Ma and quantify variations in the rates of exchange of water between these reservoirs in deep time. Variations in the sizes of major reservoirs are primarily controlled by changes in global average temperature, and the movement of water between the atmosphere, surface water, and ocean reservoirs varies in concert with the waxing and waning of the cryosphere.

We find that variations in the sizes of major reservoirs are primarily controlled by changes in global average temperature, and the flux of water between the atmosphere, surface water, and ocean reservoirs varies in concert with the waxing and waning of the cryosphere, with some fluxes decreasing to 0.0 kg/yr during snowball-Earth conditions. We find that the amount of water precipitated from the atmosphere to the cryosphere increases from greenhouse conditions to -10.5°C and decreases from -10.5°C to snowball-earth conditions, highlighting "tipping-point" behavior due to changes in temperature and cryosphere surface area. The amount of surface runoff to the oceans varies in proportion to the amount of water removed from the surface water reservoir and transferred into the continental biosphere. Variations in the movement of water between near-surface reservoirs that are driven by the waxing and waning of the cryosphere and emergence and growth of plant life thus have significant implications for the transfer of weathering products to the oceans and could contribute to short-term (<1 Ma) variations in seawater composition and isotopic signatures.

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Keywords
geohydrologic cycle, numerical modeling, Earth history, cryosphere, biosphere, snowball Earth, global temperature
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