No Snowball on Habitable Tidally Locked Planets

The TRAPPIST-1, Proxima Centauri, and LHS 1140 systems are the most exciting prospects for future follow-up observations of potentially inhabited planets. All orbit nearby M-stars and are likely tidally locked in 1:1 spin-orbit states, which motivates the consideration of the effects that tidal locking might have on planetary habitability.

On Earth, periods of global glaciation (snowballs) may have been essential for habitability and remote signs of life (biosignatures) because they are correlated with increases in the complexity of life and in the atmospheric oxygen concentration. In this paper we investigate the snowball bifurcation (sudden onset of global glaciation) on tidally locked planets using both an energy balance model and an intermediate-complexity global climate model. We show that tidally locked planets are unlikely to exhibit a snowball bifurcation as a direct result of the spatial pattern of insolation they receive. Instead they will smoothly transition from partial to complete ice coverage and back.

A major implication of this work is that tidally locked planets with an active carbon cycle should not be found in a snowball state. Moreover, this work implies that tidally locked planets near the outer edge of the habitable zone with low CO2 outgassing fluxes will equilibrate with a small unglaciated substellar region rather than cycling between warm and snowball states. More work is needed to determine how the lack of a snowball bifurcation might affect the development of life on a tidally locked planet.

Jade Checlair, Kristen Menou, Dorian S. Abbot
(Submitted on 24 May 2017)

Subjects: Earth and Planetary Astrophysics (astro-ph.EP)
Cite as: arXiv:1705.08904 [astro-ph.EP] (or arXiv:1705.08904v1 [astro-ph.EP] for this version)
Submission history
From: Jade Checlair
[v1] Wed, 24 May 2017 18:00:04 GMT (921kb,D)
https://arxiv.org/abs/1705.08904
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