Habitable Zones & Global Climate

The Ice Cap Zone: A Unique Habitable Zone for Ocean Worlds

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
March 21, 2018
Filed under
The Ice Cap Zone: A Unique Habitable Zone for Ocean Worlds
Polar cap

Traditional definitions of the habitable zone assume that habitable planets contain a carbonate-silicate cycle that regulates CO2 between the atmosphere, surface, and the interior.

Such theories have been used to cast doubt on the habitability of ocean worlds. However, Levi et al (2017) have recently proposed a mechanism by which CO2 is mobilized between the atmosphere and the interior of an ocean world. At high enough CO2 pressures, sea ice can become enriched in CO2 clathrates and sink after a threshold density is achieved. The presence of subpolar sea ice is of great importance for habitability in ocean worlds. It may moderate the climate and is fundamental in current theories of life formation in diluted environments.

Here, we model the Levi et al. mechanism and use latitudinally dependent non grey energy balance and single column radiative convective climate models and find that this mechanism may be sustained on ocean worlds that rotate at least 3 times faster than the Earth. We calculate the circumstellar region in which this cycle may operate for G-M-stars (Teff = 2,600 to 5,800 K), extending from about 1.23 to 1.65, 0.69 to 0.954, 0.38 to 0.528 AU, 0.219 to 0.308 AU, 0.146 to 0.206 AU, and 0.0428 to 0.0617 AU for G2, K3, M0, M3, M5, and M8 stars, respectively. However, unless planets are very young and not tidally locked, our mechanism would be unlikely to apply to stars cooler than a ~M3. We predict C/O ratios for our atmospheres (about 0.5) that can be verified by the JWST mission.

Ramses M. Ramirez, Amit Levi
(Submitted on 21 Mar 2018)

Comments: Accepted in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (30 pages, 7 Figures, 1 Table)
Subjects: Earth and Planetary Astrophysics (astro-ph.EP)
Cite as: arXiv:1803.07717 [astro-ph.EP] (or arXiv:1803.07717v1 [astro-ph.EP] for this version)
Submission history
From: Ramses Ramirez
[v1] Wed, 21 Mar 2018 02:11:59 GMT (797kb)

Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA Space Station Payload manager/space biologist, Away Teams, Journalist, Lapsed climber, Synaesthete, Na’Vi-Jedi-Freman-Buddhist-mix, ASL, Devon Island and Everest Base Camp veteran, (he/him) 🖖🏻