Can Volcanism Build Hydrogen-Rich Early Atmospheres?

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
July 23, 2020
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Can Volcanism Build Hydrogen-Rich Early Atmospheres?
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Hydrogen in rocky planet atmospheres has been invoked in arguments for extending the habitable zone via N2-H2 and CO2-H2 greenhouse warming, and providing atmospheric conditions suitable for efficient production of prebiotic molecules.

On Earth and Super-Earth-sized bodies, where H2-rich primordial envelopes are quickly lost to space, volcanic outgassing can act as a hydrogen source, provided it balances with the loss rate from the top of the atmosphere. Here, we show that both Earth-like and Mars-like planets can sustain atmospheric H2 fractions of several percent across relevant magmatic fO2 ranges.

In general this requires hydrogen escape to operate somewhat less efficiently than the diffusion limit. We use a thermodynamical model of magma degassing to determine which combinations of magma oxidation, volcanic flux, and hydrogen escape efficiency can build up appreciable levels of hydrogen in a planet’s secondary atmosphere. On a planet similar to the Archean Earth and with a similar magmatic fO2, we suggest that the mixing ratio of atmospheric hydrogen could have been in the range 0.2-3%.

A planet erupting magmas around the Iron-Wustite (IW) buffer (i.e., ~3 log fO2 units lower than Archean Earth’s), but with otherwise similar volcanic fluxes and H2 loss rates to early Earth, could sustain an atmosphere with approximately 10-20% H2. For an early Mars-like planet with magmas around IW, but a lower range of surface pressures and volcanic fluxes compared to Earth, an atmospheric H2 mixing ratio of 2-8% is possible. On early Mars, this H2 mixing ratio could be sufficient to deglaciate the planet.

However, the sensitivity of these results to primary magmatic water contents and volcanic fluxes show the need for improved constraints on the crustal recycling efficiency and mantle water contents of early Mars.

Philippa Liggins, Oliver Shorttle, Paul B. Rimmer

Comments: Submitted with reviewer comments to Earth and Planetary Science Letters
Subjects: Earth and Planetary Astrophysics (astro-ph.EP); Geophysics (physics.geo-ph)
Cite as: arXiv:2007.12037 [astro-ph.EP] (or arXiv:2007.12037v1 [astro-ph.EP] for this version)
Submission history
From: Philippa Liggins
[v1] Thu, 23 Jul 2020 14:35:34 UTC (7,288 KB)

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