Terrestrial aftermath of the Moon-forming impact.

Research paper by Norman H NH Sleep, Kevin J KJ Zahnle, Roxana E RE Lupu

Indexed on: 13 Aug '14Published on: 13 Aug '14Published in: Philosophical transactions. Series A, Mathematical, physical, and engineering sciences


Much of the Earth's mantle was melted in the Moon-forming impact. Gases that were not partially soluble in the melt, such as water and CO2, formed a thick, deep atmosphere surrounding the post-impact Earth. This atmosphere was opaque to thermal radiation, allowing heat to escape to space only at the runaway greenhouse threshold of approximately 100 W m(-2). The duration of this runaway greenhouse stage was limited to approximately 10 Myr by the internal energy and tidal heating, ending with a partially crystalline uppermost mantle and a solid deep mantle. At this point, the crust was able to cool efficiently and solidified at the surface. After the condensation of the water ocean, approximately 100 bar of CO2 remained in the atmosphere, creating a solar-heated greenhouse, while the surface cooled to approximately 500 K. Almost all this CO2 had to be sequestered by subduction into the mantle by 3.8 Ga, when the geological record indicates the presence of life and hence a habitable environment. The deep CO2 sequestration into the mantle could be explained by a rapid subduction of the old oceanic crust, such that the top of the crust would remain cold and retain its CO2. Kinematically, these episodes would be required to have both fast subduction (and hence seafloor spreading) and old crust. Hadean oceanic crust that formed from hot mantle would have been thicker than modern crust, and therefore only old crust underlain by cool mantle lithosphere could subduct. Once subduction started, the basaltic crust would turn into dense eclogite, increasing the rate of subduction. The rapid subduction would stop when the young partially frozen crust from the rapidly spreading ridge entered the subduction zone.