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1.  Tidal Venuses: Triggering a Climate Catastrophe via Tidal Heating 
Astrobiology  2013;13(3):225-250.
Traditionally, stellar radiation has been the only heat source considered capable of determining global climate on long timescales. Here, we show that terrestrial exoplanets orbiting low-mass stars may be tidally heated at high-enough levels to induce a runaway greenhouse for a long-enough duration for all the hydrogen to escape. Without hydrogen, the planet no longer has water and cannot support life. We call these planets “Tidal Venuses” and the phenomenon a “tidal greenhouse.” Tidal effects also circularize the orbit, which decreases tidal heating. Hence, some planets may form with large eccentricity, with its accompanying large tidal heating, and lose their water, but eventually settle into nearly circular orbits (i.e., with negligible tidal heating) in the habitable zone (HZ). However, these planets are not habitable, as past tidal heating desiccated them, and hence should not be ranked highly for detailed follow-up observations aimed at detecting biosignatures. We simulated the evolution of hypothetical planetary systems in a quasi-continuous parameter distribution and found that we could constrain the history of the system by statistical arguments. Planets orbiting stars with masses<0.3 MSun may be in danger of desiccation via tidal heating. We have applied these concepts to Gl 667C c, a ∼4.5 MEarth planet orbiting a 0.3 MSun star at 0.12 AU. We found that it probably did not lose its water via tidal heating, as orbital stability is unlikely for the high eccentricities required for the tidal greenhouse. As the inner edge of the HZ is defined by the onset of a runaway or moist greenhouse powered by radiation, our results represent a fundamental revision to the HZ for noncircular orbits. In the appendices we review (a) the moist and runaway greenhouses, (b) hydrogen escape, (c) stellar mass-radius and mass-luminosity relations, (d) terrestrial planet mass-radius relations, and (e) linear tidal theories. Key Words: Extrasolar terrestrial planets—Habitability—Habitable zone—Liquid water—Tides. Astrobiology 13, 225–250.
PMCID: PMC3612283  PMID: 23537135
2.  Using Biogenic Sulfur Gases as Remotely Detectable Biosignatures on Anoxic Planets 
Astrobiology  2011;11(5):419-441.
We used one-dimensional photochemical and radiative transfer models to study the potential of organic sulfur compounds (CS2, OCS, CH3SH, CH3SCH3, and CH3S2CH3) to act as remotely detectable biosignatures in anoxic exoplanetary atmospheres. Concentrations of organic sulfur gases were predicted for various biogenic sulfur fluxes into anoxic atmospheres and were found to increase with decreasing UV fluxes. Dimethyl sulfide (CH3SCH3, or DMS) and dimethyl disulfide (CH3S2CH3, or DMDS) concentrations could increase to remotely detectable levels, but only in cases of extremely low UV fluxes, which may occur in the habitable zone of an inactive M dwarf. The most detectable feature of organic sulfur gases is an indirect one that results from an increase in ethane (C2H6) over that which would be predicted based on the planet's methane (CH4) concentration. Thus, a characterization mission could detect these organic sulfur gases—and therefore the life that produces them—if it could sufficiently quantify the ethane and methane in the exoplanet's atmosphere. Key Words: Exoplanets—Biosignatures—Anoxic atmospheres—Planetary atmospheres—Remote life detection—Photochemistry. Astrobiology 11, 419–441.
PMCID: PMC3133782  PMID: 21663401
3.  Availability of O2 and H2O2 on Pre-Photosynthetic Earth 
Astrobiology  2011;11(4):293-302.
Old arguments that free O2 must have been available at Earth's surface prior to the origin of photosynthesis have been revived by a new study that shows that aerobic respiration can occur at dissolved oxygen concentrations much lower than had previously been thought, perhaps as low as 0.05 nM, which corresponds to a partial pressure for O2 of about 4 × 10−8 bar. We used numerical models to study whether such O2 concentrations might have been provided by atmospheric photochemistry. Results show that disproportionation of H2O2 near the surface might have yielded enough O2 to satisfy this constraint. Alternatively, poleward transport of O2 from the equatorial stratosphere into the polar night region, followed by downward transport in the polar vortex, may have brought O2 directly to the surface. Thus, our calculations indicate that this “early respiration” hypothesis might be physically reasonable. Key Words: Early Earth—Oxygen—Respiration—Tracer transport—General circulation. Astrobiology 11, 293–302.
PMCID: PMC3097080  PMID: 21545266
4.  The Effect of a Strong Stellar Flare on the Atmospheric Chemistry of an Earth-like Planet Orbiting an M Dwarf 
Astrobiology  2010;10(7):751-771.
Main sequence M stars pose an interesting problem for astrobiology: their abundance in our galaxy makes them likely targets in the hunt for habitable planets, but their strong chromospheric activity produces high-energy radiation and charged particles that may be detrimental to life. We studied the impact of the 1985 April 12 flare from the M dwarf AD Leonis (AD Leo), simulating the effects from both UV radiation and protons on the atmospheric chemistry of a hypothetical, Earth-like planet located within its habitable zone. Based on observations of solar proton events and the Neupert effect, we estimated a proton flux associated with the flare of 5.9 × 108 protons cm−2 sr−1 s−1 for particles with energies >10 MeV. Then we calculated the abundance of nitrogen oxides produced by the flare by scaling the production of these compounds during a large solar proton event called the Carrington event. The simulations were performed with a 1-D photochemical model coupled to a 1-D radiative/convective model. Our results indicate that the UV radiation emitted during the flare does not produce a significant change in the ozone column depth of the planet. When the action of protons is included, the ozone depletion reaches a maximum of 94% two years after the flare for a planet with no magnetic field. At the peak of the flare, the calculated UV fluxes that reach the surface, in the wavelength ranges that are damaging for life, exceed those received on Earth during less than 100 s. Therefore, flares may not present a direct hazard for life on the surface of an orbiting habitable planet. Given that AD Leo is one of the most magnetically active M dwarfs known, this conclusion should apply to planets around other M dwarfs with lower levels of chromospheric activity. Key Words: M dwarf—Flare—Habitable zone—Planetary atmospheres. Astrobiology 10, 751–771.
PMCID: PMC3103837  PMID: 20879863
5.  Atmospheric composition and climate on the early Earth 
Oxygen isotope data from ancient sedimentary rocks appear to suggest that the early Earth was significantly warmer than today, with estimates of surface temperatures between 45 and 85°C. We argue, following others, that this interpretation is incorrect—the same data can be explained via a change in isotopic composition of seawater with time. These changes in the isotopic composition could result from an increase in mean depth of the mid-ocean ridges caused by a decrease in geothermal heat flow with time. All this implies that the early Earth was warm, not hot.
A more temperate early Earth is also easier to reconcile with the long-term glacial record. However, what triggered these early glaciations is still under debate. The Paleoproterozoic glaciations at approximately 2.4 Ga were probably caused by the rise of atmospheric O2 and a concomitant decrease in greenhouse warming by CH4. Glaciation might have occurred in the Mid-Archaean as well, at approximately 2.9 Ga, perhaps as a consequence of anti-greenhouse cooling by hydrocarbon haze. Both glaciations are linked to decreases in the magnitude of mass-independent sulphur isotope fractionation in ancient rocks. Studying both the oxygen and sulphur isotopic records has thus proved useful in probing the composition of the early atmosphere.
PMCID: PMC1664689  PMID: 17008214
palaeoclimate; oxygen isotopes; sulphur isotopes; mass-independent fractionation; seawater composition
6.  Palaeoclimates: the first two billion years 
Earth's climate during the Archaean remains highly uncertain, as the relevant geologic evidence is sparse and occasionally contradictory. Oxygen isotopes in cherts suggest that between 3.5 and 3.2 Gyr ago (Ga) the Archaean climate was hot (55–85 °C); however, the fact that these cherts have experienced only a modest amount of weathering suggests that the climate was temperate, as today. The presence of diamictites in the Pongola Supergroup and the Witwatersrand Basin of South Africa suggests that by 2.9 Ga the climate was glacial. The Late Archaean was relatively warm; then glaciation (possibly of global extent) reappeared in the Early Palaeoproterozoic, around 2.3–2.4 Ga.
Fitting these climatic constraints with a model requires high concentrations of atmospheric CO2 or CH4, or both. Solar luminosity was 20–25% lower than today, so elevated greenhouse gas concentrations were needed just to keep the mean surface temperature above freezing. A rise in O2 at approximately 2.4 Ga, and a concomitant decrease in CH4, provides a natural explanation for the Palaeoproterozoic glaciations. The Mid-Archaean glaciations may have been caused by a drawdown in H2 and CH4 caused by the origin of bacterial sulphate reduction. More work is needed to test this latter hypothesis.
PMCID: PMC1868609  PMID: 16754607
palaeoclimate; Precambrian glaciations; methane; greenhouse effect; faint young Sun problem; sulphur isotopes

Results 1-6 (6)