Spectrum-driven Planetary Deglaciation Due to Increases in Stellar Luminosity [EPA]


Distant planets in globally ice-covered, “snowball”, states may depend on increases in their host stars’ luminosity to become hospitable for surface life. Using a General Circulation Model (GCM), we simulated the equilibrium climate response of a planet to a range of instellations from an F-, G-, or M- dwarf star. The range of instellation that permits both complete ice cover and at least partially ice-free climate states is a measure of the climate hysteresis that a planet can exhibit. An ice-covered planet with high climate hysteresis would show a higher resistance to the initial loss of surface ice coverage with increases in instellation, and abrupt, extreme ice loss once deglaciation begins. Our simulations indicate that the climate hysteresis depends sensitively on the host star spectral energy distribution. Under fixed CO2 conditions, a planet orbiting an M-dwarf star exhibits a smaller climate hysteresis, requiring a smaller instellation to initiate deglaciation than planets orbiting hotter, brighter stars. This is due to the higher absorption of near-IR radiation by ice on the surfaces and greenhouse gases and clouds in the atmosphere of an M-dwarf planet. Increases in atmospheric CO2 further lower the climate hysteresis, as M-dwarf snowball planets exhibit a larger radiative response than G-dwarf snowball planets for the same increase in CO2. For a smaller hysteresis, planets near the outer edge of the habitable zone will thaw earlier in their evolutionary history, and will experience a less abrupt transition out of global ice cover.

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A. Shields, C. Bitz, V. Meadows, et. al.
Tue, 18 Mar 14