Monday, January 5, 2015

SuperEarths Retain Their Oceans for Longer

Persistence of oceans on Earth-like planets


Schaefer et al


The habitable zone is an orbital region around a star in which an Earth-like planet can maintain liquid water on its surface given a variety of atmospheric compositions. However, the abundance of water on the Earth's surface is not controlled by the atmosphere, but rather by the deep water/silicate cycle. On the Earth, volcanic outgassing of water from the mantle is balanced by loss of water to the mantle through subduction of water-rich oceanic seafloor. Much of this water is released immediately back to the surface through shallow, water-induced volcanism. However, a small but significant fraction of the water can be transported to deeper levels of the mantle. Mantle convection has therefore played an important role in controlling the size of Earth's surface oceans over the planet's lifetime.The deep water cycle of Earth has been studied with parameterized convection models incorporating a water-dependent viscosity. The abundance of water in the mantle, which lowers the convective viscosity, evolves along with the mantle temperature. Here we present results from a parameterized convection model extended to high pressures to study the deep water cycles of super-Earths. Assuming compositions similar to the Earth, our models indicate that ocean formation will be delayed on 5 MEarth planets by ~1 Gyr after planet formation. Although ocean mass on these planets increases with time, the oceans remain much shallower than for smaller planets, consistent with previous studies. Intermediate mass planets (2-4 MEarth) have immediate, but gradual outgassing and persistent oceans. Small terrestrial planets (<= 1 MEarth) have rapid initial outgassing, but will gradually lose a significant fraction of their surface oceans due to mantle sequestration over their lifetimes.

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