From: Editor, ENN
Published October 24, 2013 11:46 AM

Carbonation on Mars May Provide Insight to Climate Change on Earth

Carbonation doesn't just happen in soda, in fact it can be responsible for the cold, arid environment on Mars and the planet's loss of its early atmosphere!

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Commonly, carbonation is the process of dissolving carbon dioxide (CO2) in a liquid. However carbonation is also a reaction in which rocks containing volcanic minerals such as olivine react with water and atmospheric CO2 to turn it into another mineral, called carbonate. During this process, CO2 becomes trapped in the carbonate, removing it from the atmosphere permanently.

According to new research, scientists have shown for the first time that Mars may have lost its carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere in a process that could be used to curb global warming on Earth.

4,000 million years ago, Mars was believed to have been a warm and wet planet with a thick atmosphere rich in CO2. However, over time, it's thought that Mars lost this gas, helping to cool the planet.

Here on Earth, we attribute CO2 as a major greenhouse gas that contributes to rising global temperatures and the more greenhouse gas in our atmosphere, the warmer temperatures will be. However, by studying the carbonation effects on Mars, we may be able to obtain insight on how to reduce CO2 in our own atmosphere.

The research was conducted using pieces of a meteorite called Lafayette, which fell to Earth around 3,000 years ago. 'Lafayette was previously known to contain carbonate, but this is the first evidence that it formed by carbonation' explains Dr Tim Tomkinson of the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre (SUERC), lead author of the paper.

'On Earth, we have the problem of where to store increasing levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide contributing to global warming. However, for decades researchers have been questioning where all the ancient carbon dioxide in Mars' atmosphere has gone,' says Tomkinson.

'This discovery is significant in terms of the way in which scientists will study Mars in the future but also in providing us with vital clues of how we can limit the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere and so reduce climate change,' he concludes.

The study was published this week in Nature Communications.

Read more at Planet Earth Online.

Mars and Earth image via Shutterstock.

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