Climate regulation changed with the proliferation of marine animals and terrestrial plants

Geoscientific study traces carbon-silicon cycle over three billion years on the basis of lithium isotope levels


Research News


Earth’s climate was relatively stable for a long period of time. For three billion years, temperatures were mostly warm and carbon dioxide levels high – until a shift occurred about 400 million years ago. A new study suggests that the change at this time was accompanied by a fundamental alteration to the carbon-silicon cycle. “This transformation of what was a consistent status quo in the Precambrian era into the more unstable climate we see today was likely due to the emergence and spread of new life forms,” said Professor Philip Pogge von Strandmann, a geoscientist at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU). Together with researchers from Yale University, notably Boriana Kalderon-Asael and Professor Noah Planavsky, he has traced the long-term evolution of the carbon-silicon cycle with the help of lithium isotopes in marine sediments. This cycle is regarded as a key mechanism controlling the Earth’s climate, as it regulates carbon dioxide levels and, with it, temperature. The researchers’ findings have been published recently in Nature.

The carbon-silicon cycle is the key regulator of climate

The carbon-silicon cycle has kept Earth’s climate stable over long periods of time, despite extensive variations in solar luminosity, in atmospheric oxygen concentrations, and the makeup of the Earth’s crust. Such a stable climate created the conditions for long-term colonization of the Earth by life and allowed initially simple and later complex life forms to develop over billions of years. The carbon-silicon cycle contributes to this by regulating the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Silicate rock is transformed into carbonate rock as a result of weathering and sedimentation, and carbonate rock is transformed back into silicate rock by, among other things, volcanism. When silicate rock is converted to carbonate rock, carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere, while the reverse process releases carbon dioxide once again. “We consider this to be the main mechanism by which Earth’s climate is stabilized over the long term,” explained Pogge von Strandmann.

To trace long-term carbon-silicon cycles back in time and gain a better understanding of the precise relationships governing Earth’s climate, the research team studied the ratio of lithium isotopes in marine carbonates. Lithium is present only in silicate rocks and their silicate and carbonate weathering products. The research team analyzed more than 600 samples deposited as sediments in shallow primeval marine waters and obtained from more than 100 different rock strata from around the world, including from Canada, Africa and China. “We used these samples to create a new database covering the past three billion years,” Pogge von Strandmann pointed out.

These data show that the ratio of lithium-7 to lithium-6 isotopes in the oceans was low from three billion years ago to 400 million years ago, and then suddenly increased. It was precisely at this time that land plants evolved, while simultaneously marine animals with skeletons composed of silicon, such as sponges and radiolarians, spread throughout the oceans. “Both played a role, but as yet we do not know exactly how the processes are coupled,” Professor Philip Pogge von Strandmann added.

The displacement of ‘clay factories’ to the land influences the carbon-silicon cycle

Research findings suggest that there was a massive change to the extent of the formation of clay, a secondary silicate rock composed of very fine particles, in the Earth’s past – possibly due to an increase in clay formation on land and a decrease in the oceans. Clay formation is a crucial component of the carbon-silicon cycle and it influences the ratio of lithium isotopes. On land it is caused by the extensive weathering of silicate rocks, but in the oceans a range of different processes is involved. Increased continental clay formation is thought to have lowered carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. In contrast, oceanic clay formation, known as “reverse weathering”, releases CO2, so its decline will similarly have lowered atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.

According to the authors of the Nature paper, this suggests that the mode of climate regulation on Earth as well as the primary location where that process occurs has changed dramatically through time: “The shift from a Precambrian Earth state to the modern state can probably be attributed to major biological innovations – the radiation of sponges, radiolarians, diatoms and land plants.” The result of this modification of climate regulation has been apparent ever since in the form of the frequent alternation between cold glacial periods on the one hand and warmer periods on the other. However, this climate instability, in turn, helps to accelerate evolution.


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July 16, 2021 10:40 pm

“The carbon-silicon cycle has kept Earth’s climate stable over long periods of time, despite extensive variations in solar luminosity”


Zig Zag Wanderer
Reply to  Pablo
July 16, 2021 11:02 pm

Basically, nothing at all affects the climate apart from CO2. The Magic Molecule, doncha know?

Rich Davis
Reply to  Zig Zag Wanderer
July 17, 2021 4:59 am


According to the authors of the Nature paper, this suggests that the mode of climate regulation on Earth as well as the primary location where that process occurs has changed dramatically through time

No, according to the authors, the only thing that has ever regulated the climate is, was, and forever shall be carbon dioxide. They’re just trying to develop the doctrine of the Church of Climastrology, based on the dogma of the Master Control Knob. What turned the knob and how? Thus is born the doctrine of Clay Angels apparently.

From YouReekAlot! so it’s to be expected that it’s rubbish.

Reply to  Pablo
July 17, 2021 4:35 am

Minor correction, Pablo.

It should be WHAT?!?!, followed by a request for an ounce of whatever they are smoking.

Mike Dubrasich
July 16, 2021 10:46 pm

CO2 does everything! How amazing. For 3 billion years the climate was stable, but then it went to sh*t. Bummer. Oh for the good old days of primordial ooze. Well, at least they aren’t blaming humans. Or Darwin. Or plate tectonics. Or the Sun. Or God. It’s that pesky CO2. We’ve got to get rid of that stuff!

Charles Higley
Reply to  Mike Dubrasich
July 17, 2021 5:17 pm

I do enjoy that thermodynamic physicists have not managed to get CO2 to warm anything. In fact, they find that it is the world’s best refrigerant. Sitting in a bottle, it emits IR equivalent to -80 deg C, which means it is constantly trying to cool the environment. It’s properties as a supercritical fluid are amazing and the relatively low conditions for the refrigeration cycle make it ideal, including nontoxic, nonflammable, noncorrosive, and CHEAP.

Mercedes Benz uses it in their cars now as well as do a number of new ice rinks. CO2 has been a secondary refrigerant for years, but now they are starting to appreciate it for itself. Dupont Chemical is going to hate this development, as they were the originators of the Freons, the Ozone Crisis (paid for false science), and expensive replacements.

July 16, 2021 11:07 pm

Geoscientific study traces carbon-silicon cycle over three billion years on the basis of lithium isotope levels

Dave Fair
Reply to  zee
July 17, 2021 2:33 pm

At 100 locations.

July 17, 2021 12:20 am

This cycle is regarded as a key mechanism controlling the Earth’s climate, as it regulates carbon dioxide levels and, with it, temperature. 

This demonstrates the value of peer review – absolutely worthless. Getting tripe like this published as long as it makes a connection between CO2 and climate.

It is so sad that government funding has so corrupted scientific work. How long can this utter nonsense continue!

Peta of Newark
July 17, 2021 12:27 am

<shakes head & wanders away, muttering>

July 17, 2021 12:56 am

Why are we currently in an ice age? The accepted version seems to be that the continents moved around rather rapidly, the Isthmus of Panama closed, and the oceans’ circulation pattern changed.

As far as I can tell, the Earth’s climate has more to do with atmospheric and oceanic circulation patterns than it does with CO2 levels.

Reply to  commieBob
July 17, 2021 4:25 am

It makes one wonder if these researchers have ever heard of Milankovitch.

“Milankovitch? Doesn’t he own the deli two blocks down?”

Rich Davis
Reply to  commieBob
July 17, 2021 5:16 am


July 17, 2021 12:58 am

Still waiting for the German floods article… 155mm of rain at cologne in 24 hours: previous record 95mm. 2 months rain in 48 hours – in summer. worse than worst recorded winter floods.

Watts readers can NOT keep pretending extreme weather events of this magnitude are just ‘weather’.

Tom Halla
Reply to  griff
July 17, 2021 1:45 am

So,Griffin baby,did you call the Texas Freeze in February “climate change”?

Reply to  griff
July 17, 2021 2:33 am

Nobody is pretending; it IS just weather.

Reply to  griff
July 17, 2021 2:38 am

Sadly Griff, if you bother to look up te St Magdalene’s day flood of 1342, you will find that in happened in July and was far far worse than the German floods of today

Why do you have to break all the rules you yourself calim are relevant like ‘its not climate, its just weather’ and ‘its worse than records show’ when it isn’t?

Why is it so important that you are right? Do you have all your savings tied up in renewable energy companies? Are you paid to troll here?

Last edited 10 days ago by Leo Smith
Reply to  Leo Smith
July 17, 2021 9:13 am

So the previous flood record was set as the Little Ice Age was beginning? Assume the alarmunist models are correct; their disagreement with reality these past 20-30 years can only mean we are beginning a new Little Ice Age, and the record flooding ties in nicely.

Reply to  Leo Smith
July 17, 2021 9:41 am

Like most liberals, griff believes that rules exist to promote the party line. Any rule that gets in the way of that goal is immediately ignored.

Right-Handed Shark
Reply to  griff
July 17, 2021 4:21 am

I’m sure that will be the hot topic at sks and the single-sided “conversation”. Why don’t you head off over there where they treat delusionaries as visionaries.

Tom in Florida
Reply to  griff
July 17, 2021 4:38 am

155 mm is just a bit over 6″. A damp day in Florida summer.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Tom in Florida
July 17, 2021 6:54 am

A localized downpour. Those things happen all the time.

Griff is grasping at straws, as usual.

Reply to  Tom Abbott
July 17, 2021 9:42 am

A storm stalls when it gets caught between two fronts. Happens all the time.

Reply to  griff
July 17, 2021 4:58 am

Write it yourself 😀

Rich Davis
Reply to  griff
July 17, 2021 5:04 am

Speaking of “Still waiting for…”

In which time period would you prefer to live your life, griff?

[__] Benign low CO2 1675-1750
[__] Dangerous CO2 1950-2025

Rich Davis
Reply to  Rich Davis
July 17, 2021 5:22 am

Today only offer griff
Option 3
[__] Really nice CO2 1325-1345

Reply to  griff
July 17, 2021 5:34 am

Write one and submit it here:

Julian Flood
Reply to  Redge
July 17, 2021 6:05 am

They don’t reply
Briefly – Ruf and Evans system for finding microplastic should enable us to quantify how much of the world ocean is smoothed by oil and surfactant pollution. Smooths reduce mechanical production of salt aerosols while reduced stirring lowers DMS production
Less stratocu, oceans warm.

Feynman says science begins with a guess and anyone can guess. That’s my guess.


Bob boder
Reply to  griff
July 17, 2021 6:38 am

Yeah Griff, there never were record events in the past. There never were climatic disasters in the past.
we have been keeping records for at most a few hundred years? Come on the odds of there being a record event in any given location in the world at any give time are on the order 1%. That’s a lot of record events on any given day all over the world.

Carlo, Monte
Reply to  griff
July 17, 2021 7:04 am


Reply to  griff
July 17, 2021 9:40 am

I see the broken record is back.
No need to refute griff yet again here. Anyone who wants to read the voluminous refutations can merely check any article posted over the last three or four days.

pHil R
Reply to  griff
July 17, 2021 10:58 am

6″ of rain in 24 hours? Wake me when you get a real rain event.

Captain climate
Reply to  griff
July 17, 2021 7:42 pm

They don’t have to pretend because there’s zero statistically significant evidence that precipitation amount or frequency has changed.

July 17, 2021 2:31 am

This article starts with an outrageous falsehood

“Earth’s climate was relatively stable for a long period of time. For three billion years, temperatures were mostly warm … “

Except when it wasn’t. Like the deep global ice ages, the Huronian glaciation around 2-2.5 billion years ago, and the series of glaciations including the Sturtian and Marinoan that comprises the Cryogenian period about 800-600 million years ago.

When an article begins with a statement like “the moon is made of cheese”, it’s hard to take any of it seriously.

Rich Davis
Reply to  Hatter Eggburn
July 17, 2021 5:12 am

You must have missed the memo, Hatter, Snowball Earth was just a regional weather pattern, like the Medieval Warm Period or the Little Ice Age. The Pre-cambrian hockey stick has now been extended back to 4.6 billion years bp. Don’t be a pathetic denier.

Reply to  Rich Davis
July 17, 2021 5:53 am

Damn! How did I miss that?
They getting more ambitious, first it was, “earth is better off without humans who destabilise the climate.” Now it’s “earth is better off without multicellular life that destabilises the climate.”
The goal – a stable climate on a lifeless planet. These folks should go live on the moon 🌙 .

Reply to  Hatter Eggburn
July 17, 2021 6:27 am


The wiki Snowball Earth page is instructive. When you are presented with some scientific theory out of the blue, it should sound convincing. It was dreamed up by a subject matter expert who spent a lot of effort dreaming it up. If you aren’t a subject matter expert, how do you know whether it’s complete garbage or not?

The Snowball Earth page presents many possible theories about events which may, or may not, have happened. They can’t all be right and there’s an excellent chance that none of them are correct.

Just remember, the majority (possibly the vast majority) of published research findings are false. link

John Tillman
Reply to  Hatter Eggburn
July 17, 2021 10:24 am

Besides the Snowball Earth episodes in the Proterozoic Eon, 3.4 billion years ago takes us back to the Archean Eon, when the planet’s atmosphere contained practically no oxygen, the seas were full of iron, continents had just recently started forming and there were no eukaryotes.

Reply to  John Tillman
July 17, 2021 2:56 pm

Yes somehow the deglaciation after the Cryogenian between 600-500 Mya was associated with increasing oxygenation which drove the Cambrian explosion. The key moment was when oxygen rose to high enough levels to allow new animals to adopt an energetic predatory lifestyle. This deeply antisocial behaviour decimated the Ediacaran biota and drove the explosive radiation of life forms leading to our current 19 or so phyla.

July 17, 2021 2:34 am

The only basis for silicate weathering controlling temperature via CO2 is politically driven wishful thinking. The actual geological evidence shows it not to be the case:

Barry Malcolm
Reply to  Hatter Eggburn
July 17, 2021 7:04 am

“Both played a role, but as yet we do not know exactly how the processes are coupled,” Professor Philip Pogge von Strandmann added.

Tom Johnson
July 17, 2021 4:49 am

The authors acknowledge getting 600 samples from 100 strata, and the samples are from the last 3 billion years. Even if these 600 samples happened to be precisely equally spaced over the time period, each sample represents 5 million years. Yet from them, the causes of glaciation cycles repeating at100,000 year intervals can be determined, even though these glaciation cycles all happened during the final 5 million year single sample. Even P, T, Barnum would be impressed.

Joao Martins
July 17, 2021 5:51 am

What a relief!

At last, “science says” that humans are not the culprits!

It started much, much earlier that fossil fuels and even much, much before humans appeared on earth.

The new culprits?… Trilobites (trilo-bytes? arcane computer bugs?), maybe?….

Rich Davis
Reply to  Joao Martins
July 17, 2021 6:55 am

The problem is life. We must eliminate that.

Not a good idea to give AI an objective to stop climate change 🙂

Tom Abbott
July 17, 2021 6:50 am

From the article: “This cycle is regarded as a key mechanism controlling the Earth’s climate, as it regulates carbon dioxide levels and, with it, temperature.”

Another alarmist unsubstantiated assertion. Assuming things not in evidence.

Rich Davis
Reply to  Tom Abbott
July 17, 2021 7:00 am

You’re apparently another heretic who denies the dogma of the Master Control Knob, CO2.

Jean Parisot
July 17, 2021 9:50 am
John Tillman
Reply to  Jean Parisot
July 17, 2021 10:32 am

Remarkable, since corals are mentioned.

July 17, 2021 11:27 am

So basically they are saying that we need to get CO2 levels back up to 100,000,000 parts per billion so that the climate can be perfectly stable once again?

Last edited 9 days ago by MarkW
Charles Higley
July 17, 2021 5:10 pm

No, life forms do NOT control the climate and do not now. Life had a major effect on the atmosphere but claiming climate is a stretch.

Starting with the huge volcanic eruptions that covered large areas of the planet about 250 million years ago, the planet has been ripping itself apart. The reason why we have the mazing layers of sedimentary rock on our continents could only have been because there were no deep oceans or continents up to that time and eroded material accumulated in the lithosphere.

When Earth finally stopped venting pressure with huge Trap eruptions, like a cooling scab covers the pressure release site, the continents started to separate (i.e., the lithosphere fractured and the ocean dropped into the spreading gaps. (Even NASA reports that Earth is expanding.) This is why there are no ocean floor areas that are more than 250 million years old. It’s that simple. Huge changes in the erosion and mineral deposit cycles as the result of the ocean draining away from the once submerged crust would have a much greater effect on climate. Imagine going from a mostly water-covered planet to a 70% covered planet with continents with much different albedos and ocean currents that move solar heat around. Blaming life forms for climate in the midst of such massive changes is a joke, a big joke.

Lonnie E. Schubert
July 18, 2021 3:53 pm


Pick your favorite data source, but the overall assertion doesn’t jive.

Last edited 8 days ago by Lonnie E. Schubert
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