The Relationship Between

Plate Tectonics and the Carbon cycle

        Plate tectonics and the carbon cycle are intertwined in several different ways. In many respects, it is plate tectonics that spurs on the recycling of carbon atoms.

 Convergent boundaries affect the carbon cycle in two ways: through subduction and eruption.

Plate tectonics and the carbon cycle also have a major effect on climate change. The stages of Snowball Earth of about 600 Ma are a prime example of this relationship.

The pictures below describe each step of the snowball earth:

                  Snowball Earth Prologue                                                       Snowball Earth at its Coldest

                Snowball Earth as it Thaws                                   Hothouse Aftermath


    Thus the effects snowball earth, characterized by large areas of glaciation, were eventually countered when volcanic activity and tectonic forces allowed further concentrations of carbon dioxide to build up.  Here the relationship can be seen how plate tectonics, through the formation of volcanoes, works with the carbon cycle: it is the tectonic forces which release carbon through degassing and entrap carbon during subduction.  This relationship has occurred most noticeably in the break up and formation of continents and the resulting effect on climate.

          -  Carbon Cycle Modelling, ed. Bert Bolin. 1981, John Wiley & Sons
          -  Tectonic Uplift and Climate Change, ed. William F. Ruddiman. 1997, Plenum Press
          -  Natural Sinks of CO2, ed. Dr. Joe Wisniewski & Dr. Ariel E. Lugo. 1992, Kluwer Academic Publishers
          -  GE 70A Reader by Mark Morris, Mark Harrison, and Stephen Mojzsis
          -  The Cosmic Perspective by Jeffrey Bennett, Megan Donahue, Nicholas Schneider, and Mark Voit, 1999 Addison Wesley Longman.