Spectrum-driven planetary deglaciation due to increases in stellar luminosity

Aomawa L. Shields, Cecilia M. Bitz, Victoria S. Meadows, Manoj M. Joshi, Tyler D. Robinson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


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, 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 smaller instellation to initiate deglaciation than planets orbiting hotter, brighter stars. This is due to the higher absorption of near-infrared radiation by ice on the surfaces and greenhouse gases and clouds in the atmosphere of an M-dwarf planet. Increases in atmospheric CO 2 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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number785
JournalAstrophysical Journal Letters
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 10 2014
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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