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Non-equilibrium thermodynamics, maximum entropy production and Earth-system evolution

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http://pubman.mpdl.mpg.de/cone/persons/resource/persons62438

Kleidon,  A.
Research Group Biospheric Theory and Modelling, Dr. A. Kleidon, Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, Max Planck Society;

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Kleidon, A. (2010). Non-equilibrium thermodynamics, maximum entropy production and Earth-system evolution. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London - Series A: Mathematical Physical and Engineering Sciences, 368(1910), 181-196. doi:10.1098/rsta.2009.0188.


Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-000E-D9EC-6
Abstract
The present-day atmosphere is in a unique state far from thermodynamic equilibrium. This uniqueness is for instance reflected in the high concentration of molecular oxygen and the low relative humidity in the atmosphere. Given that the concentration of atmospheric oxygen has likely increased throughout Earth-system history, we can ask whether this trend can be generalized to a trend of Earth-system evolution that is directed away from thermodynamic equilibrium, why we would expect such a trend to take place and what it would imply for Earth-system evolution as a whole. The justification for such a trend could be found in the proposed general principle of maximum entropy production (MEP), which states that non-equilibrium thermodynamic systems maintain steady states at which entropy production is maximized. Here, I justify and demonstrate this application of MEP to the Earth at the planetary scale. I first describe the non-equilibrium thermodynamic nature of Earth-system processes and distinguish processes that drive the system's state away from equilibrium from those that are directed towards equilibrium. I formulate the interactions among these processes from a thermodynamic perspective and then connect them to a holistic view of the planetary thermodynamic state of the Earth system. In conclusion, non-equilibrium thermodynamics and MEP have the potential to provide a simple and holistic theory of Earth-system functioning. This theory can be used to derive overall evolutionary trends of the Earth's past, identify the role that life plays in driving thermodynamic states far from equilibrium, identify habitability in other planetary environments and evaluate human impacts on Earth-system functioning.