Global Warming – 55 Million Years Ago gives us Clues to Potentially Hot Future

Global Warming – 55 Million Years Ago gives us Clues to Potentially Hot Future

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Scientists from private nonprofit organization, Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology, found that long-term release of carbon 55 million years ago contributed to global warming during this time period. This discovery reflects that global warming in modern day is related to the CO2 emissions into the environment. The study was led by Mark Pagani and included scientist Ken Caldeira and was first published in the December 8th issue of Science magazine.

The event that happened 55 million years ago has been known as an ancient global warming event named Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM). This event was caused by a massive release of carbon. The geologic record shows that the greenhouse effect increased temperatures around 9 degrees Fahrenheit on average for around 10,000 years. The higher temperatures remained for the next 170,000 years and caused a number of changes to the environment. Animal life, rainfall patterns, and the rise of modern primate ancestors have all been contributed to this time period.

Carbon was believed to have contributed by the amount was not calculated to determine amounts that created the events. The researchers gathered carbon data from tiny ocean organisms called plankton.

"We can tell that the amount of carbon released to the atmosphere and ocean was more or less the same as what is available today as coal, oil, and gas," Caldeira explained. "The carbon heated up the Earth for over 100,000 years. If the climate was as insensitive to CO2 as the climate skeptics claim, there would be no way to make the Earth so warm for so long."

Scientists still do not know why the carbon levels were elevated at this time. One thought is that massive fires of burning coal and plant material contributed to the release of carbon. Another thought is the earth’s continental shelves were burping out large methane gases into the air.

"By examining fossils and ancient sediments on the sea floor, we can see that something very unusual happened to Earth’s carbon cycle," Caldeira continued. "At the same time the climate near the North Pole became like Miami. We can tell it didn’t take all that much carbon to make this change in climate."

The scientists theorize that if the source of the carbon was from ancient plant material each doubling of atmospheric CO2 concentration would warm the Earth 4 degrees Fareinheit. It could even be twice as much as this. If the source of the carbon came from methane that carbon dioxide that atmosphere would have taken decades. This suggests that the climate is more sensitive to CO2 than originally thought.

"If ancient methane ‘burps’ really occurred, as many believe," Caldeira said, "a doubling of atmospheric CO2 concentration would warm the Earth by over 10 ºF (5.6 ºC). If that’s what happened, we could be in for a mighty toasty future."

"Our carbon dioxide emissions are risking biological, chemical, and climate changes of a magnitude that has not been seen for more than 50 million years," he warned. "Our work provides even more incentive to develop the clean energy sources that can provide for economic growth and development without risking the natural world that is our endowment."



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