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Science

55 Million Years Ago, Things Got Worse

final_05_500x352 Every once in awhile it is an encouraging thought to know that things can get even worse than they already are. That was the case tonight as I sat back down after the Christmas break (a good two days worth) to look at what stories had appeared in my feeds.

It appears that some 55 million years ago in the period which has now been enthusiastically named the Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum (PETM), the planet suffered a global warming increase as a direct result of a rise in carbon dioxide levels.

The PETM phase was studied using sediments that had collected on the ocean floor, in what is now New Jersey. The new study published in the December edition of Nature shows that a large portion of the greenhouse gasses that warmed the planet were released suddenly as a result of a chain-reaction of events.

The most likely explanation is that carbon dioxide levels increased as a result of volcanic activity. As a result of those increased emissions heightening the greenhouse effect, submarine methane hydrates (ice-like structures in which massive amounts of methane are stored) melted, subsequently releasing large amounts of methane.

The study, which shows the chain-reaction amplification of global warming temperatures, is the first of its kind to be published.

But more importantly to us is the “analogous” story that is being told.

The new research shows and confirms that global warming can indeed set off a chain-reaction of events that further release stored carbon in to the atmosphere. Thus, current and future warming may very well see similar effects.

The group of researchers have also previously shown that tropical algae migrated north in to the Arctic during the PETM. When temperatures rose to 24oC, the research showed that the Arctic was home to crocodiles and palm trees; obviously items that are not conducive to a successful freezing of the oceans. Current climate models are incapable of simulating such high temperatures in the arctic, which have serious repercussions for future models predicting our climate future.

The journal article was entitled Environmental precursors to rapid light carbon injection at the Palaeocene/Eocene boundary and was written by Appy Sluijs, Henk Brinkhuis, Stefan Schouten, Steven M. Bohaty, Cédric M. John, James C. Zachos, Gert-Jan Reichart, Jaap S. Sinninghe Damsté, Erica M. Crouch & Gerald R. Dickens.

Utrecht University via ENN – Climatic Chain Reaction Caused Runaway Greenhouse Effect 55 Million Years Ago

Photo Courtesy ExploraPoles




17 comments
  1. ias

    Oh, yea… right! 55 Million years ago it was “man” with his polluting cars that caused the Earth’s Climate Change! Amazing how we ALL use the words “Climate Change” as if it was a new word or experience in life. Climate Change is the difference between it being Sunny and cloudy; Rainy and Windy; Snowy and… err… Earthquake…y!

    Is “man” to blame for the destructive winds in our World 55 million years ago.. NO! Why therefore are we “the people” tolerant of the Politics that has provided the platform for business opportunities and incentives for UN Scientists to exploit? It is truly a disgrace!! Why do we continue to be gullible? Where is our TV debate where UN scientists, opposing Scientists, Politicians and “the people” from both sides allowed to question this Politically influenced Myth? Hell, we sure had a televised debate on Iraq! So why not on “the biggest threat to manking?”

  2. Carlos

    Mike,
    Carbon dioxide and many other pollutants act as insulators that trap the heat from the sun’s radiation in the atmosphere.
    To visualize this effect, imagine you are outside in regular summer clothing and you walk into an air conditioned store. You cool down extremely quickly because the only insulation you have on is your summer clothing and your skin. Now imagine the same scenario but instead you are wearing several layers of clothing; a couple of pairs of socks, a large sweater, boots, and a parka. The extra insulation ensures that you will remain very warm.

    Exactly Steven! History is consistent in this fact. Everything will end in time. Some humans are trying very desperately to postpone the inevitable while even more are accelerating it.

  3. Dr. Steven Richter PhD

    Carlos is in essence quite right. Mankinds idea that they are meant to survive on this planet or entitled to continue existing in the universe stems from an extremely narrow understanding of the universe as a whole. Take for example the thousands of species that dissappear from this planet every year due to isolated changes in their specific climate niches, now expand that view from just one ecosystem or planet to the universe, it’s just a matter of time until humans bite the big one as a whole.

  4. Mike

    This is interesting. This is the first study I have read which shows that CO2 may proceed warming, not follow it. Inconclusive to be sure at this point, but interesting.

  5. Carlos

    That’s right Hank.
    The Earth will survive just fine and it will heal itself in time as well just as it did in the past. The plain fact is that humans have completely fucked this planet and there is no indication of change. If you want encouraging thoughts, go ask your mom.

    To answer your question Cameron, and I can only speculate, but I’d assume that once the climate becomes intolerable for humans and many other species to survive the carbon dioxide levels will drop very quickly. By quickly, I mean a few million years possibly.

    Since vegetation will be the predominant life form at this point, levels of oxygen will grow while co2 is depleted.

    After another 55 million years or so we can expect the cycle to happen again when another self righteous, self entitling life form takes it upon themselves to trash the planet once again for their own gain.

  6. Alison

    @bob: yes, the north pole is just ice, but if you check out a map, have a look at the Arctic Circle, there is plenty of land up there for palm trees and crocodiles. (Say, Northern Alaska, parts of Canada, Lapland…)

  7. Cameron

    The Earth cooled via Ice Age. The Ocean’s currents can’t function under warmer temperatures and that stops warm weather for much of Europe early on, but more importantly leads to the Ice Age all over again.

  8. Hank Fox

    Yeah, well, as people often say “Planet Earth will survive just fine.”

    It’s wonderful to see such broad-mindedness.

    Probably somebody this broadminded could lose their mother in a car wreck and still say “There are plenty of moms in the world. Motherhood will survive just fine.”

    Keep having those encouraging thoughts, guy.

  9. Brad Tronchetti

    If we were to see a sudden increase in volcanic activity today, with our current rate of global warming, the pace of global warming could accelerate exponentially.

  10. bob

    Wait, did you mean to say the _ant_arctic used to have crocidiles and palm trees? Because there is no land in the North Pole, just ice. Also, it is commonly known that antarctica used to be tropical, but that was because it used to be next to australia, and over time shifted south.

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