Study: Current Earth Warming Not Seen Since the Dinosaurs’ Extinction

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Source: J. Fidzgerald / AFP/Getty Images

Source: J. Fidzgerald / AFP/Getty Images

A new analysis of the geologic record shows that carbon is flowing into the Earth’s atmosphere at an alarming rate.

According to new research, carbon is entering the atmosphere faster than it has in the past 66 million years, a record not seen since the dinosaurs went extinct. It further adds proof that humans are changing Earth’s environment.

“The carbon emissions rate is ten times greater today than during the prehistoric hot period that is the closest precedent for today’s greenhouse warming,” explained National Geographic. “That period, known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), was marked by a massive release of the Earth’s natural carbon stores into the atmosphere.”

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The extra amount of carbon during the period sparked about a 5°C (9°F) increase, “along with drought, floods, insect plagues, and extinctions.”

The new analysis found that “the carbon rush at the start of the PETM extended over at least 4,000 years.” When broken down, it comes to an additional 1.1 gigatons of carbon each year. Human activity today adds about 10 gigatons of carbon due to fuel burning and other human activity.”

Richard Zeebe, an oceanographer from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, explained that these findings show a “challenge for predicting how the planet will change.”

Source: DOMINIK BUTZMANN, LAIF/REDUX

Source: DOMINIK BUTZMANN, LAIF/REDUX

“It means we don’t have a really good analog in the past for the massive amount of carbon we’re releasing,” shared Zeebe, who led the research published in Nature Geoscience on Monday. “Even if we look at the PETM and say the transition to a warmer climate may have been relatively smooth, there’s no guarantee for the future.”

The PETM transition caused a massive shift to the Earth 55.8 million years ago. While many microorganisms on the ocean floor thrived, “half of all single-celled shelled organisms on the sea floor were wiped out.” Peter Stassen, geologist at the University of Leuven, explained that the sea creatures may not be so lucky the next time around, not having the full time to adapt.

Getting a proper read on the PETM hasn’t been easy. Scientists are basing their evidence off of sediment, “layers of organic material that have settled year by year on the ocean floor,” to explain the changes. Zeebe and his team found their information by using a sediment core drilled in New Jersey where they “based their analysis on the pattern of carbon and oxygen isotopes in the sediment samples.”

The new data is concurrent with the data found by a research team from Pennsylvania State University in 2011. This data was based around an “age model.” Using the “age model” the team “dated a sediment core sample drilled in Norway based on physicists’ recreation of the rhythms of Earth’s orbit around the sun.”

“The lesson for society is the same,” Lee Kump, head of geosciences at Penn State, shared. “We are now exceeding by an order of magnitude the rate of carbon release during one of the most remarkable global warming events in Earth’s history.”

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