Global Warming Of The Future Is Projected By Ancient Carbon Emissions
New Haven CT (SPX) Dec 08, 2006
Global warming 55 million years ago suggests a high climate sensitivity to carbon dioxide, according to research led by Mark Pagani, associate professor of geology and geophysics at Yale and published in the December 8 issue of Science. For some years, scientists have known that a massive release of carbon into the atmosphere caused the ancient global warming event known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) that began about 55 million years ago.
The geologic record shows that the resulting greenhouse effect heated the planet as a whole by about 9 F (5 C), in less than 10,000 years.
That temperature increase lasted about 170,000 years, altered the world's rainfall patterns, made the oceans acidic, affected plant and animal life in the seas and on land, and spawned the rise of our modern primate ancestors.
"The PETM is a stunning example of carbon dioxide-induced global warming and stands in contrast to critics who argue that the Earth's temperature is insensitive to increases in carbon dioxide," said Pagani. "Not only did the Earth warm by at least 9F (5C), but it did so during a time when Earth's average temperature was already 9F warmer than today."
However, what has not been clear is how much carbon was responsible for the temperature increase and where it came from. Scientists have speculated that it might have come from massive fires from burning coal and other ancient plant material, or from 'burps' of methane from the continental shelves that rapidly became atmospheric carbon dioxide.
"According to this work, if the PETM was caused by the burning of plant material then climate sensitivity to carbon dioxide is more than 4.5F (2.5C) per carbon dioxide doubling. And if methane was the culprit, then Earth's climate must be extremely sensitive to carbon dioxide - increasing, over 10F (5.6C) per carbon dioxide doubling," noted Pagani.
This finding contradicts the position held by many climate-change skeptics that the Earth's climate is resilient to such carbon dioxide emissions and suggests that Earth's temperature will rise substantially with atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations that are expected to double around mid-century.
"The last time carbon was emitted to the atmosphere on the scale of what we are doing today, there were winners and losers," remarked Ken Caldeira, a co-author from the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology. "There was ecological devastation, but new species rose from the ashes. 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."
Other authors on the paper include David Archer in the Department of Geophysical Sciences, University of Chicago, and James C. Zachos in the Earth Sciences Department, University of California, Santa Cruz. Citation: Science: (December 8, 2006).
earlier related report
For some years scientists have known that an ancient global warming event, called the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) beginning about 55 million years ago, was caused by a massive release of carbon. The geologic record shows that the ensuing greenhouse effect heated the planet by about 9 F (5 C), on average, in less than 10,000 years. The temperature increase lasted 170,000 years and caused profound changes to the world's rainfall patterns, made the oceans acidic, and affected oceanic and terrestrial plant and animal life, including spawning the rise of our modern primate ancestors. But understanding just how much carbon was responsible for the temperature increase and where it came from remains elusive.
The new calculations used data from carbon found in fossils of ancient land plants and tiny marine organisms known as 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."
The source of this ancient carbon is still a mystery. It might have come from massive fires burning coal and other ancient plant material, or it could have come from "burps" of methane from the continental shelves.
"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."
If the source of the release was ancient plant material, calculations indicate that for each doubling of atmospheric CO2 concentration, the Earth would warm at least 4 F (2.2 C) and possibly twice this much. If ancient methane was the cause, as many believe, the situation is even more dire. The methane would have become carbon dioxide in the atmosphere within decades. The research indicates that much less of it would have been available to cause climate change, which means that the climate is even more sensitive to added CO2 than we have 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 F (5.6 C). If that's what happened, we could be in for a mighty toasty future."
With a continuation of current trends in the use of coal, oil, and gas, natural background atmospheric CO2 concentrations are expected to double around mid-century. The ancient emissions are comparable to the CO2 that can be expected from human activity over the coming few centuries. If human-induced carbon emissions continue unabated, there could be a similar shift in species evolution.
"The last time carbon was emitted to the atmosphere on the scale of what we are doing today, there were winners and losers," Caldeira remarked. "There was ecological devastation, but new species rose from the ashes. Luckily for us, our ancient primate ancestors were winners. Who knows who the winners and losers will be in the next go round""
"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."
Learn about Climate Science at TerraDaily.com
More Than 50 Tribes Convene on Global Warming Impacts
Washington DC (SPX) Dec 06, 2006
Near the Lower Colorado River, home to the Cocopah people for many centuries, an unprecedented gathering is underway. The Cocopah Indian Tribe and National Wildlife Federation have partnered to co-host the first-ever Tribal Lands Climate Conference-bringing together leaders from more than 50 tribes to address the growing global warming crisis.
|The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2006 - SpaceDaily.AFP and UPI Wire Stories are copyright Agence France-Presse and United Press International. ESA PortalReports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additionalcopyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement,agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by SpaceDaily on any Web page published or hosted by SpaceDaily. Privacy Statement|