Science 3 min read

Carbon Dioxide to Soon Reach Levels not Seen in Over 50 Million Years

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kamilpetran |

A study published by University of Michigan researchers in the journal Advance Earth and Space Science reports that our planet’s atmosphere could soon hit carbon dioxide levels not experienced in over 50 million years.

The era, known as Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), was Earth’s hottest period since the extinction of the dinosaurs 66 million years ago.

Studies suggest that during this period, there was no ice on the polar caps and that the Arctic was teeming with crocodiles and tropical trees.

According to the research team’s estimate, the Earth-warming phenomenon could return in the middle of the next century.

“You and I won’t be here in 2159, but that’s only about four generations away,” Philip Gingerich, one of the authors of the study and a paleoclimatic researcher from the University of Michigan, said.

“When you start to think about your children and your grandchildren, and your great-grandchildren, you’re about there.”

Increase in Carbon Dioxide Emission

While researchers are not sure what caused the warming of Earth during the PETM era, they are quite sure what is causing it today.

To date, the burning of coal, oil, and other fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide and methane that are then trapped in Earth’s atmosphere and oceans. The rise in carbon dioxide emission over the past century has contributed significantly to the increase in Earth’s temperature.

“The rates of carbon release that are happening today are really unprecedented,” Gabriel Bowen, a geophysicist from the University of Utah, who’s not connected with the study, said.

During the PETM era, the planet accumulated around 3 to 7 gigatons of carbon over 3,000 to 20,000 years. The event is believed to have caused the massive extinction of the majority of organisms and forced others to migrate.

The new study claims that Earth has already emitted 1,500 gigatons of carbon as of 2016.

“The fact that we could reach warming equivalent to the PETM very quickly, within the next few hundred years, is terrifying,” Larisa DeSantis, a paleontologist from Vanderbilt University, who’s also not part of the research, commented.

DeSantis also noted that reversing the effects of carbon emission would take more than a hundred years.

“It’s not just about 100 years from now; it’s going to take significant periods of time for that carbon dioxide to make its way back into the Earth’s crust,” DeSantis added.

“It’s not a short-term event. We’re really committing ourselves to many thousands of years of a warmer world if we don’t take action quickly.”

Read More: Want To Reduce Your Carbon Footprint? Eat Better

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Chelle is the Product Management Lead at INK. She's an experienced SEO professional as well as UX researcher and designer. She enjoys traveling and spending time anywhere near the sea with her family and friends.

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