Carbon Dioxide Release At Highest Rate In 66 Million Years

Posted: Mar 22 2016, 12:50am CDT | by , Updated: Mar 22 2016, 11:02pm CDT, in News | Latest Science News


Carbon Release Rate is Highest Since Dinosaur Age
Deep-sea sediments and the red clay band marks the onset of the PETM. Credit: James Zachos

New research suggests that humans are releasing carbon dioxide about 10 times faster than during any event in the past 66 million years.

Carbon dioxide is being released into the atmosphere faster than at any time in the past 66 million years - since the dinosaurs went extinct, according to a recent analysis. This is the damage humans have done in Earth’s history by burning fuels over the years.

The research was basically aimed to determine the onset of important climate event Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), a time period which is marked by the massive ejection of carbon into the atmosphere. Researchers suspect that the event may be triggered by the release of frozen stores of greenhouse gasses beneath the seabed which somehow made their way to the atmosphere and caused global temperatures to rise up to 5 degree Celsius.

The PETM event, which took place about 56 million years ago, brought massive changes in Earth’s atmosphere. The planet warmed up rapidly, some animal species suddenly evolved and some went extinct. Marine life damaged due to the strong acidification of the seas.

Researchers wanted to compare the release rate of today’s carbon with that of extreme period PETM which extended over at least 4,000 years. But the biggest challenge was how to obtain the data of that period. The earliest instrumental records of Earth’s climate started in 1850s. To look further back in time, researchers examined the chemical and biological properties locked inside the deep-sea sediment records.

After analyzing, researchers found that humans are releasing carbon about 10 times faster than during any event in the past 66 million years.

“If you look over the entire Cenozoic, the last 66 million years, the only event that we know of at the moment, that has a massive carbon release, and happens over a relatively very short period of time, is the PETM.” Richard Zeebe from University of Hawaii at Māno said.

But what humans are doing to Earth today is unparalleled to what was done at any point in the past 66 million years. 

The rate of carbon release during the PETM was estimated to be much smaller than the current input of carbon to the atmosphere from human activities. In 2014, carbon emissions from human activities touched the record high mark of 37 billion metric tons while during PETM it had to be less than 4 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide per year.

"If anthropogenic emissions rates have no analogue in Earth's recent history, then unforeseeable future responses of the climate system are possible.” Researchers wrote in the study.

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.




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