Humans are Reversing the Climate Clock by 50 Million Years

Humans are Reversing the Climate Clock by 50 Million Years

The climate of Earth is changing rapidly and we need to react instantly to save our home.

Climate Change is arguably the biggest challenge encountered by humanity and we need to mold our ways instantly to ensure the safety of our future generations. According to a recent study, humans may reverse a long-term cooling trend which could take us at least 50 million years back in time. Researchers estimated that it will take us only 130 more years to arrive at that point (Eocene), if we fail to control our greenhouse gas emissions. Eocene is a warm and mostly ice-free epoch that dominated the climate of the world some 50 million years ago. Kevin Burke, the Lead Author of the research, expressed his views about the severity of the situation in the following words:

If we think about the future in terms of the past, where we are going is uncharted territory for human society. We are moving toward very dramatic changes over an extremely rapid time frame, reversing a planetary cooling trend in a matter of centuries.

During the days of Eocene, average global temperatures were 13o C higher than they are today and the continents were more closely packed together. Swampy forests, like the ones found in the southern United States, characterized the Arctic while the first mammals (horses and whales) of the planet were just spreading across the globe.

The researching team explained that ancestors of all the species, which are present today on our planet, have survived the Eocene. Having said that, nothing could be said (with certainty) about the impact of such an extreme climate on modern-day species, including humans. This latest study used the previous work of John Williams, a Paleoecologist who serves as a Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, to probe deeper into the geological past of the Earth. He talked about the difficulty of predicting the future and said,

We can use the past as a yardstick to understand the future, which is so different from anything we have experienced in our lifetimes. People have a hard time projecting what the world will be like five or 10 years from now. This is a tool for predicting that — how we head down those paths and using deep geologic analogs from Earth’s history to think about changes in time.

Researchers from different universities and research centers joined Williams and Burke for this study. They examined the similarities between future climate projections of several geological periods as set forth by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report.

The Representative Concentration Pathway 8.5 (RCP 8.5) was selected for a scenario where greenhouse gas emissions were not reduced at all. On the other hand, RCP 4.5 was chosen for a case where a moderate amount of these emissions were controlled. A total of 3 different models were used for climate simulations: Model E2-R of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Coupled Model Version 3 of the Hadley Center, and the Community Climate System Model.

Across each of these models, the climate of the Earth resembled the most with the mid-Pliocene by 2040 (RCP 4.5) and 2030 (RCP 8.5). In the case of RCP 4.5, the climate then stabilizes at these temperatures while it continues to warm until it resembles the Eocene (in 2100) for RCP 8.5. The effects of the Eocene-like conditions will become even more prominent by 2150. These models also indicated that these geological climates start spreading from the center of the continents. Precipitation increases alongside temperatures and climates become temperate near the poles of the Earth. Williams explained that by saying,

Madison (Wisconsin) warms up more than Seattle (Washington) does, even though they’re at the same latitude. When you read that the world is expected to warm by 3 degrees Celsius this century, in Madison we should expect to roughly double the global average.

The researching team used a pretty balanced approach to their paper. A perfect mix of optimism and alarm is there as they warn the world of an unknown future and mention the resiliency of life, simultaneously. Williams acknowledged that we have terminated the use of fossil fuels in a lot of places but still a lot more needs to be done to preserve our planet. He said,

We’ve seen big things happen in Earth’s history — new species evolved, life persists and species survive. But many species will be lost, and we live on this planet.

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