The world we live is a witness of five mass extinctions. The next curtain could fall before the century is up.
By some studies and new mathematical analysis of Earth’s revolving carbon cycle, with calculations predicting our horrendous output of CO2, emissions are inching us towards a ‘threshold of catastrophe’ that the planet hasn’t breached in millions of years.
Geophysicist Daniel Rothman from MIT University investigated fluctuations in the carbon cycle – the pathway carbon traces through Earth’s land, oceans, and atmosphere – that have occurred over the last 542 million years.
Rothman was recognized by geochemists. He analyzed 31 established carbon isotopic events. Rothman identified the ebb and flow of carbon–12 and carbon–13. Those are two isotopes of carbon whose abundance has varied considerably in Earth’s history.
The geochemist constructed a database to assess how much carbon mass was pumped into the world’s oceans in each historical event.
Today, everybody knows that correlation doesn’t equal causation. But in light of all the other evidence we have on how dangerous high levels of carbon are to live on our planet, a disturbing pattern is definitely emerging.
It became evident that there was a characteristic rate of change that the system basically didn’t like to go past ∼ Rothman says.
Now for the bad news.
There are two ways carbon levels can exceed this threshold of catastrophe. One of them is where CO2 emissions slowly disappear over thousands and millions of years, slowly triggering a global calamity.
The other way occurs on a much shorter timescale. This is where an immense shift in carbon volumes moving through the carbon cycle happens in the space, decades and years. Does this sound familiar to you?
Rothman thinks it needs about 310 gigatonnes of carbon to be added to the world’s oceans for us to pass the threshold. It is roughly the minimum amount expected to be contributed by the year 2100 at the way things are going. At this point, the researcher says we’ll enter an “unknown territory”.
This is not saying that disaster comes the next day ∼ Rothman says.
If left unchecked, the carbon cycle would move into a realm which would be no longer stable. And it will come in a way that would be difficult to predict. In the geologic past, this type of behavior is associated with mass extinction.
Unless humanity does something to drastically turn around our carbon situation — we can find our selves in dangerous extermination.
It will not happen overnight. But such an epic die-off could play out over something like 10,000 years. The geophysics the phenomenon could crystallize as soon as 2100 if things don’t change in near future.
Of course, Rothman can’t have all the answers. But he does hope we take these numbers as another piece of evidence to galvanize our slow-moving selves into action.
There should be ways of pulling back [emissions of carbon dioxide] ∼ Rothman says.
This work tells us why we need to be careful. It also gives more reasons for studying the past to inform the present.
Inspired by: Science Alert