A new study of the ancient period, considered the closest natural analogue of modern human carbon emissions, has shown that massive volcanism has released huge waves of carbon into the oceans over thousands of years, but nature hasn’t come close to what humans are doing today. The study estimates that humans are now emitting CO2 3-8 times faster than active ancient volcanoes.
The consequences of the process of carbon dioxide emissions for life both on water and on land are potentially catastrophic. Researchers at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory studied the state of the ocean 55.6 million years ago. This time is known as the Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum. The rapid rise in CO2 levels from volcanic activity has led to an increase in temperature by another 5-8 degrees Celsius. The oceans absorbed large amounts of carbon, triggering chemical reactions that made the water very acidic, killing many marine species.
“The research is directly relevant to the present day. We want to understand how the earth’s system will now respond to rapid CO2 emissions. And it turns out that we are doing the same thing much faster and stronger now than ancient volcanoes, ”said lead author Laura Haynes.
The results are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.