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Ancient climate trends can lead to key insights for the future

Published: Wednesday, October 12, 2022 - 4:55pm
Updated: Thursday, October 13, 2022 - 7:51am

Studying climate from the past can reveal how trends might develop in the future. 

Research from the University of Arizona found that secrets from 60 million years ago reveal how sensitive the climate is to carbon dioxide.  

About 56 million years ago, it is believed volcanoes dumped massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, rapidly heating up the globe. That time period is often used as a parallel for today.

During that era, there were no ice caps on the poles, and tropical rain belts were much smaller.

At the time, carbon dioxide levels rose to about 3,000 parts per million. Right now they are at about 415 parts per million.

UA professor and study author Jessica Tierney said we are seeing similar effects happening currently, but we are also seeing faster climate change. 

“The speed of climate change that humans are causing right now is actually faster even than this ancient global warming event. Now this event we think is one of the fastest warming in the geological record. We’re pumping so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that we’re actually releasing about 5 times as much carbon dioxide in terms of a rate compared to what was happening in the PETM," Tierney said. 

That stands for the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum.

Tierney said the faster climate change is, the less likely it is that life will be able to adapt.