CO2 Acidified The Oceans In Ancient Times In A Manner Similar To What We Are Seeing Today
That time was some 56 million years ago during the epochal time named the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, PETM!
It was a time of change brought on by the most ‘carbon’ in air and oceans in all of Earths history.
Ocean scientists have just published a new paper that makes use of the detailed ecological history that this installment of an ocean science ring trilogy reveals in layers of deep ocean sediments. The ocean sediments are built up in layers every year just like the rings of a tree and if you look very carefully at the rings of a tree or layers of an ocean sediment, in their core samples, it is akin to reading the finest encyclopedia of Earth’s history.
According to the boffins of this paper in Nature Geoscience around about 56 million years ago, something mysterious happened — there are many speculations as to what suddenly caused concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to spike, far higher than they are today. At the time there was global warming that grew over the period of a couple thousand years such that the planet was bathed in heat about 5 degrees C warmer than ‘normal’, this warm period lasted for 100,000 years!
With this warming there is seen in the sediment core record proof of dramatic ocean acidification and major die-offs of some marine organisms along with shifts to a new ocean pasture ecology. On land this time of change spelled doom for many forms of life but for mammalia, our kin, it was not a time of great dying but rather a time of great growth of biodiversity and spreading of mammals over the warm friendly world.
What resulted in the PETM is widely argued with myriad ideas being postulated. Many agree that there was an explosion of carbon/methane from thawing Arctic permafrost. Some add to this Arctic release addition release of subsea methane clathrates. Some suggest that all of the above might have been precipitated by a flurry of global volcanic eruptions.
All agree that the result was ‘global warming’ of about 5 degrees Celsius. The new research just reported in Nature reveals that the dramatic changes wrought by CO2 and Methane of the PETM was a mere shadow of what it taking place today.
Humankind’s fossil fuel age is administering a planet changing dose of carbon into the atmosphere at 10 times the rate than happened some 50 million years ago in that most dramatic though much slower paced global carbon catastrophe.
This Zeebe et al research report can be found in Nature Geoscience, led by Richard Zeebe of the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and colleagues from the University of Bristol in the UK and the University of California-Riverside. Thanks Nature, they have lowered their usual usurious paywall on the paper so all may read it for free.
“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 short period of time, is the PETM,” says Zeebe.
“We actually have to go back to relatively old periods, because in the more recent past, we don’t see anything comparable to what humans are currently doing.”
Is there a lesson to learn
During the PETM period about as much carbon entered the air and oceans as is contained the all of the fossil fuel reserves of this planet. The authors of the report suggest it took between 2500-4000 years for that amount of carbon to be unleashed upon the world. While the release was ten times slower than today’s release of carbon once in the air (and oceans) depending upon your genomes point of view the earth was thrown into a state of heaven or hell.
The authors of this paper, dutifully paying heed to the reigning dogma of our time have chosen to recite the required ‘climate change incantation’ when what they show in the paper is the more important role of ‘ocean change.’ Ah well they might as well be sure to stay on the ‘climate change’ gravy train which they do by saying…
“If anthropogenic emissions rates have no analogue in Earth’s recent history, then unforeseeable future responses of the climate system are possible.”
To tool of this research group is an ocean seabed sediment core. In this case the researchers chose a deep ocean core of sediment from off the coast of New Jersey. Their task was to slice the core into a time series of rings and measure the ratios between different isotopes, or slightly different elemental forms, of carbon and oxygen, in the sediments during the time of the PETM.
Thier work provides for a reliable means, its done commonly by many research groups, to reveal atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, as reflected in the ratio of carbon 12 to carbon 13. Global temperatures can be inferred by the characteristics of oxygen isotopes in the ocean.
“In terms of these two systems, the first shows us when the carbon went into the system, and the second tells us when the climate responded,” says Zeebe.
The ring evidence from the new core revealed that while a gigantic volume of carbon entered the atmosphere during the PETM — between 2,000 and 4,500 billion tons — it entered over some 4,000 years. So only about 1 billion tons of carbon were emitted per year.
For a comparison to today’s world and why you should be very concerned about this new ‘ring wraith’ of data we humans are now emitting about 10 billion tons annually, changing the planet much more rapidly. It gives one reason to pause to consider just who is fueling the fires of Mordor – orcs or elves?
“The anthropogenic release outpaces carbon release during the most extreme global warming event of the past 66 million years, by at least an order of magnitude,” writes Peter Stassen, an Earth and environmental scientist at KU Leuven, in Belgium, in an accompanying commentary on the new study.
Principal author Zebe says:
“The two main conclusions is that ocean acidification will be more severe, ecosystems may be hit harder because of rate” of carbon release.”
“Given that the current rate of carbon release is unprecedented throughout the Cenozoic, we have effectively entered an era of a no-analogue state, which represents a fundamental challenge to constraining future climate projections.”
Lest you be misled – today’s CO2 emissions are a crisis of geologic proportion (that’s more than Biblical)
We surely learn from this new chapter in the history of the world that massive change occurs when suddenly large amounts of CO2 enter the world’s air and oceans. Reading the bible of scientific history provides certain proof that what we are doing to the planet today though our burning of so much fossil fuel carbon in such a short period of time, aka 100 years, WILL change the planet and life on it as we know it.
The most vital history is read from what the ocean pastures have written by their very existence over the eons of time. As the ocean pastures change so does life on this blue planet. And the change we are wreaking on our ocean pastures is hitting them harder and faster than ever in global history!
As this paper reports what changed life on earth 56 million years ago included massive change to the ocean pastures of the time. Those changes to the oceans that cover 72% of this blue planet was reflected as a mirror of changes on land. Mass extinctions and evolutions of life occurred but that process took as much as ten times as much time as we have imposed on todays living planet. Surely this merits slowing our mismanagement of the planet down and where we can making every effort to repairing the damage and havoc we have already and will continue to impose.
The real action on this blue planet, as this paper makes clear, is in the BLUE part. That’s also where we can by acting responsibly and quickly do the most to offset and mitigate the harm we have and will do. By tending as good stewards to our ocean pastures we can empower them, and they are the most powerful ecological force on this planet (save humans), and they will slow down this CO2 chaos. If we do nothing then Nature will run a new program and evolve something new. Whether we are part of that or not is the issue, Nature almost always throws the baby out with the bath water so likely we are in trouble.
This blog is dedicated to delivering the news on how effectively, inexpensively, and immediately we can become ocean pasture stewards and restore and revive our oceans so that they may restore and sustain us. Ocean pastures in a restored healthy state are the most powerful force on this blue planet and with our help will repurpose many billions of tonnes of CO2 every year into new ocean life!