The rate of release of carbon into the atmosphere today is nearly 10 times as fast as during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), 55.9 million years ago, the best analog we have for current global warming, according to an international team of geologists. Rate matters and this current rapid change may not allow sufficient time for the biological environment to adjust.
“We looked at the PETM because it is thought to be the best ancient analog for future climate change caused by fossil fuel burning,” said Lee R. Kump, professor of geosciences, Penn State….
“Rather than the 20,000 years of the PETM which is long enough for ecological systems to adapt, carbon is now being released into the atmosphere at a rate 10 times faster,” said Kump. “It is possible that this is faster than ecosystems can adapt.”
That’s the Penn State news release for a major new study in Nature Geoscience, “Slow release of fossil carbon during the Palaeocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum” (subs. req’d).
Again, this bad news isn’t big news to Climate Progress readers. A year ago I wrote about a different Nature Geoscience study, which found our oceans are acidifying 10 times faster today than 55 million years ago when a mass extinction of marine species occurred. And the UK’s Royal Society published a 2010 paper that noted, “Palaeotemperature proxy data from across the PETM indicate a coincident increase in global surface temperatures of approximately 5-6°C,” which is to say 9° – 11°F.
In short, whatever we do, we don’t want to duplicate the conditions of the PETM. Unfortunately, the new study finds human are actually pushing the climate system 10 times harder than it was pushed during the PETM by natural forcings.
The new study does come with a number of caveats, as would be expected for any analysis of such a long time ago. Here’s more from the news release: