How long do humans have until a serious global warming event similar to the one 56 million years ago? A new study says that at the rate of carbon emissions today, it could come as early as in 140 years.
According to a new study, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere is rising faster than it did at any point during the time of the dinosaurs. In fact, the study found that humans are actually pumping carbon dioxide to the air at a rate that’s nine to 10 times higher than 56 million years ago.
Geophysicist and professor Gabriel Bowen, who reviewed the study for the journal, said that the carbon emission rates today are unprecedented even in the context of the Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum (PETM) event, the global warming event 56 million years ago that caused mass extinction in the oceans and accelerated evolution in the continents.
According to the study, given the rate of carbon emissions today, it’s possible that a warming event similar to PETM may occur on the planet in as few as 140 years or just five generations. Back then, temperatures rose by 9 to 14 degrees Fahrenheit (5 to 8 degrees Celsius), animals both in land and on the sea were killed off, and it took over 150,000 years before the planet returned to normal.
Simply put, while PETM has been used in the past as a benchmark for modern climate change, the latest findings reveal that it may happen sooner than expected. While PETM was still not the hottest that the Earth has ever been, it is the hottest since the dinosaurs were wiped out 66 million years ago.
“You and I won’t be here in 2159, but that’s only about four generations away. When you start to think about your children and your grandchildren and your great-grandchildren, you are about there,” said study lead author Professor Philip D. Gingerich of the University of Michigan.
The study is published in the journal Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology.