SOUTHAMPTON scientists have conducted groundbreaking research into the causes of one of the most extreme global warming episodes in Earth’s history.
The team of scientists from the Universities of Southampton, Edinburgh and Leeds discovered that prehistoric stretching of the continents likely caused the extreme episode.
extinction of organisms
Scientists studied the effects of global tectonic forces and volcanic eruptions during a period of environmental change 56 million years ago.
During that time, the planet experienced a temperature increase of 5-8°C, culminating in the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) that lasted about 170,000 years.
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This led to the extinction of many deep-sea organisms and changed the course of the evolution of life on Earth.
dr Tom Gernon, Associate Professor of Earth Sciences at the University of Southampton and lead author of the study, said: “There is general agreement that a sudden and massive release of the greenhouse gas carbon from the Earth’s interior must have triggered this event, but the magnitude and pace of the Warming is very difficult to explain by conventional volcanic processes.”
“Transforming huge ecosystems”
According to the scientists, the extensive stretching of the continental plates in the northern hemisphere has massively reduced the pressure in the deep interior of the earth.
This then led to an intense but short-lived melting of the mantle — a layer of sticky, molten rock just beneath the planet’s crust.
The team proposes that the resulting volcanic activity coincided with, and was likely caused by, a massive release of carbon into the atmosphere associated with PETM warming.
The scientists found evidence from rocks drilled from the seafloor of a widespread episode of volcanic activity that lasted 200,000 years and coincided with the PETM.
dr Gernon said this would have led to a rapid increase in the release of carbon, leading to global warming.
He added: “Such rapid events are causing a fundamental restructuring of the environment on the Earth’s surface and are transforming vast ecosystems.”
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