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Ancient Arctic water cycles are red flags to future global warming

New Haven, Conn. Ancient plant remains recovered in recent Arctic Ocean sampling cores shows that during a period of carbon dioxide-induced global warming, humidity, precipitation and salinity of the ocean water altered drastically, along with elevated global and regional temperatures, according to a report in the August 10 issue of Nature.

The Arctic Ocean drilling expedition in 2004 allowed scientists to directly measure samples of biological and geological material from the beginning of the Paleocene/Eocene thermal maximum (PETM), a period of rapid, extreme global warming about 55 million years ago. It has given researchers a direct resource of measurable information on global warming from a time when the overall global temperature was higher and more uniform from the subtropics to the arctic.

The researchers measured carbon and hydrogen isotopes in fossil plants remains and reconstructed the pattern of precipitation and characteristics of the ancient arctic water. "Our results told us a lot about the way that the large-scale water cycle is affected during global warming," said Mark Pagani, professor of geology and geophysics at Yale and principal author of the study.

The large-scale water cycle refers to the way water vapor is transported from the tropics and subtropics to the poles. "We are all familiar with the rain and storms that occur when warm air masses meet cool northern fronts. During the PETM, temperature differences from the tropics to the poles were lower, reducing rainfall between the subtropics and the North Pole and increasing the amount of water transported to the Arctic, said Pagani. It looks like a substantial increase in precipitation led to increased river runoff, lower ocean salinity, and drastically lower oxygen levels in the Arctic Ocean."

"It is important to realize that the impact of global warming is not just about searing hot summers it also concerns the water cycle. We need to anticipate big cha
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11-Aug-2006


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