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Ancient climate change may portend toasty future

s and ancient sediments on the sea floor, we can see that something very unusual happened to Earths carbon cycle," Caldeira continued. "At the same time the climate near the North Pole became like Miami. We can tell it didnt take all that much carbon to make this change in climate."

If the source of the release was ancient plant material, calculations indicate that for each doubling of atmospheric CO2 concentration, the Earth would warm at least 4 F (2.2 C) and possibly twice this much. If ancient methane was the cause, as many believe, the situation is even more dire. The methane would have become carbon dioxide in the atmosphere within decades. The research indicates that much less of it would have been available to cause climate change, which means that the climate is even more sensitive to added CO2 than we have thought.

"If ancient methane burps really occurred, as many believe," Caldeira said, "a doubling of atmospheric CO2 concentration would warm the Earth by over 10 F (5.6 C). If thats what happened, we could be in for a mighty toasty future."

With a continuation of current trends in the use of coal, oil, and gas, natural background atmospheric CO2 concentrations are expected to double around mid-century. The ancient emissions are comparable to the CO2 that can be expected from human activity over the coming few centuries. If human-induced carbon emissions continue unabated, there could be a similar shift in species evolution.

"The last time carbon was emitted to the atmosphere on the scale of what we are doing today, there were winners and losers," Caldeira remarked. "There was ecological devastation, but new species rose from the ashes. Luckily for us, our ancient primate ancestors were winners. Who knows who the winners and losers will be in the next go round""

"Our carbon dioxide emissions are risking biological, chemical, and climate changes of a magnitude that has not been seen for more than 50 mil
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Contact: Ken Caldeira
kcaldeira@globalecology.stanford.edu
650-704-7212
Carnegie Institution
7-Dec-2006


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