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When Greenland Was Green Rapid Global Warming 55 Million Years Ago May Predict The Future

When Greenland Was Green: Rapid Global Warming 55 Million Years Ago May Predict The Future

Frozen Northeast Greenland seems an unlikely place to gain insight into our ever-warming world. Between 50 million and 60 million years ago, however, the region was a different place.

 

Back then Greenland had a subtropical climate befitting of its name. It was host to volcanic activity that restructured the land and ocean connections and drove rapid warming.

 

The abrupt global warming event 56 million years ago, known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), is often used as a worrying analogue for our current climate crisis.

 

A recent research, published today in Communications Earth and Environment, provides crucial details about the event — with a focus on Greenland’s role in it.

When Greenland Was Green: Rapid Global Warming 55 Million Years Ago May Predict The Future

When Greenland Was Green Rapid Global Warming 55 Million Years Ago May Predict The Future
When Greenland Was Green Rapid Global Warming 55 Million Years Ago May Predict The Future

 

Lessons from Earth’s past

 

About 56 million years ago, increased volcanic activity resulted in the eruption of huge volumes of molten rock, in a vast area surrounding what would eventually become Iceland. Underground, the magma essentially “cooked” sediments rich in organic material, converting the stored carbon into gas.

 

This led to trillions of tonnes of greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere. It drove an increase in ocean acidity and a rise in global temperatures to the tune of 5-8℃.

 

The environmental and ecological consequences were immense. Mass extinctions and animal migrations took place over just a few thousand years. Fast-forward to the release of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, and there has never been a greater need to understand Earth’s climate systems.

 

The geological record provides an opportunity to learn from past climate events that occurred on a timescale far longer than human lifespans or any written history.

 

Most importantly, it could forewarn us of the outcomes of Earth’s current climate upheaval which is unfolding much more rapidly.

 

Greenland’s exotic land

 

Northeast Greenland is the world’s largest national park, and one of the most remote and unexplored areas on the planet.

 

For our study, we set out to map the environmental evolution and geographic response to volcanic activity throughout the PETM event in northeast Greenland. Volcanic activity has been identified as the “smoking gun” for what drove the PETM warming.

 

Greenland also acted as a gatekeeper for the once-narrow seaway that connected the Arctic and Atlantic oceans (before movement of the tectonic plates opened the Atlantic more fully).

 

Greenland, therefore, played a significant role in regulating climate-critical ocean connections. These channels control the distribution of heat, dissolved gasses such as oxygen and carbon dioxide, nutrients and moisture in the atmosphere.

 

Back to the future

 

Today’s environments have been largely broken up by human activity through agriculture and urbanisation, which gives species under environmental stress less opportunity to move elsewhere to survive any change.

 

And although we’re still some way from matching the overall volume of greenhouse gas emissions released during the PETM, today’s emission rates are rising almost ten times faster. Our ecosystems are already displaying signs of destabilisation.

 

Recent studies have warned of weakening ocean circulation, which may lead to climatic tipping points. Without urgent intervention, the unfolding climate and ecological crisis could prove to be a far greater burden than the world can bear.

 

Subhangee Guha

Break the Newz.

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