Global warming is not a new phenomenon – and scientists have revealed that the largest global warming event in Earth’s history may have been linked to the stretching of its continents.
Collaborators from the universities of Southampton, Edinburgh, Leeds, Oldenburg, Florence and China have found that 56 million years ago, Earth’s tectonic plates caused rising temperatures on an unforeseen scale.
This period of warming up to 8˚C is called the Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum and lasted for an estimated 170,000 years.
Many species, especially deep-sea organisms were wiped out by this change in climate.
The scientists claim that as continental plates stretched in the northern hemisphere, the Earth’s mantle began to melt – this caused regular volcanic eruptions, releasing enormous bursts of carbon into the atmosphere and therefore leading to global warming.
Although the reasons are highly disparate, the researchers believe lessons can be learnt by comparing this chain of events to modern day climate change.
“Such rapid events [as gas being released into the atmosphere] cause a fundamental reorganisation of Earth’s surface environment, altering vast ecosystems,” explains Dr Tom Gernon, the study’s lead author.
“The amount of carbon needed to drive warming could have been attained by enhanced melting,” adds co-author Dr Thea Hincks – with the report explaining that carbon is always the key instigator in global warming and still rings just as true today.