The Hot Zone

Tens of thousands of years needed for Earth to recover from mass carbon releases

It’s easy to come up with ways that carbon is released into the atmosphere — an erupting volcano, a massive wildfire, or in today’s world, millions of fossil fuel burning cars and power plants. But how does carbon eventually get put back into the earth? A paper published in Nature Geoscience this month by scientists at Purdue University and the University of California at Santa Cruz examined the Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, a 170,000 year period of global warming that took... [Read more]

Posted by Alison Hawkes on December 1, 2010 No Comments »
Category : Climates of the Past

Earth’s climate could take 100,000 years to recover, and a game to solve our climate woes

Maybe this isn’t news. But it sure got my attention. The Geological Society of London put out a position statement on climate change this week, and among its many interesting tidbits said that the Earth’s climate could take 100,000 years or longer to recover from this most recent bout of CO2, absent any human mitigation. The Society based this projection on numerical models of the climate system that went into the 2007 IPCC report. The Society’s advice, based on this conclusion,... [Read more]

Posted by Alison Hawkes on November 3, 2010 No Comments »
Category : Climate Science and Scientists, Climates of the Past, The man made climate

The seas are rising, but how much?

As the mercury continues to rise, we all know that the sea level is also going up. But by how much? Scientists do the best they can to model the impacts, and based on that policy makers have come up with the 2 degree Celsius limit to how much hotter the Earth can get and still be in the safety zone. But what if they’re wrong? A paper published in the September Journal of Quaternary Science synthesized ice, marine, and terrestrial data from the last interglacial event, some 125,000 years ago,... [Read more]

Posted by Alison Hawkes on October 3, 2010 No Comments »
Category : Climates of the Past

A bipolar seesaw

How do you have an Ice Age and warming at the same time? As wacky as the climate patterns on Earth are right now, they’ve been stranger in human history. A paper in the journal Nature this week draws attention to the Younger Dryas conundrum about 13,000 years ago, a period of abrupt climate change. The last Ice Age was ending, owing to a shift in the Earth’s orientation to the sun, bringing us into the modern, temperate period that sustained the rise of civilizations. But the global warming... [Read more]

Posted by Alison Hawkes on September 10, 2010 No Comments »
Category : Climates of the Past

Getting smaller

Global warming is causing many changes in species. Some are going extinct, others thriving, habitats are shifting, and ecosystems are reacting to changes in temperature, precipitation, acidity, and more. But could a global increase in temperature also change the morphology of a species? If the past is any indication, then add size and shape to the list. A study undertaken by the Florida Museum of Natural History and available online in the Journal of Mammalian Evolution (to be published in print... [Read more]

Posted by Alison Hawkes on August 30, 2010 No Comments »
Category : Climates of the Past

Whiffs of oxygen

It’s pretty well accepted among the scientific community that life existed as far back as 3.5 billion years ago. But those were days before oxygen had accumulated to significant levels.What kind of creatures were lurking an an oxygren-free world? It wasn’t until 2.4 billion years ago during the so-called Great Oxidation Event that  photosynthesizing cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) produced enough oxygen to saturate into organic matter and dissolved iron in the ocean and then more.... [Read more]

Posted by Alison Hawkes on August 24, 2010 No Comments »
Category : Climates of the Past

Oceans away

As I reported earlier, new research is showing the intimate connections between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans during past major climate events. Just because an ocean is an ocean away, doesn’t mean it doesn’t feel the impact of, say, the collapse of the Atlantic conveyor belt, as happened as the last Ice Age ended some 17,000 years ago. Now another study of around the same time period was published recently by researchers at Oregon State University in the journal Earth and Planetary... [Read more]

Posted by Alison Hawkes on August 13, 2010 No Comments »
Category : Climates of the Past

Hitting bedrock

Ever heard of the Eemian period? It was the previous interglacial period, starting about 130,000 years ago, and was marked by a climate similar to what we might expect under today’s climate change. The sea level was 16 feet higher and the temperatures about 5 degrees F warmer than today. That’s why scientists like the Eemian. So much so that they’ve put five years effort into drilling a 8,300 foot hole in Greenland’s thick glacial ice to study the Eemian climate. Last week... [Read more]

Posted by Alison Hawkes on August 4, 2010 No Comments »
Category : Climates of the Past

Brave new world

It’s mighty hard to figure out what the Earth’s early atmosphere looked like some 4 billion years ago. But we know that it was hot — up to a stifling 153 degrees Fahrenheit, enough to melt wax. This has always been a paradox. After all, the sun’s light was  30 percent dimmer back then, so there should have been glaciers covering the planet. Imagine what would happen if the Earth lost a third of its solar radiation today. Let’s just say there would be no outdoor barbecues... [Read more]

Posted by Alison Hawkes on July 2, 2010 No Comments »
Category : Climates of the Past

Warm as the Arctic

Far North off the coast of Greenland is Ellesmere Island, a mountainous, icy patch of earth that supports only one species of woody plant, the tiny, slow-growing Arctic Willow. The glaciers in this Canadian outpost have been rapidly disintegrating; its main Ward Hunt Ice shelf fractured a couple years ago, while another, the Markham shelf, broke off into the sea. It’s a great place to study the effects of climate change, both modern and past. Beaver Pond on Ellesmere Island is exceptionally... [Read more]

Posted by Alison Hawkes on June 28, 2010 No Comments »
Category : Climates of the Past

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