Work by a group of scientists led by Mark Pagani of Yale University suggests that climate is more sensitive than hoped to a sustained increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide. Their research, published in the December 8, 2006, issue of Science magazine, suggests that a global warming event 55 million years ago called the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM)was caused by a massive release of carbon.
The geologic record shows that the ensuing greenhouse effect heated the planet by about 9° F (5° C), on average, in less than 10,000 years. The temperature increase lasted 170,000 years and caused profound changes to the world’s rainfall patterns, made the oceans acidic, and affected oceanic and terrestrial plant and animal life, including spawning the rise of our modern primate ancestors. But understanding just how much carbon was responsible for the temperature increase and where it came from remains elusive.
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