Climate change is progressing rapidly. It is not the first time in our planet’s history that temperatures have been rising, but it is happening much faster now than it ever has before. Or is it? Researchers at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) have shown in the latest edition of the journal Nature Communications* that the temperature changes millions of years ago probably happened no more slowly than they are happening today.
In order to predict how today’s ecosystems will react to increasing temperatures over the course of global warming, palaeobiologists study how climate change happened in the earth’s history and what the consequences were.
Image: Kilian Eichenseer
In order to compare the events of the past with current changes researchers need data on the scope of the changes. What was the speed with which temperatures increased or decreased? What was the magnitude of the change in temperatures? Until now, the general consensus has been that current climate change is happening more quickly than any previous temperature fluctuations.
Climate change in the earth’s past faster than previously thought
Together with a British colleagues, palaeobiologist Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Kießling and geosciences student Kilian Eichenseer, both from FAU, have published a pioneering study in Nature Communications explaining that the idea that environmental changes in the earth’s past happened slowly in comparison to current, rapid climate change is wrong.
The reason for this incorrect assumption is the different time periods that are examined in climate research. ‘Today we can measure the smallest fluctuations in climate whenever they occur,’ Kilian Eichenseer explains. ‘Yet when we look at geological history we’re lucky if we can determine a change in climate over a period of ten thousand years.’
Therefore, if we compare global warming over recent decades with the increase in temperature that happened 250 million years ago over the Permian-Triassic boundary, current climate change seems incredibly fast. Between 1960 and 2010, the temperature of the oceans rose at a rate of 0.007 degrees per year. ‘That doesn’t seem like much,’ Prof. Kießling says, ‘but it’s 42 times faster than the temperature increase that we are able to measure over the Permian-Triassic boundary. Back then the temperature of the oceans rose by 10 degrees, but as we are only able to limit the period to 60,000 years, this equates to a seemingly low rate of 0.00017 degrees per year.’
Rapid changes are invisible, not absent
In their study the researchers looked at around two hundred analyses of changes in climate from various periods in geological history. It became clear that the apparent speed of climate change appears slower the longer the time periods over which increases or decreases in temperature are observed. The reason for this is that over long periods rapid changes in climate do not happen constantly in one direction.
There are always phases during which the temperatures remain constant or even sink – a phenomenon that has also been observed in the current period of global warming. ‘However, we are unable to prove such fast fluctuations during past periods of climate change with the available methods of analysis. As a consequence, the data leads us to believe that climate change was always much slower in geological history than it is today, even when the greatest catastrophes occurred. However, that is not the case,’ Prof. Kießling says.
If we consider these scaling effects, the temperate increase over the Permian-Triassic boundary was no different to current climate change in terms of speed. The increase in temperature during this event is associated with a mass extinction event during which 90 percent of marine animals died out.
*Kemp, D. B., K. Eichenseer, and W. Kiessling. 2015. Maximum rates of climate change are systematically underestimated in the geological record. Nature Communications DOI: 10.1038/ncomms9890
Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Kießling
Phone: +49 9131 8526959
Dr. Susanne Langer | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft
Greenland ice flow likely to speed up: New data assert glaciers move over sediment, which gets more slippery as it gets wetter
17.08.2017 | Swansea University
Climate change: In their old age, trees still accumulate large quantities of carbon
17.08.2017 | Universität Hamburg
Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.
As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...
Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.
Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...
For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.
While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...
An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.
The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...
A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...
16.08.2017 | Event News
04.08.2017 | Event News
26.07.2017 | Event News
21.08.2017 | Materials Sciences
21.08.2017 | Health and Medicine
21.08.2017 | Materials Sciences