Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Scientist Warns Breaching a 'Carbon Threshold' Could Lead to Mass Extinction Event

Oceans
A study by an MIT researcher warns that humans are pumping carbon into the world's oceans at a rate that could trigger a mass extinction event. Pexels

By Julia Conley

The continuous accumulation of carbon dioxide in the planet's oceans — which shows no sign of stopping due to humanity's relentless consumption of fossil fuels — is likely to trigger a chemical reaction in Earth's carbon cycle similar to those which happened just before mass extinction events, according to a new study.


MIT geophysics Prof. Daniel Rothman released new data on Monday showing that carbon levels today could be fast approaching a tipping point threshold that could trigger extreme ocean acidification similar to the kind that contributed to the Permian–Triassic mass extinction that occurred about 250 million years ago.

Rothman's new research comes two years after he predicted that a mass extinction event could take place at the end of this century. Since 2017, he has been working to understand how life on Earth might be wiped out due to increased carbon in the oceans.

Rothman created a model in which he simulated adding carbon dioxide to oceans, finding that when the gas was added to an already-stable marine environment, only temporary acidification occurred.

When he continuously pumped carbon into the oceans, however, as humans have been doing at greater and greater levels since the late 18th century, the ocean model eventually reached a threshold which triggered what MIT called "a cascade of chemical feedbacks," or "excitation," causing extreme acidification and worsening the warming effects of the originally-added carbon.

Over the past 540 million years, these chemical feedbacks have occurred at various times, Rothman noted.

But the most significant occurrences took place around the time of four out of the five mass extinction events — and today's oceans are absorbing carbon far more quickly than they did before the Permian–Triassic extinction, in which 90 percent of life on Earth died out.

The planet may now be "at the precipice of excitation," Rothman told MIT News.

On social media, one critic called the study's implications about life on Earth "completely terrifying."

The study, which was completed with support from NASA and the National Science Foundation, also notes that even though humans have only been pumping carbon into the oceans for hundreds of years rather than the thousands of years it took for volcanic eruptions and other events to bring about other extinctions, the result will likely be the same.

"Once we're over the threshold, how we got there may not matter," Rothman told MIT News. "Once you get over it, you're dealing with how the Earth works, and it goes on its own ride."

Other scientists said the study, which will be published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, represents a clear call for immediate action to drastically reduce the amount of carbon that is being pumped into the world's oceans. Climate action groups and grassroots movements have long called on governments to impose a moratorium on fossil fuel drilling, which pumps about a billion metric tons of carbon into the atmosphere every year.

"We already know that our CO2-emitting actions will have consequences for many millennia," said Timothy Lenton, a professor of climate change and earth systems science at the University of Exeter. "This study suggests those consequences could be much more dramatic than previously expected."

"If we push the Earth system too far," Lenton added, "then it takes over and determines its own response — past that point there will be little we can do about it."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

The CDC is warning that people with type 2 diabetes, kidney disease, whole organ transplants, and women who are pregnant could experience more severe outcomes if they contract COVID-19. LeoPatrizi / Getty Images
Read More Show Less

More than 200 Indigenous Nations demonstrated against the Dakota Access Pipeline in Canon Ball, ND on Sept. 2, 2016. Joe Brusky / Flickr

A federal judge ruled Monday that the controversial Dakota Access pipeline must be shut down and drained of oil until a full environmental review of the project is completed.

Read More Show Less
The Yersinia pestis bacteria causes bubonic plague in animals and humans. Illustration based on light microscope image At 1000x. BSIP / UIG Via Getty Images

A herdsman in the Chinese autonomous region of Inner Mongolia was diagnosed with the bubonic plague Sunday, The New York Times reported.

Read More Show Less
Plant pathologist Carolee Bull works in her home garden in State College, Pennsylvania. Carolee Bull, CC BY-ND

By Matt Kasson, Brian Lovett and Carolee Bull

Home gardening is having a boom year across the U.S. Whether they're growing their own food in response to pandemic shortages or just looking for a diversion, numerous aspiring gardeners have constructed their first raised beds, and seeds are flying off suppliers' shelves. Now that gardens are largely planted, much of the work for the next several months revolves around keeping them healthy.

Read More Show Less
Hotter temperatures have been linked to a rise in energy poverty, with more people struggling to meet their energy bills from their household income. Flickr / CC by 2.0

By Emma Charlton

The effects of climate change may more far-reaching than you think.

Hotter temperatures have been linked to a rise in energy poverty, with more people struggling to meet their energy bills from their household income, according to a new study published on ScienceDirect by researchers from Italy's Ca' Foscari University.

Read More Show Less
Naegleria fowleri (commonly referred to as the "brain-eating amoeba") is a free-living microscopic amoeba (single-celled living organism). Centers for Disease Control

As if the surging cases of coronavirus weren't enough for Floridians to handle, now the state's Department of Health (DOH) has confirmed that a person in the Tampa area tested positive for a rare brain-eating amoeba, according to CBS News. The Florida DOH posted a warning to residents to remind them of the dangers of the rare single-celled amoeba that attacks brain tissue.

Read More Show Less

Trending


Scientists are urging the WHO to revisit their coronavirus guidance to focus more on airborne transmission and less on hand sanitizer and hygiene. John Lund / Photodisc / Getty Images

The World Health Organization (WHO) is holding the line on its stance that the respiratory droplets of the coronavirus fall quickly to the floor and are not infectious. Now, a group of 239 scientists is challenging that assertion, arguing that the virus is lingering in the air of indoor environments, infecting people nearby, as The New York Times reported.

Read More Show Less