By studying fossilized mollusks from some 3.5 million years ago, UCLA geoscientists and colleagues have been able to construct an ancient climate record that holds clues about the long-term effects of Earth’s current levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, a key contributor to global climate change.
Two novel geochemical techniques used to determine the temperature at which the mollusk shells were formed suggest that summertime Arctic temperatures during the early Pliocene epoch (3.5 million to 4 million years ago) may have been a staggering 18 to 28 degrees Fahrenheit [11 to 16 degrees Celsius] warmer than today. And these ancient fossils, harvested from deep within the Arctic Circle, may have once lived in an environment in which the polar ice cap melted completely during the summer months.
“Our data from the early Pliocene, when carbon dioxide levels remained close to modern levels for thousands of years, may indicate how warm the planet will eventually become if carbon dioxide levels are stabilized at the current value of 400 parts per million,” said Aradhna Tripati, a UCLA assistant professor in the department of Earth and space sciences and the department of atmospheric and oceanic sciences.
The results of this study lend support to assertions made by climate modelers that summertime sea ice may be eliminated in the next 50 to 100 years, which would have far-reaching consequences for Earth’s climate, she said.
The research, federally funded by the National Science Foundation, is scheduled to be published in the April 15 print issue of Earth and Planetary Science Letters, a leading journal in geoscience, and is currently available online.
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