Earth May Be on the Verge of a Catastrophe

Have you had enough hurricanes, earthquakes and natural disasters? Apparently, Mother Earth may have some other things in store for us – at least this is what scientists think.

The quantity of carbon dioxide that people will release in the atmosphere by year 2100 could be enough to set off the sixth mass extinction, a new report is suggesting.

This massive spike of CO2 levels during this last century could have put the world at tremendous risk. In fact, the Earth may be dangerously of the verge of a “threshold of catastrophe,” which will cause environmental instability along with huge mass die-offs, and this is according to a recent mathematical analysis.

Even if some sort of mass destruction seems inevitable, it is believed that it probably would not be immediately apparent. Instead, this process may actually take about 10,000 years to play itself out, reported co-author Daniel Rothman, who is a geophysicist from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

It is believed that aggressively cutting back carbon emissions in the next few years could be enough to evade this catastrophe, stated Lee Kump, a geoscientist from Pennsylvania State University who did not take part in the study.

Carbon Levels and Death

The thing is that there have several boom and bust period of life during the 4.5 billion year history of the Earth. However, in the last half-billion years, there have actually been five massive extinctions that have eliminated an incredible amount of life. These were the Ordovician-Silurian mass extinction, the Late Devonian mass extinction, the Permian mass extinction, the Triassic-Jurassic mass extinction and finally the familiar Cretaceous-Tertiary mass extinction that was responsible for wiping out all the dinosaurs. The most severe of all these was actually the Permian extinction, also called the “The Great Dying,” when more than 95 percent of all marine life and around 70 percent of all land-based life were eliminated.

There was one thing that all these mass extinctions had in common.

“Every time there’s been a major mass extinction — one of the big five — there’s been a serious disruption of the global carbon cycle,” Rothman pointed out. This might be because of a direct connection between death and CO2 via ocean acidification or possibly an indirect connection, such as when carbon dioxide emissions warm the planet to temperatures that are not livable and maybe even there are links to eruptions of volcanoes and the cooling of the atmosphere they cause. 

For example, at the conclusion of this Permian period, which occurred around 252 million years ago, we know that oceanic carbon dioxide levels exploded because marine rocks have revealed this fact. However, it needs to be stress that carbon does not always mean there will be doom for Earth. It is simply possible that any change in levels of carbon in the oceans and atmosphere serve as markers for quick environmental changes, which may even be the real reason for these mass extinctions. Additionally, these rocks show us several other “carbon excursions” — or increases in ocean or atmospheric carbon levels — which were not responsible for mass extinctions, according to Rothman.

Fast time and Slow time

So what is unique about these deadly carbon excursions compared to those that do not cause mass death? A new study believes that there are two factors which play a role in this scenario. One is the rate that carbon levels elevate, and the second one if amount of time that these changes are sustained.