Ancient global warming associated with changes in the Earth’s orbit

The Paleocene-Eocene warming, which led to the emergence of modern mammals, could be caused by the movement of the Earth in a slightly more elongated orbit.

UNITED STATES, WASHINGTON (OBSERVATORY) — In the past, our planet has repeatedly experienced periods and entire eras of global warming. One of the most remarkable was the Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum, which occurred about 55 million years ago.

Due to the increase in temperature (global growth was 5-8 ° C), the polar caps of the Earth completely melted, and the tropics expanded far beyond the equatorial zones. The mass extinction of species has led to the spread of modern mammals.

It was a sharp leap over several thousand years, and its reasons remain unclear. It was accompanied by an increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to two to three percent, several times more than the level we are used to.

However, the thermal maximum itself was not caused by the accumulation of carbon dioxide. The authors of a new article published in the journal Science associate that catastrophic warming with the unique moment of the Earth’s motion in its orbit.

The fact is that the trajectory of our planet is not perfectly circular and stable. Its eccentricity, “elongation,” varies slightly over time, following long cycles of oscillation. But even such slight changes in the orbit have a noticeable effect on the climate.

By collecting and analyzing ancient sedimentary rocks from the bottom of the South Atlantic, Richard Zeebe and Lucas Lourens have followed such regular fluctuations over the past 100 million years. The most noticeable of them occurred during the period of the Paleocene-Eocene maximum.

According to scientists, a slightly more elliptical orbit of the Earth leads to the fact that it receives a little more solar radiation. And the planet itself 55-56 million years ago was warmer than usual, so an additional influx of energy launched the mechanism of rapid global warming.

Perhaps it caused the melting of ice crystalline hydrates under the bottom of the oceans. Methane was released from them, a powerful greenhouse gas that triggered a further increase in temperature, new melting – and so on, until a catastrophe erupted.


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