TechAtmosphere's condition hasn't been this poor for 14 million years, researchers find

Atmosphere's condition hasn't been this poor for 14 million years, researchers find

Earth's atmosphere
Earth's atmosphere
Images source: © Adobe Stock

8:12 PM EST, December 8, 2023

A team of scientists recently conducted an extensive analysis of the Earth's atmosphere, finding that its current state is the worst it has been in 14 million years.

According to these scientists, led by Prof. Baerbel Hoenisch of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, the Earth's atmosphere hasn't been this compromised in 14 million years. Published in the Science journal, this research meticulously analyzes the composition of our planet's shell over a span of 66 million years.

The specific focus of this study was the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The researchers pointed out that human activities have resulted in this extremely high concentration of CO2, at a level not seen since 14 million years ago. This was a time when Greenland was devoid of ice, and our ancestors were just beginning to transition from forests to grasslands. Previously, it was thought that similar conditions had occurred 3-5 million years ago.

It's important to note that this study didn't gather any new data, but rather involved the synthesis, reevaluation, and update of information based on the current body of scientific knowledge. This was a lengthy process, taking seven years and involving 80 researchers from 16 countries.

Increasing levels with no sign of stopping

So, what kind of concentration are we talking about? The level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is currently at 420 ppm (parts per million). This figure has seen a dynamic increase over the centuries; it was 316 ppm in the 1950s, and oscillated around 280 ppm by the end of the 18th century.

The rising concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere traps more heat, which contributes to global warming. At the moment, the temperature is already 2.16 degrees Fahrenheit higher than during the pre-industrial period.

If there's no change in our current practices, it's projected that by 2100 the concentration could reach 600 or even 800 ppm. These levels were last detected during the Eocene, approximately 30-40 million years ago. This was a time before the existence of Homo species, when Earth was home to gigantic insects and Antarctica did not yet have ice cover.

Interestingly, the warmest period in Earth's history was around 50 million years ago, when the temperature was 21.6 degrees Fahrenheit higher than it is now, and the CO2 concentration was at an astounding 1600 ppm.

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