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Global Warming 55 Million Years Ago Too, Thanks to Fossil Fuels

Global warming millions of years ago. Any takers? At least that is what the Discovery channel says happened 55 millions of years ago.//

In a feature aired a few days ago, it was suggested that the rifting apart of the Earth’s crust to create the northeast Atlantic Ocean might have been triggered by a mysterious past global warming episode.

And just like the today’s climate change, that global warming too started with fossil fuels, of a sort.

The fuels weren’t necessarily coal or oil and they weren’t, of course, being burned in engines at the end of the Paleocene epoch. Instead, it was carbon-rich sediments that were baked in place in the ground by the intrusion of a lot of molten rock and an awful lot of heat into the landmass that comprised both Europe and Greenland at the time.

That baking created at least several hundred giga-tons of greenhouse gases which were exhaled from the ground and into the atmosphere, explains Michael Storey, a geochronologist at Roskilde University Center in Roskilde, Denmark.

That may have been just enough to warm the oceans and knock over the next climatic domino: vast stores of frozen methane hydrate in cold sea beds. When these thawed and bubbled up they added a few thousand more giga-tons of carbon into the atmosphere and heated up the global climate to what scientists call the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM).

At the height of the PETM, sea surface temperatures in the oceans rose 9 degrees F (5 degrees C) in the tropics and 11 degrees F (6 degrees C) in the Arctic. The oceans became more acidic and 30 to 50 percent of the sea floor life went extinct.

"The two outstanding questions about the event are what triggered it and where did all the greenhouse gases come from," said Storey, who’s paper on the matter appear in the April 27 issue of the journal Science.

To answer the first question, Storey and his colleagues Robert Duncan and Carl Swi
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