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

sher gathered volcanic rock specimens from the now distant edges of what was once a united Denmark and Greenland, and tested their ages to see if that matched up with the timing of the PETM.

They used a natural clock in the minerals created by different concentrations of argon-40 and argon-39 to date the rocks and found they were about the same age and fit well into the timing of the PETM, which has been identified independently from marine sediments.

"The dating allows us to link the (PETM) to what we see as a massive surge of volcanic activity," Storey told Discovery News. "It was an enormous surge." And it left behind more than 2 million cubic miles (10 cubic km) of basalt.

"This is almost perfect because you have that as a trigger," says paleo-oceanographer James Zachos of the University of California at Santa Cruz. "The (climate) system is just perched on the edge and you just need a little kicker."

After that kick, there’s plenty of methane hydrate to complete the process and keep warming things up, Zachos said.

Today there are estimates to be between 2,000 and 10,000 giga-tons of methane hydrate buried in cold ocean sediments. Humans currently release between six and seven giga-tons of carbon into the atmosphere each year.

The big unknown today is exactly how much carbon it takes to warm things up to the point that the methane hydrate breaks loose and takes the matter entirely out of human hands.

Heat-trapping ``greenhouse'' gases smothered the atmosphere, at levels two to six times higher than today. Temperatures soared. Crocodiles and palm trees lived in the Arctic.

It all happened thanks to a giant belch of methane from the ocean, researchers have always thought.

Eight years ago two scientists had reported at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union that a sediment core drilled off Florida supported the theory of ancient global warming.

The core con
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