Studying the records of past climate change will fill you like reading thriller novel in whichevery chapter is full of suspense and thrill. Every chapter of this novel denotes differentgeological periods with different stories of climate change.My article is about the chapter which covers the story of climatic conditions around 56million years ago.The Atlantic Ocean had not fully opened, and animals, including perhaps our primateancestors, could walk from Asia through Europe and across Greenland to North America.They wouldn’t have encountered a speck of ice; even before the events we’re talking about,earth was already much warmer than it is today. But as the Paleocene epoch gave way tothe Eocene, it was about to get much warmer still-rapidly, radically warmer.The cause was a massive and geologically sudden release of carbon. Just how much carbonwas injected into the atmosphere during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, or PETM, as scientists now call the fever period, is uncertain. But they estimate it wasroughly that amount that would be injected today if human beings burned through all theearth’s reserves of coal, oil and natural gas. The PETM lasted more than 150,000 years,until the excess carbon was reabsorbed. It brought on drought, floods, insect plagues, and afew extinctions. Life on earth survived-indeed, it prospered- but it was drastically different.Climate zones shifted toward the poles, on land and at sea, forcing plants and animals tomigrate, adapt or die. Some of the deepest realms of the ocean became acidified andoxygen-starved, killing off many of the organisms living there. It took nearly 200,000 yearsfor the earth’s natural buffers to bring the fever down.
Today the evolutionaryconsequences of that distant carbon spike are all around us; in fact they include us. Nowwe ourselves are repeating the experiment.The PETM is significant because it marks the beginning of a 20+ million year warmingtrend that takes place in the Eocene, and continues on through the Oligocene. That isn't tosay that the PETM lasted for 20+ million years, and was responsible for the warm balmyweather in the Eocene, but it did have an effect on the creatures living at the time,especially microscopic ocean organisms.30-40% of foraminifera species went extinct during this time. Foraminifera are microscopic plankton-like organisms that feed much of the rest of the food chain.According to a recent study led by Goethe University and the Biodiversity and ClimateResearch Centre (BIK-F) in Frankfurt, Antarctica had a much warmer climate during theEocence Epoch (56-34 million years ago), enough to support subtropical flora and fauna.Published in Nature, the study looked at sediment from cores dating back between 55 and46 million years ago drilled off the coast of Antarctica near Wilkes Land (part of Antarctica located south of Australia) in 2010 as part of the Integrated Ocean DrillingProgramme.Scientists believe that global atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations weresignificantly higher (as much as 1,000 parts per billion) than present (which are just under