At 55 million years to the present, the world suddenly turned warm by a blazing 5 degrees centigrade. This caused oceans to become acidic and the extinction of life was almost evident. This problem was called the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM). This was the time that nature changed and it happened to be a fore shadow of the contemporary global warming that is caused by the fossil fuel.
However, for about 15 years, scientists concerned with the climate have been astounded on how such global warming could have occurred during the ancient times. Currently, there is a team of researchers that is providing a novel explanation. The team suggests that greenhouse gases might have gushed from the ice-free Antarctica’s melting permafrost.
The main problem with this ancient global warming has to do with its magnitude. There was some form of carbon rich deposit that released numerous tons of carbon across a few millennia. This was in form of methane and carbon dioxide as the greenhouses. This ancient global warming could not have resulted from absent human beings who were burning fossil fuels. The most plausible explanation is that of the methane hydrates that is, methane locked in ice. However, still, this does not seem to be sufficient methane to have been stored to cause warming of such a magnitude.
Robert DeConto and other climate scientists from the University of Massachusetts claim they have come across an ancient store house for carbon that is large enough to have done the job. Carbon existing in form of decayed plants is stored in soil, coal and in the mud of lakes and oceans. This decayed plant carbon in the frozen ground is plenteous and is easily brought out during the thawing of carbon-laden permafrost.
Thus, DeConto and his company set out to find out the amount of permafrost carbon that could have been present at the time of the PETM and the frequency of its release. This required a couple of intelligent considerations such as the type of plants that grew there, the amount of land that occupied high attitudes, the amount of carbon dioxide and methane that could be released at the thawing of the permafrost, and many others.
According to the modeling by the team, approximately 3.7 trillion tons of carbon was held by the PETM world, and Antarctica had almost half of this. After the warming that had been occurring for numerous years reached its threshold causing the permafrost to start thawing, the decaying organic matter gave rise to 1.2 trillion tons of methane and carbon dioxide.
The caused greenhouse warming led to the thawing of more permafrost hence producing additional greenhouse gases. The model suggested that about all the permafrost stores could have been released 10,000 years later. This is expected to have increased the global temperature to the same level that happened.
In an area that has been devoid of a plausible explanation, one could anticipate that many people will welcome a possible solution. According to a founding member of PETM-Gerald Dickens, from Rice University, this should not be the anticipation when an enormous problem like the PETM is in question.
However, he sees this solution to be as problematic as that involving methane hydrates. This is particularly with regard to the question of the amount of carbon that could lead to such an incident. Moreover, it is tricky to test these ideas.