“A study has found that similar trees grew in the region during the early Eocene epoch, when the area had a near-tropical climate with frost-free winters, even in the polar darkness. Global levels of the principal greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, were nearly three times as high then as today. It has long been known that the start of the Eocene was a ‘thermal maximum’, one of the hottest periods in Earth's history, and that Antarctica as a continent would have been ice-free and much warmer than at present.”
Reporting on the same findings, Business Standard said, “Scientists from the Goethe University and the Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre in Frankfurt have discovered evidence of similar plants 52 million years ago growing in drill cores obtained from the seafloor near Antarctica, a region that is especially important in climate research.”
“If the current CO2 emissions continue unabated due to the burning of fossil fuels, CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere, as they existed in the distant past, are likely to be achieved within a few hundred years," Professor Jorg Pross, a paleoclimatologist at the Goethe University said.
The journal Nature, which is publishing the results of the study, explains that, “The warmest global climates of the past 65 million years occurred during the early Eocene epoch (about 55 to 48 million years ago) . . . Recently the early Eocene has received considerable interest because it may provide insight into the response of Earth’s climate and biosphere to the high atmospheric carbon dioxide levels that are expected in the near future as a consequence of unabated anthropogenic carbon emissions."
To an extent, we shouldn’t be surprised by these developments. In 2009, News Scientist declared, “It's official: there is nowhere left to hide from global warming. The notion that Antarctica is the last continent not to be heating up because of climate change is dead . . . The results suggest that the southernmost continent is warming roughly as fast as the rest of the planet.”
Today’s report in The Independent strongly reinforces that observation. They quote Dr. James Bendle, of the University of Glasgow, one of the authors of the study: "The samples are the first detailed evidence we have of what was happening on the Antarctic during the Eocene, this vitally important time.”
"Our work carries a sobering message. Carbon dioxide levels were naturally high in the early Eocene, but today CO2 levels are rising rapidly through human combustion of fossil fuels and deforestation. Atmospherically speaking we are heading rapidly back in time towards the Eocene.”
Should we be concerned with climatic changes the results of which won't be felt for hundreds of years?
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Lawrence Karol is a writer and editor who lives with his dog, Mike. He is a former Gourmet staffer and enjoys writing about design, food, travel and lots of other stuff. @WriteEditDream | Email Lawrence | TakePart.com