Climate Models of Earth’s Hottest Period Offer Frightening Glimpse Into Future

(AP Photo/Michael Probst)

(CN) – An examination of Earth’s climate 50 million years ago could lead to some significant – and frightening – discoveries on the climate of today, according to a new study.

The study, published Wednesday in Science Advances, details how a group of researchers used state-of-the-art climate prediction models to accurately simulate and replicate the harsh climate conditions of the early Eocene Period. Researchers used this new simulation to help create different climate scenarios to see if the period – one that was notable for drastically high temperatures – could help scientists better understand the variables of our climate conditions of modern times.

What researchers and Jiang Zhu, first author of the study and postdoctoral researcher at the U-M Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, discovered, however, is that our climate is far more vulnerable to the extremes experienced 50 million years ago.

Using the Eocene Period climate model, researchers deduced that as carbon dioxide levels increase, our planet’s climate sensitivity increases as well. This means that as our atmosphere chemically stockpiles heat-trapping gas, our planet’s average temperatures continue to rise along with the rate of the increase. Earth will not just get hotter; it will also become more predisposed to extreme planetary climate shifts.

Zhu suggests the results from this model match up with previously established evidence of climate change.

“Our study on ancient high-CO2 climates is one important way to learn the future high-CO2 climate. We find that one of the state-of-the-art climate model, the Community Earth System Model version 1.2, produces an Early Eocene global warming that agrees broadly with geological evidence,” Zhu said in an email.

The study reports that part of why this new model predicts such dramatic climate shifts is because this model better takes into account global cloud distribution. Previous versions of this climate model failed to most accurately calculate the effect of cloud coverage – which will reduce as carbon dioxide levels rise – can have on our climate.

Researchers say that during the early Eocene Period, atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide reached record levels and resulted in global Earth temperatures roughly 25 degrees Fahrenheit higher than today and the warmest our planet has been in 66 million years.

If no quick and meaningful progress to reduce the amount of fossil fuels our planet burns occurs, researchers warn our planet could see a return to the conditions of the Early Eocene by 2100once again return to those carbon dioxide conditions by the year 2100, returning Earth in a meager century to a climate state not seen in millions of years.

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