Data from 66 million years show: Earth has an integrated climate regulator


Our planet apparently has a built-in system for stopping and reversing extreme climatic developments. It ensures that temperatures remain somewhere in the livable range.

The two researchers Constantin Arnscheidt and Daniel Rothman from the renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have now been able to show this. They evaluated data documenting global temperature over the past 66 million years. These paleoclimatic records include ice cores from Antarctica and the chemistry of prehistoric marine fossils, which tell us much about what Earth’s atmosphere was like in the distant past.

“This whole study is only possible because there have been great strides in improving the resolution of deep-sea temperature records,” said Arnscheidt. “Now we have data going back 66 million years, with data points separated by thousands of years at most.”

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During the analysis, a pattern emerged from the data that suggests feedback loops are occurring that allow the Earth to keep the climate within a certain range of fluctuations over the long term. Despite very different influences, some of which had a dramatic effect on the earth’s surface and the atmosphere, these stabilization mechanisms ensured that conditions always remained in a range that permitted life.

For example, a very long time ago, the sun was even less powerful than it is today, and only an atmosphere high in carbon dioxide produced enough greenhouse effects to keep the planet from becoming a giant ball of ice. However, a lot of carbon was then drawn out of the air via silicate weathering. Large volcanic eruptions, on the other hand, caused the concentration to rise again and again. In addition, there are various other effects that have a regulatory effect, so that although there were clear climate changes, they never threatened life as a whole.

However, the feedback loops operate over longer periods of time. They are therefore in line with the climate changes that occur naturally and take thousands of years to complete. In this respect, they have hardly any influence on the man-made changes in the global climate, which have caused significant warming within decades.

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