Although there isn’t anything to worry about right now despite all the “end of the world” and Planet X reports of recent days, a scientist has used mathematical equations to warn of a potential sixth mass extinction event to take place slightly less than a hundred years from now.
As noted by Phys.org, Earth has seen a total of five mass extinction events, all of which were cataclysmic die-offs of multiple species that had taken place across thousands to millions of years. Interestingly, all of these events were linked to changes to the way how carbon is cycled, or distributed through Earth’s atmosphere and its oceans. And it’s that link that has made several scientists question whether the carbon cycle is experiencing a big uptick that could lead to a sixth mass extinction event.
In a paper published this week in the journal Science Advances, Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor of geophysics Daniel H. Rothman detailed how he had studied each of the previous mass extinction events, as well as the changes in the carbon cycle over the past 540 million years. Rothman was also able to pick out multiple “thresholds for catastrophe” in the carbon cycle, where exceeding the thresholds could ultimately result in the die-offs of several species.
Specifically, Rothman believes that the sixth mass extinction event could happen if one of the two thresholds are exceeded. As noted by Geek, he wrote that carbon cycles could change over thousands or millions of years, but in either case, extinctions may happen when ecosystems are no longer able to adjust to the environment around them. The likelihood of extinction events taking place, on the other hand, would be determined by the magnitude of carbon cycle changes, rather than their rate of change when it comes to faster cycle shifts.
Based on mathematical modeling, Rothman sees a good chance of Earth breaking one of the thresholds for catastrophe by 2100. At that point, massive carbon buildups could be accumulating in the ocean, with about 310 gigatons of additional carbon dumped into the sea via a variety of human activities. That could then lead to a period of about a few thousand years where most of the world’s animal species would die off in what would then be the sixth mass extinction event.
Although the event might start at the turn of the next century, Rothman made sure to stress that that would only be the starting point; it might take about 10,000 years for the event to play out in full. But by the year 2100, the MIT scientist expects that our planet would already be in “unknown territory.”
“This is not saying that disaster occurs the next day,” said Rothman in a statement.
“It’s saying that, if left unchecked, the carbon cycle would move into a realm which would be no longer stable, and would behave in a way that would be difficult to predict. In the geologic past, this type of behavior is associated with mass extinction.”
Geek’s report stressed that Rothman used statistics straight from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which previously forecast the amount of carbon that could be dumped into the world’s oceans by 2100. The IPCC’s worst-case scenario forecasted that humanity would dump more than 500 gigatons of carbon by the start of the new century, but since the best-case scenario predicted an additional 300 gigatons, that means the carbon cycle might be close to, or far beyond the scientist’s 310-gigaton threshold for the start of a sixth mass extinction event.
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