A cataclysmic change in the world's climate occurred when undersea
released stupendous amounts of greenhouse gases about 55 million years
scientists have found.
The researchers warn that the dramatic climate change during this
could be a model for a similar disaster in the coming centuries as a
of man-made global warming.
The earth 55 million years ago was already a warmer place than it is
when it suddenly became much warmer - by between 5C and 10C - for some
Henrik Svensen and his colleagues from the University of Oslo in
believe they have found the cause of the sudden release of greenhouse
into the atmosphere which caused global surface temperatures to soar.
They have identified thousands of volcanic vents under the Atlantic
which they believe erupted 55 million years ago and in the process
massive amounts of methane gas buried under the sea.
In a study published in the journal Nature they say that the vents
the melting of solid deposits of methane which released carbon dioxide
the atmosphere and caused a dramatic increase in the amount of solar
trapped by the atmosphere.
It is known that vast quantities of methane are still trapped under
in the form of a semi-solid substance called gas hydrates. These are
individual molecules of methane surrounded by a "cage" of water
which behave like ice.
Although these methane deposits represent a huge untapped reservoir of
potential energy they are known to be highly unstable and their sudden
melting could trigger a runaway greenhouse effect.
This is what happened 55 million years ago when the volcanic vents
Atlantic Ocean released at least 1500 billion tonnes of carbon in a
geological instant - triggering one of the hottest periods in the
life on Earth.
Gerald Dickens, an earth scientist from Rice University in Houston,
said that this past event should be studied more, given that it is
that man-made emissions of carbon over the coming centuries amount to
between 3000 billion and 4000 billion tonnes.
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