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What ancient pollen tells us about future climate change

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Changes in plant ranges from the pre-PETM to PETM mapped on simplified Köppen climate types. Credit: University of Melbourne Around 56 million years ago, Earth’s climate underwent a major climatic transition. A huge release of carbon into the ocean and atmosphere raised atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO 2 ) concentrations—which meant temperatures going up by 5 to 8°C and rising sea levels.

Sound familiar?

This event, called the Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), happened over the course of a few tens of thousands of years, but the causes and consequences of this transition are still widely debated.

Some of the hypothesized causes of the huge carbon release include massive volcanic activity in the North Atlantic, the sudden release of methane from the ocean floor or the melting of permafrost or peat in Antarctica.

Evidence for the PETM comes mostly from ancient marine sediments, but if we are to learn from this period what might happen as a result of our current climate change crisis, we need to understand what happened on the land as well.

To date, little information has been available concerning how the PETM climate changed life on land, so our research team used globally distributed fossil pollen preserved in ancient rocks to reconstruct […]

Click here to view original web page at phys.org

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