Stones and rain. Scientists have figured out how life on Earth was saved from extinction for millions of years
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Over its 4.5 billion year history, the Earth has experienced many dangerous periods, but each time the climate ends up changed in the other direction, and there is an explanation for this.
The climate catastrophe that threatens humanity is far from being the first on Earth and, most likely, not the last. However, for billions of years, life on the planet continued to escape extinction, and scientists suggest that there is an explanation for this, writes New Atlas.
In a new study, a team of scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology shoveled climate data over the past 66 million years and discovered a certain stabilizing mechanism that operates on Earth on a scale of 100 thousand years and does not allow global temperatures on the planet to reach the point of no return.
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It is known that over its 4.5 billion year history, the Earth has experienced many large-scale volcanic eruptions that significantly increased global temperature on the planet, and in other periods, the Earth literally turned into a huge snowball. But one way or another, in the end, the climate changed in the other direction – despite the fact that a number of mass extinctions occurred on Earth, life on the planet still managed to survive.
In a new study, scientists decided to answer the main question – what prevented the Earth from achieving a runaway greenhouse effect and avoiding the fate of Venus, which it turned into a hellish planet.
Scientists have previously assumed that there is some mechanism that allows you to keep global temperature in a stable, that is, habitable range.
In the course of the study, the scientists studied several large-scale datasets of global temperature records on Earth, dating back to the extinction of the dinosaurs 66 million years ago. The scientists studied the chemical composition of tiny marine fossils as well as Antarctic ice cores.
The researchers then applied a mathematical system to look for patterns in the resulting dataset. Using a stochastic differential equation, they analyzed average global temperatures in search of patterns in their stabilization over different time scales – from tens, hundreds of thousands of years to millions.
According to study co-author Konstantin Arnscheidt, scientists have found that without any stabilizing mechanism, fluctuations in the Earth's global temperature would have to look more extreme in longer time periods than in smaller ones. But this is not entirely true within millions of years – as a result, scientists came to the conclusion that the restraining mechanism still exists and it works on a scale of 100 thousand years.
The researchers speculate that this moderation mechanism is “silicate weathering” – rainwater washes and weathers silicate rocks to the surface, where they undergo chemical reactions that increase the rate of carbon uptake from the Earth's atmosphere, and then they are transported to the ocean and form sediments. The more carbon dioxide in the planet's atmosphere, the faster this process will occur.
A mathematical model predicts that this kind of “silicate weathering” occurs on a 100,000-year scale and is well suited to be a deterrent mechanism. However, scientists note that the absence of such a containment mechanism in the context of millions of years still leaves a chance for banal luck.
According to Arnscheidt, scientists are divided into two camps: some believe that this is blind luck, others believe in the existence restraining mechanism. However, according to the scientist, the truth is most likely somewhere in the middle – the containment mechanism made it possible to contain critical climate changes, but luck also played a role.