Sixth Mass Extinction of Earth Likely by 2100, Claims Study

Earth has seen five mass extinction events in the past 540 million years

Earth has seen five mass extinction events in the past 540 million years

"Looking at past data, crossing the threshold is associated with mass extinction". This was reported by geophysicist Daniel Rothman from the Massachusetts Institute of technology.

That's mainly because it's hard to relate ancient carbon anomalies, occurring over thousands to millions of years, to today's disruptions which have taken place over little more than a century.

He said there are two types of thresholds that, when exceeded, appear to trigger mass extinction events: rate for slow carbon increases and magnitude for fast increases. Researchers believe that mass extinction will occur if the carbon cycle will change faster, than he will be able to adapt to the ecosystem.

'It's saying - 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 hard to predict.

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Another round of mass extinction could be set into motion by 2100, if a mathematical study of five previous events is to be believed. But it might take 10,000 years after that threshold is reached for the disaster to occur. Rothman says. "So I sat down one summer day and tried to think about how one might go about this systematically". Rothman said that by pumping enormous amounts of carbon into the environment, humanity is quite possibly setting the stage for a global sixth mass extinction event in the marine - and possibly terrestrial - environment.

Rotham, on the basis of a mathematical formula, studied that a total of 31 events in last 540 million years have shown a drastic changes related to Earth's carbon cycle.

"It became evident that there was a characteristic rate of change that the system basically didn't like to go past", Rothman says.

Such rapid absorption of carbon can wreak havoc on marine habitats as ocean temperatures rise, oxygen levels fall and acidification intensifies. As respiring organisms inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide, and photosynthesizing plants do the opposite, the Earth naturally cycles carbon through the atmosphere and ocean.

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'Then it became a question of figuring out what it meant, ' said Professor Rothman. The low-end estimate of present species loss is between 200 and 2,000 species per year, while the high-end estimate is between 10,000 and 100,000 species.

From the critical rate and the equilibrium timescale, Rothman calculated the critical mass of carbon for the modern day to be about 310 gigatons. But disruptions to that process can throw the whole planet's climate out of whack, either by adding too much carbon at once or by speeding up the rate at which it's being added.

This research was supported, in part, by NASA and the National Science Foundation.

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