Paleoclimatologists James Zachos and Ellen Thomas have been honored this Wednesday with a BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award for their discovery of one. Green House Effect from 56 million years ago which allows us to predict the effects of current global warming. According to a statement the jury valued the “significant contribution” to the discovery of the so-called Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), “an important natural event in the fossil record that provides a powerful analogy to anthropogenic climate change.” BBVA From the Foundation.
Upon learning of the decision, Zachos indicated that he considered the PETM to be “the best geological analogy of current climate change”. The scientist pointed out that the discovery has been an important natural experiment to validate and delimit the models used today to predict the future development of climate.
Zachos, a scientist at the University of California at Santa Cruz (USA) and Thomas of Yale University and Wesleyan University (also in the USA), identified an anomalous episode in the planet’s history in the 1990s, in which massive emissions of carbon dioxide (CO₂) – one of the main causes of the current warming of the planet – was produced by natural causes. This event led to an increase in global temperature between 5 and 6 °C. This episode acidified the oceans and caused the greatest extinction of deep sea creatures in the history of the planet.
The findings on the so-called Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum, which occurred 56 million years ago, have served to verify theoretical models of global warming and to demonstrate “the potential impact of severe disturbances” in the planet’s climate, such as the present. being caused by human activity.
Petty was discovered during an ocean drilling expedition in Antarctica in which Thomas participated. He discovered “considerable changes in the organisms living on the bottom of the sea”. Although this extinction was already documented in some scientific articles, Thomas was the first to analyze it in detail and, above all, to attribute its origin to a change on a global scale at the boundary between the Paleocene and Eocene. . Definitive confirmation of the phenomenon came a little later thanks to the investigations of Zachos, who analyzed terrestrial sediments obtained in Wyoming (USA). “Suddenly, all the pieces started fitting together like a puzzle, and they were also consistent with the theory of the greenhouse effect”, highlighted Winner.
According to the award-winning paleontologist, the impact of that event in the past “should serve as a warning to reduce current greenhouse gas emissions and thus avoid worst-case scenarios of global warming, such as sea level rise, floods, droughts, extreme climate episodes and loss of biodiversity”.
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