Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Future's Name for Our Great Carbon Event?

I came across this really interesting thought:
"As seen by paleoclimatologists 10 million years in the future, whatever species they may be, the present era of catastrophic release of fossil fuel carbon will appear as an enigmatic event which will have a name of its own, much as paleoclimatologists and paleobiologists refer today to the PETM or the K-T boundary event. The fossil carbon release will show up in 13C proxies of the carbon cycle, in dissolution of ocean carbonates through acidification of the ocean, through mass extinctions arising from rapid warming, and through the moraine record left by retreating mountain glaciers and land-based ice sheets."

-- Raymond T. Pierrehumbert, Principles of Planetary Climate (2010), Ch 1 
I wonder what these future beings will call this event. The "Anthropocene" might be OK for now and the hundreds of thousands of years following it, but it doesn't seem right for the event itself, will appear to them as a sudden carbon event of only 200-300 years duration -- a veritable spike. So maybe "The Great Burning," or for the more scientific-minded "The Pleistocide," since it will end the Pleistocene with its characteristic repeated glaciations.

Pierrehumbert's is an absolutely fantastic textbook, if you really want to drill down deep into climate science. (There was a free PDF on his Web site, but it appears to be gone.) He continues:
"As an event, it is unlikely to permanently destroy the habitabilty of our planet, any more than did the K-T event or the PETM. Still, a hundred generations or more of our descendants will be condemned to live in a planetary climate far different from that which nurtured humanity, and in the company of a greatly impoverished biodiversity. Biodiversity does recover over millions of years, but that is a long time to wait, if indeed there are any of our species left around at the time to do the waiting. Extinction may not be precisely forever, but it is close enough."
By the way, did you know it was Andrew Revkin who came up with the word "Anthrocene," in his 1992 book Global Warming: Understanding the Forecast, which evolved (perhaps independently) to "Anthropocene." Brilliant.


Anonymous said...

The event will be called the "ATM" -- for Anthropocene Thermal Maximum.

Steve Bloom said...

Ha, very good. Do the fossil fools think they can cash out and move off-planet?

Steve Bloom said...

David, note that the climate background state would have to change for the Pleistocene to fail to re-emerge, and even a 100 ky duration isn't enough for that, so the glaciers will be back. Eventually, as the current climate background state is rare (maybe even the most extreme of the Phanerozoic), more permanent warm times will return. But since such changes are driven by plate tectonics, the time scale for them to become significant is millions if not tens of millions of years.