Though Earth and its climate are billions of years old, climate science is still very young. So young that surprising new discoveries are constantly being made. One such discovery in the field of paleoclimatology—the study of Earth's climate in the distant past—was the uncovering of a period of great warming around 40 million years ago, in the middle of the Eocene Epoch. In the midst of a general cooling trend beginning at the end of the preceding Paleocene Epoch (~55 mya) there were a number of dramatic, sudden bursts of global warming. The most celebrate of these is the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum or PETM, when surface temperatures rose by 5-7°C. Recently, science has discovered another hot interval 15 million years later during the Middle Eocene. Named the Middle Eocene Climatic Optimum (MECO), it marked a time when deep sea temperatures rose about 4-5°C and atmospheric CO2 levels peaked. As new information is uncovered, climate scientists are scrambling to interpret what caused this second, more sustained period of warming and what it may mean for current climate conditions.
For years climate alarmists have terrorized the public with frightening tales of impending disaster, a coming climate apocalypse. Because of global warming fertile croplands will become arid and barren while desert areas will experience torrential rain and uncontrollable flooding. Tropical rainforests will wither in the heat and polar ice will melt. Coastal areas and islands will disappear beneath the ocean and the world's great cities will huddle behind great seawalls to avoid the flood. Nature's furry will drive millions of refugees to migrate to less blighted lands, followed by plague, pestilence and war. Because of human hubris our civilization will collapse, as has happened so many times in the past. Or maybe not. A quiet revolution among anthropologists and archaeologists has overturned the scientific dogma surrounding failed ancient civilizations, with some lessons for those who currently preach climate catastrophe.
If advocates for green, renewable energy are to be believed, wind farms do not threaten endangered bird species like eagles, hawks and owls. A recent article in Science implies that problems at the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area (APWRA) in California have been reduced by spacing turbines farther apart and removing turbines from problematic sites. But on-site scientific studies have revealed that the kill rate for all birds, and for birds of prey in particular, have not been reduced and may have even increased. It seems that some eco-activists are so committed to expanding wind power as a way to fight global warming that they are turning a blind eye to the slaughter in the skies. How can these duplicitous greens be trusted if they are willing to drive endangered species to extinction in the name of reduced CO2 emissions?
One of the scary predictions made about the impact of global warming is the extinction of many current species leading to a crisis in biological diversity. Like most of the speculative effects of global warming, this prediction is not only without scientific basis, it is precisely backward. A new paper in the journal Science, studying the impact of rapid global warming at the Paleocene-Eocene boundary, show that rapid tropical forest diversification occurred without plant extinction. Moreover, diversity seemed to increase at higher temperatures, contradicting previous assumptions that tropical flora will succumb if temperatures become excessive. The tropical rainforest was able to flourish under elevated temperatures and high levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, in contrast to speculation that tropical ecosystems were severely harmed by the heat.
That humans can alter the natural environment is well known. We have been hunting, fishing and clearing land for agriculture for tens of thousands of years. More recently humans have gained the ability to drain swamps, dam rivers, level mountains and pave over darn near anything. Environmentalists think this kind of activity is abhorrent, and go so far as to claim that H. sapiens are responsible for a new major wave of extinctions. In general, animal species can either move, go extinct or adapt to human caused environmental changes. Many biologists will tell you that species just can't evolve fast enough to deal with rate of human induced change. As it turns out, this isn't exactly true.
Tyrannosaurs, the group of carnivorous dinosaurs that includes Tyrannosaurus rex and its closest relatives, are the most iconic and most studied of the dinosaurs. Made famous by movies, television shows and books, T. rex is the image most people think of when they hear the word dinosaur. The popular image of a tyrannosaur is that of a gigantic meat eater, like the one shown in Spielberg's Jurassic Park, but this was not always the case. T. rex was initially described 105 years ago by H. F. Osborn of the American Museum of Natural History. New fossil finds, including six new species during the past year alone, have shown tyrannosaurs to be a more diverse group that was first thought. A phylogeny that includes recently described species shows that tyrannosaurs originated by the Middle Jurassic but remained mostly small and ecologically marginal until the Late Cretaceous.
Evidently 2010 is the International Year of Biodiversity, a year long celebration of Earth's glorious variety of species and ecosystems. Unfortunately, the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) has failed to meet its ambitious goal: a significant slowdown in biodiversity loss by 2010. The AAAS journal Science has acknowledged this celebration with special News Focus section and a Review article. “After failing to meet its major conservation goal, the Convention on Biological Diversity is setting new targets for stemming the loss of species,” its lead article states. But the news is not all bad. In some countries, conservation efforts have helped species recover and reportedly large-scale deforestation in the Amazon has declined by 47.5% over the past 12 months. With eco-alarmists shifting their panicked attention from climate change to biodiversity, it is time to look at the facts.
Even with all of the recent scandal surrounding the purveyors of climate change pap, many in the “news media” continue to crank out party-line articles blaming all of Earth's ecological woes on humanity. After decades of trying to alarm the public over a human caused “sixth mass extinction” and more recently, dwindling diversity, some in the media just can't let go of AGW as the root of all evil. A perfect example of this appeared recently in the font of misinformation that is Yahoo News. Blaming every human activity from hunting to climate change, science writer Jeremy Hsu has once again raised the specter of that old shibboleth, the Anthropocene Epoch. This is all a part of a developing trend to elevate falling species diversity to crisis level, mainly because the world's eco-activists need a replacement issue for climate change.
Throughout Earth’s history, there is evidence of large carbon dioxide releases, greenhouse conditions, ocean acidification, and major changes in marine life. About 120 million years ago (mya), during the early part of the Cretaceous period, a series of massive volcanic eruptions pumped huge amounts of carbon dioxide into Earth's atmosphere. During the Aptian Oceanic Anoxic Event, atmospheric CO2 content rose to about twice today's level. Eventually, the oceans absorbed much of that CO2, which significantly increased the water's acidity. The change reduced the amount of calcium carbonate (CaCO3) in the water, making it difficult for creatures such as some kinds of plankton to form shells. But the plankton did not die out. In fact, the geological record indicates that ocean biota can adapt to CO2 concentrations as high as 2000 to 3000 ppm—five to eight times current levels.
According to a recent paper, human actions may have caused Earth's climate to warm much earlier than previously expected. In an article to be published in Geophysical Research Letters, and widely reported in the media, around 15,000 years ago, early hunters were a major factor in driving mammoths to extinction. Supposedly, this die-off had the side effect of heating up the planet. This is an interesting conjecture, since a letter just published in Nature Geocience reaches the opposite conclusion regarding climate and the mammoths' decline. This mammoth confusion illustrates the uncertain and even contradictory evidence that abounds in climate science.
There have been arguments made for increased plant growth due to rising atmospheric CO2 levels, while others have argued against it. Now it seems that green plants and ocean algae are not the only forms of life involved. Opportunistic microorganisms are stepping in to sop up excess carbon. A new report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) has identified soil fungi as a major player in accelerating CO2 absorption. Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) have been identified as an intermediary between plants and other bacterial and fungal populations, acting as a buffer for other soil-borne communities. Existing organisms are not just working harder, new communities are developing to take advantage of increased CO2 levels, demonstrating that nature possesses self-regulation mechanisms science did not anticipate and has yet to discover.
Recently this site posted an article about the extinction event 65.5 million years ago at the end of the Cretaceous period. That extinction coincided with a large asteroid impact at Chicxulub, Mexico, and occurred within the time of Deccan flood basalt volcanism in India. A new review article by 41 scientists, published in the March 5, 2010, edition of Science, was cited that summarized what science thinks it knows about the extinction. That article reinforced the single cause asteroid impact extinction scenario. Now, in an excellent example of how the scientific process works, and why scientific consensus is such a bogus term, the May 21 issue of Science has published a number of letters that take exception to the previous article's conclusions.
Many climate change alarmists have predicted a wide range of calamitous side-effects to be caused by global warming. One such link that frequently surfaces is that global warming will cause the spread of malaria, leading to a world wide pandemic. A new study, just published in the journal Nature, has shown that malaria is actually declining worldwide. Furthermore, proposed future climate induced effects are insignificant compared with the observed natural trend and easily overcome by current disease control mechanisms. In short, claiming that malaria will spread around the globe due to climate change is an outright lie.
Once again, scientists propose that planet Earth has been so altered by human activity that we are entering a new geological time period—the Anthropocene. A viewpoint article by some stratigraphic heavy hitters, just published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, has proclaimed a new age caused by anthropogenic global warming and man's savaging of the environment. According to these experts, the effects of human activity have become so pervasive that Earth has been transformed and the 11,000 year old Holocene epoch is now a “lost world.” Is this really the start of a brave new epoch, one of our own making?
Although the story of the “Asteroid that killed the Dinosaurs” has become common knowledge for most people, there are still those scientists who back alternative causes of the end Cretaceous extinction even. Volcanoes, multiple meteor strikes and even widespread forest fires have been suggested as the cause of the dinosaurs' demise. The extinction event 65.5 million years ago did coincide with a large asteroid impact at Chicxulub, Mexico, and occurred within the time of Deccan flood basalt volcanism in India. A new review article by 41 scientists in the March 5 edition of Science runs down the list of what science thinks it knows about the extinction that set the stage for the age of mammals.