What happened last time it was as warm as it’s going to get later this century?

ArsTechnica June 2018
Are past climates telling us we’re missing something? Why is there a yawning gap between end-century projections and what happened in Earth’s past?

Image credits: Miocene Antarctica - UMass Amherst/Edward Gasson; Past is Prologue - H Lee

When will the Earth try to kill us again?

ArsTechnica November 2017
Our planet Earth has extinguished large portions of its inhabitants several times since the dawn of animals. And if science tells us anything, it will surely try to kill us all again.

Image credits: LIP - H. Lee, Volcano - ArsTechnica

The Cocos plate - Atlas of the Underworld

SLABFEST — The Earth’s interior is teeming with dead plates

ArsTechnica October 2017
In the last few years, seismic tomography, which uses waves from earthquakes to make images of the planet’s interior, has revealed subducted plates sinking in the mantle all the way down to the core-mantle boundary, 2,900km below Earth’s surface.

Image credit: atlas-of-the-underworld.org (D van der Meer, D van Hinsbergen, W Spakman)

Volcano

Underground magma triggered Earth’s worst mass extinction with greenhouse gases

The Guardian October 2017
Burgess argues that it was principally greenhouse gas emissions triggered by magma intrusions that caused the extinction through abrupt global warming and ocean acidification.

Image credit: Antonio Parrinello/Reuters

Seismic tomographic cross section through NE Asia showing the subducted Pacific slab

Extra layer of tectonic plates discovered within Earth's mantle, scientists say

The Guardian May 2017
Scientists say they have found a possible layer of tectonic plates within the Earth’s mantle which could explain a mysterious series of earthquakes in the Pacific.

Image credit: AGU Publications/Wiley (J Wu)

Stylized dead dinosaur at the end Cretaceous

So what did-in the dinosaurs? An update.

Skeptical Science January 2017
Despite a 100-fold improvement in rock dating precision in the last 5 years, high-precision rock dating has not yet been able to separate either the Deccan eruptions or the Chicxulub impact from the extinction.

Image credit: H. Lee

A mollusk that lived in Antarctica in the final years of the Cretaceous

Global warming implicated in dinosaur extinction

The Guardian July 2016
New technique for measuring ancient temperatures finds two pulses of climate warming at the end of the Cretaceous.

Image credit: Sierra V. Petersen

Antarctic marine life in the late Cretaceous. Illustration: James McKay

New study finds evidence for a 'fast' dinosaur extinction

The Guardian June 2016
New sediment data suggests the dinosaurs were rapidly done-in, strengthening asteroid impact theory.

Image credit: James McKay

Ocean Oxygen – another climate shoe dropping

Skeptical Science May 2016
Ocean anoxia – widespread oxygen-starved dead zones in oceans - did the killing of ocean life in several mass extinctions of Earth’s past. Anoxia went hand-in-hand with CO2 emissions, rising global temperatures, and (often) ocean acidification, like today.

Image credit: H. Lee

Antarctic seabed

Deep sea microbes may be key to oceans’ climate change feedback

The Guardian May 2016
Microbe populations make up 11-31% of living matter in the ocean seabed, but decline significantly as oceans warm.

Image credit: Martin Riddle/AP

What Really Killed the Dinosaurs?

Scientific American May 2016
A project under way off the coast of Mexico may finally resolve a longstanding controversy.

Image credit: H. Lee

Anatomy of a Mass Murderer

Scientific American March 2016
Huge regions with epic volcanic explosions are now blamed for four of Earth's “big 5” mass extinctions

Image credits: Scientific American

Dinogorgon Rubidgei fossil in South Africa, one of many Therapsids which did not survive the Permian extinction

This climate scientist has tried really hard to get a date

The Guardian February 2016
Along the way he has endured attacks of giant flesh-eating bee-flies, paddled a raft 60 miles in driving Siberian rain, braved volcanoes in Alaska, and inhaled polluted air in China for weeks on end, all the while hauling pounds of rocks.

Image credit: Jonathan Blair/CORBIS

Modeled Carbon Isotope excursion for the PETM

Onset of Eocene Warming Event took 3-4 millennia (so what we’re doing is unprecedented in 66 million years)

Skeptical Science February 2016
...the fact that 2 independent studies, using different data and approaches, arrived at a very similar timescale is a huge advance on previous estimates...

Image credit: Redrawn and simplified from Kirtland Turner & Ridgwell, EPSL 2015

Delegates at COP21 Climate Conference December 2015

If the world ends in 2100, we’re probably OK

The Guardian January 2016
“Everyone is focused on what happens by 2100. But that’s only 2 generations from today. It’s like: If the world ends in 2100 we’re probably OK!”

Image credit: Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images

Older articles:

Earth’s worst extinction “inescapably” tied to Siberian Traps, CO2, and climate change

Skeptical Science October 2015

The latest batch of rock dates released by the MIT geochronology team "inescapably" nails the link between the end-Permian Siberian Traps eruptions and Earth’s worst mass extinction, pointing to the critical role of greenhouse gasses in the catastrophe.

Read more

You can't rush the oceans (why CO2 emission rates matter)

Skeptical Science August 2015

What made some past climate changes destructive and others not? And, you may be asking, what possible relevance do these ancient events have for us today?

The answer is that they confirm what scientists have modeled from ocean chemistry: CO2 emission rates mattered back then just as they do now. In fact they are key.

Read more

So what did-in the dinosaurs? A murder mystery…

Skeptical Science March 2015

Scientists have assembled a slew of new forensic evidence – from high-resolution dates to microscopic fossils – to prosecute the dino-killer. Their indictment has worrying implications for us.

Read more

Why the Miocene Matters (and doesn't) Today

Skeptical Science February 2015

Past climate changes are analogs, albeit imperfect ones, for our modern climate change. Despite the differences between such episodes and today, they tell us a great deal about how the Earth-atmosphere-ocean-ice-vegetation-climate system responds to perturbations of the carbon cycle. Global warming in the Miocene at 16.9 million years ago is a mild example.

A time a bit like our own …but not what we’re used to.

Read more

Just when did humans first start affecting the climate?

Skeptical Science January 2015

Earlier than you might have thought...Pre-industrial human influence kept the climate warmer than it would otherwise have been, insulating us and delaying the normal slide back into the next ice age that had happened at the tail end of all the prior interglacial periods. But although their effect was diminished, natural orbital changes did not relinquish overall control on our climate, which carried on cooling over the last 6,000 years despite pre-industrial emissions. When CO2 levels were reduced by the American population collapse, our climate flirted with glacial conditions in the Little Ice Age.

Read more

The long hot tail of global warming - new thinking on the Eocene greenhouse climate

Skeptical Science October 2014

A trio of new studies show that the Eocene Hyperthermals were the result of, not the cause of, global warming in the Eocene. This refocuses attention on abrupt global warming episodes like the PETM, and their role in converting the cooling Paleocene climate into the long-lived Eocene hothouse. Modern climate change is even more abrupt, and is likely to have a similarly long, hot tail.

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The Perplexing PETM

Skeptical Science September 2014

The Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) around 56 million years ago is perhaps the most studied of the many episodes of global warming in the geological record, but it still has plenty of puzzles. Professor Daniela Schmidt has written an article in "Geology" highlighting a couple of them, which is an excuse to delve a little into this episode of climate change that has some similarities to, and some important differences from, modern climate change.

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Big Bang Theory

Geoscientist September 2014

New dating correlates mass extinctions, LIPs, climate change

Read more

Climate's changed before

Skeptical Science June 2014

Basic, intermediate, and advanced explanations of the fact Earth's climate has changed in the past, and the lessons those changes have for us today.

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Large Igneous Province eruptions and global climate

Geoscientist June 2014

New dating is drawing ever closer parallels between Large Igneous Province events and modern climate change

Read more

Rapid climate changes more deadly than asteroid impacts in Earth’s past – study shows.

Skeptical Science May 2014

The popular image of asteroid impacts as the ultimate annihilator of life may be dramatic and make for exciting movies, but the hard reality is that rapid climate changes, such as humans are unleashing on the planet today, have consistently been more deadly to life on Earth

Read more