Some of us now living may witness the next mass extinction

Some of us now living may witness the next mass extinction

A Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor has devised a math formula to predict when the next mass extinction or global catastrophe could occur, according to the university.

"The study identifies two thresholds for major carbon cycle change", Rothman said.

That's the grim assessment of a new mathematical analysis of Earth's revolving carbon cycle, with calculations predicting our horrendous output of CO2 emissions is inching us towards a "threshold of catastrophe" the planet hasn't breached in millions of years.

The data suggests that the carbon cycle in the nature will be unstable in the near future, and its behavior can not be predicted.

To test the idea, Rothman compiled a database of information about previous mass extinction and major environmental changes.

The first of the traditional big five extinction events, around 540 million years ago, was probably the second most severe.

Thus, the researchers have predicted that the given recent rise in the carbon level in a shorter timescale may result in the sixth extinction. For each event, including the five mass extinctions, Rothman noted the change in carbon, expressed in the geochemical record as a change in the relative abundance of two isotopes, carbon-12 and carbon-13. Although they still involved huge disruptions to the carbon cycle, most of the 31 events stayed below that line, avoiding global catastrophe. "It became evident that there was a characteristic rate of change that the system basically didn't like to go past", Rothman said. The other, a critical size or mass, corresponds to the total carbon added to the oceans.

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Earth will likely hit that critical amount by 2100, according to predictions based on Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change models.

'In the geologic past this type of behaviour is associated with mass extinction'.

"How can you really compare these great events in the geologic past, which occur over such vast timescales, to what's going on today, which is centuries at the longest?" says Rothman.

Such rapid absorption of carbon can wreak havoc on marine habitats as ocean temperatures rise, oxygen levels fall and acidification intensifies.

'Then it became a question of figuring out what it meant, ' said Professor Rothman. It is expected that by 2100 around 310 gigatons of carbon will have been added to the oceans. 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. After analyzing the data, he boiled the interactions down to a deceptively simple equation that can show the amount of carbon that would be required-if added over a short period of time-to throw the carbon cycle out of whack.

"There should be ways of pulling back emissions of carbon dioxide", Rothman says.

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