Science

Is the Earth a self-regulating organism? A new study suggests that our planet has built-in climate controls

Is the Earth a self-regulating organism?  A new study suggests that our planet has built-in climate controls

Is the Earth a self-regulating organism? A new study suggests that our planet has built-in climate controls

The Permian-Triassic extinction event, also called The great dying, certainly earned its nickname. It was the largest mass extinction in the geological record, which disappeared in between 83 and 97 percent of all species that live on Earth. Although the exact cause is debated, extremely volcanic activity that may have cooked the planet is marked as the main culprit.

But somehow, despite being pummeled by asteroids and cosmic radiation, life on this planet continues for nearly four billion years. As our planet enters the The sixth mass extinctiondriven by a wave of human activity that has wiped out thousands of species, the question of how this works—in particular, how Earth appears to recover from large-scale disasters, or extreme changes in the atmosphere or climate—become even more pressing.

It turns out that the answer, in part, might be even stranger than anyone imagined. New research in the journal Science Advances suggests that the Earth can independently regulate its temperature over hundreds of thousands of years. In other words, there are large-scale geological processes that absorb carbon dioxide over enormous time scales. However, the time scales involved are far, far too long to correct for the sudden spike in carbon dioxide caused by burning fossil fuels, meaning that the mechanism will not save us from climate change.

“You have a planet whose climate has undergone so many dramatic external changes. Why has life persisted all this time?”

Constantin Arnscheidt and Daniel Rothman, two researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, analyzed data from multiple datasets documenting global temperature over the past 66 million years. These paleoclimate records include ice cores from Antarctica and the chemical composition of prehistoric marine fossils, which can tell us a lot about what Earth’s atmosphere was like in the distant past.

“This entire study is only possible because there have been major advances in improving the resolution of these deep-sea temperature records,” Arnscheidt said in statement. “We now have data going back 66 million years, with data points thousands of years apart at most.”

Two MIT scientists have discovered a strong pattern that suggests Earth uses feedback loops to keep its temperatures in a range where life can thrive. However, this happens on a time scale of hundreds of thousands of years, so while this implies that our planet will recover from anthropogenic climate change, it won’t happen fast enough to save us.

“One of the arguments is that we need some sort of stabilization mechanism to maintain habitable temperatures,” Arnscheidt said. “But it has never been shown from the data that such a mechanism has consistently controlled Earth’s climate.”

This discovery has major implications for our understanding of the past, but also for how global warming is shaping the future of our home world. It even helps us better understand the evolution of planetary temperatures which can lead to searching Exoplanets inhabited by aliens are more fertile.

“You have a planet whose climate has undergone so many dramatic external changes. Why has life persisted all this time? One of the arguments is that we need some kind of stabilization mechanism to maintain temperatures suitable for life,” Arnscheidt said. “But it has never been shown from the data that such a mechanism has consistently controlled Earth’s climate.”

Many scientists have proposed that the Earth has regulated its own temperature throughout history, but this has been difficult to prove. In the 1960s, the late inventor and environmentalist James Lovelock applied Darwinian processes to the entire planet, rather than a single organism, to explain how such a complex system evolved. He called this The Gaia hypothesiswhich explains how the Earth and its biological systems have formed feedback loops that keep our planet favorable for living organisms.

That also helped explain it The paradox of the weak sunfirst proposed by astronomers Carl Sagan and George Mullen in in 1972. Basically, our Sun was much smaller and cooler 4.5 billion years ago. Then, based on our current understanding of the life cycle of stars, the Sun would be about 30 percent fainter than it is today. This in turn would make Earth too cold for liquid water, preventing life from forming – yet apparently this happened. So how did our stone world pull this off?

The answer seems to lie in how carbon is cycled through the planet. A prominent theory is that when our planet first formed, it had an atmosphere full of carbon dioxide, a powerful greenhouse gas, which allowed it to absorb heat, even though the Sun was cooler.

“On the one hand, that’s good because we know that today’s global warming will eventually be reversed through this stabilizing feedback. But on the other hand, it will take hundreds of thousands of years to happen, so it’s not fast enough to solve our present-day problems.”

A complex process known as silicate wear it then removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and buries it at the bottom of the ocean. Over time, this cools the planet. Then something like that large volcanic eruptions or people drive cars, pumping more carbon dioxide into the air, warming the planet again. Earth seems to balance between too cold and too hot over eons, which explains why some call Earth a Goldilocks planet.

The MIT study helps match existing data with this long-standing theory, which helps us better understand our past and the consequences of unchecked climate change. And it would stand to reason that if these feedback loops exist on our planet, they may exist in other galaxies as well, informing the hunt for extraterrestrial life.

“On the one hand, that’s good because we know that today’s global warming will eventually be reversed through this stabilizing feedback,” Arnscheidt said. “But on the other hand, it will take hundreds of thousands of years for that to happen, so not fast enough to solve our problems today.”

However, Arnscheidt’s model was unable to explain this balance on time scales longer than a million years, so random chance may also have played a large role in the success of life on this rock.

“There are two camps: some say random chance is a good enough explanation, and others say there must be a stabilizing feedback,” Arnscheidt said. “We’re able to show, directly from the data, that the answer is probably somewhere in between. In other words, there was some stabilization, but pure luck probably also played a role in keeping Earth in a constant state of habitability.”

Perhaps it was a mixture of chance and feedback loops like silicate weathering that affected Earth’s temperature in the past. But in the future of humanity, free will — our politics, our consumption, our choices — will determine the temperature of the planet in the future. And maybe we’ll just overwhelm these natural systems so much that they won’t be able to balance, similar to the prominent theories of potential life on mars.

“The warming of the Sun was slow enough to allow life to develop, a process that takes millions of years. Unfortunately, the Sun is now too hot for further development of organic life on Earth,” Lovelock wrote in his 2019 book.Novacene: The Coming Age of Hyperintelligence.” “The heat output from our star is too great for life to restart as it did from simple chemicals from the Archaean period between 4 billion and 2.5 billion years ago. If life on Earth is wiped out, it will not restart.”

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