We're still releasing the potent greenhouse gas methane into the atmosphere today, but there was a massive release in the past: About 55 million years ago, the Earth burped up a massive release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere--an amount equivalent to burning all the petroleum and other fossil fuels that exist today. Geologist Will Clyde is concerned because "We don't know where it came from. This is a big part of the carbon cycle that affected the climate system, and we don’t understand it."
In order to find out, he is organizing a geological study in the Bighorn Basin of Wyoming to search for clues to this event, which occurred during a period of extreme warming called the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum. A team of 27 scientists from 11 institutions will drill a series of cores into the basin’s stratified layers of rocks that they hope will yield better understanding of this mystery and-- perhaps--of current and future global climate change.
It's not just ancient history that the team is interested in. Researchers suspect that the carbon release may have been a result of an initial rise in temperature during the this period and they wonder whether current warming, due to global climate change, could launch a similar event. Clyde says, "Could our dependence on carbon-based energy sources trigger one or more causes of prehistoric global warming and, as a result, make our struggle with a warming earth far worse than currently predicted?"
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