Humans may have missed an extraordinary event that changed the Earth's climate: a millennium of heat is coming
The Earth's climate may be in a state of transition from an ice age to an interglacial period. This process probably began back in 2006, when the planet experienced a sharp increase in methane emissions, the source of which scientists have only now been able to unravel.
The study was published in the journal Global Biogeochemical Cycles. According to LiveScience, if the scientists' theory is correct, then humanity has been living in a "termination" event for 16 years, which is significant enough to end the Ice Age.
Peak methane emissions were first detected in the 2006 data, but after discovering this information, scientists could not understand the source of the methane. At the same time, they saw that emissions were not just staying at a high level, but accelerating at a frantic rate all these years.
Now they have found that it is the tropical wetlands. It is they who are emitting so much methane into the atmosphere that it could end the ice age and replace the frosty expanse of the tundra with a tropical savannah.
"The 'ending' event is a major reorganisation of the Earth's climate system," explained Euan Nisbet, lead author of the study and Emeritus Professor of Earth Sciences at Royal Holloway, University of London.
As the scientists explained, the end of ice ages usually occurs in three phases. During the first phase, there is a gradual increase in methane and CO2. This leads to global warming, which lasts for several thousand years. This is followed by a sharp rise in temperature caused by the release of methane, which levels off in the third phase, which lasts several thousand years.
"Between the final phase, which lasts thousands of years, there is a sharp phase that lasts only a few decades. During this abrupt phase, methane goes up, and this is probably due to tropical wetlands," Nisbet said.
Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas. It can be emitted by human activities such as fossil fuel combustion, landfills and agriculture, as well as by natural processes such as decomposition in wetlands.
Nisbet said that in the 1980s, emissions caused by human activity increased dramatically, but stabilised in the 1990s. However, in late 2006, something "very, very strange" happened.
Despite no change in human activity, methane began to rise again. Later, in 2013, Nisbet and his colleagues realised that this growth had not stopped, but was accelerating. By 2020, the amount of methane was rising at the fastest rate on record.
There have been a number of studies that have linked this strange spike to a rapid increase in emissions from tropical wetlands, mostly in Africa. According to Nisbet, human activity has caused climate change, which has allowed tropical wetlands to grow larger. As there are more plants, this has led to more intensive decomposition, the process that produces methane.
"The closest analogy to what we think is happening today is the end of the ice age," Nisbet said.
However, he admits that the theory still needs to be proven.
In the past, the "ending" event led to the transformation of vast expanses of icy tundra in the Northern Hemisphere into tropical grasslands where hippos roamed. Scientists are not entirely sure whether the same thing will happen now, but they are convinced that combating methane emissions should be one of the priorities of humanity.
Earlier, OBOZREVATEL reported that Arctic glaciers hide a methane time bomb.