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Earth Science

Mathematical Formula Predicts Global Mass Extinction Event in 2100 (vice.com) 394

Kate Lunau, writing for Motherboard: A new paper in Science Advances finds that a mass extinction period mirroring ones from our planet's ancient past could be triggered when humanity adds a certain amount of carbon to the oceans, which are home to the majority of all plants and animals on our planet. The paper pegs that amount at 310 gigatons. According to lead author Daniel Rothman of MIT, based on projections from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we're on course to hit that number by 2100. After that, we enter "unknown territory." [...] Previous mass extinctions have happened over the course of thousands or millions of years, but the period of change we're in right now has lasted centuries at best, making it hard to compare them. Although plenty of experts say Earth is already experiencing a sixth mass extinction, that remains "a scientific question," Rothman, who is professor of geophysics in the MIT Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, told me. Once our planet hits the threshold he identified in this paper, he explained, it will kickstart changes that will "amplify" everything that came before. These same changes, to reiterate, have been associated with all previous mass extinctions on Earth.
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Mathematical Formula Predicts Global Mass Extinction Event in 2100

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  • At least... (Score:5, Funny)

    by ocsibrm ( 3588573 ) on Wednesday September 20, 2017 @03:47PM (#55234007)
    there was a whole lot of shareholder value created before the extinction period hit.
    • good thing ill be dead by then
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      there was a whole lot of shareholder value created before the extinction period hit.

      You should at least link to the New Yorker cartoon: https://i.pinimg.com/originals... [pinimg.com]

    • by zifn4b ( 1040588 )

      there was a whole lot of shareholder value created before the extinction period hit.

      I knew storing dates as two digit numbers to save space was a bad idea *sigh*

    • by sycodon ( 149926 )

      Danny and this guy [cbslocal.com] should get together.

      I bet they would have lots to talk about.

  • We must save our knowledge with a library on a remote planet.
  • How much, exactly, are hominids to blame for this and what penalties should we apply to individual ones?

    (Pauses for cognitive dissonance from conceptually incoherent Linnaean Taxonomy training/brainwashing to set in)

    • Re:Justice (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Gravis Zero ( 934156 ) on Wednesday September 20, 2017 @04:22PM (#55234287)

      How much, exactly, are hominids to blame for this and what penalties should we apply to individual ones?

      Exactly enough to make all the difference. We shouldn't penalize people or corporations for releasing CO2, we should charge them the amount of money that it costs to clean up their mess. If you put 30 tons of CO2 into the air, then you have to pay to have it removed. We have the technology to actually do this, it's not hypothetical.

  • I prefer carbon-neutral, fully organic and analog "Doom is here!" signs held on the street corner. Mathematical formulas have too much negative impact on the environment.
  • by Geoffrey.landis ( 926948 ) on Wednesday September 20, 2017 @03:58PM (#55234089) Homepage

    The possibility of a catastrophic feedback is indeed the wild card in global warming calculations: there is a lot of carbon dioxide and methane trapped in frozen soil and in undersea clathrates, and it is indeed possible that there is a threshold above which these will be released, dramatically increasing the temperature. It has happened in the past.
    When people talk about the uncertainty in global warming predictions, this is one uncertainty that is often left out: the possiblility that the models are accurate about short-term warming but significantly underestimate long-term warming.
    But this is also extremely hard to model.

    • by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Wednesday September 20, 2017 @04:10PM (#55234187) Journal

      The possibility of a catastrophic feedback is indeed the wild card in global warming calculations: there is a lot of carbon dioxide and methane trapped in frozen soil and in undersea clathrates, and it is indeed possible that there is a threshold above which these will be released, dramatically increasing the temperature.

      It's not a "wild card," it is considered so unlikely by scientists that after consideration, the IPCC didn't even put it in their report as a reasonable possibility. Nature has a good summary of the research [nature.com]:

      Catastrophic, widespread dissociation of methane gas hydrates will not be triggered by continued climate warming at contemporary rates (0.2C per decade; IPCC 2007) over timescales of a few hundred years. Most of Earth's gas hydrates occur at low saturations and in sediments at such great depths below the seafloor or onshore permafrost that they will barely be affected by warming over even 10^3 yr.

      • It's not a "wild card," it is considered so unlikely by scientists that after consideration, the IPCC didn't even put it in their report as a reasonable possibility. Nature has a good summary of the research [nature.com]:

        That's a good article, thanks. There are other articles, however-- some of them even cited in that one-- that emphasize slightly more the "We don't know" aspect of the clathrate stability.

        Methane clathrates are only one of several sources of greenhouse gasses that are currently sequestered in cold traps, primarily in the Arctic. We do know that, in the past, there have been times when warming has released these. We don't know enough about how much is currently sequestered in cold traps, and how much warm

  • In the past the usual suspects who claimed we were all doomed DOOMED I SAY were stupid enough to make predictions with 5 or 10 year time horizons.

    Now don't get me wrong, there's plenty of people who will try to shove any doomsday prediction that doesn't come true down the memory hole via the usual dodges of "They never *really* said that!" or "OMG they were totally right because [insert vague allusion to a statistic here]!" even though it turns out everybody is strangely still not dead.

    My personal favorites

  • by jandrese ( 485 ) <kensama@vt.edu> on Wednesday September 20, 2017 @04:05PM (#55234137) Homepage Journal
    We're in the middle of a mass extinction event already, how is this one 83 years in the future going to be different?
    • by tsa ( 15680 )

      I wonder about that myself. It will probably be mass extinction on steroids.

    • There is no formal definition for a mass extinction event. The current event is based on extinction rate over the background rate. Other methodologies such as percentage of families and genus which have gone extinct at this point don't consider us in an a mass extinction event ... yet.

      The past extinction rates at the start of the Holocene event (the current one) were much higher than they are now. Based on this human hunting and development is causing the rate to drop. If we can also prevent horribly screwi

  • Wait a minute, I thought the oceans were already 100% saturated with CO2, after acting as a carbon sink for a long time, and thus new CO2 stays in the atmosphere now? Is he saying that's not the case, or that solid carbon is going to be dumped into the oceans?

    • When you increased the partial pressure of CO2, you increase the amount absorbed in the ocean. ("Henry's Law")

      It is a very long term process, however.

      https://chem.libretexts.org/Core/Physical_and_Theoretical_Chemistry/Physical_Properties_of_Matter/Solutions_and_Mixtures/Ideal_Solutions/Dissolving_Gases_In_Liquids%2C_Henry%27s_Law

  • by Rick Schumann ( 4662797 ) on Wednesday September 20, 2017 @04:16PM (#55234239) Journal
    You want to stop ths from happening? You have to change hearts and minds of pretty much everyone on the planet, first. Good luck with that, by the way. We can't get people to stop doing much simpler things (like killing each other over stupid things like this-or-that-so-called-god, or the color of someones skin, and so on) so I don't expect you'll get much traction over something that's going to happen a full lifetime in the future. What'll happen instead, is people will have their hearts and minds change when things get so bad that they can't ignore it anymore -- and even then some of the greedier piece of shit people will still be trying to rob everyone, and of course the religious zealot types will just be talking about it being 'gods will', and trying to recruit people into their stupid faith. Seriously, some days I begin to think that the reason we haven't seen sure signs of alien civilizations in our galaxy is because they did the same stupid shit that we're doing right now, and fucked up their own planet so bad that they all went extinct.
    • >some days I begin to think that the reason we haven't seen sure signs of alien civilizations in our galaxy is because they did the same stupid shit that we're doing right now, and fucked up their own planet so bad that they all went extinct.

      A sad thought, but as convergent evolution is a thing I can see it being true. We're the way we are because it's something that works. Competition, reproduction, expansion, predation... all just part of life. Nature doesn't care about enlightened self interest bec

  • I am not saying we shouldn't be as clean and impactless as we can to take care of our home, we shouldn't need any kind of model to do the right thing on a global stewardship level, but this model is essentially useless for any kind of prediction.

    Aside from a number what ifs that this model simply can't predict, this all depends the current social/economic/political environment remaining virtually the same (not to mention natural ones like tectonic, space phenomena, diseases, etc).

    All it takes is one event (

  • What if we banned manufacturing in nations like China where pollution is almost totally uncontrolled? Instead we would require manufacturing to take place in first world nations where emissions can be reliably managed. Our corporations obviously see developing nations as a mere resource to be exploited without regard.
    • by meglon ( 1001833 )
      http://www.ucsusa.org/global_w... [ucsusa.org]

      The picture that emerges from these figures is one where—in general—developed countries and major emerging economy nations lead in total carbon dioxide emissions. Developed nations typically have high carbon dioxide emissions per capita, while some developing countries lead in the growth rate of carbon dioxide emissions.

      Because emissions have never been reliably managed in first world countries, which is why we're in the situation we're in now. As for corporations, they don't see developing countries as resources to be exploited... they see ALL countries as resources to be exploited.

  • "These same changes, to reiterate, have been associated with all previous mass extinctions on Earth"

    Really?

    Timeline of (major) Mass Extinction Events:
    http://www.worldatlas.com/arti... [worldatlas.com]
    1 Holocene extinction - Present
    2 Cretaceousâ"Paleogene extinction event 65 million years ago
    3 Triassicâ"Jurassic extinction event 199 million to 214 million years ago
    4 Permianâ"Triassic extinction event 251 million years ago
    5 Late Devonian extinction 364 million years ago
    6 Ordovi

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Anthony_Watts

    • by meglon ( 1001833 )
      From the article below because some people don't seem to understand what the word "informative" means.

      Willard Anthony Watts (Anthony Watts) is a blogger, weathercaster and non-scientist, paid AGW denier who runs the website wattsupwiththat.com. He does not have a university qualification and has no climate credentials other than being a radio weather announcer. His website is parodied and debunked at the website wottsupwiththat.com Watts is on the payroll of the Heartland Institute, which itself is funded by polluting industries.

      The sourcewatch article is short, and largely points out how much of a lying sack of shit the guy is.

  • At least there won't be any more incessant bitching, moaning and complaining afterwards because that makes for a happy life.
  • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Wednesday September 20, 2017 @04:58PM (#55234573)
    If you truly believe global warming due to carbon dioxide emissions is occurring, and you truly believe it's going to cause mass extinction in less than 100 years, then you want to prevent it in the most effective and expeditious method we have available - nuclear power.

    If you think this is just an opportunity to advance renewable energy development, then you do not truly believe one of those things. Either you think global warming is not really happening, but you can use it to scare the world into adopting your preferred energy source. Or you believe it's happening but it's not really that serious, so we have plenty of time to develop renewable energy sources and phase them in.

    Nuclear power doesn't have to be our final energy source. All we need is to use it to immediately arrest climate change, buying us more time to develop cleaner energy sources. Then we can phase out nuclear power in favor of renewables. Trying to jump straight to renewables is like being on a sinking ship, and insisting that nobody is allowed to use the existing life rafts. Instead you want us to research, design, and construct new life rafts to save ourselves, even if that might take more time than it takes for the ship to sink.

    There's a possibility it might work. But why take that risk? Why gamble with all life on Earth? Implement the solution which is guaranteed to work (get on the existing life rafts / switch to nuclear power). Then once the immediate threat is over we can work on developing the ideal solution (develop new life rafts / develop renewables). If there's mass extinctions starting in 2100, it's going to be the fault of the environmental movement - who prevented us from immediately turning off fossil fuels and switching to nuclear, and insisted that we instead had to roll the dice and develop new unproven energy sources which still have problems with scalability and consistency.
    • >If you truly believe global warming due to carbon dioxide emissions is occurring, and you truly believe it's going to cause mass extinction in less than 100 years, then you want to prevent it in the most effective and expeditious method we have available - nuclear power.

      I wouldn't mind something like the Toshiba 4s reactor popping up all over the place - distributed 'neighbourhood' nuclear power that's safe, robust, and difficult for terrorists to target.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

  • Or was that Edgar Cayce?

          I love how the same old garbage can be dressed up as math or science.

Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened. -- Winston Churchill

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