Tens of millions of years ago, the planet heated up to the point that forest fires ravaged the entire globe, even incinerating forests found in wetter and less arid areas that are usually less vulnerable to fires — and the same thing could happen again.
During this 100,000-year period, even wet and humid regions burned to the point that the planet lost 30 to 40 percent of its forests, according to a research published Tuesday in the journal Nature Geoscience.
And now, thanks to global climate change, the same conditions that led to the widespread burning are re-emerging.
The researchers analyzed samples from a rock core that spans what is known as the Oceanic Anoxic Event 2 (OAE2) in the Cretaceous period, about 94 million years ago.
They found that an increased amount of carbon buried in the oceans at the start of this event was associated with indications for the occurrence of wildfires, which might have been caused by an increase in oxygen in the atmosphere.
Organic runoff from fertilizer is accumulating in oceans and rivers, leading to harmful algae blooms and carbon buildup. Meanwhile, greenhouse gasses released from burning fossil fuels are heating up the planet.
Large amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere—much like what Earth is projected to experience by 2100—kick-started this cycle. These mirror the conditions 90 million years ago, suggesting that we could again experience similar global infernos.
While we’re currently experiencing a record-breaking wildfire season, most of the problem is in areas that are already comparatively arid — rainforests aren’t exactly spontaneously combusting.
But unless climate change is slowed and reversed, humanity could soon find itself on a crash course with a future where an ever-growing swath of the planet is coated in flames.
Reference- University of Colorado at Boulder Research, Journal Nature Geoscience, Futurism