Saturday, December 15, 2007

It's the end of the world as we know it...

Throughout the history of the earth the global climate has been punctuated with alternating periods of greenhouse warming and cooler "icehouse" phases. Researchers from the universities of York and Leeds have recently concluded that extinction rates are much higher during greenhouse phases of global climate. By comparing 350 million years worth of data from the fossil record on estimated temperatures and the levels of diversity in marine and terrestrial life, researchers have predicted that if global temperatures continue to rise we may be approaching a climate associated with past mass extinctions. Pollution and greenhouse gases are accelerating the heating process and if heating trends continue we could be heading to a 50% extinction of all plant and animal species on the earth. This is the first time global temperature trends have been compared to extinction rates for the entire fossil record, and the prognosis is not look so good. Of the five major mass-extinctions that have occurred in 350 million year span of the fossil record, four have occurred during greenhouse phases.

Whether or not mass exstinction is just scientific paranoia remains to be seen, however many species of plants and animals are already finding it increasingly hard to adapt to their changing habitats. The Polar Regions and the flora and fauna that inhabit them are especially in danger. If a mass extinction is unavoidable, then we are heading towards a reset of Earth’s animal hierarchy, and like mammals after the dinosaurs, a new species may inherit the earth. It would be interesting to hypothesise who the new dominant species might be; my vote is for the genetically modified mice.