Extreme Heat and the Future of Mammals: A Looming Mass Extinction?
Recent scientific research conducted in the United Kingdom has raised concerns about the potential impact of extreme heat on the future of mammals, including humans.
In their recent article, published in Nature Geoscience, Alexander Farnsworth, Senior Research Associate at the University of Bristol School of Geographical Sciences and his colleagues suggest that rising temperatures, coupled with other environmental factors, could lead to a mass extinction event, possibly occurring much sooner than previously predicted.
In this piece, we will quickly explore the key findings of their research and its implications for the planet’s future.
1. A Grim Prediction
Imagine a planet as a global oven that’s slowly heating up. This study predicts that this oven’s temperature dial might reach a catastrophic level. In approximately 250 million years, extreme heat caused by a series of environmental changes could lead to a mass extinction event. This event could be the first of its kind since the era of the dinosaurs, marking a catastrophic loss of mammalian life.
2. The Role of “Pangea Ultima”
Think of Pangea Ultima as a massive jigsaw puzzle where all the Earth’s continents come together to form one giant landmass.
The researchers based their predictions on the concept of “Pangea Ultima,” a hypothetical future supercontinent that would result from the convergence of Earth’s continents. This supercontinent would predominantly occupy hot and humid tropical regions, subjecting a large portion of the planet to scorching temperatures.
3. Volcanic Eruptions and CO2 Levels
Picture volcanoes as factories emitting vast amounts of greenhouse gases, like factories producing pollution. The formation of Pangea Ultima would also increase the frequency of volcanic eruptions, releasing substantial amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. This, in turn, would exacerbate global warming, contributing to higher temperatures.
4. Brighter Sun, Hotter Earth
Consider the sun as a light bulb getting brighter over time, gradually increasing the heat in our planetary “room.”
The study highlights the impact of the sun’s increasing brightness.
Every 100 million years, the sun gets about 1% brighter, emitting more energy.
In approximately 250 million years, the sun is expected to be about 2.5% brighter, resulting in significantly higher temperatures on Earth.
5. Triple Threat: Continentality, Solar Radiation, and CO2
Now, this is basically like turning up the heat in a small, closed room while also adding more insulation, making it swelteringly hot.
The combined effects of continentality (large landmasses in the supercontinent), a hotter sun, and increased CO2 levels would create a hostile environment with temperatures ranging from 40 to 50 degrees Celsius or higher. High humidity levels would further challenge the survival of mammals.
6. Mammals’ Limited Adaptation to Extreme Heat
Just as our clothing might not be suitable for a scorching desert, mammals have evolved to handle cold and moderate temperatures, not extreme heat.
While mammals have exhibited adaptability to various climates throughout history, their capacity to endure extreme heat has remained limited.
Therefore, prolonged exposure to such conditions would make survival increasingly difficult.
7. Climate Models and CO2 Projections
Think of climate models as super-accurate crystal balls that help us glimpse into the future of our planet’s weather. To conduct their research, researchers used advanced climate models to come up with these predictions.
These models simulated temperature, wind, rain, and humidity trends for Pangea Ultima. Future CO2 levels were projected based on tectonic plate movements, oceanic chemistry, and biological processes.
8. Human-Induced Damage
Our fossil fuel emissions are like pouring gasoline onto an already raging fire, making the situation much worse.
The study acknowledges that the current trajectory of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions could accelerate the rise in CO2 levels, potentially hastening the predicted timeline for extreme heat.
Halting these emissions is critical to delaying this outcome.
9. Technological Solutions
Imagine creating giant climate-controlled domes to survive extreme outdoor conditions, but you still need to figure out how to grow food and secure water inside.
One potential solution discussed in the study involves the development of technologies to protect humans from extreme outdoor temperatures. However, this would require innovations to sustain food sources and ensure water security.
10. Implications for Exoplanet Research
When searching for habitable planets in distant galaxies, scientists need to consider not only the distance from their stars but also factors like whether those planets are like our Earth or a superheated Pangea Ultima.
The research underscores the importance of considering continental layouts and tectonic activity when assessing the habitability of exoplanets.
Factors such as the distribution of landmasses can significantly impact a planet’s suitability for life.
Imagine planet Earth as a spaceship hurtling through the cosmos.
Climate change is basically like a slowly growing malfunction in the spaceship’s life support systems. Note that it’s not an immediate threat, but it’s a warning that if we don’t address it, we risk a catastrophic failure in the distant future.
Now, think of this spaceship as part of a fleet exploring unknown galaxies. Understanding how our spaceship’s systems work and how they can fail is crucial not just for the survival of the human species and other mammals, but for the success of the entire fleet.
Alexander Farnsworth’s study reminds us that, while we have time to fix the issues, we must urgently address them to ensure our spaceship remains habitable.
Moreover, the lessons we learn about the delicate balance of planetary conditions here can provide valuable insights for our fellow explorers venturing to distant planets beyond our solar system.