“Abrupt Planetary Catastrophic Global Warming. It’s happened before. We have the planet headed that way again.” – A November 2010 statement by the Geological Society of London regarding catastrophic climate change and methane hydrates
The 2001 documentary “The Day the Oceans Boiled” examined what was new evidence in 1999.  Scientists had discovered that the expected rise in global temperature in the near future could be only the start of a much greater increase. The evidence uncovered warned that our Earth’s temperature could rise by 20 degrees within the next three generations. The documentary follows scientists uncovering evidence for what caused massive, abrupt climate shifts that happened 55 million years ago. *This was the last time the Earth’s temperature accelerated quickly, causing many animals to shrink, with horses becoming the size of modern domestic cats. It took the planet 60,000 years to cool down again.
Sediment samples drilled from the ocean sea floor provide scientists with the ability to uncover what took place in our Earth’s history hundreds of millions of years ago. In 1999, Santo Bains of Oxford University’s Department of Earth Sciences was looking for clues as to what happened 55 million years ago during the Paleocene-Eocene. In particular, he was interested in one specific sediment core named core 690. Core 690 was to have the most detailed record of the Paleocene-Eocene climate change event. Bains took one sediment sample per centimeter of the entire core 690. Buried in the sludge along the bottom of the sea there are stories of the past. Within this sediment there are tiny sea creatures – deep-ocean microscopic foraminifera – that survived the asteroids that killed the dinosaurs. However, 55 million years ago, half of the tiny forams went extinct. Locked in their shells lies the story of why. As their shells were made of the carbon dioxide dissolved in the sea, their detailed composition revealed both the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere and the water temperature at the time of extinction. Bains dropped the tiny shells into acid, releasing the carbon dioxide that had last seen the atmosphere 55 million years ago.
Bains’s scientific analysis confirmed that at the time the mammals shrank, the atmospheric carbon levels had suddenly risen abruptly – causing a rapid warming of ocean waters. As he examined more samples, Bains discovered something extraordinary. There was not just one sudden rise in temperature. There were three. Temperatures accelerated dramatically in three succinct steps over a period of just a few of hundred years for a total temperature increase of approximately 8ºC. The rise in atmospheric carbon was just as dramatic. The jumps in Bains’s graph add up to one and a half trillion tonnes of carbon. His discovery was the first time this was recognized in the geological record. Where did all of the carbon come from? Methane hydrates are believed to be the only explanation. Methane hydrates quickly decomposed, releasing vast amounts of carbon into the oceans and into the atmosphere.
Bain’s research suggests that prior to the extinction, a massive release of methane caused a severe feedback, which then resulted in a second immense methane release. The second release caused an even greater amplifying effect, thereby causing a severe third release, which finally resulted in a runaway greenhouse event of mass extinction.
Methane hydrates have been formed over millions of years on the floor of our oceans and seas from decaying organic matter carried there by rivers. The methane takes the form of methane hydrates – methane gas frozen into lattices of ice (called clathrate ) that lie in ocean floor sediment off the continental coasts of our planet, storing massive amounts of carbon. When the frozen hydrates melt, 170 times the volume of methane gas comes bubbling out. The pressure only stays locked up if the pressure of the sea floor remains high and the temperature stays low. If this balance changes, the methane will quickly escape.
A more recent study in 2010  uncovers that even though the Pliocene Epoch (5.3 to 2.6 million years ago) was approximately 19ºC warmer than today, CO2 levels were only slightly higher than they are now.
*In 2010, researchers from the University of Z?rich found that more than 100 bird species have shrunk in size over the past half a century. Ary Hoffmann, evolutionary biologist at the University of Melbourne, says: “The surprise is that you’re seeing these consistent patterns across a large number of species.”
Read more: The Real Weapons of Mass Destruction: Methane, Propaganda & the Architects of Genocide | Part I:
Creative commons photo courtesy of ‘glasseyes view’ via Flickr.