Next Mass Extinction: Study Finds How Carbon Dioxide Can Trigger Global Disruption Soon

If humans continue to produce carbon dioxide across the world, life on Earth may soon be on its way to the next mass extinction. An MIT researcher found that potential changes to Earth's carbon cycle could eventually trigger another global disruption. 

Daniel Rothman, a professor of geophysics at MIT, created models that show how increase in levels of carbon dioxide can trigger extreme ocean acidification and change the planet’s carbon cycle. 

He explained that when carbon dioxide on oceans climbs beyond the threshold, Earth may release chemical feedbacks that could lead to acidification. These changes may also contribute to sudden increase in the levels of carbon. 

Geologists saw evidence of such changes in layers of sediments preserved over hundreds of millions of years ago. Rothman said that over the past 540 million years, the ocean significantly changed its carbon storage but recovered dozens of times. 

He noted in a report, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, that regardless of what triggers the changes, carbon increased the same rates once a disruption was set in motion. 

"Once we're over the threshold, how we got there may not matter," Rothman, who is also co-director of the Lorenz Center in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, said in a statement. "Once you get over it, you're dealing with how the Earth works, and it goes on its own ride."

Humans have contributed to carbon production in the atmosphere for hundreds of years. However, the world’s oceans have already been absorbing carbon faster than the worst case in past events. 

Rothman said the Earth today is "at the precipice of excitation." He warned that future disruption in carbon cycle is likely to be similar to past global catastrophes and lead to Earth's sixth mass extinction.

The Earth may reach critical threshold by the end of this century if humans continue its current production of carbon dioxide, Rothman warned. 

"It's difficult to know how things will end up given what's happening today," he said. "But we're probably close to a critical threshold. Any spike would reach its maximum after about 10,000 years."

Air Pollution Indian make their way along a path amidst smog and fog conditions during a cold morning in Faridabad on February 6, 2019. Minnesota officials found that manufacturing company Water Gremlin has been leaking cancer-linked chemical into the air for a decade or more. Money Sharma/AFP/Getty Images