Humanity is at risk of replicating a devastating mass extinction event that wiped out half of all life on Earth 200 million years ago.
The so-called End-Triassic Event saw huge carbon dioxide levels driven by volcanic eruptions which led to eventual environmental meltdown.
Scientists studying ancient rock formations found these levels are similar to modern projections for CO2 concentrations by the end of the century.
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Pictured, Lava piles of the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province (CAMP) in Morocco, where some samples were taken. Scientists studying ancient rock formations from the End-Triassic Event found CO2 levels are similar to modern projections of CO2 levels for the 21st century
Geoscientist Manfredo Capriolo and colleagues found evidence of the ancient volcanic eruptions in basaltic rocks stretching from the US to North Africa.
Global warming, sea level rise and ocean acidification followed the eruptions, the researchers say.
Mr Capriolo said: ‘It is likely [the eruptions] emitted a total volume of CO2 equivalent to that projected from manmade activities during the 21st century, in the 2⁰C warming scenario.’
This is the minimum target above pre-industrial levels set by the Paris Agreement.
Carbon dioxide was found in patches of preserved ‘bubbles’ caused by the gas during a chemical process known as exsolution.
The samples came from the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province (CAMP) – Earth’s biggest igneous province spanning around seven million square miles.
More than 200 pieces of CAMP basaltic lava were scanned from the US, Canada, Morocco and Europe.
Mr Capriolo, a PhD student at the University of Padova, Italy, said: ‘The analysed bubble-bearing melt includions strongly suggest the CAMP magmatic system was rich in CO2.’
Geoscientist Manfredo Capriolo and colleagues found evidence of the ancient volcanic eruptions in basaltic rocks stretching from the US to North Africa. Pictured, Lava piles of the CAMP in Morocco
They were produced by a series of huge eruptions known to have started around 201 million years ago when the world was ocean and one large continent.
Mr Capriolo said: ‘The end-Triassic climatic and environmental changes, driven by the large volume volcanic CO2 emissions, may have been similar to those predicted for the near future under manmade warming.’
There have been five mass extinctions and the End-Triassic was one of the largest.
The latest findings published in Nature Communications add to increasing evidence the sixth has already started – the Anthropocene or ‘Manmade’ Extinction.
Explosive human population growth, industrial activity and exploitation of natural resources are rapidly pushing many species off the map.
Burning of fossil fuels in particular has had an effect, raising the air’s CO2 level more than 40 per cent in just 200 years – a pace possibly as fast, or faster, than that of the End Triassic.
WHAT IS THE PARIS AGREEMENT?
The Paris Agreement, which was first signed in 2015, is an international agreement to control and limit climate change.
It hopes to hold the increase in the global average temperature to below 2°C (3.6ºF) ‘and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C (2.7°F)’.
It seems the more ambitious goal of restricting global warming to 1.5°C (2.7°F) may be more important than ever, according to previous research which claims 25 per cent of the world could see a significant increase in drier conditions.
In June 2017, President Trump announced his intention for the US, the second largest producer of greenhouse gases in the world, to withdraw from the agreement.
The Paris Agreement on Climate Change has four main goals with regards to reducing emissions:
1) A long-term goal of keeping the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels
2) To aim to limit the increase to 1.5°C, since this would significantly reduce risks and the impacts of climate change
3) Goverments agreed on the need for global emissions to peak as soon as possible, recognising that this will take longer for developing countries
4) To undertake rapid reductions thereafter in accordance with the best available science