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How the Oceans Once Ended Global Warming

Discovery News – December 26, 2007

Understanding the workings of our climate is incredibly difficult due to the large number of influences and combinations. Therefore, it is important to gain clues on this behavior by analyzing the past. In this case, scientists have studied the amounts of barite on the ocean floor and hypothesized that marine life increased during high levels of carbon dioxide and sequestered that carbon down to the ocean floor.

While this study does not conclusively prove causation of the end of a global warming period, it does create new scenarios that factor in the increase of marine life during a time of higher carbon dioxide. Many people have hypothesized that marine life would diminish in a climate of greater carbon dioxide but this study tends to suggest otherwise.

This is not proof.  It is only another indicator point in the entire discussion of this very complex field.

Massive ocean-bottom accumulations of the mineral barite show that the last severe global warming episode 55 million years ago was accompanied by several thousands of years of ocean plant life kicking into high gear. All that productivity captured excessive carbon from the atmosphere and dropped it to the ocean floor, where it was buried — or “sequestered.”


Barite, also known as barium sulfate, is a good indicator of productivity, Paytan said, because all living things contain a lot of the element barium in their tissues. When organisms in the life-rich upper waters die, they sink to the sea floor, taking that barium with them. At great depths that barium reaches its saturation point in the water and combines with sulfur to create the mineral barite.


…the barite accumulation went on for about 170,000 years. That suggests it takes a lot longer to cool off a hot Earth than to heat up a cool planet.

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