Science

Massive Comet Strike Brought Climate Change In the Past, Says New Research

By Rodney Rafols , Oct 14, 2016 03:00 AM EDT
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The Earth has experienced a few catastrophes that have altered its history so much. Scientists speculate that such catastrophes might be attributed to either a meteor, a comet or a massive supervolcano. There is speculation that a comet might have struck the Earth around 56 million years ago, bringing a sudden climate change with it.

Around 56 million years ago, an event has caused the rise in global temperatures between five to nine degrees Celsius in just a few thousand years. Scientists call this the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), a time when global temperatures went up extremely fast.

Scientists warn, however, that the current global warming is being caused by 10 times the amount of carbon than was generated by PETM. While that is alarming, scientists are interested what caused PETM in the first place, and how it could relate to the world's situation today.

Researchers from Rutgers University say that a comet was likely the source of carbon that generated PETM, according to Ars Technica. James Wright has been advocating this notion since 2003. Comets have many minerals on it, and that would include methane ice. A comet that could possibly be 10 km. wide have struck the Earth and made carbon isotopes, which would explain then how PETM came to be.

Finding where the comet hit can be difficult though. Dennis Kent, a researcher from Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and Rutgers University is one of the co-authors of the study. He said that the comet likely hit somewhere in New Jersey.

A layer of clay containing microtektites is the clue to this comet strike. Microtektite is formed when an extraterrestrial object hits the Earth. These are glassy beads that have been formed as a result of the heat that the impact has generated, fusing much of the soil into glass. As the comet hit the Earth and disintegrated, it also released gases that went into the Earth's atmosphere.

Researchers have yet to find the actual spot where the comet hit, How Stuff Works reports. The crater might be far from New Jersey, or it could have eroded over time. Determining how much carbon has been released at that time would have to be known as well.

All of these studies would help in determining how PETM happened and how it relates to global warming, since the only other time that the Earth has warmed rapidly is now. As industries and other human activities continue to emit more carbon, global warming will continue and scientists are trying to find out how the Earth warmed and then adjusted in order to also find solutions to what it is facing now. 

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