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Climate Change: Earth is More Sensitive to Carbon Dioxide Than Previously Thought

First Posted: Nov 16, 2015 05:16 PM EST

Earth's climate may be far more sensitive to carbon dioxide than scientists once thought. New research reveals that carbon dioxide levels about 50 million years ago, may have been as low as 680 parts per million (ppm), which is nearly half the 1,125 ppm predicted for the steamy climate.

CO2 levels in the atmosphere today have reached 400 ppm. That's why it's more important than ever to understand exactly how carbon dioxide will impact climate. That's why researchers are taking a closer look at past climate shifts to see what the future may hold.

In this latest study, the researchers examined nahcolite crystals found in Colorado's Green River Formation. These crystals first formed 50 million years ago during a hothouse climate, and captured the amount of CO2 present at that time period in the atmosphere.

"The significance of this is that CO2 50 million years ago may not have been as high as we once thought it was, but the climate back then was significantly warmer than it is today," said Tim Lowenstein, one of the researchers, in a news release. "Take notice that carbon dioxide 50 million years ago may not have been as high as we once thought it was. We may reach that level in the next century and so the climate change from that increase could be pretty severe, pretty dramatic. CO2 and other climate forcings may be more important for global warming than we realized."

The findings reveal that carbon dioxide may be more potent than we first expected. This could have major implications for future climate warming as carbon dioxide levels continue to rise over time.

The findings are published in the journal Geology.

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