If there's a topic that nearly everyone is familiar with this year, it's global warming. Advocates for this camp and that camp have been slinging mud and "facts" at each other at an increasing rate in the last few years as global awareness of the various theories behind it has risen. Though special purpose groups, scientists and Al Gore may not agree on what should be done, there are generally accepted numbers that climate researchers use to generate pictures of what kind of temperature the Earth will endure in the next century. Only, those numbers might be wrong.
A paper recently published in Nature Geoscience, authored by Gerald Dickens of Rice University, Richard Zeebe of the University of Hawaii and James Zachos of the University of California - Santa Cruz has found evidence that climatologist models may in fact be wrong. Their work concentrates on a well-known thermal event in Earth's past known as the Palaeocene-Eocene thermal maximum (PETM) and the records it left behind in the form of carbon deposits. Via core samples from all around the world, the PETM is one of the best documented events of its kind.
But what Dickens's team found in those PETM cores doesn't jive with the standard global warming model in use by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC model typically uses a 100% increase in atmospheric carbon as the threshold in their models, but when compared to the deposits from the PETM, in which atmospheric carbon levels only rose by about 70%, the current model fails to explain the dramatic temperature increase during that period.
How does the Dickens/Zeebe/Zacho team explain the 7 degrees Celsius jump in just 10,000 years? They can't. But they think their data suggests that there's some unaccounted process missing from the IPCC model. If they are correct, the IPCC models could be off by as much as 100% as far temperature goes when using the PETM event as a reference.
Global warming, whether it exists or not, whether it's man-made or not, will be a hot topic in the next few years, perhaps decades. While not every study done has substantial ground to stand on, there does seem to be much that scientists do not understand about the geological or environmental processes behind it. More data is needed, and perhaps groups like Dickens's will find it.