The winter of 2011-2012 was the fourth warmest of the past 117 winters in the contiguous United States according to NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center. The seasonal average temperature (December, January and February) was 36.8 degrees, almost four degrees above the 20th century average.
That probably doesn’t surprise Dr. Ed Landing, New York State paleontologist and curator of paleontology at the New York State Museum. His new research however, suggests that high sea levels leading to “global hyperwarming” will be a more important factor than carbon dioxide levels in future climate change. Landing has recently published his findings in Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology.
Since the middle 1800s scientists have considered high carbon dioxide levels to be a greenhouse gas and a driver of higher global temperatures. However, Landing’s study of the rock succession in New York state shows that periodic extreme temperatures, with oceans reaching 100 F, occurred within “greenhouse” intervals. He terms these “global hyperwarming” times, and shows that they correspond to intervals of very high sea-levels.
As sea levels rise, Landing’s research suggests that with the predicted melting of polar ice caps, the continents will reflect less sun light back to space and less reflective shallow seas will store heat and warm as they overlap the land. Warming seas will rapidly work to increase global temperatures and heat the world ocean. This leads to a feedback that further expands ocean volume, with heating, and further accelerates both global warming and sea-level rise. In the course of this feedback, marine water circulation and oxygenation fall due in part to the fact that hot waters hold less oxygen.
Landing first recognized the imprint of “global hyperwarming” in 520 to 440 million-year-old, shallow to deep-water rocks in eastern New York and from other information received on localities worldwide. This time interval shows nine intervals of extreme sea-levels that covered much of North America and other ancient continents. In all cases, strong sea-level rises, which sometimes drove marine shorelines into the upper Midwest, are accompanied by the spread of hot, low oxygen marine water largely devoid of animal life down into the deep sea and across the continents.
Landing’s study may help predict the future. A 300-foot sea-level rise, which would result from melting the Greenland and Antarctica ice caps, is as great as the ancient sea-level rises documented by Landing and other scientists 520 to 460 million years ago. This sea-level rise would also lead to a warming and expansion of the ocean waters resulting in a rise of shorelines to 500 feet above present, basically covering the non-mountainous U.S. to northern Wisconsin. Even worse, in the case of New York, the Earth’s rotation would force a rise of the west Atlantic to 650 feet above present sea levels.
The full article on Landing’s research is online. While working at the State Museum since 1981, Landing has authored six books, 13 New York State Museum bulletins, 200 articles and field trip guides and has received more than a dozen competitive grants. In 2009 he was elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences (AAAS).