When I was younger, I remember waking up early on a cold January morning, anxiously waiting to see if I would have a snow day or not. As I was not heavily reliant on coffee yet, I would sit with hot chocolate in hand by the light of our Christmas tree we had yet to take down from a few weeks before. As I aged, those experiences became less and less frequent. Excess atmospheric CO₂ introduced via anthropogenic sources has been slowly changing our world for longer than we’ve realized. Shifting climates and freak weather incidents are only becoming less and less unusual and that begs the question, has Earth ever seen anything like this before?
I decided to conduct my project on carbon sequestration throughout time to really delve into the question “How can we view modern climate change through a lens of paleontology”? In short, this is not the first time Earth has been hot. It’s true! In fact, Earth used to be wayyyyyyy hotter than it is now. So what’s the big deal, you ask? It’s how fast the earth is getting hotter that worries us. CO₂ are measured in something called parts per million (or ppm). For every 1,000,000 molecules in the atmosphere, x amount of them will be CO₂. Pre industrial revolution, we were living in a cool, calm, and groovy climate that never exceeded ~280 ppm. In fact, the highest the ppm value ever got within the past 800,000 years was no greater than 300 ppm. Again, what’s the big deal? As of 2021, research has shown we have reached 414.27 ppm of CO₂. Guys, this is crazy!!!!!! Yeah the earth has been this warm before, sure, but not for millions of years! Now this is crazy and mind blowing and all, but what about my project? What is some measly 20 year old going to look up that can shape how we view anthropogenic climate change compared to a natural one? In short, carbon sequestration.
Carbon sequestration is the idea how CO₂ exits our atmosphere and into other aspects of our environment. This can happen through carbon sinks in the ocean, plant uptake, and even sedimentation in rocks! This sedimentation in rocks is how we have such a good grasp on what happened and leaves observable traces on what the world looked like all those millions of years ago. My research is focusing on what happened, why it happened, and what we can apply to a modern scenario to get a better idea of how our earth will respond to climate change in the long run. A lot of my time has been spent in coffee shops, empty Wyoming libraries, and looking at climographs and rock data. Research is hard and not always light-hearted, especially when the topic your looking into has heavy implications. A sliver of hope though, is that we as humans are innovative. Working now to understand what we can will only benefit us in the long run. And hey, better late than never, right?