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May 23, 2024

Ancient Caribbean Sponges Suggest Earth Has Warmed Faster Than Thought

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Feb 5, 2024

According to a new controversial study published in Nature Climate Change, analysis of ancient Caribbean sponges suggests the Earth may have already warmed by more than the critical 1.5°C threshold outlined in the Paris Agreement.

Sponges Offer Climate Records Spanning Centuries

The study examined the skeletal cores of ancient sea sponges collected from reefs across the Caribbean, some dating back over 300 years (The Guardian). As sponges grow, the composition of elements like magnesium, strontium, and calcium in their skeletons changes along with the temperature of the water. By analyzing these chemical signatures, researchers can estimate past ocean temperatures over the lifespan of each sponge (CNN).

This makes the sponges a unique repository of climate data not found in more conventional records. While direct temperature measurements typically only go back 140 years at best, the sponge cores provide localized temperature reconstructions reaching as far back as the early 1700s (ScienceAlert).

Core Collection Site Oldest Sponge Date
Bahamas 1739 CE
Belize 1785 CE
Florida Keys 1838 CE

The researchers, led by Harvard professor James Hansen, compared the sponge data to global temperature reconstructions and modern direct measurements. They estimate the world may have already warmed by 1.5°C around 2014 and possibly 1.7°C by 2023, indicating we’ve overshot the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C limit (ABC News).

Implications for Climate Goals and Policy

If validated, the findings suggest efforts to restrict warming to 1.5°C this century as outlined in the 2015 Paris Agreement may no longer be possible. Some scientists argue this indicates climate policy and action worldwide is failing to match the urgency and scale of the problem (The Guardian).

The study also highlights the very real threat of potentially crossing 2°C in the coming years, which would unleash drastically worse climate change impacts. Every fraction of a degree matters – analysis shows limiting warming to 1.5 vs 2°C could save millions of lives this century (CNN).

However, some climate scientists argue the findings, while concerning, should not be taken as a reason to give up. Limiting further warming will still greatly reduce future risk and damage. And emerging carbon removal technologies may eventually enable drawing CO2 back down if deployed at massive scale (Thenationalnews).

Controversy and Calls for More Study

The sponge study conclusions remain controversial, with some scientists saying the data is too uncertain to make definitive claims about breaching 1.5°C. Concerns raised include issues with statistical analysis as well as inconsistent warming trends in some sponge sites (Carbonbrief).

Critics argue while the sponge analysis is interesting, claims about already exceeding 1.5°C require confirmation from other climate records before guiding policy. More research in coming years sampling additional sites may help resolve the debate (Science).

Regardless, most scientists agree globally averaged warming has reached at least 1°C already and the window for limiting future rise is fast closing. The sponge study underscores the urgent need for transformative societal and economic changes to halt emissions growth and spur drawdowns.

What Happens Next?

In the near term, the sponge study will doubtless fuel debate and drive further research on determining accurate warming thresholds crossed. Scientists will scramble to reconstruct historical climate trends through additional proxies like tree rings as well as early instrument records (NYTimes).

Meanwhile, the already uphill battle climate activists face driving policy action will get even steeper. However, the stakes will also rise, lending further weight to their calls for unprecedented emissions cuts in line with the scale of the problem. Their demands for climate justice may also intensify, driven by those suffering most from the early onslaught of extremes (The Guardian).

The sponge study and fallout will take center stage at the June 2024 UN Climate Summit in Berlin. This critical meeting will set the climate agenda for the coming decade as the Paris Agreement’s first “ratchet” period ends in 2025. Once the sponge debate settles, the implications may force bolder warming limits and stronger near term actions from world governments to maintain hope below 2°C (UNFCC). But their commitments will face harsh judgement from young activists inheriting climate consequences caused by decades of delay.

Conclusion

The sobering sponge study conclusions, if validated, suggest humanity has distressingly little time left to get climate emissions and warming trajectories bending downward. However, the window for damage control, while ever narrowing, remains open if societies mobilize at unprecedented pace and scale this decade. How world leaders choose to respond may define our collective climate future for centuries to come. Their actions starting at the June 2024 Summit will be watched extremely closely.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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