AN Australian Antarctic scientist has made a climate studies breakthrough by examining how the earth warmed up after the last Ice Age.
Glaciologist Joel Pedro, from the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre, is part of an international team that has worked out how quickly carbon entered the atmosphere as a result of temperature rises beginning around 19,000 years ago.
The team discovered that CO2 increased naturally in the atmosphere much more quickly than previously thought during an 8000-year period of global warming.
“The new thing here is to pin down the time scales of how that worked in the past,” Dr Pedro told AAP.
“If there was a lag at all then it was likely no more than 400 years.
“We can’t rule out that the two just happen at the same time, whereas previously the figures were more like a thousand (years).”
The finding suggests “feedback” in the climate system – where temperature increases CO2, which in turn increases temperature – happens faster than expected.
It also lends support to theories that the oceans warmed more quickly than the 1000 years it was thought was needed for a significant change to occur.
Dr Pedro spent a month drilling ice cores at Law Dome near Casey Station in Eastern Antarctica in 2008-09.
His findings have just been published in the journal Climate of the Past.
The study has been hailed as a major step forward in understanding more recent problems, with US ice core specialist Eric Steig saying it has major implications for understanding the carbon cycle and climate change.
Dr Pedro says the study of natural warming only underlines the speed at which human-created climate change has occurred.
He says 8000 years’ worth of natural CO2 increases have been created in the 200 years since the industrial revolution.
“Just as the steady increase in CO2 helped to melt the ice caps and warm the earth out of the ice age, the rapid increase now in CO2 is also driving up temperatures, only at a much faster rate,” he said.
“What we’re doing now is over a hundred times faster.”