A recent study published in Nature Geoscience suggests that the formation of a future supercontinent, known as Pangea Ultima, could result in the extinction of humans and other mammals in 250 million years. This mass extinction would primarily be caused by extreme heat stress due to increased volcanic activity, higher levels of carbon dioxide emissions, and an older sun emitting more radiation.
Using a climate model from the UK Met Office and a supercomputer from the University of Bristol, scientists were able to simulate the potential climate of Pangea Ultima. The results show that global temperatures could rise by 15 degrees Celsius (up to 30 degrees Celsius on land) above pre-industrial levels. This level of heat would surpass the tolerance levels of many life forms, leading to a severe decline in biodiversity.
One of the major challenges for mammals, including humans, in adapting to these extreme temperatures is the relatively short timeline of their existence on Earth. Mammals have been a great success story in evolutionary terms, but their ability to adjust to extreme heat may be too slow to survive in the era of Pangea Ultima.
Aside from the direct impacts of heat, there would also be a collapse of vegetation, resulting in severe food supply problems. Most plants become stressed at temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius and break down completely if exposed to 60 degrees Celsius for prolonged periods. This collapse would have a cascading effect on the entire ecosystem.
The lead author of the study, Alexander Farnsworth from the University of Bristol, reminds us of the transient nature of our existence and cautions against pushing the climate beyond what we have evolved to tolerate. He states that the dominant species on Earth is subject to the decisions made by the planet and its climate, emphasizing that what comes after humans could be something entirely new.
While the study acknowledges the high level of uncertainty associated with such long-term predictions, it provides valuable insights into past mass extinction events and the factors that contribute to habitability on other planets. Astronomers scanning distant galaxies for potential habitable planets will need to consider not just the proximity to a star and the presence of water, but also the tectonic activity that influences a planet’s climate.
In conclusion, the formation of Pangea Ultima could have catastrophic consequences for life on Earth in 250 million years. It serves as a reminder of the delicate balance of our planet’s climate and the need to address the current climate crisis to ensure the long-term survival of both humans and other species.
– Nature Geoscience study, lead author Alexander Farnsworth, University of Bristol