Global warming and climate change are – understandably – incredibly important topics which are still being fervently debated throughout the world today. The planet is undeniably getting warmer – and while some parties and lobbies may state otherwise, it’s clear that humanity needs to start taking action to preserve the environment around us for future generations, and for current flora and fauna.
While some parties state that man-made chemicals and aerosols are to blame for much of the current damage done, research has shown that ancient creatures may well have caused their own period of global warming – and may have set off chains of extinctions – without ever realizing it.
According to studies undertaken by Dr Sebastiaan van de Velde, of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, and his team, tiny, worm-like creatures that existed up to 500 million years ago may have set off a chain reaction to have initiated an ancient form of global warming. It’s thought that the wriggling creatures, burrowing into the sea floor, will likely have disturbed organic matter and underwater sediment – effectively allowing certain chemicals to be released and for the environment at large to be irreversibly altered.
“It’s kind of like what happens in gardens if you have worms,” Dr van de Velde explained to The Independent, “You get nutrients released much better and they go to the plants. As a side effect, it started using much more oxygen and producing much more carbon dioxide.”
The team undertaking this research were also surprised to find that the actions of these little worms will likely have been the trigger point for a number of mass extinctions across hundreds of millions of years. Assisting Dr van de Velde is Dr Benjamin Mills, of the University of Leeds, UK – who affirms that the changes in sediment and organic matter as a result of worm burrowing appears to have been the genesis of a global warming moment. “The evolution of these small animals did indeed decrease the oxygen in the ocean and atmosphere, but also increased atmospheric carbon dioxide levels to such an extent that it caused a global warming event,” Dr Mills advised. “We knew that warming occurred at this point in Earth history, but we did not realise it could be driven by animals.”
Global warming is a fascinating and terrifying phenomenon – and you can read more about these studies in the latest Nature Communications journal.