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How was the CO2 escalator turned off?

The atmosphere had far higher levels of CO2 many million of years ago than it does now. Given that CO2 increases temperature which in turn leads to more CO2 – the escalator – how was the escalator turned off so that the levels of CO2 fell.
Mark Phillips from Cheshire (Age 25-34)

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One Response

  1. This is a very good question. Scientists still don’t understand exactly what causes the cycles of increased and decreased CO2 that are in phase with the warming and cooling of the ice ages. It is thought that the excess/deficit of CO2 in the atmosphere is compensated by an opposite trend in the ocean. The positive feedback described in your question occurs as follows. Higher atmospheric CO2 causes higher atmospheric temperature due to the greenhouse effect. This in turn increases the atmospheric CO2 because in a warmer climate the ocean outgases more CO2 to the atmosphere. However, there is a limit to the amount of CO2 that the ocean can release and that sets a cap on the warming. (That cap obviously does not apply to the burning of fossil fuel CO2 which will increase as long as fossil fuel is burned.) Once the natural CO2 has reached a maximum, the temperature can cool again as a result of, for instance, reduced solar forcing which can set off the temperature-CO2 feedback in the reverse direction.

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