The Earth has undergone many dramatic climate changes over billions of years, but life has continued.
Scientists have long speculated that a geological process called “silicate weathering” may play an important role in regulating the Earth’s carbon cycle, modulating it in response to changes in carbon dioxide and global temperatures.
Silicate weathering is the slow and steady weathering of silicate rocks that involves chemical reactions that eventually convert atmospheric carbon dioxide into marine sediments, where it is sequestered in the rocks.
In a recent study published in Science Advances, MIT researchers confirmed this conjecture for the first time using real data.
Based on paleoclimate data from a previous study – data that documented changes in global average temperature over the past 66 million years.
The researchers used stochastic differential equations to analyze possible characteristic patterns in these data, particularly those associated with controlling global temperatures on certain geological time scales.
They found that a pattern does exist in which global temperature fluctuations are attenuated on a scale of hundreds of thousands of years.
This time span is similar to the duration of silicate weathering.
They suggest that this is a “stabilizing feedback” mechanism that could offset the effects of climate change, but it may take hundreds of thousands of years to do so.