Key Takeaways:

  1. In 250 million years, Earth is predicted to undergo significant changes, forming a new supercontinent named “Pangea Ultima.”
  2. The modeling study suggests that Pangea Ultima’s climate could become inhospitable to mammals due to increased volcanic activity, elevated carbon dioxide levels, and intensified solar radiation.
  3. The researchers estimate that temperatures on the supercontinent could rise to between 104 and 122 degrees Fahrenheit, with coastal areas being more livable compared to the potentially desertified interior.
  4. Human-caused carbon emissions were not considered in the model, but the study emphasizes the importance of achieving net-zero carbon emissions to address current extreme heat issues.
  5. While the study offers a glimpse into Earth’s distant future, factors like potential cooler climates or decreased volcanic activity might influence the habitability of Pangea Ultima.

In a startling revelation, a recent study published in Nature Geoscience paints a grim picture of Earth’s future 250 million years from now. The modeling study envisions a scenario where the majority of the planet becomes inhospitable to mammals as continents merge to form a new supercontinent, termed “Pangea Ultima.” The study, conducted using advanced climate modeling on a supercomputer, sheds light on a potentially challenging future for life on Earth.

Geologists and climatologists collaborated on this research, examining the consequences of tectonic plate movements that could lead to the formation of a supercontinent similar to the ancient Pangea, which existed approximately 200 million years ago. The scientists predict that Pangea Ultima would bring about increased volcanic activity, releasing substantial amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Furthermore, the flat terrain and distance from the ocean could hinder the typical CO2-trapping chemical reactions between rock and water.

Graphic showing a side by side of Earth
The continents could merge together to form one giant landmass. Alex Farnsworth

Compounding these challenges, the aging sun is anticipated to shine 2.5 percent brighter, subjecting Earth to more intense solar radiation. The combined effects of elevated carbon dioxide levels, intensified sunlight, and other changes could elevate temperatures to between 104 and 122 degrees Fahrenheit in many regions, with even higher daily extremes.

Study co-author Alexander Farnsworth, a climatologist at the University of Bristol, likens the potential future to a “very toasty” world. Coastal areas are projected to offer the most livable climate, while interior regions of the supercontinent might transform into deserts, limiting habitability to specially adapted animals. Coldblooded reptiles could potentially become the dominant species under these extreme conditions.

Colorful graphic of Earth's supercontinent
Rising temperatures will make the planet largely inhospitable to mammals, scientists predict. Alex Farnsworth

It’s noteworthy that the model did not consider human-induced carbon emissions, which are currently contributing to global warming. However, by the time Pangea Ultima forms, CO2 levels could naturally double, reaching as high as 1,120 parts per million. In this worst-case scenario, only 8 percent of Earth’s surface would be hospitable to mammals, a stark contrast to the 66 percent during the pre-industrial era.

Despite the study’s focus on the distant future, the researchers emphasize the urgency of addressing present-day climate issues. Climatologist and study co-author Eunice Lo stresses the importance of reaching net-zero carbon emissions promptly, especially considering the existing extreme heat adversely affecting human health.

Considering the potential challenges posed by Pangea Ultima, the study also speculates on how future humans, if they exist, might adapt to the altered environment. Suggestions include adapting to nocturnal lifestyles or seeking refuge in cooler caves. However, the study acknowledges uncertainties, pointing out that certain factors could make the supercontinent more habitable than currently predicted.

In conclusion, while the study provides a glimpse into a distant future, uncertainties and potential mitigating factors underscore the complexity of predicting Earth’s landscape 250 million years from now. Researchers also raise the possibility of alternative solutions, with Farnsworth suggesting that if feasible, humans might consider finding a more habitable planet rather than enduring the challenges of Pangea Ultima.

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