Ancient Arctic was balmy, a discovery that worries climate scientists

Fifty-five million years ago, the average temperature of the Arctic was a balmy 74 degrees, according to research published today in Nature. The data was gleaned from the first significant sample of sea-floor sediment ever taken from underneath the thick ice at the North Pole. During the Paleocene/Eocene Thermal Maximum, “the Earth released a gigantic fart of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere,” according to Dutch researcher Appy Sluijs. The greenhouse-gas release was much larger than what humans are, uh, emitting today, but even given the strength of the ancient release, current climate models show that the Arctic would have been much cooler at that point. What’s up? Climate scientists worry the discrepancy may suggest that they’ve underestimated the warming power of greenhouse gases, or that there are other, unknown factors that amplify warming. And the same research indicates that there may be vast oil deposits below the Arctic Ocean — all the better to warm the globe even more.