Wow. Our experiment is off to a great start—let's see if we can finish it off sooner than expected.
The ocean will likely nurse a hangover from our fossil fuel use for hundreds of thousands of years. Researchers at Southampton University modeled the movement of carbon through the ocean and the atmosphere. In the model, they dosed the planet with 4000 gigatons of carbon to simulate the burning of all fossil fuel reserves between 1900 to 2300, reports Environmental Science and Technology. At first, the ocean became more acidic. But over many millennia, it became more alkaline and had higher levels of dissolved inorganic carbon, finally achieving a steady state with atmospheric CO2 levels exceeding those prior to fossil fuel burning. As a result, the researchers suggest, Earth probably won't ever completely recover, as it did in the past when CO2 levels were high. "The system converges to a new equilibrium," the authors write.
Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, "The Fragile Edge," and other writings, here.