Amazon: Aerial view shows deforestation in State of Pará
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About five billion years from now, the Sun will run out of nuclear fuel and exhale its dying breath as it expands into a red giant. The expanding star will swallow the innermost planets of the solar system and turn the Earth into a scorched, lifeless husk. But long before this happens, scientists fear the planet is going to run out of oxygen and virtually nothing can be done to prevent the doomsday scenario.
According to a paper published in the journal Nature Geosciences earlier this year, the Sun is going to accelerate the rate at which Earth loses oxygen.
Earth’s oxygen will run out in 1 billion years and there’s nothing we can do ‘Inevitable’
The study’s authors noted the planet’s depleting oxygen is an “inevitable consequence” of the Sun’s increasing solar radiation.
The star at the heart of our solar system is poised to grow brighter and brighter as time goes by, sending more light and radiation our way.
The increased radiation will increase the weathering of silicate rocks, which will in the process draw carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and trap them in the ground.
CO2 released by human activities is the leading cause of global warming but in this instance, the trapped CO2 will be taken out of the photosynthesis cycle.
Oxygen, which accounts for 21 percent of the breathable atmosphere, is a byproduct of plants and marine life that synthesise, CO2, water and sunlight.
With not enough CO2 in the system, experts fear the production of oxygen is going to drop.
Scientists have dubbed this scenario the Great Deoxygenation and the only lifeforms to survive it will be microbial and anaerobic (free of oxygen).
Kazumi Ozaki from Toho University in Japan warned: “The atmosphere after the Great Deoxygenation is characterized by an elevated methane, low-levels of CO2, and no ozone layer.
“The Earth system will probably be a world of anaerobic life forms.”
The good news is that this will not happen for at least another billion years.
Red giant: 3D simulation shows the Sun ENGULFING Earth
The bad news, however, is that human activity is already causing drastic damage to the atmosphere.
According to the group Conservation International, agriculture, illegal logging, mining and urbanisation are killing the planet’s forests.
It is estimated the planet loses an average of 3.36 million hectares (8.3 million acres) of forests a year – an area larger than Belgium.
More than half of the world’s tropical forests have already been destroyed since the 1960s and an entire football field worth of rainforest is lost every six seconds.
In 2020, the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimated forests cover about 31 percent of the Earth’s land surface.
Forests are an increased risk of being destroyed, although the overall rates of deforestation have fallen in the past 30 years.
The FAO said: “Between 2015 and 2020, the rate of deforestation was estimated at 10 million hectares per year, down from 16 million hectares per year in the 1990s.”
Between 50 and 80 percent of the planet’s oxygen also comes from the oceans, where it is created by phytoplankton – microscopic organisms that feed on energy from the Sun.
According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the tiny Prochlorococcus bacteria alone produce about 20 percent of the world’s oxygen.
However, much of the oxygen is also being consumed by marine life.
NOAA explained: “Oxygen is also consumed when dead plants and animals decay in the ocean.
“This is particularly problematic when algal blooms die and the decomposition process uses oxygen faster than it can be replenished.
“This can create areas of extremely low oxygen concentrations, or hypoxia.
“These areas are often called dead zones, because the oxygen levels are too low to support most marine life.”
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), global warming is causing the oceans to hold less oxygen.
Warmer waters also raise the demand for oxygen-dependent animals, which means there is less of the gas going around for marine life.
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