The rapid pace of current climate change has already placed a great deal of stress on terrestrial ecosystems, including melting glaciers and irreversible damage to the habitats of Arctic and Antarctic animals...

A new study published in the journal Nature Geosciences and conducted by researchers at the University of Bristol's Cabot Institute found that the pace of environmental change is occuring faster now than at any other previous time in the Earth's history.

"The rate of change was considerably slower in the past," lead author David Naafs told weather.com. 

Naafs and his research team showed that previous environmental change events that occurred naturally happened potentially a "thousand times slower than today."

The scientists examined marine rock outcrops in southern Spain and Tunisia, which were previously underwater, and measured the geochemical impact of a major environmental change event, which was deemed a suitable analog to present human activity, that occurred 120 million years ago, and its effect on ocean acidification. The study showed that volcanic outgassing increased atmospheric carbon dioxide for approximately 1.5 to 2 million years, but the rate of change was considerably slower than what is being observed in the present day.

(MORE: World's Glaciers Are Melting Faster Today Than Any Time in History)

The study's findings raise flags on current ocean acidification levels, which have become an increasing concern among environmentalists. Mother Jones's Julia Whitty reported that the data from the 2013 Arctic Ocean Acidification Assessment indicated that Arctic marine waters were experiencing "widespread and rapid ocean acidification," with surface waters "30 percent more acidic than at the start of the Industrial Revolution."

Rich Pancost, senior author of the study, said in a press release that he felt that studying historical planetary change was important for understanding the severity of pressures on the environment today and hoped that the actions taken at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference would help assuage man-made carbon dioxide levels.

"We often use the geological record to help us test or expand our understanding of climate change, for example, determining the sensitivity of Earth’s temperature to higher CO2 levels," Pancost said.

"But testing the risks associated with the pace of modern environmental change is proving problematic, due to a lack of similar rapid changes in the geological past. Consequently, these risks, in this case to the marine ecosystems on which so many of us depend, remain associated with profound uncertainty," he added. "Decreasing CO2 emissions, as recently agreed in Paris, will be necessary to avoid these risks."

By James Crugnale

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