Skip to Content
MIT News: 77 Mass Ave

Limits of climate change

A “stabilizing feedback” mechanism acts to keep global temperatures in check—but not fast enough to help us.

February 21, 2023
satellite view of the earth, flattened and cropped

Earth’s climate has undergone some big changes, from global volcanism to planet-­cooling ice ages. And yet life, for the last 3.7 billion years, has kept on beating.

Now a study by MIT researchers confirms something long suspected: that a “stabilizing feedback” mechanism keeps global temperatures within a habitable range. The likely key is the slow and steady weathering of silicate rocks, which involves chemical reactions that draw carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and into ocean sediments. 

The researchers applied a mathematical analysis to data that record changes in average global temperatures over the last 66 million years. They found that there appears to be a consistent pattern in which temperature swings are dampened over hundreds of thousands of years, similar to the time scales over which silicate weathering is predicted to act.

“On the one hand, it’s good because we know that today’s global warming will eventually be canceled out through this stabilizing feedback,” says graduate student Constantin Arnscheidt, a coauthor of the study. “But on the other hand, it will take hundreds of thousands of years to happen, so not fast enough to solve our present-day issues.”

Keep Reading

Most Popular

The inside story of how ChatGPT was built from the people who made it

Exclusive conversations that take us behind the scenes of a cultural phenomenon.

How Rust went from a side project to the world’s most-loved programming language

For decades, coders wrote critical systems in C and C++. Now they turn to Rust.

Design thinking was supposed to fix the world. Where did it go wrong?

An approach that promised to democratize design may have done the opposite.

Sam Altman invested $180 million into a company trying to delay death

Can anti-aging breakthroughs add 10 healthy years to the human life span? The CEO of OpenAI is paying to find out.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.