Marine Fossils in “Fossil” Fuel

Submitted by Deborah Cramer

Marine Fossils in "Fossil" Fuel
Traffic in Los Angeles
Photo © Irfan Khan, Los Angeles Times

According to the Environmental Defense Fund, 232 million vehicles are registered in the United States, about one for every person. EDF reports they were driven 2.7 trillion miles in one year (the equivalent of 10 million trips to the moon.)

That’s a lot of oil and gas; oil and gas that were created millions of years ago by tiny plants and animals (phytoplankton and zooplankton) that once lived at the sea surface. When they died, they sank. Most were eaten along the way, but a few, landing in places lacking oxygen, escaped decay. Little by little, they accumulated, and over millions of years were compressed and baked into natural gas and petroleum.

The world’s richest oil reserves – in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait – were formed when an old sea, the Tethys (whose narrow remnant is the Mediterranean) began to close.

Burning fossil fuel in vehicles accounts for 20% of the U.S.’s carbon dioxide emissions. Returning carbon so quickly to the atmosphere is warming the planet and increasing the acidity of the ocean, threatening coral reefs, whose calcium carbonate structures may not easily withstand the increasing acidity.

References and more information

Environmental Defense Fund – Cars by the numbers

Formation of oil
Smithsonian Ocean: Our Water Our World

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