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For now, life is flourishing on our oxygen-rich planet, but Earth wasn't always that way – and scientists have predicted that, in the future, the atmosphere will revert back to one that's rich in methane and low in oxygen.

This probably won't happen for another billion years or so. But when the change comes, it's going to happen fairly rapidly, the study from earlier this year suggests.

This shift will take the planet back to something like the state it was in before what's known as the Great Oxidation Event (GOE) around 2.4 billion years ago.

What's more, the researchers behind the new study say that atmospheric oxygen is unlikely to be a permanent feature of habitable worlds in general, which has implications for our efforts to detect signs of life further out in the Universe.

"The model projects that a deoxygenation of the atmosphere, with atmospheric O2 dropping sharply to levels reminiscent of the Archaean Earth, will most probably be triggered before the inception of moist greenhouse conditions in Earth's climate system and before the extensive loss of surface water from the atmosphere," wrote the researchers in their published paper.

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Greenland’s vast ice sheet is undergoing a surge in melting, with the amount of ice vanishing in a single day this week enough to cover the whole of Florida in two inches of water, researchers have found.

The deluge of melting has reached deep into Greenland’s enormous icy interior, with data from the Danish government showing that the ice sheet lost 8.5bn tons of surface mass on Tuesday alone. A further 8.4bn tons was lost on Thursday, the Polar Portal monitoring website reported.

The US flag flies at half mast in front of a coal-fired power plant's cooling tower.
Three Americans create enough carbon emissions to kill one person, study finds
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The scale of disappearing ice is so large that the losses on Tuesday alone created enough meltwater to drown the entire US state of Florida in two inches, or 5cm, of water. Ice that melts away in Greenland flows as water into the ocean, where it adds to the ongoing increase in global sea level caused by human-induced climate change.

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