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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Preventing The Next Ice Age


Strange Adventures #79 (April 1957) © DC Comics
Powerful simulations on the world's most advanced computer climate models lend strong support to the radical idea that human-induced climate change began not 200 years ago, but thousands of years ago with the onset of large-scale agriculture in Asia and extensive deforestation in Europe.
What's more, according to the same computer simulations, the cumulative effect of thousands of years of human influence on climate is preventing the world from entering a new glacial age, altering a clockwork rhythm of periodic cooling of the planet that extends back more than a million years.

Using climatic archives such as 850,000-year-old ice core records from Antarctica, scientists are teasing out evidence of past greenhouse gases in the form of fossil air trapped in the ice. That ancient air, say Vavrus and Kutzbach, contains the unmistakable signature of increased levels of atmospheric methane and carbon dioxide beginning thousands of years before the industrial age.

"Between 5,000 and 8,000 years ago, both methane and carbon dioxide started an upward trend, unlike during previous interglacial periods," explains Kutzbach. Indeed, Ruddiman has shown that during the latter stages of six previous interglacials, greenhouse gases trended downward, not upward. Thus, the accumulation of greenhouse gases over the past few thousands of years, the Wisconsin-Virginia team argue, is very likely forestalling the onset of a new glacial cycle, such as have occurred at regular 100,000-year intervals during the last million years. Each glacial period has been paced by regular and predictable changes in the orbit of the Earth known as Milankovitch cycles, a mechanism thought to kick start glacial cycles.

"We're at a very favorable state right now for increased glaciation," says Kutzbach. "Nature is favoring it at this time in orbital cycles, and if humans weren't in the picture it would probably be happening today." Read the press release