Global warming has stalled the next Ice Age by 100,000 years, a group of experts has concluded, in a recent study that suggests climate change does have a silver lining after all.
The surprising academic paper, featured on Wednesday, January 13, in the journal Nature, was authored by Hans Joachim Schellhuber, Ricarda Winkelmann and Andrey Ganopolski, at Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.
By closely investigating former ice ages that affected our planet in the past 800,000 years, expert created a computer-based model capable of estimating when the following glaciation will occur, and if this process could’ve started earlier if circumstances had been different.
That is how they discovered that the Earth enters a new glacial period depending on two concurring factors: the amount of sunshine being absorbed at 65 degrees north of the Equator, and the quantity of carbon dioxide reaching the atmosphere.
The former element, based on our planet’s Milankovitch cycles, is not at all under our control, being influenced solely by the unpredictable way in which the Earth travels around the Sun, in an increasingly more elliptical pattern.
This movement, known as revolution, unfolds at the same time with our planet’s rotation around its own axis, and even that process unfolds rather hectically, although changes occur across thousands of years, making them impossible to feel or perceive.
As these motions take place, the amount of solar energy received at northernmost latitudes begins to vary, causing more snow and ice to accumulate there.
If transformations linked to insolation occur at a time when levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are sufficiently low, the Earth can be plunged into a new ice age.
Apparently, this almost happened in the pre-Industrial Age: at the time the planet’s alignment was almost the same as it was 800,000 years ago, when a period of glaciation ensued.
The only thing that prevented the phenomenon from repeating itself was the fact that carbon dioxide had climbed from 240 parts per million, to approximately 280 parts per million.
The reason why concentrations increased has been linked to human activities: even if the industrial revolution was yet to commence, human populations had already influenced global climate, by engaging in agriculture and deforestation.
As these anthropogenic activities accelerated with the passage of time, it appears that human beings have succeeded in postponing a new global glaciation by as much 100,000 years.
This adds more weight to the theory that the Holocene has indeed ended and that we are now in the “Anthropocene”, an epoch where human impact on the ecosystem is tremendous and overpowering.
Carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere have now reached round 400 parts per million, and researchers have determined that the only bright side is that the risks of a new ice age starting are virtually nil.
In response to these findings, some are now pointing out that since our planet managed to avert another glaciation even with carbon dioxide at 280 parts per million, this means human beings could safely return to such levels, without facing any risks whatsoever.
On the contrary, lowering the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide could potentially limit the havoc wreaked by global warming, as the greenhouse gas effect becomes more pronounced.
The last few years have seen extreme changes in weather patterns (hurricanes, drought, flooding, devastating storms, heat waves), as well as an unprecedented rise in sea levels, an alarming dwindling of snowpacks and glaciers, and the decline of numerous species of plants and animals due to habitat loss.
As scientists have proven on numerous occasions, such phenomena have unfolded precisely because the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation and other activities carried out by humans have been left unregulated for far too long.
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