Researchers used climate models to determine what caused the eight ice ages that our planet has experienced over the past 800,000 years, according to a new study.
After looking at a number of planetary changes – such as prolonged droughts, rising sea levels in Vanuatu, intensified storms, and so on – the researchers estimated that the next ice age may have been delayed by 50,000 to 100,000 years.
In a study – published in the journal Nature – researchers noted that Earth’s cycles have been completely changed because of human interference, specifically in the form of burning fossil fuels.
Andrey Ganopolski, lead author of the study and a scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) in Germany, said that Earth will be skipping a whole glacial cycle. It is something that has never happened before, he added.
For the new study, scientists looked at the eight global ice ages in Earth’s history – which have occurred over an 800,000-year period. Then, they used climate models to figure out which factors led to the big freezes. Two main factors were identified, the researchers said. One of them is the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere. The other one is insolation (solar irradiation/ solar exposure) or how much of the Sun’s energy reaches Earth.
If it weren’t for the high levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, our planet would be expecting an ice age, the researchers noted.
Although delaying Earth’s next ice age may seem like a good thing, it is actually not, experts say. Ice ages – which are periods of long-term, extreme cooling of Earth’s surface and atmosphere temperatures – play an important part in leaving behind fertile soil for civilisations to come, and in shaping the landscape (they carve channels and leave behind lakes and rivers). The planet may become quite barren and dry, if the period between two ice ages is too long.
Dr. Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, a lead author of the study and the founding Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), said that global warming has delayed Earth’s next ice age, and human interference has forever changed our planet’s geological cycles.
According to Dr. Schellnhuber, in the past, ice ages have shaped the global environment, but nowadays, humans with their emissions from burning fossil fuels is what shapes the future of our planet. It is a new era in which humankind has become a geological force that will dictate Earth’s development in years to come, Dr. Schellnhuber said.
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