Climate change might have saved us from a new ice age

14 Jan 2016

Somewhat controversially, you would have to say, a new research paper has been published that says that human-made climate change has prevented the onset of a new ice age.

It has been 12,000 years since our planet has experienced a planetary ice age that transformed the surface of our planet and, luckily for humans of this generation, it will be long after we’re all dead before another one will happen.

According to the BBC, a team of German researchers is claiming that the estimated 500 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide that has entered Earth’s atmosphere since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution has pushed out the possibility of an ice age by as much as 50,000 years, or at least 20,000 years.

Publishing their findings in Nature, the team goes on to say that if similar levels were to continue for years to come, we could be preventing an ice age for as long as 100,000 years.

For the last 2.6m years, in a geological point in time known as the Quarternary Period, we have experienced fluctuating periods of ice ages and warm periods thanks to the imperfect orbit our planet finds itself in, along with its unstable rotation.

And, at this very moment, all of the astronomical indicators show we should at least be seeing the beginning of a new ice age.

‘Under normal circumstances … a new ice age would start’

“Under normal circumstances, the interglacial would be terminated, and a new ice age would start,” said Andrey Ganopolski from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in conversation with the BBC.

“So, in principle, we are in the perfect conditions from an astronomical point of view. If we had a CO2 concentration of 240 parts per million (200 years ago) then an ice age could start, but luckily we had a concentration that was higher, 280ppm.”

It is this ‘luck’ that is surely creating some conflicting views among climate scientists as our current reading shows that we have approximately 400ppm in our atmosphere, which will act as an ice age shield, but not without its other well-documented environmental effects.

Where there certainly is luck, however, is the team’s suggestion that the ‘stars were aligned’ for us as prior to the Industrial Revolution as the conditions required to meet an ice age were  just fractionally off, preventing it from taking hold.

Frozen bicycle image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic