A study released Monday finds that global warming may thwart another ice age, the latest such study to examine the effects of global warming and ice age cycles.
Researchers from Cambridge University say increased emissions of carbon dioxide will delay the arrival of the next ice age, which should begin within the next 1,500 years. The period between the end of an ice age and the beginning of the next is typically about 11,000 years due to a natural cycle related to the Earth’s orbit.
The research, which was led by Chronis Tzedakis of University College, London, examined similarities between the current warm interval between ice ages and a particular point, around 780,000 years ago, during a past warm period known as Marine Isotope Stage 19. Using astronomical models that show Earth’s orbital pattern with all of its fluctuations and wobbles over the last several million years, astronomers can calculate the amount of solar heat that has reached the Earth’s atmosphere during past glacial and interglacial periods.
The research team’s conclusion is based in part on abrupt temperature changes in the overall temperature contrast between Greenland and Antarctica, which have led scientists to question whether a connection between global climate change and ice ages exist. The team noted that current levels of emission will likely delay the impending ice age by upwards of tens of thousands of years.
“Analysis suggests that the end of the current interglacial period would occur within the next 1,500 years, if atmospheric CO2 concentrations do not exceed 240 parts per million by volume ppmv,” the study said.
The team noted that research results present an interesting philosophical question, noting that delaying the upcoming ice age will likely save millions of lives and avoid massive displacements in regions impacted by the increasingly cold temperatures.
“It’s an interesting philosophical discussion. Would we be better off in a warm world rather than a glaciation? Probably we would,” said the research team.
That said, the team noted that global warming is likely to result in similar havoc, noting evidence that shows increases in ice flow melt and rising oceans.
“Ice sheets like those in western Antarctica are already destabilized by global warming. When they eventually slough off and become a part of the ocean’s volume, it will have a dramatic effect on sea level,” said researchers.
The study comes as recent research has sought to identify historic connections between ice ages and global climate change. A study earlier this year in the journal Nature finds that humans may not have been the driving force behind the mass extinctions experienced during the Ice Age, instead saying climate change may be to fault. Research teams from around the world, involving more than 40 academic institutions, studied the extinction of six Ice Age mammals and found the impacts of both climate change and humans had distinct and dramatic consequences for each species.
The paper was published in Nature Geoscience.