Global Warming May Have Delayed the Next Ice Age

By Veronique Greenwood | January 10, 2012 8:53 am

earth

If you could watch a movie of the planet over the last several million years, you’d see the ice caps advance and retreat: The planet’s climate moves in cycles, with ice ages and interglacial periods alternating. But looking at previous interglacials similar to our own, geophysicists now think that the current mostly ice-less period may be longer than it would have been had a certain species not invented the combustion engine. Specifically, it looks like with amount of greenhouse gases we’ve already spewed into the atmosphere, the next ice age will be delayed. And before you decide that’s a good thing, at the rate we’re currently going, we’re not just pushing off the glaciers for a few geologically insignificant years: the team says that the atmospheric concentration of CO2 would to be at most 240 parts per million (ppm) before glaciation would kick in. Right now, it’s 390 ppm, with no signs of dropping and many signs of continuing to rise. When (and how) the planet’s self-regulation system will kick in isn’t clear, but the long, increasingly hot trip probably isn’t going to be pretty.

Read more at the BBC.

Image courtesy of NASA / Wikipedia

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment
  • planktic

    I don’t think the paper says that the next ice age has been *delayed* by 1,500 years. Rather, if there was no anthropogenic forcing of CO2, we would’ve hit an ice age within 1,500 years. The next ice age could be delayed for a long, long time – maybe even geologically significant…

  • Veronique Greenwood

    Correct! Thanks for the catch.

  • Georg

    Grin!
    This was content of a SCIAM story about 6 or more years ago.
    The reaction by the climate-guessers then was a mix of fury
    and denial.

  • BobKC

    “…the long, increasingly hot trip probably isn’t going to be pretty.”

    I don’t think glaciers covering half of North America would be a walk in the park, either.

  • al

    if the use of fossil fuels has caused the delay of the ice age, it would be reasonable to assume that the natural process will resume around 2100, with the exhaustion of fossil fuel stores

  • http://? Dan Marino

    I think it’s true

  • http://soundingthedepths.blogspot.com/ Victor Grauer

    To mandate a reduction in the use of fossil fuels sufficient to reverse global warming is comparable to “mandating” a reversal in the direction of the prevailing winds or the major ocean currents. Sheer hubris! While the one is man made and the others are natural, we need to recognize that the burning of carbon is on such a huge scale, and has become so essential to the preservation of human life and well being on this planet, that it can be regarded as the equivalent of a natural force.

    If we have learned to live with earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes, volcanic eruptions, famines, floods, etc., then we can, and must, learn to live with the effects of global warming. The good news is that, as this article suggests, global warming will have positive as well as negative effects. Not only the postponement of the next ice age, which ain’t so bad, but also the opening of vast regions of the north, in Canada, Alaska, Russia, Greenland, etc., to agriculture and other forms of development. As for me, I’m looking forward to more mild winters like this one. In fact, the milder the winters get, the less fossil fuels will be burned, which suggests that global warming may, at least to some extent, be self-limiting.

  • amphiox

    If we have learned to live with earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes, volcanic eruptions, famines, floods, etc., then we can, and must, learn to live with the effects of global warming.

    And the first necessary step for this is to recognize that there is a problem with which we must learn to live.

  • http://soundingthedepths.blogspot.com/ Victor Grauer

    “And the first necessary step for this is to recognize that there is a problem with which we must learn to live.”

    Yes, of course. And it is precisely this aspect of global warming which neither side is paying much attention to. On the one hand we have the deniers, who refuse to accept clear scientific evidence that global warming is real. On other we have the hysterics, who insist that we drop everything and concentrate all our resources on turning back the global warming clock, which will never happen. What is needed is neither denial nor panic, but a sober effort to monitor the situation and adapt.

  • Old Gringo Stan

    What is needed is neither denial nor panic, but a sober effort to monitor the situation and adapt.

    ….and meanwhile ignore the UN’s efforts to transfer our wealth to miserable ignorant greedy fascist countries…….

  • Stephan Larose

    Old Gringo Stan,

    You don’t need the UN to transfer your wealth to other countries, like say China, your American CEOs and the politicians they’ve bought are doing a fantastic job of doing that themselves. Moreover, the vast majority of wealth isn’t being transfered to other countries, but to wealthier people in your own country who are fascist, greedy, and very happy to ignore the misery they cause you. If you’re so angry about this I suggest you get a clearer idea of what is really going on. Read some Matt Taibbi, see Moneymasters, and start writing letters to people who matter: the media and politicians.

    To the rest, you can’t “adapt” to climate change, it’s like “adapting” to being dumped on another planet naked and alone. When the ocean currents stop, bees go extinct, arctic methane is released, sea levels rise and so on and so forth, man’s ability to cultivate nutrients will practically disappear. What is needed is a sense of purpose and urgency in developing a lower-energy intensive economy (perhaps one in which isn’t nearly entirely dependent on consuming instantly disposable goods on a massive scale?) and renewable energy sources. Large solar installations could power the planet, carbon free.

  • ilfossil

    Stephan Larose, What flavor of kool aid are you drinkin?

  • Snowy

    I’m going to miss snow and ice :(

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