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Earth Science

Carbon Emissions 'Will Defer Ice Age' 347

Sven-Erik writes "Due to subtle variations in the Earth's orbit, researchers have calculated that the next Ice Age is due within 1,500 years. However, a new study suggests greenhouse gas emissions mean it will not happen that soon (abstract). 'Dr Skinner's group ... calculates that the atmospheric concentration of CO2 would have to fall below about 240 parts per million (ppm) before the glaciation could begin. The current level is around 390ppm. Other research groups have shown that even if emissions were shut off instantly, concentrations would remain elevated for at least 1,000 years, with enough heat stored in the oceans potentially to cause significant melting of polar ice and sea level rise.'"
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Carbon Emissions 'Will Defer Ice Age'

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  • This is good news. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mosb1000 ( 710161 ) <> on Monday January 09, 2012 @04:40PM (#38641664)

    This is good news, since many of us live in areas which would be covered with glaciers.

  • hmm (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nomadic ( 141991 ) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .dlrowcidamon.> on Monday January 09, 2012 @04:40PM (#38641668) Homepage
    Wonder how many hypocrites who previously excoriate all climatologists who caution about global warming as corrupt and biased instantly trumpeting that these brilliant, honest, decent climatologists have to be right because the end result is one that they want.
  • by jimmerz28 ( 1928616 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @04:41PM (#38641698)
    What about the ones that live in areas that are going to be covered in water?
  • by afidel ( 530433 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @04:46PM (#38641746)
    I don't know, is a bit more war and some starvation worse than having the entire northern hemisphere uninhabitable?
  • by Beryllium Sphere(tm) ( 193358 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @04:46PM (#38641748) Homepage Journal

    It's hard to get funding for an experiment that takes two identical planets and changes the global CO2 concentration on one.

    Climatology is an observational science like geology or astronomy. Models can be checked. It's not just curve fitting to the temperature record: climatologists figure they're on the right track when their models predict phenomena like El Nino.

  • by Avin22 ( 1438931 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @04:47PM (#38641762)
    Unfortunately, the effects from the ice age will not be apparent for another 1,500 years, while, on the other hand, the ice caps are already starting to melt. Though a small amount of global warming might be beneficial in the future for preventing an ice age (who knows what environmental impact THAT would have), it is very likely to be seriously detrimental for the next few centuries until then.
  • by forkfail ( 228161 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @04:54PM (#38641864)

    Describing the impact of global warming as "a bit more war and some starvation" is rather like describing the situation of living living in Pompeii in AD 79 as being "minorly inconvenienced by relatively minor geological events".

  • by hedwards ( 940851 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @04:55PM (#38641878)

    That's a tad different. During the last ice age we didn't have the ability to ship food thousands of miles and make user of the land that was now useful for agriculture. Also, we didn't have insulation and heating technology like we do today.

    An ice age isn't the greatest thing ever, but life has a much better chance of coping with it effectively than the rather extreme changes in climate that we're setting off.

  • by qmaqdk ( 522323 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @04:55PM (#38641892)

    Let's roll the dice so we don't have to be inconvenienced by sorting our garbage and driving cars with smaller engines.

  • I don't buy it. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SETIGuy ( 33768 ) * on Monday January 09, 2012 @04:59PM (#38641938) Homepage
    I buy that CO2 could prevent or delay the onset of an ice age. What I don't by is the suggestion that an ice age is due to start 1500 years from now. Looking more carefully, I see that the value of CO2 level required to prevent an ice age 1500 years from now is below the pre-industrial level. In other words they've predicted an ice age that would, under no conceivable circumstance, occur and then said, look, it won't occur because of CO2. Yes, but then again our lakes aren't frozen in the summer now because of CO2. Maybe we should send out a press release.
  • by afidel ( 530433 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @05:01PM (#38641966)
    How do you know that? Some models predict increased desertification in the mid latitudes but then many show increasing crop productivity at more northern latitudes. What we do know is that during previous ice ages the human species went through some bottleneck events that reduced our numbers to what we would now considered near extinction for a large animal species.
  • by khallow ( 566160 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @05:17PM (#38642206)
    How detrimental? I know that attempting to run a technological civilization under a few hundred meters of ice is a bit more difficult than running one on land a few meters under sea level.
  • by Ambitwistor ( 1041236 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @05:19PM (#38642230)

    Hating ice ages doesn't mean liking global warming. If you want to prevent the planet from cooling into an ice age, you don't need to warm it up above present temperatures. You just have to keep it from cooling below present temperatures.

    Human civilization has adapted itself to a relatively stable range of climate over the last 10,000 years. Large warming or large cooling pushes us outside of that range. It may be costly to adapt our civilization to a completely different climate, particularly if it happens "fast" (century time scale). Thus, it's possible to hate both global warming and "ice ages".

    If you want to use the greenhouse effect to prevent the planet from falling into a glacial period, then you should want to save fossil fuels for when we need them, rather than using them up now, when we don't. That is, dole them out slowly over thousands of years to keep the interglacial climate stable, as the next glacial period gradually deepens, instead of our current course of using them up rapidly and elevating temperatures well above the Holocene climate range.

    Besides which, this study is controversial. Everyone agrees that we will see another glacial period someday, barring human intervention. The question is when. This study suggests 1500 years; a number of others have suggested that the next glacial period isn't due for as long as 50,000 years. Which is even less of an argument for global warming.

  • by phayes ( 202222 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @05:20PM (#38642246) Homepage

    Says who? You? Why exactly is your opinion to be trusted?

    Very little is known on how exactly an ice-age begins AFAIK. Is it rapid onset? Slow? It may begin with higher than normal snowfalls & a shorter growing season in the northern hemisphere inducing wide-spread crop failures in that part of the world which is currently feeding the other part thus rendering your reassurances hollow.

  • Re:Of course (Score:5, Insightful)

    by forkfail ( 228161 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @05:20PM (#38642252)

    The Earth certainly has. But humans have a pretty narrow temperature band in which they can live. Humans sweat based temperature regulation would not have functioned over most of the Earth when the dinosaurs ruled.

    But really, this isn't about the Earth's survival. It's about Humans. You're right - we haven't been around that long. And it seems that our refusal to acknowledge that we're soiling our niche will ensure that we aren't around for all that long, either.

  • by forkfail ( 228161 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @05:44PM (#38642580)

    So, you're arguing that peer reviewed scientific theories and religious gospel are equivalent? And acceptance of the peer review process is an indicator of a religious mindset?

  • by thrich81 ( 1357561 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @05:56PM (#38642758)
    It appears you've never been in a real war. Neither have I but I've seen the pictures from WW I and WW II and read the statistics. You can academically say, "Well they were an inevitable event in the adaptation of 19th century nation-states societies to the 20th century Industrial Age", but that doesn't mean you want your kids to go through that sort of thing -- and I mean the devastation of WW II in Europe and Asia, not the relatively light touch the US got. I'll take a multi-hundred year climate change to which we can adapt over a ten year series of conflicts later called WW III.
  • by afidel ( 530433 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @05:59PM (#38642800)
    Glaciation isn't a little climate change, it's the northern hemisphere being covered by miles of ice! You don't adapt to that.
  • by siddesu ( 698447 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @08:20PM (#38644880)

    Actually, the process with climatology was subtly different, something like

    1. Someone got a PhD in science

    2. They began collecting data and observe what's happening

    3. They published some papers and gathered about 10 more people, who had gone thru 1 and 2

    4. They published more papers

    5. They collected more data, and convinced their government that even more data is necessary

    6. They got more equipment, more data, came up with some ways to put these data together

    7. Then they refined their hypothesis, got more funding and more students

    8. Then they got publicity by semi-literate journalists, and it all went political. Unfortunately, unlike the people who play politics, the people who did the research were not prepared for the tricks on the political side.

    9. Even unfortunatelier, nobody else was prepared to understand or argue sensibly the "tricks" on the research side

    10. Ever since, it has been one giant downhill race in lies, accusations and misunderstandings, to the detriment of science

    11. When it should have been a harmonious transition to getting more understanding of the topic, and gradually and smoothly planning and executing whatever action would be necessary.

    And so it goes.

  • by TapeCutter ( 624760 ) on Tuesday January 10, 2012 @02:28AM (#38647982) Journal
    I think the gold standard should be it's utility. Try googling, you will find dozens of forward predictions similar to these...

    1. The phenomena known as "Polar amplification" was predicted before it was observed.
    2. The phenomena known as "Stratospheric cooling" was predicted before it was observed.
    5. Accurately predicted the climatic impact of the Mt Pinatobo eruption.

    These sort of tests don't even start to list the basic predictive skill a climate model needs to be considered useful, such as the ocean currents, air pressure patterns, the roaring forties, monsoons, ENSO, the formation of tropical cyclones in the right geographical locations in the right season, the morning clouds in the Amazon burnt of by the sun, sea ice extent, all these things and much more must be accurately hind-cast before you can even start to ask "what if" questions.

"The eleventh commandment was `Thou Shalt Compute' or `Thou Shalt Not Compute' -- I forget which." -- Epigrams in Programming, ACM SIGPLAN Sept. 1982