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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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  • by unimacs ( 597299 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @04:39PM (#38641646)
    Neither melting ice caps nor a new ice age sound particularly appealing.
  • Re:Of course (Score:5, Interesting)

    by forkfail ( 228161 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @04:48PM (#38641776)

    Except... that isn't quite how it works.

    Global warming means that we're changing a massively complex system. And like all massively complex system, when you tweak the parameters beyond a certain point, the system as a whole can itself wind up altering other parameters drastically as it seeks a new stable state.

    Or, to put it simply, global warming could potentially lead to a sudden and drastic cooling:

    http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2004/05mar_arctic/ [nasa.gov]

  • Re:Of course (Score:2, Interesting)

    by the computer guy nex ( 916959 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @05:08PM (#38642060)

    "Global warming means that we're changing a massively complex system"

    The Earth's climate is a massively complex system that has been constantly changing for billions of years. The climate wasn't static before we showed up.

    Problem is we don't have the slightest clue what climate change is sustainable by the Earth and what changes aren't. If you think of the Earth's life as one 24 hour period, we've been around for a couple seconds. One thing we do know for sure is the Earth has sustained much warmer and much cooler periods than we're living in currently.

  • by JoeMerchant ( 803320 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @05:12PM (#38642124)

    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.

    Go visit the tundra, tell me what you think that place will smell like when it thaws.

    Sure, in about 1000 years when the toxic rot has run its course, there will be productive land there able to grow crops, but it won't get there without a lot of pain during the transition.

    Intrinsically, people are inconvenienced by change, change of this magnitude is inconvenient enough that people will go to war over it.

  • by forkfail ( 228161 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @05:16PM (#38642194)

    I don't "know" in the sense that certain faith based folks "know" that they'll be the ones saved.

    I do, however, know in the sense that I've read a lot about it, including impact models ranging from US government predictions (military [guardian.co.uk], civilian [foxnews.com]), international studies [www.ipcc.ch], many of which predict widespread starvation [usnews.com] and chaos [msn.com].

  • by afidel ( 530433 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @05:24PM (#38642290)
    So? Homosapien has been going to war since before we left the trees (at least we're pretty sure since most of our closest relatives wage war). We've had war since we've been around and it's never come close to wiping us out, on the other hand we're pretty damn sure that glaciation has come really close to killing us off. I'll take a bit more war over a near extinction event that we can't control.
  • by Miamicanes ( 730264 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @05:55PM (#38642734)

    > What about the ones that live in areas that are going to be covered in water?

    Thanks to civil engineering, building permanent structures in areas that are submerged is quite do-able (think: causeway, oil rig). In stark contrast, glaciers are a very, very BIG problem. There's really no good way to build a permanent structure in the middle of a thick glacier field. If you build on top of the glacier, pressure melts the ice & causes the structure to slowly sink into it. If you refrigerate the contact points to keep the ice from melting, the structure moves with the glacier. If you try to bore holes down to the bedrock & build concrete pilings through the glacier, the glacier's motion will snap them like twigs. It's not necessarily *impossible*, but the engineering problems involved make open water look like a neatly-cleared urban vacant lot in a big city by comparison.

    I'm still somewhat amused by sea-level alarmists whose flood maps just assume that people will passively abandon hundreds of billions of dollars worth of low-lying real estate & allow it to become submerged, instead of doing more or less the same thing developers in Florida have been doing for the past century -- digging holes for fill dirt, raising the terrain, and building on pilings where appropriate. Hell, my neighborhood, and the land my house sits on, was submerged under several feet of water for thousands of years on the day I was born. ~20 years later, the area was drained, dredged, filled, and turned into nice houses on a big manmade lake. I know, because my neighborhood's HOA has been fighting with FEMA for the past 10 years to update the official flood map for my neighborhood from -2 feet to 12 feet, because nobody ever bothered to update the official county elevation map after the developer terraformed the neighborhood into dry land.

    Actually, this raises another point... lots of the Global Warming flood prediction maps based on land elevation for South Florida are just plain wrong, for the same reason as the map in my own neighborhood -- developers over the past 100 years dredged, filled, and raised the land, and nobody ever bothered to update the official terrain maps. The flood models are wrong, for the same reason why hurricane storm-surge models have been wildly wrong in pretty much every hurricane since 1940 -- the surge models -- like Global Warming Flood Models -- assume the existence of a natural coastline that hasn't existed for *decades*.

    Are sea levels rising? Probably. Are they going to rise more? Almost certainly. Are waterfront neighborhoods going to be abandoned to rising water? No way in hell. They'll just get rebuilt on taller foundations every 50 years or so when a major hurricane blows away whatever's there now.

  • by cdrguru ( 88047 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @06:31PM (#38643352) Homepage

    Unfortunately, the model for aid to countries with starving people has been to deny them any semblance of security. The US (and other countries) ship in massive amounts of food in a generally inedible form - raw grains, etc. This is then given to various bodies within the country with starving people. Some of this ends up being sold for the enrichment of people that weren't starving to begin with. Some of it ends up being dumped along the road because it is too much trouble for them to actually distribute.

    The truely awful scenario is the family found dead of starvation sitting around with a bag of raw wheat grain sitting there at their feet. Without a flour mill the raw grain is pretty much useless except as an animal feed, and all the animals were eaten last week.

    We is the US sending bags of grain to warlords hoping they will distribute this to their "subjects" that they desperately want to keep in total subjugation? Why is the US sending bags of grain to the government of a country that has historically totally neglected their rural population? Why is the US sending bags of grain in the first place? Oh, because we have a surplus of it and it doesn't really cost anything to ship the surplus overseas.

    The end result of this is the people still starve. Even if they get the food aid, it doesn't help solve the problems of why they are starving in the first place. Nor does it teach the people anything about getting out of their predicament. Food aid has been a curse to Africa since day one and nobody on either side seems to be learning anything from the history of failure.

  • by voidphoenix ( 710468 ) on Tuesday January 10, 2012 @04:26AM (#38648464)
    Glaciation? Try Toba [wikipedia.org].

To be a kind of moral Unix, he touched the hem of Nature's shift. -- Shelley