Man-made carbon emissions have left such a huge impact on Earth that they have effectively postponed the next ice age by about 100,000 years. Greenhouse gas emissions have been blamed for rising sea levels, severe droughts, and intensifying storms. Now scientists say that emission of carbon dioxide from burning of fossil fuels has also brought a major positive change: delaying the next ice age by at least 100,000 years.
Earth narrowed missed the onset of a new ice age 200 years ago
Scientists at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany published findings of their study Wednesday in the journal Nature. Andrey Ganopolski, the lead author of the study, said our planet narrowly missed the onset of a new ice age a couple of hundred years ago, thanks to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.
If we had carbon dioxide concentration of 240 parts per million about 200 years ago, then an ice age could start. Fortunately, rapid industrialization had increased carbon concentration to 280ppm. And today it has reached over 400ppm. Even if the CO2 level had remained at the 18th century level, the interglacial climate would have sustained for about 50,000 years. About 500 gigatons of carbon has been released since the beginning of the Industrial era, which means the next glaciation won’t start for about 100,000 years.
In simple terms, we are skipping an entire glacial cycle. Add another 500 gigatons of CO2, and the next ice age is guaranteed to be delayed beyond the next 100,000 years. Humans have left such a huge impact on the planet that a group of researchers has called for officially recognizing the current era as the Anthropocene epoch. Our planet has been through a cycle of glaciation and warm periods over the last 2.5 million years.
Nature of Earth’s orbit plays key role in glaciation
The last big freeze lasted about 100,000 years, and had gripped Earth until 12,000 years ago. It spread over much of the northern Europe, North America, Russia, and Asia. South American countries like Argentina and Chile were also iced up. Andrey Ganopolski said the shape of our planet’s orbit around the Sun is conducive now for a new big freeze, but carbon concentration in the atmosphere is far too high.
Changing nature of the Earth’s orbit around the Sun plays a crucial role in glaciation. Earth’s axis of rotation rocks back and forth over time as its orbit around the Sun is not a perfect circle. It affects the amount of solar radiation reaching the Earth’s surface.