In this article, we discuss whether global warming can prevent a potential ice age. We discuss the various aspects of global warming and how they impede an ice age in their own way.
Is global warming preventing an ice age?
Yes, global warming is hampering the Earth’s periodical ice age, thereby preventing it. According to a study by Ganopolski et al., global warming is preventing a potential ice age for up to the next 100,000 years.
What is Global Warming?
Global warming is just one of the results of anthropogenic-driven (i.e., dominated by human-based activities) climate change.
The worldwide yearly temperature has risen by a little more than 1 degree Celsius, or roughly 2 degrees Fahrenheit, during the Industrial Revolution.
It increased by 0.07 degrees Celsius (0.13 degrees Fahrenheit) per ten years between 1880 and 1980, when good record keeping began.
Since 1981, however, the pace of growth has more than doubled: the global annual temperature has risen by 0.18 degrees Celsius (0.32 degrees Fahrenheit) every decade for the previous 40 years.
What’s the end result? The world has never been hotter. After 1880, nine of the ten hottest years have happened since 2005, with the five warmest years on record all occurring since 2015.
Climate change doubters say that rising global temperatures have come to a “halt” or “slowdown,” however several studies, including one published in the journal Environmental Research Letters in 2018, have refuted this assertion.
People all across the world are already suffering as a result of global warming’s effects.
Climate scientists have now concluded that we must limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2040 if we are to avoid devastating events in the future
Some of the worst, most devastating effects of climate change: extreme droughts, wildfires, floods, tropical storms, and other disasters that we collectively refer to as climate change, will be part of everyday life around the world.
These impacts affect everyone in some way, but they are felt most intensely by the poor, economically marginalised, and people of colour, for whom climate change is frequently a primary cause of poverty, relocation, hunger, and social unrest.
Global cooling myth
From a relative peak in the early 1940s, global temperatures were certainly declining somewhat throughout the 1950s and 1960s.
The major reason for the cooling was the blocking of sunlight from reaching the Earth’s surface as a result of fast industrialization following WWII and the resulting increase in air pollution.
Another contributor was the commencement of a negative phase of the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation, which causes the seas to absorb more heat than usual while the atmosphere suffers.
Some experts speculated that the mid-century cold was a precursor to the next ice age, although they were in the minority even at the time.
Even though there were a few high-profile media warnings on the potential of an impending ice age, the great majority of scientific studies at the time were focused on warming caused by increased greenhouse gas emissions.
Human emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases have increased at an exponential rate since the 1970s.
Carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere have increased by 120 parts per million since the industrial revolution began in the mid-1700s, a 46 percent increase in nearly 300 years.
However, half of the rise happened in the last 30 years, and the total quantity of global emissions from 1750 to 1850 was equal to what we presently emit every six weeks.
In recent decades, the pace of warming has risen, in keeping with the considerably higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
What causes global warming?
When carbon dioxide (CO2) and other air pollutants accumulate in the atmosphere, they absorb sunlight and solar energy that has bounced off the earth’s surface, causing global warming.
Normally, this radiation would escape into space, but these contaminants, which may persist in the atmosphere for years to centuries, trap the heat and cause the earth to warm.
Greenhouse gases are heat-trapping pollutants such as carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, water vapour, and synthetic fluorinated gases, and their impact is known as the greenhouse effect.
Even as natural cycles and fluctuations have caused the earth’s climate to change numerous times throughout the last 800,000 years, our current era of global warming is due to human activity.
Specifically, our burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil, gasoline, and natural gas, which results in the greenhouse effect.
Transportation accounts for 29% of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, followed by electricity production (28%), and industrial activity (28%). (22 percent).
Global warming and ice age
The Earth has gone through around ten ice ages in the last million years before returning to milder circumstances like we have now.
Ice sheets enveloped what is now Canada, northern Europe, and Siberia during the previous ice age, which ended 12,000 years ago.
Long-term fluctuations in the Earth’s orbit around the sun, together with amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, have been proposed as a novel explanation for the long-term drops in global temperatures that create ice ages.
According to the study lead by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, the globe appears to be on course to avoid an ice age over the next 50,000 years, an extraordinarily extended era of warmth.
However, scientists noted in the journal Nature that increased man-made greenhouse gas emissions since the Industrial Revolution began in the 18th century might imply the warm phase would extend for 100,000 years.
According to the findings, human impacts will make the onset of the next ice age unlikely within a time frame comparable to prior glacial cycles.
Furthermore, lead author Andrey Ganopolski claimed in an interview with Reuters that the long-term effects of greenhouse gases did not change the urgency of reducing emissions now, which are blamed for creating downpours, heat waves, and rising seas.
Another group of experts claimed last week that humans have become a power in influencing the planet’s geology, claiming that the “Anthropocene period” began in the mid-20th century due to causes including nuclear testing and industrialisation.
“Ice ages have altered the global ecosystem like no other force on the globe,” said Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, head of the Potsdam Institute and one of the study’s authors. He recommended that a new period be termed the “Deglacial.”
Previous research has hinted that global warming can cause ice ages to be delayed, but Thursday’s study established definite guidelines.
According to the study, the beginning of previous ice ages coincided with low amounts of solar radiation reaching the Earth in northern summers, as it does now.
However, since before the Industrial Revolution, an ice age has not commenced due to relatively high, ostensibly natural quantities of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
As we know so far, Ice ages are controlled by cyclic changes in the Earth’s orbit and orientation. Global warming is affected by two main factors – the energy output from the Sun, and the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
The Sun’s energy output fluctuates naturally over its lifespan. Some of them occur in a predictable 11-year cycle of high activity (many sunspots) and low activity (fewer sunspots).
However, every now and again, the Sun becomes silent for extended periods of time, with fewer sunspots and less energy emitted. This is known as a “Grand Solar Minimum,” and it occurred during the “Little Ice Age”.
“Little ice age” was a period of extremely low solar activity from approximately AD 1650 to 1715 in the Northern Hemisphere, when a combination of cooling from volcanic aerosols and low solar activity produced lower surface temperatures).
But how large of an impact would a Grand Solar Minimum have if it happened?
Climate forcing — a force that may drive the climate in a certain direction – is estimated to be around -0.1 W/m2, the same as three years of present CO2 concentration rise, according to solar experts.
As a result, a new Grand Solar Minimum would only suffice to counterbalance a few years of human-caused warming.
What exactly does this imply? The warming produced by human-generated greenhouse gas emissions is six times larger than the decades-long cooling that may result from a protracted Grand Solar Minimum.
Global temperatures would continue to rise even if the Grand Solar Minimum lasted a century.
The reason for this is that global temperatures on Earth are affected by more than simply changes in the Sun’s output; the most prominent of these currently is warming caused by human-induced greenhouse gas emissions.
Global warming driven by anthropogenic activities has delayed the oncoming ice age by at least 100,000 years. Even with parameters, such as the cyclical change in the Earth’s orbit as well as the recurrence of a Grand Solar Minimum, the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is so high that it would have little to no effect on the current climate trend.
What is the Sun’s role in climate change?
The Sun gives life to the earth and keeps it warm enough for humans to exist. It also has an impact on Earth’s climate: we know that little variations in Earth’s orbit around the Sun are responsible for prior ice ages’ comings and goings.
However, the recent warming has been far too quick to be attributed to changes in Earth’s orbit, and far too huge to be caused by solar activity.
Are We Headed for a ‘Grand Solar Minimum’? (And Will It Slow Down Global Warming?)
Sunspot activity is now at an all-time low on the Sun. Some scientists believe this is the start of a Grand Solar Minimum, a period of low solar activity lasting decades to centuries, while others claim there isn’t enough data to back it up.
Solar magnetism weakens, sunspots occur less often, and less UV radiation reaches Earth during a grand minimum.
The “Maunder Minimum,” which lasted from 1645 to 1715, coincided with the “Little Ice Age,” which lasted from the 13th to mid-19th century.
While scientists are still investigating whether a longer solar minimum contributed to global cooling, there is no evidence that the Maunder Minimum caused the Little Ice Age, at least not fully on its own (notably, the Little Ice Age began before the Maunder Minimum).
Current ideas on what caused the Little Ice Age incorporate a number of factors, including natural oscillations in ocean circulation, changes in human land use, and cooling from a less active sun; nevertheless, cooling produced by volcanic aerosols is thought to have played the most important role.
- Ganopolski, A., Winkelmann, R. & Schellnhuber, H. Critical insolation–CO2 relation for diagnosing past and future glacial inception. Nature 529, 200–203 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature16494
- NASA. There Is No Impending ‘Mini Ice Age’.
- Reuters. Global warming could stave off next ice age for 100,000 years.
- howstuffworks. Could reversing global warming start an ice age?
- NRDC. Global Warming 101.