May 29th, 2008 by Joshua S Hill
The study of our environment continues to throw up road-block after road-block, preventing us from ever acquiring a grasp of what may be to come. We know that ice ages and warm periods have come before us – they are evident through geological and ecological study – but we don’t know how they started.
Take the most recent research funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). According to their report, published in this week’s latest issue of the journal Nature, there was an abrupt release of methane at the end of the Cryogenian period, some 635 million years ago, a period which some believe included a snowball Earth period.
Authors of the study posit that the snowball ice age – a theory that sees the entirety of our planet covered by ice – was slowly receding, but when large pockets of methane from clathrates – methane ice that forms and stabilizes beneath the surface of the ice – begun to escape, the warming abruptly sped up.
“Our findings document an abrupt and catastrophic global warming that led from a very cold, seemingly stable climate state to a very warm, also stable, climate state–with no pause in between,” said geologist Martin Kennedy of the University of California at Riverside (UCR), who led the research team.
“What we now need to know is the sensitivity of the trigger,” he said. “How much forcing does it take to move from one stable state to the other–and are we approaching something like that today with current carbon dioxide warming.”
This latter comment shines a light in to the fears of many environmental and climate scientists. Because the fact of the matter is that we simply do not know what is happening, what will happen, and at what point everything will just tip over and go to hell in a handbasket.
The transition “…from ‘snowball Earth’ into a warmer period shows the compelling need for research on abrupt climate change in Earth’s history,” said H. Richard Lane, program director in NSF’s Division of Earth Sciences. “These changes have much to tell us about the modern human-induced threat of rapid climate change.”
Photo Credit: NASA
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