A new Ice Age is due to start within 1,500 years, according to Cambridge University scientists; but, due to human carbon emissions, the lethal “big freeze” could be put off.
Scientists at Cambridge University say that levels of CO2 in the atmosphere could actually insulate against a catastrophic ice age which would see glaciers advance over Europe and North America.
They admit that we would be “better off” in a warmer world – but caution that this is “missing the point”.
In an article published in Nature Geoscience, Cambridge University paleoclimatologist Luke Skinner says that even if carbon emissions stopped today, levels would remain elevated for at least 1,000 years, and stored heat could prevent the next Ice Age from happening.
Instead, things would cool down, but not quite so severely.
Thanks to elevated levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the earth would not experience “glaciation” (periods of severe cold where glaciers advance).
The current level of carbon dioxide is 390 parts per million. Scientists believe that level would need to drop to 240 parts per million to allow glaciation to take place.
“It’s an interesting philosophical discussion. Would we better off in a warm world rather than a glaciation? Probably we would,” says Dr. Luke Skinner.
“At current levels of CO2, even if emissions stopped now, we’d probably have a long interglacial period,” he says.
“Interglacial” periods are warmer periods between periods of glaciation.
The last ice age ended 11,500 years ago, and scientists debate over when the next one is “due”.
The cycle is dictated by tiny variations in Earth’s orbit around the sun.
Ice ages are marked by glaciers advancing over continents. At the peak of the last ice age, large areas of Europe, Asia and North America were covered in ice.
The effects of glaciation on human civilization would be catastrophic.
Dr. Luke Skinner says: “This is missing the point, because where we’re going is not maintaining our currently warm climate but heating it much further, and adding CO2 to a warm climate is very different from adding it to a cold climate.”