A new international study casts doubt on the leading theory of what causes ice ages around the world -- changes in the way the Earth orbits the sun.
The researchers found that glacier movement in the Southern Hemisphere is influenced primarily by sea surface temperature and atmospheric carbon dioxide rather than changes in the Earth's orbit, which are thought to drive the advance and retreat of ice sheets in the Northern Hemisphere.
The findings appear in the journal Geology. A PDF is available on request.
The study raises questions about the Milankovitch theory of climate, which says the expansion and contraction of Northern Hemisphere continental ice sheets are influenced by cyclic fluctuations in solar radiation intensity due to wobbles in the Earth's orbit; those orbital fluctuations should have an opposite effect on Southern Hemisphere glaciers.
"Records of past climatic changes are the only reason scientists are able to predict how the world will change in the future due to warming. The more we understand about the cause of large climatic changes and how the cooling or warming signals travel around the world, the better we can predict and adapt to future changes," says lead author Alice Doughty, a glacial geologist at Dartmouth College who studies New Zealand mountain glaciers to understand what causes large-scale global climatic change such as ice ages. "Our results point to the importance of feedbacks -- a reaction within the climate system that can amplify the initial climate change, such as cool temperatures leading to larger ice sheets, which reflect more sunlight, which cools the planet further. The more we know about the magnitude and rates of these changes and the better we can explain these connections, the more robust climate models can be in predicting future change."
The researchers used detailed mapping and beryllium-10 surface exposure dating of ice-age moraines - or rocks deposited when glaciers move -- in New Zealand's Southern Alps, where the glaciers were much bigger in the past. The dating method measures beryllium-10, a nuclide produced in rocks when they are struck by cosmic rays. The researchers identified at least seven episodes of maximum glacier expansion during the last ice age, and they also dated the ages of four sequential moraine ridges. The results showed that New Zealand glaciers were large at the same time that large ice sheets covered Scandinavia and Canada during the last ice age about 20,000 years ago. This makes sense in that the whole world was cold at the same time, but the Milankovitch theory should have opposite effects for the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, and thus cannot explain the synchronous advance of glaciers around the globe. Previous studies have shown that Chilean glaciers in the southern Andes also have been large at the same time as Northern Hemisphere ice sheets.
The ages of the four New Zealand ridges - about 35,500; 27,170; 20,270; and 18,290 years old -- instead align with times of cooler sea surface temperatures off the coast of New Zealand based on offshore marine sediment cores. The timing of the Northern Hemisphere's ice ages and large ice sheets is still paced by how Earth orbits the Sun, but how the cooling and warming signals are transferred around the world has not been fully explained, although ocean currents (flow direction, speed and temperature) play a significant role.
Alice Doughty is available to comment at Alice.M.Doughty@dartmouth.edu.
The study was conducted by scientists from Dartmouth, the University of Maine, Columbia University, GNS Science, University of Oslo, University of Waterloo, University of California-Berkeley and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
Broadcast studios: Dartmouth has TV and radio studios available for interviews. For more information, visit: http://www.
John Cramer | EurekAlert!
NASA sees the end of ex-Tropical Cyclone 02W
21.04.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
New research unlocks forests' potential in climate change mitigation
21.04.2017 | Clemson University
The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.
Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...
The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...
Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.
Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...
Two researchers at Heidelberg University have developed a model system that enables a better understanding of the processes in a quantum-physical experiment...
Glaciers might seem rather inhospitable environments. However, they are home to a diverse and vibrant microbial community. It’s becoming increasingly clear that they play a bigger role in the carbon cycle than previously thought.
A new study, now published in the journal Nature Geoscience, shows how microbial communities in melting glaciers contribute to the Earth’s carbon cycle, a...
20.04.2017 | Event News
18.04.2017 | Event News
03.04.2017 | Event News
21.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
21.04.2017 | Health and Medicine
21.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy