Blog Post

The Earth is Still in the Middle of an Ice Age

A Blog Post

One of the popular misconceptions about the earth and its climate is that the so-called Ice age, which started about 2.6 million years ago came to an end long back, and currently we are in a warmer age. The fact is that the ice age never ends upon earth. We are still going through it, and we will continue to do so for a long time. We may even say that the ice age is one of the constant and continuous features of our planet, and it is never free from it.

From the earliest times, the earth has been in one Ice age or another, except perhaps in the beginning when it was too hot and covered with intensely active volcanoes. It is appropriate to say that ours is an icy planet, which occasionally thaws for a few thousand years to solidify again into an icy ball.

According to one estimate, so far, it has gone through five major ice ages. They are the Huronian, Cryogenian, Andean-Saharan, Karoo and the current Quaternary ice age. Of them, Cryogenian ice age was said to be the severest. During that period, the earth might have looked like a giant snow ball as in the picture above, just as the Jupiter’s moon, Europa appears today.

However, each Ice age goes through several warmer and colder periods, called the glacial periods or glaciations. The warmer periods are known as interglacials, and the colder ones, glacials. We are currently going through an interglacial period known as Holocene (in the Quaternary ice age). It started about 11,700 years ago. We do not know for sure how long it will last.

Even in the interglacial periods, which are supposed to be warmer, the earth remains partly covered by ice in colder areas such as the north and south poles, the Himalayas, the Andes, Alps, Alaska, Siberia, Greenland, etc. In these areas you can still see remnants of the last glacial period of the current Ice Age. The northern hemisphere gets a whiff of it during the winter, when icy winds blow from the polar regions, as it recently happened in January, when a Polar Vortex brought low wind chills to large parts of North America.

Another interesting fact is that no one clearly knows how high temperatures can go on earth during the interglacial (warmer) periods. Even if it goes up high by a few degrees, ice caps in Arctic and Antarctica may not completely melt. The may still persist in some areas where sunlight does not reach during winter and which remain in dark for several months at a stretch. However, one can presume that temperatures will gradually rise during the interglacial period when climate undergoes change due to natural or manmade causes.

It may lead to significant changes in the earth’s climate, with serious consequences to the survival of life upon earth. Many species may become extinct or adapt to the changing climate, resulting in the alteration of earth’s genetic pool and food chains. It may also force the northward migration of humans and animals, as they try to escape from the hostile climate around the equator. Let us hope that before it happens or before earth’s climate becomes too hostile, a new glacial period will set in and reverse the process, or we will acquire the knowhow to control our climate.

The truth is that we do not know how events will take shape upon earth in future, what impact they may create. We also do not know much about the history of the earth or its climate. Whatever assumptions and conclusions which we have about it are based upon a few decades of localized and limited study and research. Considering the age of the Earth, it is inadequate to draw definitive conclusions. Further, given the human propensity to confirmation bias, self-interest and selective perception, it may not be entirely reliable also.

However, common sense suggests that we cannot continue to pollute our seas, air and water ways, without suffering from its consequences. We cannot go on destroying life forms and valuable resources to satisfy our needs, making our major ecosystems uninhabitable and unsuitable for our own survival and for the survival of other species. We must find an effective way to protect our planet through innovation and conservation to ensure our survival as well as the survival of the planet itself. In the vast expanse of the universe, the earth is our only sanctuary and support. If we want to protect the planet, this idea must prevail in everyone's mind.