Melting glaciers indicate that the  Earth has three temperature settings: snowball, ice-block, and greenhouse. These terms are based on how the ice advances and retreats. The cycle has been going on for billions of years.

Yes, that is right, billions of years. Because of melting glaciers, earthquakes, and volcanoes, the world has been in a constant state of change. The shape and the climate has continued to fluctuare on a regular basis. In terms of the history of the planet, humans are a recent addition.

Is the next stage global warming? Briefly defined, the “greenhouse” level is when tropical temperatures extend to both the North and the South Poles. Once this global warming happens the glaciers will start melting, flooding the oceans, and creeping onto coastal land all over the world.

The concern is that it has, in fact, started and humans are partly responsible. Is it too late to stop the melting glaciers?

Ice Through the Ages

Melting Glaciers

Image CC by NC-SA 2.0, by Gillfoto, via Flickr

According to the New Scientist the entire world was basically a snowball 2.4 to 2.1 billion years ago. Then it warmed up to being a mere deep freeze, about 850 to 630 million years ago.

The next evolution was mass extinction about 460 to 430 million years ago. Then, the carbon dioxide (CO2)absorbing plants took over about 360 to 260 million years ago. Subsequently, 14 million years ago, Antarctica froze when the global temperature dropped by 8 degrees C. As the Himalayas expanded, the mountains used the C02 and it offset the pending greenhouse effect.

The latest ice age happened about 110,000 to 120,000 years ago, which is relatively recent in the history of ice on the planet. That is when the human race crawled out of the caves, stopped hunting and gathering – where they could — and took up farming.

Questions About the Ice Age

Ice age artists rendering showing Mammoths

Image CC by A 2.5, by Mauricio Antón, via Wikimedia Commons

The major puzzle is why ice advances and then retreats and scientists are trying to find an answer to the perplexing question. And why do ice ages only last about 100,000 years? Is it because of the orbit of the Earth shifts and changes? The scientific community is still trying to explain it.

In the last two million years, the global temperatures have fluctuated wildly. However, it took until the 1800s for scientists to realize that there had, in fact, been ice ages.

Since the 1970s, it has been possible for scientists to measure sea and arctic ice by satellite, so monitoring the changes have become more accurate.

A major discovery of a cave in China in 1993 may help solve the mystery. The cave contained two complete Homo erectus skeletons and stalagmites. The stalagmites, in particular, may help to answer some of the questions about the ice ages.

The effect of ice ages on the landscape and geography has been phenomenal: The Sarah Desert, the coal deposits from plants being crushed in central Canada, to the ice-sculptured deep rivers and gullies.

Antarctica and Polar Ice Caps Melting

Although it may be difficult for people in the 21st century to grasp, Antartica and Greenland only became glaciated about 3.2 million years ago. And now they are both in danger of melting.

Antarctica contains about 90 percent of the ice in the world. As the temperatures get warmer — and polar ice caps melt — they break into huge icebergs that displace water and raise sea levels. The Antarcica melting is cause for serious concern.

The “Greenhouse” Effect

The Earth is a proverbial greenhouse, so the term was well coined. When energy from the Sun reaches Earth, some of it is reflected back into the atmosphere and some of it is absorbed into the ground and the water.

Greenhouse gases – a mixture of water vapor, methane, nitrous oxide, carbon dioxide, and others – help keep the energy between the Earth and the atmosphere balanced.

Green house effect, green house gasses, this image is a blurry sunset sky brought into focus only at the center by an hourglass

Image CC by 2.0, by orvalrochefort, via Flickr

 

To sustain life on Earth, the temperature needs to be maintained at about 33 degrees C. A drastic shift in degrees – either hotter or colder– would make it impossible to sustain life on the planet.

Global Warming: Are Antartica’s Glaciers Melting More than Normal?

Left to her own devices, Mother Nature would take care of things. So, although the Earth has been warming and cooling for billions of years, there is now another dangerous element to contend with: humans.

The Industrial Revolution introduced burning fossil fuels – such as coal, gas, and oil – and that changed the atmospheric conditions of the planet. This was followed by big agricultural operations and clear-clearing the land. Consequently, more greenhouse gasses were released.

When the heat radiated from the Earth back into space, it now gets trapped by the greenhouse gases, so that the planet continues to get warmer.

In the last century, the temperature of the earth has increased about half a degree. While that may not sound like a heat wave, it is happening at a faster rate than ever before. Consequently, sea levels have risen 15 to 20 cm, because yes, Antartica is “melting.”

Again, even though it isn’t exactly a flood, some of the smaller islands in the world – particularly those in the South Pacific may soon be under water, forcing the inhabitants to find other places to live.

Stopping the Melting Glaciers from Disappearing

The Guardian identified 90 companies which are responsible for 63 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions caused by humans.

Melting Glaciers

Image CC by NC-SA 2.0, via Flickr

Although small in number, they represent a wide range of industries.

Major companies such as BP, Exxon, and Chevron won’t come as a surprise. But government-run operations and state-owned companies are also being held accountable. Included in this group are Statoil from Norway, Saudi Aramco from Saudi Arabia and Gazprom from Russia.

Countries still using coal for fuel include China, Poland, and North Korea.

Although the Industrial Revolution started in 18th century Britain, about half the estimated emissions have been in the last 25 years. The contradiction is that by the early 1990s governments, scientists, and companies knew about the dangers of greenhouse gas emissions. But the problem was ignored as industries kept burning fossil fuel.

The solution is to move away from forms of carbon-intensive energy to carbon-neutral sources, such as solar power, and wind turbines.

Shrinking Carbon Footprints

As companies and governments are increasingly being pressured to improve their performance, individuals and communities have become involved in activities to watch their carbon footprints.

Some of the suggestions to address greenhouse gas emissions at a personal level include:
• Walk, bike, take public transport.
• Reduce water waste by with shorter showers, not letting taps run, and switch to WaterSense appliances.
• Use renewable energy in your home.
• Eat well and cut back on meat consumption.
• Recycle plastics, glass, and paper.

With the melting glaciers, perhaps it is time to listen to the warning of the late Stephen Hawkings. According to this world-renowned scientist, if global warming continues as it is, the world will end up like Venus with temperatures of 250 degrees C and rains of sulphuric acid.

Hawkings advised humans to start looking for new planets. Once the melting glaciers are gone for good, nothing can save life on Earth.

 

Feature Image: CC by 2.0, by Bob Familiar, via Flickr 

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