Humanity has become a geological force that is able to suppress the beginning of the next ice age, a study now published in the renowned scientific journal Nature shows. Cracking the code of glacial inception, scientists of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research found the relation of insolation and CO2 concentration in the atmosphere to be the key criterion to explain the last eight glacial cycles in Earth history. At the same time their results illustrate that even moderate human interference with the planet's natural carbon balance might postpone the next glacial inception by 100.000 years.
"Even without man-made climate change we would expect the beginning of a new ice age no earlier than in 50.000 years from now - which makes the Holocene as the present geological epoch an unusually long period in between ice ages," explains lead author Andrey Ganopolski. "However, our study also shows that relatively moderate additional anthropogenic CO2-emissions from burning oil, coal and gas are already sufficient to postpone the next ice age for another 50.000 years. The bottom line is that we are basically skipping a whole glacial cycle, which is unprecedented. It is mind-boggling that humankind is able to interfere with a mechanism that shaped the world as we know it."
For the first time, research can explain the onset of the past eight ice ages by quantifying several key factors that preceded the formation of each glacial cycle. "Our results indicate a unique functional relationship between summer insolation and atmospheric CO2 for the beginning of a large-scale ice-sheet growth which does not only explain the past, but also enables us to anticipate future periods when glacial inception might occur again," Ganopolski says.