An Ice Age from Global Warming By Tom Slattery Beginning note: The following piece, a speculative but worrisome
hypothesis, remains an idea-in-progress. It was written in 2001-02 and published in the early summer of 2002 in a now temporarily withdrawn e-magazine Serial Free Press. Information on an alarming rate of Arctic Ocean Ice Cap diminution was then just coming to the attention of scientists, let alone the general public, and much of it was anecdotal. There was, for instance, information toward the end of an article in The New York Times Magazine, January 6, 2002, titled "George Divoky's Planet," by Darcy Frey -- see: www.nytimes.com/2002/01/06/magazine. Another inference could be seen in a north polar map projecting the alarming extent of ice cap area shrinkage by 2030 AD, and thus useful for visualizing the following essay. The map can be seen in an article by Deborah MacKenzie in New Scientist, titled "Arctic melting will open new sea passages." www.newsceintist.com. It reflected prevailing attitudes that the melting of the Arctic Ice Cap could be beneficial in opening up new short sea lanes between Europe and Asia. Since then, observations of Arctic Ice Cap thickness and area shrinkage have become unambiguous, and the rate of shrinkage has become alarming to literally everyone, even some strident critics of human-caused global warming. This rate of melting would appear to up the ante and bring about the events in my following thesis years sooner than my originally suggested (in this piece) year 2035. At the turn of the millennium the main media began to pick up on the seriousness of the problem. A watered-down version of this and similar hypotheses was noted by Randall Pinkston on CBS Sunday Evening News, April 28, 2002, and it suggested a possible mere decade from that date. As I edit this in the last few days of 2008, the several related hypotheses now in circulation have become so mainstream that a major motion picture based on this theme, "The Day After Tomorrow," was conceived, scripted, produced, and released, now years ago. Intrinsic in my 2002 article hypothesizing a new ice age from present global warming is a companion hypothesis that during the several known ice ages the Arctic Ocean was all or partly ice-free. It's a stretch, but this could support new archaeological observations by Dr. Dennis Stanford of the Smithsonian Institution and Professor Robson Bonnichsen of Texas A & M University that early Native American populations that manufactured "Clovis" stone tools and weapons are closely related European manufacturers of "Solutrean" tools and
weapons. That is to say, early Americans might well have arrived in the Americas by traveling in seal-skin-covered boats working their way around the ice-free Arctic Ocean during the Ice Age. That is far more tempting than the idea that they crossed the wide and furious Atlantic Ocean in those boats. An Ice Age from Global Warming By Tom Slattery Is global warming, ironically, imminently, about to precipitate a New Ice Age? In the December 1, 1999, Geophysical Research Letters, University of Washington scientists Gary Maykut, D. Andrew Rothrock, and Yanling Yu compare cold war (c 19501995) measurements of Arctic Ocean ice thickness by American, British, and Russian submarines and find an average 40% loss of thickness over about 40 years. (Since then scientists have not only verified this but have become hugely alarmed at the continuing and increasing rate of shrinking of the ice cap.) Two things are going on here, of course. One is that more energy gets into the Arctic Ocean through the thinner ice and warms the water beneath it. The reverse is also true, that more energy can escape through the thinner ice in winter. On the face of it, however, there is obviously an accelerating rate of Arctic Ice Cap thinning in progress. This would seem due to a net increase in combined earth-heat, solar input, and global-warming air-heat energy absorbed into, and penetrating, the Ice Cap. This net increase and its resultant rate of melting will probably accelerate as ice thickness diminishes and allows both more solar energy and globally warmed air-energy to penetrate and warm the water under it and, of course, to melt ice from above. Roughly fifty to a hundred miles (80 to 160 km) south of where I live in northern Ohio are sets of glacial moraines from at least three different ice ages. They are snake-like heaps of debris that mark the southernmost reaches of the great Northern Hemisphere continental glaciers of these ice ages. During those times, there was more than two kilometers of ice directly above where I am sitting to write this. Ice ages are fairly regular occurrences on our planet. The U.S. Geological Survey has evidence of about 20 different ice ages in roughly the last 2 million years. This observed historical regularity of ice ages prompted a Serbian scientist Milutin Milankovitch to propose that the combination of a wobble called the Earth's precession and its elliptical orbit caused the fairly regular repetition. Every roughly 100,000 years the great water surface of the South Pacific is physically closer to the sun during daylight hours of the hot season and the great land masses of the northern hemisphere are farther away. Slightly more evaporation takes place. Our planet has more water vapor in its atmosphere. Water vapor is a greenhouse gas.
Normally the planet Earth would not be due for another ice age for at least dozens of millennia. Basically, we just finished one and the present interglacial period could last, due to a slight eccentricity in the cycle, for almost another 100,000 years. But the Milankovitch cycle would seem largely a greenhouse gas phenomenon, the greenhouse gas being water vapor, the proximity of the South Pacific Ocean to the sun creating the additional water vapor. During previous ice ages, there was higher solar energy input onto the huge water area of the South Pacific and lower solar energy input in the high Northern Hemisphere latitudes. Without global warming caused by the greenhouse gas water-vapor, the northern hemisphere would have cooled to the point of ice-age conditions. But as a result of increased water-vapor-caused global warming, the Arctic Ice Cap probably lost thickness, similar to what we are now seeing, and eventually broke up one late summer. The most recent ice age would appear to have come on suddenly about 35,000 years ago. No only are the whole remains of numerous species of animals and plants found frozen in the permafrost, the recently discovered intact whole mammoth found in Siberia had frozen 35,000-year-old green foliage clinging to its fur. An ice age not only would appear to have come on very suddenly, it would appear to have come on during a summer-like season. One is led to suspect, then, that during the late summer 35,000 years ago the thin Arctic Ice Cap broke up suddenly. Cold dry Arctic air that had been separated from the open ocean by a thin layer of ice suddenly found a water surface beneath it. By evaporation and by processes which dry air may draw up water in addition to normal evaporation processes, a large volume of water would have been suddenly sucked up into the air. This, in turn, would have lowered the sea level of the Arctic Ocean by several centimeters. And this small amount spread over the vast area of the Arctic Ocean would have altered the flow of whatever analogy to the Gulf Stream Current that may have been present then. Warmer water would have flowed into the Arctic Ocean basin and prevented ice from freezing over it. Copious amounts snow would have begun to fall immediately, some back into the Arctic Ocean, considerable amounts onto the surrounding land masses of Europe-Siberia and Alaska-Canada-Greenland. The mammoth had obviously been caught up in something like this. It is not unreasonable to assume that the previous 20-or-so ice ages came on like that. And while another would not normally be due for perhaps as much as a hundred millennia, we humans, all by ourselves, may have generated adequate greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, methane, and others to prematurely precipitate a new ice age soon. While I was sitting in the front yard and watching gulls drifting over the great bright blue puddle of leftover glacier melt water called Lake Erie, this scenario suddenly came to mind.
One bright late summer day, say in 2030, maybe sooner, maybe later, the by then very thin Arctic ice cover would suddenly collapse and break up. The air above the suddenly open water would still be the same old cold, and constantly moving very dry Arctic air mass. By a combination of non-evaporation absorption brought on by hydrogen bonding with dry air molecules, by normal evaporation, and by wind-caused spray from the new disturbed air and water conditions, the cold dry air would suddenly suck up a colossal volume of water. The energy and temperature difference for this to happen by both nonevaporation absorption and evaporation would be lower than for straight evaporation. The bulk of the precipitation would fall back into the Arctic Ocean. But some of the warmed snow-filled ascending air would descend and precipitate over comparatively cooler land masses, say 20 percent of it. Even the first thin dusting of this snow would begin to reflect solar energy back out into space, immediately beginning a planet-wide cooling down process. In this cooling down process, water vapor would precipitate out of the entire planet's air mass, not only out of the polar regions. The loss of this greenhouse gas (water vapor) would accelerate the total-planet cooling. And yet, at the same time, enough flow of warmer Atlantic water would have been diverted into the Arctic Ocean to allow it to remain largely ice-free. Moreover, the sheer suddenness of the event could have hysteresis effects of their own that we might not normally consider. For instance, the sudden accumulation of an enormous volume of water vapor might momentarily alter the Earth's magnetic lines of force, and the re-assertion of them could have a cooling effect. And, of course, other things we may not normally consider could occur out of the suddenness of the event. Precipitation depends on rising air currents. Depending on the direction of air currents that single fateful day, snow from the snow-filled air mass that did not fall back into the Arctic Ocean would fall on Canada-Alaska-Greenland, or maybe in the other direction over Siberia-Europe. As moisture-laden air masses move to lower latitudes they will encounter increasing temperatures and thus rising air needed to cause precipitation. These air masses would begin to deposit cold dry snow on land. There would be a net loss of water to the Arctic Ocean. So in addition to depositing snow, the air mass would have withdrawn water and thus lowered water level. There would have been a sudden drop in the surface level of the Arctic Ocean. The sudden drop in Arctic sea level could possibly cause a shift in the Gulf Stream Current of the Atlantic Ocean. The present Gulf Stream Current flows north at about 20 to 30 SV (Sverdrups: One SV is a million cubic meters per second). A top U.S. Government climate scientist offered me a
calculation that one SV of flow (assuming a factor of 10 conversion from snow depth to water depth) is the equivalent of 60 meters (almost 200 feet) of snow over an area of 1000 km of latitude and 5000 km of longitude. This would be slightly larger than the combined areas of Alaska, the Yukon, the Northwest Territories, and Nunavit. However, the historical regions of the great Northern Hemisphere continental glaciers in North America, Europe, and Asia could be as much as 5 or 6 times the above 5000 km x 1000 km area. A one SV of flow could be 10 or 12 meters (say 30 to 40 feet) of annual snow spread over that larger area. That would be a lot of snow. But keep in mind that the great Ice Age continental glaciers reached depths of several kilometers of snow that had been squeezed into solid ice. It took a lot of snow to do that. Those of us who live near the southern shores of the Great Lakes in Canada and the U.S. are familiar with a phenomenon called "lake-effect snow." It occurs every early winter while the Great Lakes are ice-free. Cold and very dry air from polar regions flows over the open water and literally sucks up moisture. This moisture is instantly frozen into snow and falls in lavish amounts for some distances inland from the southern shorelines. Here in northern Ohio, a lake-effect snowstorm from Lake Erie can generate 2 meters (6 feet) of snow. And Lake Erie is a small puddle compared to the Arctic Ocean. Lake-effect snows happen regularly in November, December, and January until the Great Lakes freeze over (like the Arctic Ocean is now). Keep in mind that these lakes are quite far south from the Arctic, so the ultra-dry cold air masses are not constantly present here. They are only intermittently present. And thus lake-effect snow is not constantly falling during those months. It would be different along the Arctic Ocean shores. Snow would be generated and fall constantly. In the light of these two-meter lake-effect snowstorms from Lake Erie, a hypothetical relatively constant ten-to-twenty meter snowfall generated by moisture from an open Arctic Ocean does not seem outrageously unreasonable. In fact, it looks almost about right. And this would generate a one-Sverdrup flow of comparatively warm water into the Arctic Ocean to replace water lost by evaporation. One Sverdrup is simply a nice round number to get a picture of how much flow equals how much snow. But there is also an energy requirement. The same scientist calculated that to get the amount of heat energy needed to evaporate those ice-age amounts of snow, more than 12 Sverdrups of Gulf Stream flow into the Arctic Ocean would be needed. A one-SV evaporation upward out of the Arctic Ocean into the atmosphere as snow might only need to be enough "flow" to pull the Labrador Current (between Greenland and Canada) northward. It a comparatively weak current and presently flows southward. In and of itself, it would have little effect. But an effect of slowing it, stopping it, or reversing it would be to pull the Gulf Stream Current northward and westward more directly into the Arctic Basin.
Not all of the present 20-to-30-SV Gulf Stream Current would need to flow into the Arctic Ocean to supply enough heat energy. A flow of about 12 Sverdrups would supply the energy and temperature difference needed to sustain an ice age. But all of this additional flow would not be needed to maintain those conditions. The ice-free Arctic Ocean would be absorbing additional solar energy. Once warmer water is in the Arctic Basin, not all of it need evaporate upward as snow to sustain a constant flow. Some would cool, partly due to evaporation, partly due to radiation. The cooling sea water would increase in density, fall to some depth, and, as it does now, flow southward under the Atlantic Ocean as a counter-current (that researchers term thermohaline circulation). So there would be a "flow" upward into the atmosphere and another "flow" downward and southward, and the combined amounts might then grow themselves to sustain it. Once sent into the Arctic Ocean, the new Gulf Stream could create its own new selfsustaining dynamic. One aspect would be the result of snow falling around the perimeter of the Arctic Ocean. This snow would cause a rapid cooling of that area by reflection of solar energy. This would create a larger temperature difference between comparatively warmer water and cold dry air. Another aspect would have to do with a more rapid rate of sea water cooling at the ultimate latitude and thus of increase in water density. As the Gulf Stream pushed farther into the Arctic, its water would experience a more rapid rate of cooling. This would create a more rapid rate of densifying of sea water than at present. The resultant larger mass of heavier sea water would drop more rapidly than at present. It would be analogous to everso-slightly revving up the drive wheel on a conveyor belt. This would probably have an effect of taking more of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide out of the air and thus accelerating global cooling to new ice age conditions. The new flow-engine would force a more rapid undersea rate of flow to the south. This, in turn, would displace warmer water in the south and force a greater flow of surface Gulf Stream water as replacement into the Arctic Ocean. Offsetting this would be drag produced by obstructions on the complex topography of the Arctic Ocean sea floor and the elevation of the North Atlantic sea floor. So a net velocity might not be much different than the present Gulf Stream flow. Initially it would probably pull a slightly warmer Gulf Stream due to global warming. As the planet would cool, the Gulf Stream would lose some of its warmth. But the engine would by then be running and stable in an ice-age mode. It would seem that a mechanism like a greater-density-caused undersea flow coupled with evaporation and other processes to create snow could set up a large stable ice-age flow system. A 10-to-20-SV flow of comparatively warm water into the Arctic Ocean would
provide adequate energy to allow ice-age amounts of water to rise into the cold dry air and be deposited as snow just where the ancient glaciers are known to have been. For those who may still not be clear about what might occur, here it is again with less technical terminology. Presently the Arctic Ice Cap prevents the upward evaporation flow and resultant cold undersea counter-current flow from these hypothetical points farther north. If the ice cover would vanish slowly over decades, a slow upward flow of water by evaporation and hydrophilic absorption could slowly drag the Gulf Stream Current northward. The above scenarios would then come into play and our planet would experience yet another of many ice ages. But break-up of thin ice could happen suddenly over a wide area. Water beneath Arctic Ocean ice is now almost ghostly still. But when a large segment of much-thinner-thanpresent ice melts and wind and waves begin to chop away at surrounding thin ice, the ice cover could break up with dramatic suddenness. It could quickly include virtually the whole Arctic Ocean. The air above the suddenly liquid ocean would be the same as the present ultra-cold and ultra-dry North Polar air. It would, with a relative suddenness, suck up moisture like a gigantic sponge. This would lead to a sudden drop in Arctic Sea level. A sudden drop in water level might literally jerk (relatively speaking, over weeks or months) the Gulf Stream west and north to fill the slight basin. For some weeks or months the surface temperature of the Arctic Ocean would rise noticeably, even as the air mass, much of it continuing to move from land surface to over the ocean, would continue to retain its dry coldness and draw up water. This could set the Gulf Stream on a new course. As much as 80% of the precipitation sucked up by the gigantic sponge would fall back into the Arctic Ocean. But precipitation that did not return to the ocean would fall as bright dry reflective snow over Alaska-Canada-Greenland and Europe-Russia-Siberia. A stable cold dry air mass would continually form over this cold white ice-snow accumulation. This cold and dry air would repeatedly flow over the new warmer liquid Arctic Ocean that is fueled by the Gulf Stream Current and to some extent by the Japan Current pulled through Bering Strait. The cold and dry airflow would keep drawing water out of the Arctic Ocean, quick freezing it, and depositing some of it on land areas. After perhaps as little as 24 hours, very little of this dry snow would melt and return to the Arctic Ocean. Most of it would remain on the northern land masses and begin to form great continental glaciers. These would reflect a large percentage of incoming solar energy back out into space, and the whole planet would cool.
The global sea level would drop, of course, but the drop would largely be from the voluminous "ladling" of water out of the Arctic Ocean by moisture sucked into cold, dry Arctic air. And this would steadily draw the Gulf Stream Current and Japan Current into the Arctic Basin. The Arctic Ocean would become comparatively warm. A new lasting stable system of energy absorption, energy distribution, ocean current flows, and air mass flows would be established for millennia. The snow cover would expand all winter. Sinking water in open Arctic Ocean will pull more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and add to global cooling. The next summer the snow cover would be too wide and too deep to melt away, especially in the new cooling-down atmosphere. For some time, a significant percentage of greenhouse gas would remain. But its effect on global temperature would be negated by solar energy reflected back out into space from ice and snow covering a large part of the land mass. A New Ice Age would be on us all. There might be ways to slow it of reverse it, such as spraying the huge snow-covered areas with dark, solar-absorbing material. But there would be enormous monetary and environmental costs, and it probably would not work, anyway. New snow would be constantly and heavily falling. In the New Ice Age climate and conditions there would not be enough agricultural area left to feed our now six billion hungry mouths, even if, in the unlikely case, the transitional changing climate might allow minimally predictable planting, growing, and harvesting seasons. There would be mass starvation. There would be wars to get increasingly scarce supplies of food as well as to seize land for the populations of whole nations displaced by glaciers. Over five billion people could die in the span of a year or two, and civilization would come to an end for millennia. This is a shocking scenario. But it does not seem an impossible scenario. If scientists find that it is a likely scenario, there would be only one way to prevent it: stop greenhouse gas accumulation! Now! If we and our leaders do not want to sacrifice fossil fuel consumption to do it, we might just sit back and wait. Just about the time all those financial-market thirty-year bonds mature, we could be in the New Ice Age. The sudden break-up of the Arctic Ice Cover may sound like the weak link in the hypothetical chain of events. But recall if you will the 35,000-year-old quick-frozen green foliage clinging to the fur of the mammoth found in Siberia a few years ago. Could the above scenario have happened then, too? Time could be running out on stopping a catastrophe like we humans have not experienced since the Neanderthals were among us. And when that ice catastrophe happened back then, our few and far-between ancestors, perhaps only numbering in the hundreds of thousands, migrated to better caves and continued in familiar life styles. The poor Neanderthals, however, failed to survive the last ice age.
If the New Ice Age happens a few decades from now, the few survivors of our present six billion people living in fairly centralized economies may have to learn to like camping out or living in caves for lifetimes and eating survival foods like grubs and worms. Tom Slattery is author of The Tragic End of the Bronze Age, an nonfiction book based on his hypothesis that the initial smallpox pandemic forced the end of the Bronze Age. He is also author of "Sinking Into Summer's Arms," a novel about global warming precipitating the Next Ice Age. These and other books by him are listed on book sites such as Borders/Amazon.
("An Ice Age From Global Warming" was originally published in the now defunct Serial Free Press – http://www.serialfreepress.com/3/tslat_iceage.htm )
Following was on : HollywoodLitSales, May 8, 2002 -- reminded me of my idea, as sent out in my hypothesis, "Ice Age From Global Warming,"and as in my screenplay and novel Sinking Into Summer's Arms. The Day After Tomorrow Type of Material: Screenplay Genre: Action Writer: Nachmanoff, Jeffrey Emmerich, Roland Buyer: Twentieth Century Fox Producer: Gordon, Mark Date Logged: 05-07-2002 Agency: Gersh Agency Logline: Story is about global warming that creates hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes and the onset of the next ice age. Additional Information: Fox beat out several studios for the rights for this tentpole actioner. Fox guarantees an immediate pre-production start for this project which will begin production this fall. Seven Summits manages the screenwriter. Budget will be about $100 mil. Roland Emmerich who co-wrote and will direct will receive $10 mil. plus 10% of the gross.