How Global Warming May Cause the Next Ice Age

Picture: George Grie (CC) "Ice Age Premonition or Infinite Iceberg Synthesizer"

Thom Hartmann wrote at Common Dreams back in 2004:

While global warming is being officially ignored by the political arm of the Bush administration, and Al Gore’s recent conference on the topic during one of the coldest days of recent years provided joke fodder for conservative talk show hosts, the citizens of Europe and the Pentagon are taking a new look at the greatest danger such climate change could produce for the northern hemisphere – a sudden shift into a new ice age. What they’re finding is not at all comforting.

In quick summary, if enough cold, fresh water coming from the melting polar ice caps and the melting glaciers of Greenland flows into the northern Atlantic, it will shut down the Gulf Stream, which keeps Europe and northeastern North America warm. The worst-case scenario would be a full-blown return of the last ice age – in a period as short as 2 to 3 years from its onset – and the mid-case scenario would be a period like the “little ice age” of a few centuries ago that disrupted worldwide weather patterns leading to extremely harsh winters, droughts, worldwide desertification, crop failures, and wars around the world.

Here’s how it works.

If you look at a globe, you’ll see that the latitude of much of Europe and Scandinavia is the same as that of Alaska and permafrost-locked parts of northern Canada and central Siberia. Yet Europe has a climate more similar to that of the United States than northern Canada or Siberia. Why?

It turns out that our warmth is the result of ocean currents that bring warm surface water up from the equator into northern regions that would otherwise be so cold that even in summer they’d be covered with ice. The current of greatest concern is often referred to as “The Great Conveyor Belt,” which includes what we call the Gulf Stream.

The Great Conveyor Belt, while shaped by the Coriolis effect of the Earth’s rotation, is mostly driven by the greater force created by differences in water temperatures and salinity. The North Atlantic Ocean is saltier and colder than the Pacific, the result of it being so much smaller and locked into place by the Northern and Southern American Hemispheres on the west and Europe and Africa on the east.

As a result, the warm water of the Great Conveyor Belt evaporates out of the North Atlantic leaving behind saltier waters, and the cold continental winds off the northern parts of North America cool the waters. Salty, cool waters settle to the bottom of the sea, most at a point a few hundred kilometers south of the southern tip of Greenland, producing a whirlpool of falling water that’s 5 to 10 miles across. While the whirlpool rarely breaks the surface, during certain times of year it does produce an indentation and current in the ocean that can tilt ships and be seen from space (and may be what we see on the maps of ancient mariners).

This falling column of cold, salt-laden water pours itself to the bottom of the Atlantic, where it forms an undersea river forty times larger than all the rivers on land combined, flowing south down to and around the southern tip of Africa, where it finally reaches the Pacific. Amazingly, the water is so deep and so dense (because of its cold and salinity) that it often doesn’t surface in the Pacific for as much as a thousand years after it first sank in the North Atlantic off the coast of Greenland.

The out-flowing undersea river of cold, salty water makes the level of the Atlantic slightly lower than that of the Pacific, drawing in a strong surface current of warm, fresher water from the Pacific to replace the outflow of the undersea river. This warmer, fresher water slides up through the South Atlantic, loops around North America where it’s known as the Gulf Stream, and ends up off the coast of Europe. By the time it arrives near Greenland, it’s cooled off and evaporated enough water to become cold and salty and sink to the ocean floor, providing a continuous feed for that deep-sea river flowing to the Pacific.

These two flows – warm, fresher water in from the Pacific, which then grows salty and cools and sinks to form an exiting deep sea river – are known as the Great Conveyor Belt.

Amazingly, the Great Conveyor Belt is only thing between comfortable summers and a permanent ice age for Europe and the eastern coast of North America.

Read more here.

38 Comments on "How Global Warming May Cause the Next Ice Age"

  1. Except, the glaciers and ice caps are not melting. The Polar Bears are doing well. The Arctic Reindeer loved the warmth from the pipeline and the numbers went up… Do not be fooled by scientific theory that is repeated and repeated until people believe that it is (magically) fact. Theory is not fact until it is proven and that means, concrete facts back it up. Saying something is true does not make it true.

    • Then prove that the glaciers and ice caps are not melting, the polar bears are doing
      well, and the arctic reindeer loved the warmth from the pipeline and their
      numbers went up.

    • If you can string 3 semi-coherent sentences together then you too can make $24k/year debunking science for the Koch brothers. Sign up now!

      • If you believe in every leftwing diatribe of junk science then you may qualify for an Obama phone!

        • bobbiethejean | Oct 31, 2012 at 7:05 pm |

          You call the ruling of 97% of the world’s climate scientists junk science? Why don’t you go become a climate scientist if you think you know so much about how the Earth’s climate system works?

          • Kevin Leonard | Oct 31, 2012 at 10:59 pm |

            I guess you missed this one posted by Camron in the other story:

          • bobbiethejean | Nov 1, 2012 at 2:11 pm |

            That article is full of so much cherrypicking, I don’t even know where to start my debunking cannons. Anyway I’m tired, I have work to do, and I REALLY do not feel like arguing with people on the internet right now so I’m just going to be completely fucking obnoxious and do this: FUCKING NASA. THE END.

          • Kevin Leonard | Nov 1, 2012 at 4:28 pm |

            Right. NASA. They’ve never manipulated or withheld data from the public. On any subject. Ever.

            Do you realize the irony that the article is about how the 97% was cherry picked? And that even those cherries thought the survey was bogus? They declare it right in the appendix of the survey, itself. That is the only contention I am presenting, btw. The 97% mantra is flawed. You can vote it down because you don’t like it, but no one has responded against this article on the other thread. And your argument against it is, ummm, less than compelling.

            However, I would like to add that I have seen you claim before that a debate is over because of some argument you put forth. And I want to iterate that those declarations are meaningless. At lease you know and admit you are being “completely fucking obnoxious.”

          • bobbiethejean | Nov 1, 2012 at 10:09 pm |

            Wow, what a conspiracy whackjob. You should really be ashamed but I suspect you are too lacking in self-awareness to feel shame for your willful ignorance.

            Incidentally, the CDC is in on it too. Apparently so is the CIA:

            So pretty much the whole government wants us to believe climate change is real because…… CONSPIRACY THEORIES GO!

          • Kevin Leonard | Nov 1, 2012 at 10:48 pm |

            Go ahead and form conclusions about what I’m ignorant of based on two comments. You are really good at forming solid impressions of me, as we determined the last time we butted heads.

            And don’t bother responding to my criticisms of your arguments, in this thread or in the other posts about your beloved Substance Dualism videos. Because your conclusions are superior to mine. Please forgive me for daring to question the almighty Ruling of the 97%. I promise I’ll come to my senses! I don’t want to be labelled a conspiracy whackjob!!

            I supposed, in the meantime, you could tell me what brought down WTC Building 7?
            Just for clarification…

          • bobbiethejean | Nov 2, 2012 at 6:52 pm |

            “Go ahead and form conclusions about what I’m ignorant.”

            Kevin Leonard: Denies climate science, thinks he knows more than NASA, the CIA, the CDC, almost the entirety of the world’s climate scientists, marine biologists, Earth scientists, and a buttload of other organizations both governmental and non-governmental. Believes that the consciousness is a magical thing that can detach itself from the body and is not smart enough to see the MASSIVELY FRICKING HUGE, NIGH INFINITE MAGNITUDINOUS number of problems with that absurd notion.

            Me: Logical conclusion……

            “you could tell me what brought down WTC Building 7”

            I have no idea. I don’t think we will ever know the full truth behind what happened at 9/11. However: A precursory Google search brought up that. As far as 9/11 is concerned, I don’t even care to argue it because I don’t know and debating it will not be enlightening to either of us in any way.

          • Kevin Leonard | Nov 2, 2012 at 7:34 pm |

            bobbiethejean: Master at drawing erroneous conclusions.

            I never said any of those things. Questioning authority is not the same thing as claiming you know more. If you comprehended my reply to your post(s) on the Substance Dualism videos, you would know I denounce the concept of consciousness as a thing. You appear capable of conceptualizing from a only single point of reference.

            I had no intention of opening a debate on 9/11, but what IS enlightening, and you provided the information in a manner even better than I anticipated, is that you simply toe the party line.

            bobbiethejean: Incapable of independent thought or investigation.

            Go back to your spoonfed reality.

          • bobbiethejean | Nov 3, 2012 at 8:06 am |

            [Questioning authority]

            To me, it doesn’t seem like you’re questioning authority. You show all the classic signs and symptoms of someone who is believing whatever sounds right to him. You should spend less time questioning a world-wide body of highly educated, highly competent scientists and more time questioning yourself. I’m not saying the scientists are always right but guess what…. whenever we have found out they were wrong about something, it has NEVER been through some gullible, credulous, burger-flipping, nose-picker farting ignorant comments all over the internet from his deskchair. If we do find out they were wrong about global climate change, it’s going to be through OTHER SCIENTISTS.

            I DID actually question authority on global warming. I did the research and came to what I believe to be the logical, correct conclusion. You seem to be just randomly shouting FIGHT THE POWER! without thinking about what you’re doing. Authorities aren’t always evil or wrong.

            [simply toe the party line.]

            Now your just being absurd…. well, even more absurd than usual. I said I don’t know what happened with 9/11 and I don’t think we’ll ever know the full truth. Please do explain which party that “line” belongs to.

          • Kevin Leonard | Nov 3, 2012 at 10:11 am |

            “To me, it doesn’t seem like you’re questioning authority. You show all the classic signs and symptoms of someone who is believing whatever sounds right to him.”

            You are literally basing this off of the fact that I linked to an article challenging the validity of oft-quoted consensus of the 97%. Oh, you call it the “ruling” of the 97%. I have made no position statement in this thread. Who is making shit up?

            You consistently stoop to ad-hominem attacks on people, which shows your level of intellect, or at least your willingness to think things through and gather adequate information before making a judgement on someone.

            Authorities aren’t always right, either. In case you haven’t heard, there are still OTHER SCIENTISTS who challenge Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming.

            My conclusion on you toeing the line: I didn’t ask for you to tell me the full truth of what happened on 9/11. I asked about how Building 7 came down.The Popular Mechanics articles happens to be the source that defenders of the Official Story (the party line) quote most frequently. Perhaps that was the first time you had heard of Building 7? In which case, you simply haven’t done your homework. The Popular Mechanics articles have been thoroughly debunked by numerous scientists and common sense. Sadly, they remain The Authority in many people’s minds. You appealed to them.

            Since you also, obviously, viciously, stand on one side of the party line regarding Global Warming…

          • bobbiethejean | Nov 4, 2012 at 11:18 am |

            If you want to remain a credulous, gullible wanna-believer blundering through life in a cloud of willful ignorance, by all means, far be it for me to disabuse you of the absurd notion that humans are incapable of fucking up the planet’s climate system by pumping hundreds of trillions of tons upon tons of pollutants into the atmosphere. Whatever makes you happy. I don’t see any point in trying to shoot logic into your basaltic, impenetrable, logic-proof skull any longer. Peace out.

          • Kevin Leonard | Nov 4, 2012 at 2:30 pm |

            Can you truly not understand that I have no official position on the matter? that I do not deny AGW, but simply question it because other scientists still question it? I have not shut down my brain and continue to listen to both sides.

            Why do you feel so compelled to attack? is your ego so fragile?

          • bobbiethejean | Nov 4, 2012 at 6:10 pm |

            You don’t come across as someone who has no official position and also, this is really hilarious coming from someone who assumes I’m towing some party line on 9/11 when I legitimately have no position aside from “I don’t think we will ever know the full truth.”

          • Kevin Leonard | Nov 4, 2012 at 11:20 pm |

            Seriously. What can you honestly infer about my position on global warming from this thread?

          • bobbiethejean | Nov 5, 2012 at 7:26 am |

            I can infer that you believe global climate change is a conspiracy and it isn’t actually happening. Considering your behavior, I don’t think this is an illogical inference. You linked to an anti-climate change article that was HIGHLY biased, blatantly cherry-picked, and contained actual falsities. Then you WOW, HOLY RED HERRING, BATMAN’d up the topic of 9/11 out of nowhere and accused me of “towing the party line” when I am certainly not the sort to tow anyone’s line except my own. Happening to agree with someone or someones does NOT mean I am “towing the party line.”

            Either you are a climate-conspiracist or you just like disagreeing with people for shits and giggles. I suppose there may be some other options…. you could always just say “I believe X” but I suppose that would be too much to ask.

          • Kevin Leonard | Nov 5, 2012 at 9:06 am |

            The article is actually pointing out how the, ahem, Master’s thesis, claiming there is a 97% consensus is biased, so it is obviously going to be biased against the 97% claim. That the 97% consensus has become such a mantra, with proponents even going so far as calling it a “ruling,” (talk about absurd) it is worth investigation. Did you even read the article? or did you just dismiss it because it challenged your beliefs?

            I make it no secret that I do not trust the government or corporations or any other agency or individual whose monetary livelihood may depend on going with the herd. Questioning the information that comes from those sources in light of current events should be seen as logical behavior. In my view, it is more illogical to look at those events and agencies accused, and just shrug and say “we’ll never know.” Moo.

            It would have been much simpler and more logical to ask my position. If you actually infer from any statements I have made on this thread, or in the other thread where the issues were actually addressed, rather than dealing with ad hominems, that I believe climate change isn’t happening, you are a complete fucking idiot, and are more guilty of “believing whatever sounds right” than I have ever been. A statement such as “there are still OTHER SCIENTISTS who challenge Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming” should clue you in the the fact that I don’t even doubt that we are contributing to the rise in temperature, much less that climate change isn’t happening.

            My position is in line with this scientist, who actually took the survey which resulted in the 97% mantra:

            “Climate is a very complex system with many variables including sun radiation cycles, ocean temperature, and possibly other factors that we are not even aware of.

            There are studies and data out there that are being overlooked by the IPCC. Ultimately, maybe we are the biggest cause or maybe we are not, but the current push of saying that human activity is the cause is interfering with an unbiased and scientific evaluation.”

            And with that, I am through on this thread. Feel free to have the last word.

          • Calypso_1 | Nov 4, 2012 at 12:02 pm |

            This is a serious question not meant to rile anyone or create further division and so on. You broached aspects of 9/ll in a discussion about climate change. These aspects always revolve around whether someone believes certain claims, particularly non-mainstream, conspiratorial, or sees through the lies. You are not the only one I have seen do this and it both fascinates and disturbs me that 9/11 should become a shibboleth for determining views about reality. Particularly when it seems that this is evoked at a transition point in the discussion when one party has exhausted an
            understanding of the sciences and wishes to coalesce their views on common
            sense towards an oppositional consensus when instead it seems to be a way of simply
            branding the ‘other’. This seems to me to be little different from and to play
            into the dynamic involved around the label ‘climate denier’.

          • Kevin Leonard | Nov 4, 2012 at 2:24 pm |

            I have doubts that either of us understand the science. But one of us simply attacks the other when questions are raised opposing a supposed consensus, and here, simply questioning whether there is actually a 97% consensus. Or good god, “ruling.”

            And yes, I had a hot iron in my hand when I posed the Bldg. 7 question, willfully, completely aware of what I was doing. Regardless of your level of discomfort, to many of us, not questioning the Official Story is a defining characteristic of someone who deserves the brand SHEEP.

          • Calypso_1 | Nov 4, 2012 at 9:05 pm |

            As to the level of understanding that either of us has; I believe the last time that I responded to you was to clarify what the “big red line” was on a basic statistical graph.
            You are not in a position to judge my understanding. As for myself, I am not a climate scientist but I do have mathematical knowledge of modeling complex dynamic systems and creating research studies.
            SHEEP is a fairly poor term to apply to ANYONE who spends their time on Disinfo.

          • Kevin Leonard | Nov 4, 2012 at 11:09 pm |

            Sorry for the lack of clarity, I was not referring to you.

        • You should have read Lord of the Rings instead of Atlas Shrugged as a 14 year old. There is a reason why sane people believe that Randite = nut.

        • Yeah, because the only “real” science has been pushed to the fringe conspiracy sites. Mainstream science has been cooped by the same dark liberal forces that have cooped the media right?

      • Calypso_1 | Nov 1, 2012 at 11:00 am |

        Do they give you a little book of rhetorical fallacies too!?

  2. Daniel Reasor | Oct 31, 2012 at 4:56 pm |

    The same oil companies that fund anti-climate change propaganda are already securing contracts to drill in waters opened up by the melting of the polar ice.

    Don’t take my word for it. Watch a Shell spokesman celebrating in this CNN video.

    If you don’t want to take the word of an oil man who’s making a short term buck off of the undeniability of climate change, ask a conservation biologist why plants and animals are migrating toward the poles as the equator heats up.

    If you think the plants and animals are lying to you, I don’t know what to tell you.

  3. BuzzCoastin | Oct 31, 2012 at 9:34 pm |

    it’s been well documented that the earth has global weather cycles
    100,000 year cooling & warming cycles
    and we haven’t yet hit the high temperatures of 325,000 years ago yet
    the pattern has been that the peak of heat leads to an ice age
    and it could happen tomorrow or 10,000 years from now
    which is the same amount of time to a 4 billion year old planet

    • kowalityjesus | Nov 1, 2012 at 12:51 am |

      What is so outlandish about the idea that having CO2 levels 35% higher than “normal” (i.e. without human induced carbon de-sequestration) would result in higher tropospheric temperatures, given that CO2 as a chemical absorbs infrared radiation?

      Is it not anomalous that the arctic sea had the least amount of ice in recorded history, and probably also in the last several hundred-thousand years, on sept 20 2012? Or that 10 out of the last 15 years (since 1997) have been hotter than any other on record? Is there any better argument than “these data just happen to be anomalous at this point in time” ?

      • BuzzCoastin | Nov 1, 2012 at 4:21 am |

        wtf does that have to do with I typed?
        it’s simply a summation of published data
        the only conjecture I ventured was when the next ice age arrives

        but as to your rant
        even if humans are causing this weather
        what can you or I do about it?
        gonna quit your job & stop driving?

        • kowalityjesus | Nov 1, 2012 at 9:41 am |

          Your previous comment is attempting to assert that any temperature anomalies that we are experiencing are a part of cycles over hundreds of thousands of years. My questions were trying to invoke ockham’s razor to point out that very long cycles are probably playing an miniscule part in the recent temperature spike because more apparent anthropogenic evidence explains it more simply.

          Just trying to set the record straight, my carbon footprint is already quite small.

  4. charlieprimero | Oct 31, 2012 at 10:37 pm |

    2004 pants-wetting is entertaining. The same memes play today. Tax the evil humans because I’m a media consumer who can’t distinguish science from propaganda!

  5. hahahahahahahahahahaha…… warmer temperatures making ice? hahahahahahahahhahahahahaha…. stupid people will believe anything these days.

  6. Gjallarbru | Jan 8, 2014 at 8:10 pm |

    When it come to global warming, one thing is always nagging at me, the heat itself. I wonder if other sources of heat retention, and our heat production through various means isn’t part of the problem. My point being that we may exceed the ability of our atmosphere to vent the heat in the first place, even without pollution.

    Much of our technology produces or retains heat. For instance, what about all the stoves, BBQ, toasters, or even hair-dryers, whom have heat production for primary function (and basically sole function). What about all those foundries around the world, which produce incredible amounts of heat, just to make our metals. Ever thought about welding, which wouldn’t happen without heat? Where do you think that heat goes?

    Anybody living in cold temperatures will heat their houses. Through many shortcomings of our constructions, and just coming in and out of our houses, heat from the house is lost in the atmosphere. Heating a house is a never ending process during winter. Since we’re talking about winter, which do you think is more reflective, asphalt or snow? The very fact that we clear our roads attracts and traps more heat. And we don’t remove roads, we make more every year. On top of that, the same goes for roofs, which certainly help heat up the atmosphere much more that the whitest snow.

    A similar problem exist in summer, when trees feel a much cooler to the touch then asphalt, or a roof. Every asphalted road, every roof, be it of a car, a house, or office, attracts and retains more heat than any plant in existence. With or without greenhouse gases, with the shear number of roof, and road and metallic surfaces, we are bound to heat things up.

    Yeah, but cars and industry bellow with nasty gases…

    But there’s another rub, cars also produce enormous amount of heat. Ever burnt yourself on a hot engine or radiator ? I have, and those are hot! Never mind that cars help “retain” heat because of the gases they produce, what about the heat they make? In fact, any mechanical work will result friction and heat. So much of our machinery produce incredible amount of heat, I don’t know why we don’t worry about that. In short, anything industrial produces industrial amounts of heat.

    Since petroleum products are at the center of global warming, has anyone considered the heat needed by the refineries? There are miles of steam pipelines and different heating processes to refine oil into the different products. Again, even before those products are even consumed, there are uncounted BTUs just thrown in the atmosphere, and not one mention of that fact.

    On the industrial side, one can also consider the IT industry. Server rooms need to be kept cool even if every bit of equipment in the room produces copious amounts of heat. So much heat that it is now considered to build servers in Iceland and other such cold places to keep the cost of cooling down. So what does IT want to do now? That’s right, pump heat directly into the coldest places on earth, to save on costs of cooling server rooms. With that kind of madness, gases are the least of our problems.

    And then, there’s the little things…

    Every bit of electronic we use produces some heat, including the very computer I used to type this on. Sure, on its own, it is an entirely negligible heat source, but considering all the machines like it together, I’m pretty sure it’s entirely different. Every computer, phone and tablet is spitting its own small heat signature, which together probably becomes entirely monstrous. We never have less of those, we tend to have more!

    Oh, and how about every human on earth. Each human body produces heat, and lots of it. We are more numerous than ever before, and continue to grow our number every day. Do you really think that all the heat produced by all those bodies just magically disappears, because individually we are an insignificant source of heat ? Oh and if you think cow farts are a problem, how much farting that 7 billion humans do anyway? Individually, perhaps cows fart more than a human, but considering our numbers, I’m sure humans are very competitive farters.

    Yeah, but we are building electric cars! Who cares! Those cars will need copious amounts of heat for smelting metals, welding, etc. There is much damage done even before they reach the road, and its not like they won’t produce any heat at all. Electric motors run hot too, less so than internal combustion engines, but hot nonetheless. And every battery I’ve used produces some heat while being recharged, and at the number we are going to need them, they won’t exactly be negligible either.

    So I would have thought that before we worry about how much heat we retain, that we should consider how much heat we produce. For even if we remove all the greenhouse gases, isn’t it possible that we are simply producing more heat than what can escape our atmosphere naturally? If so, then the problem exposed in the article is more dire than presented.

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