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Are we heading into a new Ice Age?

What the science says...

Select a level... Basic Intermediate

Worry about global warming impacts in the next 100 years, not an ice age in over 10,000 years.

Climate Myth...

We're heading into an ice age

"One day you'll wake up - or you won't wake up, rather - buried beneath nine stories of snow. It's all part of a dependable, predictable cycle, a natural cycle that returns like clockwork every 11,500 years.  And since the last ice age ended almost exactly 11,500 years ago…" (Ice Age Now)

According to ice cores from Antarctica, the past 400,000 years have been dominated by glacials, also known as ice ages, that last about 100,000. These glacials have been punctuated by interglacials, short warm periods which typically last 11,500 years. Figure 1 below shows how temperatures in Antarctica changed over this period. Because our current interglacial (the Holocene) has already lasted approximately 12,000 years, it has led some to claim that a new ice age is imminent. Is this a valid claim?

Figure 1: Temperature change at Vostok, Antarctica (Petit 2000). The timing of warmer interglacials is highlighted in green; our current interglacial, the Holocene, is the one on the far right of the graph.

To answer this question, it is necessary to understand what has caused the shifts between ice ages and interglacials during this period. The cycle appears to be a response to changes in the Earth’s orbit and tilt, which affect the amount of summer sunlight reaching the northern hemisphere. When this amount declines, the rate of summer melt declines and the ice sheets begin to grow. In turn, this increases the amount of sunlight reflected back into space, increasing (or amplifying) the cooling trend. Eventually a new ice age emerges and lasts for about 100,000 years.

So what are today’s conditions like? Changes in both the orbit and tilt of the Earth do indeed indicate that the Earth should be cooling. However, two reasons explain why an ice age is unlikely:

  1. These two factors, orbit and tilt, are weak and are not acting within the same timescale – they are out of phase by about 10,000 years. This means that their combined effect would probably be too weak to trigger an ice age. You have to go back 430,000 years to find an interglacial with similar conditions, and this interglacial lasted about 30,000 years.
  2. The warming effect from CO2 and other greenhouse gases is greater than the cooling effect expected from natural factors. Without human interference, the Earth’s orbit and tilt, a slight decline in solar output since the 1950s and volcanic activity would have led to global cooling. Yet global temperatures are definitely on the rise.

It can therefore be concluded that with CO2 concentrations set to continue to rise, a return to ice age conditions seems very unlikely. Instead, temperatures are increasing and this increase may come at a considerable cost with few or no benefits.

Basic rebuttal written by Anne-Marie Blackburn


Update August 2015:

Here is a related lecture-video from Denial101x - Making Sense of Climate Science Denial

 

Last updated on 7 August 2015 by MichaelK. View Archives

Printable Version  |  Offline PDF Version  |  Link to this page

Argument Feedback

Please use this form to let us know about suggested updates to this rebuttal.

Further reading

Tamino discusses predictions of future solar activity in Solar Cycle 24.

Acknowledgements

Many thanks to Sami Solanki for his invaluable advice and feedback as well as John Cross for his very helpful comments.

Further viewing

potholer54 published a video tackling this myth on June 27, 2020

 

Dave Borlace explains why we are not headed towards an ice age in this "Just have a think" video published in December 2019:

 

Comments

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Comments 51 to 75 out of 137:

  1. Here's an interesting figure, derived from a compilation of ice core CO2 data. From the file history: "connect it to the glacial cycles by marking 230 ppm as a transition level and colored "glacial periods" blue and interglacial periods yellow. There's a clear 80,000-110,000 period of repeating glacier even if they vary in quality." I'm not aware of any credible evidence for 15k year glacial cycles or any factual support for suggestions that we're heading into an ice age. What I have seen are mis-statements of fact: "Some say we are "nearing the end of our minor interglacial period", and may in fact be on the brink of another Ice Age." Incredibly this statement is linked to a source, which says very little of the kind: "We currently are nearing the end of a small, minor interglacial period ". Of course, this figure doesn't include our own increase in CO2 to 390 ppm, but it does make it obvious that glacial stages don't happen in high CO2 environments -- in our current plate tectonic/ocean circulation setting. You're not in the Ordovician any longer.
  2. I have been thinking about this topic for a bit and I am somewhat curious as to where the assertions that the "These two factors, orbit and tilt, are weak and are not acting within the same timescale – they are out of phase by about 10,000 years. This means that their combined effect would probably be too weak to trigger an ice age. You have to go back 430,000 years to find an interglacial with similar conditions, and this interglacial lasted about 30,000 years" comes from. From my understanding of Ruddimans work we were heading into an ice age until anthropogenic influences kicked in. Ruddiman in his real climate post seems to defend this assertion well... http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2005/12/early-anthropocene-hyppothesis/
  3. The link for the Tamino post in the Further Reading section is broken. The correct link location is: http://web.archive.org/web/20080501114257/http://tamino.wordpress.com/2007/10/13/solar-cycle-24/ The Yooper
  4. Research noctilucent clouds. Me thinks they are purposely ignored due to their suggesting carbon dioxide build up leads to quick cooling of the globe. That makes Robert Felix' theory (if you can call it that) even more non-threatening to the robber-baron fossil fuel industries than the global warming theory but makes them both quite unlikely. Carbon dioxide leads to more methane thought to be the main source of the high altitude ice crystals of noctilucent clouds first noticed at the start of the industrial revolution and steadily increasing since then to record extent last year. There is research that suggests they block one percent of the incoming sunlight during the summer months when they peak. That is ten times more solar variation than what has been observed during humanity's existence in the sun's changes in output. It was just found that the mesosphere, where these clouds happen, is now coldest recorded. The jet stream is observed to be at record speeds as well as unusually low, blamed for both the floods in Pakistan and the heat wave in Russia. Recently, Bolivia had their worst environmental catastrophe as normally tropic areas plunged to record cold killing millions upon millions of wildlife and hundreds of people. Tens of thousands of sheep just died in New Zealand due to record cold. Wild gorillas in Rwanda Africa just died from record cold. Germany just saw the most recorded rain for an August. Canada is suffering significant crop destruction from record rains. If the record precipitation persists into the winter, it is liable to bury whole cities under snow and ice. Here is a video made by NASA on the noctilucent clouds: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-8920558797349908992&ei=NfVUS-rYNJWUqAOzmfzEAw&q=noctilucent# "Are you tied to our destiny?"
  5. Despite local variations, this past summer/winter (depending on where you are) was exceptionally warm in terms of the global scale, not exceptionally cold: 2010 — How Warm Was This Summer? The global scale is of course the significant scale of "Global Warming." Here's a nice roundup of recent work in noctilucent clouds as they relate to climate change, including a really nice photographic example of what they look like: Increase in Shining Clouds Highlights Climate ‘Weirding’. Not a peer-reviewed item but includes links to actual research.
  6. Tom Loeber wrote : "Research noctilucent clouds. Me thinks they are purposely ignored due to their suggesting carbon dioxide build up leads to quick cooling of the globe." To state that they are being "purposely ignored" and finish up with a link to a NASA video about them, is a bit confusing. There is also a WIKIPEDIA page all about them, which shows lots of studies into them. Hardly "purposely ignored", surely ? As for your assertions about 'cold records' : Bolivia had their coldest temperatures in nearly 50 years and that, combined with low water levels due to drought (plus, possibly, disease), led to the massive loss of fish. Nature Parts of New Zealand have experienced cold and snow (perhaps the worst since the 70s), unfortunately at the same time as lambing is progressing - However, it is important to remember that many parts of the country have experienced benign weather at the same time, leaving many people wondering what all the fuss was about. NZ Met Service SMH Four gorillas died back in May in Rwanda : New Times If you were trying to prove that AGW is leading to more and more extreme events (albeit the cold ones not being as significant records as the hot or wet ones), then well done. Or were you trying to show something else...perhaps about a coming ice-age ?
  7. Tom Loeber at 02:10 AM, Tom I tend to agree with you. Virtually nothing is discussed here about noctilucent clouds, I think because of the fascination with what occurs at the TOA which seems to be considered as being the tropopause. I think TOA is a misnomer anyway as it is actually more so the top of the weather with water vapour and CO2 extending above it as well as all the other gases that form the atmosphere.
  8. Thank you JMurphy for the heads up about the Rwanda gorillas. Robert Felix's web site slants news to suit his theory and I grabbed that off of there as a recent phenomenon. As far as noctilucent clouds, does the IPCC use them in their considerations? I know Robert Felix doesn't mention them at all in his ramblings. Here is an article that wonders why the thermosphere is shrinking more than expected from just the solar minimum alone. Carbon dioxide build up is blamed for that cooling but only partially. Something else in the make up of the thermosphere is leading it to shrink, to cool. Shrunken Thermosphere Appears the increase in noctilucent clouds comes from rising methane emissions and it is thought that the disturbances from rising carbon dioxide lead to weather extremes that push water itself up to the mesosphere. Here is an article talking about unusually low, split and faster jet stream leading to weather extremes: Wayward Jet Stream Possibly noctilucent clouds are a missing piece of the puzzle that cinches the Hamaker hypothesis which is detailed in a 1989 film you can get here: 1989 film "Stopping the Coming Ice Age" Incidentally, those ice crystals of the noctilucents, they apparently collect dust from micrometeorites as well as stuff maybe that gets blown up from the surface turning them into first surface mirrors. Seems increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and its consequences are coating the planet with highly reflective mirrors far above the greenhouse gases: Why noctilucents are inordinately reflective.
  9. Perhaps SkS should start a separate thread on noctilucent clouds, which apparently are predicted to be both more common as well as moving into lower latitudes w/warming of the atmosphere. Meanwhile, here's an intriguing article about a powerful laser being borrowed from Europe by the Australians and hauled to Antarctica with the objective of further investigations: Scientists use giant laser to measure cloud temperature
  10. Looking at some of the assumptions that seem to underly the lead article, NOAA used to have a page on their web site where a credentialed scientist was lamenting how the Milankovitch theory of ice age cycling was used to date ocean sediments then the sediments' dating used to bolster the Milankovitch theory but that page disappeared during the last Bush administration, apparently. Ever hear of the Devil's Hole Nevada crystals analysis for oxygen isotopes ratio over the last couple of hundred thousand years that was released in 1988? Devil's Hole Oxygen isotope ratio analysis. Do some in depth research into it and you find their resulting time line puts the start of the last two major ice ages at peak concentrations of carbon dioxide. That study has been repeated with analysis of similar crystals from deep pristine wells around the planet with some rather convincing agreement but, seems the Milankovitch theory still predominates despite the accumulating evidence that atmospheric gases concentration plays the major role in the cycling of the ice ages: Carbon dioxide concentrations play leading climate determining role.. The Milankovitch theory totally lets the fossil fuel robber barons off the hook so, is it any wonder you find recent studies purporting to prove it on the basis of an announced match of one cycle change?: Milankovitch theory proved? Want to buy some swamp land?. There are coral deposit studies that suggests major ice ages start immediately after global warming: Global warming starts ice ages? How long do we have to wait for the science to take hold and blow all these fossil fuel serving lies to smithereens? Who knows. It has been found though that major swings to ice age conditions can happen quite fast, like, within a years time: One of actually many findings that ice ages can come on incredibly fast. From Jared Diamond, in his book "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed," one can see that climate change plays a major role in how human social experiments end. A "Secrets of the Dead" PBS program shared some convincing evidence how climate fluctuation was perhaps the major reason why Rome fell. Human social experiments simply don't have the information handling acumen to predict and prepare. What with the fossil fuel companies basically ruling behind these ruses we call societies today, is it any wonder the very dangerous repercussions of carbon dioxide increase would be squelched, nay, suppressed, censored? There was wide spread record cold in the southern hemisphere this last winter, Africa, South America, New Zealand, Tasmania, Australia and I understand even Antarctica had record cold. What's going to happen to the north hemisphere this winter? I'm afraid you wont see much of it on the war profiteering fossil fuel controlled media channels but you might just feel it or get to see some of your family die from it.
  11. Tom Loeber wrote : "There was wide spread record cold in the southern hemisphere this last winter, Africa, South America, New Zealand, Tasmania, Australia and I understand even Antarctica had record cold." I have previously commented on your "widespread record cold", i.e.it's not true, so I don't understand how you can repeat that without coming up with some evidence to back up your assertion. Do you have any evidence for any of those claims of "wide spread record cold" ?
  12. Record cold in a number of S. America countries. 8/5
    Argentina is colder than Antarctica. 8/3
    Huge fish & other wildlife die-off from cold in Bolivia. 8/3
    State of emergency due to cold for 2/3 of Peru. 7/27
    6 country S. America cold snap kills 175+. 7/20
    I'm just getting started. Give me some more time and I'll stretch that back some more where, if I recall correctly, you see widespread record cold happening in all of the places I mentioned. Amazing that colony of endangered penguins was hurt hard by a widespread cold snap in South Africa recently. Penguins, hurt by cold? Wow. Australia is the sketchy part of my claim however we'll see as I go through my archive. I do seem to recall some widespread record cold on its West and North coasts. Hmmm, come to think of it, on their northeast coasts as well. Hope to give that some substance shortly but, I do have a life you know. :~)
  13. Note the blue smudge over South America in the map at lower right. Always good to look at all the data.
  14. Tom, Cherry-picking at its extremes and confusing regional weather events with long-term global trends. Did you know that 2010 likely going to be the warmest year in the instrumented record? Did you know that 17 nations this year have set all time record high temperatures, while only one nation has set an all time record low? (H/T Jeff Masters) Did you know that: "The June–August worldwide land surface temperature was 1.00°C (1.80°F) above the 20th century average of 13.8°C (56.9°F)—the warmest June–August on record, surpassing the previous June–August record anomaly of 0.92°C (1.66°F) set in 1998." [from NCDC] Did you know that so far this year the S. Hemisphere has had its second warmest year on record? [NCDC] Please read this and have a look at the figure below: Also look at Fig. 21 in this
  15. You beat me to it Doug! :)
  16. Cool, I see a blue smudge over Australia too. Could you post the source of that please?
  17. Oops, sorry! Here you go: GISS Surface Temperature Analysis: 2010 — How Warm Was This Summer?
  18. Tom Loeber, your first newspaper article mentions some days of low temperatures due to a cold front in certain areas of Southern Brazil, Northern Argentina and Uruguay, and one claim of worst for 47 years - lots of dead fish in Bolivia. Your second article mentions "coldest winter in [Argentina in] 40 years". Your third piece is a blog which re-iterates the number of dead fish in Bolivia (See your first link also). Your last link mentions "coldest temperatures in 10 years" in Argentina and a general "cold spell" in South America. The LAHT link about Peru wouldn't load for me but I doubt whether there is anything there more unusual than the rest of your links. So, am I right in thinking that when you mention "widespread record cold" you are basing your views on newspaper articles ? What records have been broken in any of those articles, that can compare to record high temperatures ? You know, the temperatures that have been the highest in ALL records ?
  19. That GISS link Doug provided in #67 makes about how the question, 'was weather event XYZ caused by global warming', is usually answered which has bothered me for a long time; ------------------- "Finally, a comment on frequently asked questions of the sort: Was global warming the cause of the 2010 heat wave in Moscow, the 2003 heat wave in Europe, the all-time record high temperatures reached in many Asian nations in 2010, the incredible Pakistan flood in 2010? The standard scientist answer is "you cannot blame a specific weather/climate event on global warming." That answer, to the public, translates as "no". However, if the question were posed as "would these events have occurred if atmospheric carbon dioxide had remained at its pre-industrial level of 280 ppm?", an appropriate answer in that case is "almost certainly not." That answer, to the public, translates as "yes", i.e., humans probably bear a responsibility for the extreme event."
  20. It strikes me that the combination of Tom's articles in with what looks like an innocuous slight negative anomaly over parts of South American serves as a handy reminder that seemingly insignificant average anomalies can translate into dramatic local weather events.
  21. Good point Mr. Murphy. Not much registering of broken records in those articles. It is me stretching that probably they were but not recorded. Sorry about that. I do think though that, so far I have answered your question "Do you have any evidence for any of those claims of "wide spread record cold?" in the affirmative at least a bit since your question is relatively extreme. Hope to cement that a bit more with time. Really should go do some physical work on my B100 consuming car. Got a schedule to keep.
  22. Here's a report of the cold in New Zealand killing "tens of thousands of lambs" though no record is mentioned as being broken it states its the worse since 1972: Tens of thousands of New Zealand lambs killed by cold. 9/22
    Strong winds, heavy snow and record cold across Tasmania. 9/17
    South pole has record cold. 7/31
    Much of New Zealand experiencing record cold. 6/2
    Queensland, Australia towns get record cold. 5/22
    Cold snap hits Argentina, Paragua, Uruguay & Bolivia. 7/18
    Record low temperature in Brazil. 7/15
    At least this one is a record for 82 year old Juana Benitez: Cold snap hits several South America countries. 7/10
    Well, how about coldest SE Australia in some 60 years?: Unusual widespread cold in Australia. 6/30
    Here's the story about S. Africa penguins though it doesn't mention any records being broken. Maybe it is a record that over half of the penguin chicks died from the cold this time. One island hardly qualifies as wide spread though: Cold rain kills %50+ endangered S. Africa penguin chicks. 6/15
    There was some widespread crop damage from cold in S. Africa but it doesn't mention any records being broken: Severe cold & frost damages S. Africa crops. 7/15
    Oh, don't get me going on the widespread cold in the northern hemisphere over the last couple of years. Notices of those far out weigh those for the southern hemisphere. Two years ago, my mom died due to complications in what I understand was Washington state's first ever state of emergency due to record cold and snow. I truly expect the cold and snow to be worse this year across the northern hemisphere and there are some long range predictions suggesting that too.
  23. @Tom: And yet 2010 is on par to be the second hottest year in the Southern Hemisphere. As for a cold winter in the NH last year, you certainly didn't come to Canada. It was very mild overall. The problem is that you seem to believe anecdotal evidence trumps measured averages. It doesn't, and therefore your theory that we are in a cooling trend does not stand scrutiny.
  24. Tom, picking local cold spell doesnt mean anything. Look at the global average temperatures. As to the storm that hit here - well it was bad but it was just a storm, unfortunately at bad timing after a very mild winter and otherwise early spring. Effect on NZ annual average temps - not much. Global warming does not preclude cold spells. There is more energy in the weather systems, more humidity, and if temperatures go below zero, you will get heavier snow.
  25. I think it was Professor Hansen stating that mantra that weather doesn't indicate climate about the record cold in the US NE and Europe not too long ago while actually there was record cold on all six continents at the time. Anecdotal evidence only pertains so far, you know. You can be killed by an anecdotal occurrence. If it is anecdotal that the whole planet is being pushed to collapse into the more stable set of conditions as evident by its holding way over 90% of the planet's existence at least in the last million or two years, well, heck, quick snap to major ice age conditions will be but an anecdotal odd and absolutely not average happening. Get it right. What I'm suggesting is that the record global warming is leading to a propensity to snap into extreme widespread cold. I'm not denying that there was record heat but I think the idea of a tipping point should be considered. What does the planet tip to? Just look at the record. Interglacials come and go. They are the transient phenomenon. The planet apparently gets tipped into its most stable set of conditions, ice age conditions, and they come on anecdotally and rapidly, beating the average trends quickly. I know it is a difficult concept. The ways to avoid global warming make sense to avoid quick snap to extreme global cooling except for the idea of using Hydrogen gas as a fuel. That would most likely lead to more of those noctilucents as suggested on the Wikipedia on the phenomenon. Hey, earth's climate system is not a linear process. It is dynamic with repeated seriously differing cycles. The change to something serious, what ever we might be tipping to, will be anecdotal. It will not be an average outcome. It will be new and looks like it is going to catch most quite off guard. Good luck all!

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