A warming climate can support glacial ice

Jan 10, 2008
A Micrograph of 2 types of Foraminifera
A micrograph of two types of foraminifera, M. sinuosa and W. baltica, and uses to study climate conditions during the Cretaceous Thermal Maximum, 91 million years ago. Credit: 2007 Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego

New research challenges the generally accepted belief that substantial ice sheets could not have existed on Earth during past super-warm climate events. The study by researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego provides strong evidence that a glacial ice cap, about half the size of the modern day glacial ice sheet, existed 91 million years ago during a period of intense global warming. This study offers valuable insight into current day climate conditions and the environmental mechanisms for global sea level rise.

The new study in the Jan. 11 issue of the journal Science titled, “Isotopic Evidence for Glaciation During the Cretaceous Supergreenhouse,” examines geochemical and sea level data retrieved from marine microfossils deposited on the ocean floor 91 million years ago during the Cretaceous Thermal Maximum. This extreme warming event in Earth’s history raised tropical ocean temperatures to 35-37°C (95-98.6°F), about 10°C (50°F) warmer than today, thus creating an intense greenhouse climate.

A warming climate can support glacial ice
Graph depicts geochemical data collected from microfossils on the growth and eventual melting of ice sheets during the Cretaceous Period. Credit: 2007 Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego

Using two independent isotopic techniques, researchers at Scripps Oceanography studied the microfossils to gather geochemical data on the growth and eventual melting of large Cretaceous ice sheets. The researchers compared stable isotopes of oxygen molecules (d18O) in bottom-dwelling and near-surface marine microfossils, known as foraminifera, to show that changes in ocean chemistry were consistent with the growth of an ice sheet. The second method in which an ocean surface temperature record was subtracted from the stable isotope record of surface ocean microfossils yielded the same conclusion.

These independent methods provided Andre Bornemann, lead author of the study, with strong evidence to conclude that an ice sheet about 50-60 percent the size of the modern Antarctic ice cap existed for about 200,000 years. Bornemann conducted this study as a postdoctoral researcher at Scripps Oceanography and continues this research at Universitat Leipzig in Germany.

“Until now it was generally accepted that there were no large glaciers on the poles prior to the development of the Antarctic ice sheet about 33 million years ago,” said Richard Norris, professor of paleobiology at Scripps Oceanography and co-author of the study. “This study demonstrates that even the super-warm climates of the Cretaceous Thermal Maximum were not warm enough to prevent ice growth.”

Researchers are still unclear as to where such a large mass of ice could have existed in the Cretaceous or how ice growth could have started. The authors suggest that climate cycles may have favored ice growth during a few times in the Cretaceous when natural climate variations produced unusually cool summers. Likewise, high mountains under the modern Antarctic ice cap could have been potential sites for growth of large ice masses during the Cretaceous.

Ice sheets were much less common during the Cretaceous Thermal Maximum than during more recent “icehouse” climates. Paradoxically, past greenhouse climates may have aided ice growth by increasing the amount of moisture in the atmosphere and creating more winter snowfall at high elevations and high latitudes, according to the paper’s authors.

The results from the study are consistent with other studies from Russia and New Jersey that show sea level fell by about 25-40 m (82-131 ft) at the same time that the ice sheets were growing during the Cretaceous period. Sea level is known to fall as water is removed from the oceans to build continental ice sheets; conversely, sea level rises as ice melts and returns to the sea.

The presence or absence of sea ice has major environmental implications, specifically in terms of sea level rise and global circulation patterns. As humans continue to add large amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that accelerate the heating of the atmosphere and oceans, research on Earth’s past climate conditions is critical to predict what will happen as Earth’s climate continues to warm.

Source: University of California - San Diego

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User comments : 7

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jburchel
2.6 / 5 (5) Jan 10, 2008
Yes, no matter WHAT happens, including increases in ice and snow and decreased temperatures despite predictions for the opposite, the case for "climate change" is more solid than the one for gravity or Earth revolving around the sun, and capitalism must be stopped (even though it is already too late to do anything about it because of the horrors inflicted on our poor mother Earth by the Bush administration).

What a stupid article. Yes, we know that no matter what happens, fierce arguments will be made by the "smartest people in the room" to the effect that it only proves their point about climate change. This and other articles, just responses to new data showing ice INCREASING at the poles, not to mention others showing no evidence for loss of jungle as has been often hysterically claimed...

If it weren't so scary the way the "science community" treats this issue, among others, it would be funny.
niftyswell
2.3 / 5 (4) Jan 10, 2008
'The presence or absence of sea ice has major environmental implications, specifically in terms of sea level rise and global circulation patterns. As humans continue to add large amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that accelerate the heating of the atmosphere and oceans, research on Earth%u2019s past climate conditions is critical to predict what will happen as Earth%u2019s climate continues to warm.'

Once again...CO2 trails warming periods,it has never preceded it historically. So this statement of fact needs to be challenged by the community or evidence of this statement needs to be submitted. If you are unable to reliably predict the outcome of global warming, if you are unable to accurately model the behavior of the climate in past scenarios to predict future scenarios, and if you are unable to measure with any accuracy the current temperature...then the model needs further optimization. Good luck going forward, I need something better.
Quantum_Conundrum
1.8 / 5 (5) Jan 10, 2008
This extreme warming event in Earth%u2019s history raised tropical ocean temperatures to 35-37°C (95-98.6°F), about 10°C (50°F) warmer than today, thus creating an intense greenhouse climate.

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To me, This statement basicly just proves that long term cycles or "natural" catastrophes have far more effect on climate than man ever has or ever will.
plaasjaapie
1.6 / 5 (5) Jan 10, 2008
I think that it is good that we are spending a lot of time mapping what the climate was like historically. I do find, however, that the article is more than a bit vague in places. For example, they say that the tropical ocean temperature was running 35-37. I'm assuming that they mean the tropical ocean's surface temperature, not the average water temperature. As well, 10 degrees C delta T is 18 degrees F, not 50.
mikiwud
1 / 5 (7) Jan 11, 2008
Basicaly not bad,admitting to "natural climate variations"etc,but,then says "as Earth's climate continues to warm",which it hasn't for the last decade,then,link it to CO2 in order to ensure their grants.
bobwinners
3 / 5 (2) Jan 13, 2008
Interesting. This helps give an understanding of conditions during one of the great warm periods in earth's recent history. For those interested, got to http://www.scotes...mate.htm
Understand that the chart there is very much smoothed. We cannot know how much change occured in any given decade or even century. The swings could have been wild.
Other's statements of disbelief in global warming are uninformed and biased at best. Global warming is occuring. Humans are contributing to it. Whether it would happen in any case is disengenuous. We will never know, but prudence suggests extreme caution.
DrPhysics
1 / 5 (1) Jan 18, 2008

Other's statements of disbelief in global warming are uninformed and biased at best. Global warming is occuring.


It is and has occurred prior to the industrial revolution ... so what's your point?

Humans are contributing to it. Whether it would happen in any case is disengenuous. We will never know, but prudence suggests extreme caution.

As soon as you provide substantive evidence of human contribution, you will become worthy of reading.

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