There is no doubt that understanding the Earth’s climate is crucial for our survival on this planet. The Earth has experienced extreme weather conditions in the past, such as the ice age that occurred more than 700 million years ago. Australian geologists have recently conducted a study to determine the cause of this ice age and shed light on the Earth’s built-in thermostat. This groundbreaking research, published in Geology, unveils the role of plate tectonics and volcanic carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in shaping the planet’s climate. In this article, we will delve into the details of this study and explore its implications for our understanding of global climate dynamics.
The Sturtian glaciation, also known as the extreme ice age, occurred between 717 and 660 million years ago. This period predates complex plant life on land and the existence of dinosaurs. Despite extensive research, scientists have long been puzzled by the cause and unusually long duration of this ice age. However, the recent study conducted by Australian geologists proposes an intriguing answer to this mystery.
Through detailed plate tectonic modeling and computer simulations, the researchers identified historically low volcanic carbon dioxide emissions as the main factor behind the Sturtian glaciation. They discovered a correlation between the onset of the ice age and the lowest levels of volcanic CO2 emissions ever recorded. Furthermore, the volcanic CO2 outflux remained significantly low throughout the entire duration of the ice age.
Plate tectonics played a pivotal role in causing the Sturtian ice age. The researchers found that a plate tectonic reorganization led to a minimum in volcanic degassing, resulting in reduced CO2 emissions. Simultaneously, a volcanic province in what is now Canada started eroding away, actively consuming atmospheric CO2. The combination of these factors caused a significant drop in atmospheric CO2 concentration, triggering glaciation. The team estimated that CO2 levels during the ice age were below 200 parts per million, less than half the current levels.
The study not only provides insights into Earth’s ancient climate but also raises important questions about our planet’s long-term future. A prevailing theory suggests that Earth will eventually evolve towards Pangea Ultima, a supercontinent so hot that it could lead to the extinction of mammals. However, the research indicates that Earth is currently on a trajectory of lower volcanic CO2 emissions due to continental collisions and the slowing down of tectonic plates. This finding suggests that Pangea Ultima may potentially revert to a snowball state, similar to the ancient ice age. The future of our planet remains uncertain, and it is crucial to acknowledge that geological climate change occurs over extended periods.
The recent study conducted by Australian geologists has shed light on Earth’s extreme ice-age climate that occurred over 700 million years ago. The findings highlight the importance of plate tectonics and volcanic CO2 emissions in shaping the planet’s climate. By unraveling the mysteries of our planet’s past, scientists can gain valuable insights into Earth’s future and enhance our understanding of the dynamics of global climate change. This research serves as a reminder of the slow and complex nature of geological climate change and the critical role it plays in the overall sustainability of our planet.