climate: new ice age may be thousands of years away

The longest Antarctic ice core yet drilled is revealing Earth’s climate of the past, as well as predicting its future, suggesting that the next ice age is at least 15,000 years away. The ice core, almost 2 miles long, was drilled by a consortium called the European Project for Ice Coring in Antarctica. Containing snowfall and trapped pockets of air from the last 740,000 years, the core is the oldest continuous record of climate yet obtained. By studying the chemical composition of the trapped snow and air, the researchers can see how Earth’s climate has changed over time. In the June 10 Nature, the team reports that Earth has undergone eight ice ages in the past 740,000 years. Comparing patterns of past climate with current environmental conditions, they conclude that, without human intervention, Earth won’t experience an ice age any time soon. “However, we may have a heat wave if we are unable to control CO2 emissions and other greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere,” stated team member Eric Wolff, of the British Antarctic Survey, in a press release.

This news brief appeared in the Discoveries column of the Boston Globe’s Health/Science section on 6/15/2004.
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