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Next icy era may be on hold

Researchers blame rise in carbon emissions for missing glaciation

7:00am, May 26, 2015
layer sediment

CLIMATE CONTROL  Studies of sediment layers in an ancient Italian lake suggest that carbon emissions from human activities may be delaying the start of Earth’s next glaciation. Volcanic ash forms the darker bands in the rock, which researchers used to date an ancient warm period.

The next big chill may be overdue. If humans hadn’t boosted levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, Earth’s next frosty bout of glacial growth probably would have already started, new research suggests.

For the last 11,700 years, Earth has been on a break between periods of ice expansion called glaciations. A similar interglacial period occurred around 790,000 years ago. A new climate reconstruction based on sediments from an ancient Italian lake shows that this historical interglacial lasted only about 10,800 years. The result suggests that the current interglacial should be wrapping up — but it’s not.

The difference between now and then, the researchers found, is the extra CO2 pushed into the atmosphere by human activities such as deforestation. Humans, therefore, may have postponed the next glaciation, the researchers propose online May 19 in Geology

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