Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Ask the Experts: Why did the Ice Age end?

Climate change is brought on by a combination of changes in Earth’s rotation and orbit, atmospheric composition and geological conditions.

There are several factors that contribute to the Earth’s change in climate over time. Atmospheric gas, the Earth’s rotation, plate tectonics and natural disasters are all considered to be possible contributing factors in the climate change. The amount of greenhouse gases found in the atmosphere can drastically affect the temperature here on Earth, the more greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, water vapor and ozone, the higher the temperature. During the beginning of an ice age, the amount of greenhouse gases begins to decrease, which cools the Earth’s temperature. At the end of the ice age the greenhouse gases begin to rise, which in turn raises the temperature. The exact cause for these fluctuations are unknown, but most likely they are a result of multiple factors. One possible explanation for the change in greenhouse gases is geological activity.

Volcanoes, earthquakes and plate tectonics all affect the geological make up of the Earth, which in turn can affect the atmospheric conditions. Changes in the orbit of the Earth around the sun, known as Milankovitch cycles, alter the amount of exposure the Earth receives from the sun. These orbital cycles result in climate change patterns expected to be seen every 100,000 years. The total effect of the Milankovitch cycles are unknown, but scientific study indicates that the change in orbit can affect temperature and climate.

The combination of geological activity, atmospheric composition and changes in Earth’s rotation and orbit, all contribute to the climate changes seen at the end of the last Ice Age.


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