Tectonics in the tropics trigger Earth’s ice ages, says study

Posted: March 15, 2019 by oldbrew in climate, Geology, Ice ages, research
Tags: ,

Glacier in Patagonia

The latest Ice Ages theory rolls off the production line. This one relies on ‘pulling enough carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere’, so we can see how they’re thinking. A possible problem there is that historical data from ice cores usually show carbon dioxide changes following temperature changes by a few hundred years, which seems to contradict the findings here. It’s the old chicken and egg conundrum – effects can’t precede causes. An important part of the carbon cycle is ocean outgassing of CO2 (response to warming) and absorption (response to cooling).

Over the last 540 million years, the Earth has weathered three major ice ages—periods during which global temperatures plummeted, producing extensive ice sheets and glaciers that have stretched beyond the polar caps.

Now scientists at MIT, the University of California at Santa Barbara, and the University of California at Berkeley have identified the likely trigger for these ice ages, reports Phys.org.

In a study published in Science, the team reports that each of the last three major ice ages were preceded by tropical “arc-continent collisions”—tectonic pileups that occurred near the Earth’s equator, in which oceanic plates rode up over continental plates, exposing tens of thousands of kilometers of oceanic rock to a tropical environment.

The scientists say that the heat and humidity of the tropics likely triggered a chemical reaction between the rocks and the atmosphere.

Specifically, the rocks’ calcium and magnesium reacted with atmospheric carbon dioxide, pulling the gas out of the atmosphere and permanently sequestering it in the form of carbonates such as limestone.

Over time, the researchers say, this weathering process, occurring over millions of square kilometers, could pull enough carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere to cool temperatures globally and ultimately set off an ice age.

“We think that arc-continent collisions at low latitudes are the trigger for global cooling,” says Oliver Jagoutz, an associate professor in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences. “This could occur over 1-5 million square kilometers, which sounds like a lot. But in reality, it’s a very thin strip of Earth, sitting in the right location, that can change the global climate.”

Jagoutz’ co-authors are Francis Macdonald and Lorraine Lisiecki of UC Santa Barbara, and Nicholas Swanson-Hysell and Yuem Park of UC Berkeley.

A tropical trigger

When an oceanic plate pushes up against a continental plate, the collision typically creates a mountain range of newly exposed rock. The fault zone along which the oceanic and continental plates collide is called a “suture.” Today, certain mountain ranges such as the Himalayas contain sutures that have migrated from their original collision points, as continents have shifted over millenia.

In 2016, Jagoutz and his colleagues retraced the movements of two sutures that today make up the Himalayas. They found that both sutures stemmed from the same tectonic migration. Eighty million years ago, as the supercontinent known as Gondwana moved north, part of the landmass was crushed against Eurasia, exposing a long line of oceanic rock and creating the first suture; 50 million years ago, another collision between the supercontinents created a second suture.

The team found that both collisions occurred in tropical zones near the equator, and both preceded global atmospheric cooling events by several million years—which is nearly instantaneous on a geologic timescale.

After looking into the rates at which exposed oceanic rock, also known as ophiolites, could react with carbon dioxide in the tropics, the researchers concluded that, given their location and magnitude, both sutures could have indeed sequestered enough carbon dioxide to cool the atmosphere and trigger both ice ages.

Interestingly, they found that this process was likely responsible for ending both ice ages as well. Over millions of years, the oceanic rock that was available to react with the atmosphere eventually eroded away, replaced with new rock that took up far less carbon dioxide.

“We showed that this process can start and end glaciation,” Jagoutz says. “Then we wondered, how often does that work? If our hypothesis is correct, we should find that for every time there’s a cooling event, there are a lot of sutures in the tropics.”

Full report here.

  1. Stephen Richards says:

    Really ?

  2. oldbrew says:

    They are talking about the major ice ages, including the one we’re in:
    Over the last 540 million years, the Earth has weathered three major ice ages
    – – –
    What are the Major Ice Ages of the Earth’s History?

    The Earth has experienced at least five major ice ages in its 4.57 billion year history: the Huronian glaciation (2.4 to 2.1 billion years ago), the Sturtian/Marinoan glaciation (710 to 640 mya), the Andean-Saharan glaciation (460 to 430 mya), the Karoo Ice Age (350 to 260 mya) and the most recent Ice Age, which is currently ongoing (40 to 0 mya). The definition of an Ice Age is a long-term drop in global temperatures from the historical norm, accompanied by an extension of continental ice sheets. Each Ice Age is cyclical, generally on timescales of 44,000 and 110,000 years, during which glacial ice rhythmically extends and recedes.
    . . .
    Most of the time, the Earth is not in an Ice Age, and the average global temperature is about 22 °C (71 °F).
    . . .
    Only during about 15% of the Earth’s history has there been an Ice Age.
    [bold added]


  3. J Martin says:

    More co2 deluded nonsense.

  4. ivan says:

    It appears that they will produce any old theory to try and prop up the ‘CO2 causes heating’ and, if that is true, the lack of CO2 must cause cooling gravy train lest the luxurious funding all comes to a halt.

  5. phil salmon says:

    The primary mechanism by which tectonic shifts affect climate, is by rearrangement of continents, and most importantly, rearrangement of the pathways of deep ocean circulation. The CO2 story is redundant and not supported by palaeo data. The article for instance is silent on the fact that atmospheric CO2 levels were around 4000 ppm during the end-Ordovician glaciation. This doesn’t fit their rock weathering story so expect the palaeo data for the end Ordovician to be revisited and revised / airbrushed quite soon.

    The Cenozoic cooling is largely as a result of the isolation of Antarctica and its being surrounded by a continuous Southern ocean. As soon as the Southern Ocean cut off Antarctica from southward warm currents from Africa, the continent glaciated. And with it, eventually, the northern hemisphere and Arctic also.

    At the heart of the CO2 story of climate is the conjuring trick of inverting cause and effect.

  6. p.g.sharrow says:

    Once again the savants have added 2+2 and got 5. Fools, CO2 can not cause Climate changes on a water planet. CO2 content of the atmosphere is a effect NOT a cause of the temperature of the hydrosphere…pg

  7. oldmanK says:

    CO2 no, tectonics an effect. On much shorter time-scale. Certainly in the Med.


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