Thursday, March 31, 2005

Ice Ages Blamed on Tilted Earth

In the past million years, the Earth experienced a major ice age about every 100,000 years. Scientists have several theories to explain this glacial cycle, but new research suggests the primary driving force is all in how the planet leans. The Earth’s rotation axis is not perpendicular to the plane in which it orbits the Sun. It's offset by 23.5 degrees. This tilt, or obliquity, explains why we have seasons and why places above the Arctic Circle have 24-hour darkness in winter and constant sunlight in the summer. But the angle is not constant – it is currently decreasing from a maximum of 24 degrees towards a minimum of 22.5 degrees. This variation goes in a 40,000-year cycle. Peter Huybers and Carl Wunsch have compared the timing of the tilt variations with that of the last seven ice ages. They found that the ends of those periods corresponded to times of greatest tilt.


At March 31, 2005 11:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The precession of the earth's axis as a major cause of ice ages, has been around for quite a while. Milutin Milanković (a.k.a. Milankovitch) (May 28, 1879), was the first to propound it (as far as I know), and since then with modern instrumentation, measurement and computers, the theory has gained greater credence.



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