What it Means


During the period of polar ice cap melting, consider the Atlantic Ocean. Most of the cold, fresh water created by the melting flows out through the North Atlantic. Very little comes out to the Pacific just because of how the land is. Remember the movie Red October, where submarines use the rush of cold water deep in the ocean between Iceland and England to travel quickly into the mid Atlantic Ocean. This rush of deep cold fresh water causes a current that forces the surface warmer water to flow north towards Europe and estabilishes most of the overall ocean currents. The warm weather in northern Europe and eastern Canada contributes to and intensifies the melting of the ice cap, which in turn intensifies the warmer northern weather, thus causing more melting, more flow of water and warmer weather yet.


This cycle clearly cannot continue forever. At some point enough of the polar ice cap has melted so that there is no longer such a large net flow of cold water out of the Arctic. At this point the northern flow of warm water on the surface and the warm air flowing into Northern Europe will be reduced. Instead of melting, the Arctic will again start to build up ice. The slow 100k glacial period will start and the buildup of ice will continue over the 100k years since there is no more north Atlantic current to melt the ice. The feedback loop of melting causing warm weather is now replaced with freezing of the ice cap causing cooler weather. The ice cannot build up forever, as the earth absorbs too much energy from the sun to completely freeze up. So at some point, the build up of ice is enough that it starts to melt even though the north Atlantic is not warming it. At that point, the north Atlantic will again start the warming feedback loop and the cycle of dramatic warming (10k years) followed by slow freezeup (100k years) will continue.

Remember too, although the buildup of ice takes a long time, the actual temperature changes in a particular place caused by the flow of the ocean occur on a much smaller time frame. The temperature charts show differences ranging from 2 degrees to 10 degrees celsius occuring over a relatively short time frame (ie. decades). The principle change will come in the flow of the Atlantic Ocean and the related weather changes caused by no more gulf stream affecting the weather in Eastern Canada, the Eastern US and Northern Europe.


The earth has a natural warming and cooling cycle that lasts just over 100 thousand years. The cycle goes from virtually no ice in the arctic, to substantial buildup of ice in the arctic. The complete melting of the polar ice cap is what triggers the next round of cooling. The natural flow of the Atlantic Ocean is what sustains the warming and cooling cycles.

The sea level would rise another 6.5 meters if most of the ice on Greenland melts (as it did in the last and every other interglacial period). Also remember that the melting of the ice shield over North American and Europe over the last 10k years has raised sea levels by an estimated 120 meters. How long before all of the Greenland ice melts and sea levels rise another 6 meters? 500 years? 200 years? What will happen after it melts? Will the Atlantic ocean current reverse causing considerably cooler temperatures for a long time in places like Northern Europe, Toronto and New York?

There exists a clear record of what has happened in the past. Will it happen again? We need to know.

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