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THE HUNDRED-THOUSAND YEAR CLIMATE OSCILLATION - INTRODUCTION
What the hundred-thousand year climate oscillation is all about.
It manifests itself as the Earth’s periodical, radical climatic changes over a very, very long time. Few people realize that the current climate of the Earth is not the dominant one. It is, in fact, as favorable to the well-being of the mankind as it is unusual in the Earth’s long history. Our civilization has developed in this climate period and thanks to this climate period. The time of good, mellow, and fertile climatic conditions is only a small fraction of our planet’s paleohistory, though. The Earth’s more typical state, which is a climatic travesty of the good one, is the cold period which is just as unimaginably long as much as it is unimaginably hostile to any form of life, especially the human race. The first, shorter period is called an interglacial. How the life is like in an interglacial everyone knows as we now live in one. Fertile fields, lush green meadows, green forest, both up north as well as close to equator. And there is the Earth completely different than that. It is the Earth in the time of immense glacier plates reaching down south to the latitude of northern states of today’s USA. The lands more south, still free of ice, but on which no drop of rain falls for hundreds of years, the lands the sun does not shine over because the air is filled with dust so the sky is white, not blue, even no cloud is ever present over it for a long, long time. It is the time when the rainforest is almost nonexistent in Africa and South America, only in South-East Asia small enclaves exist like sanctuaries kept for its future revival.
Most of the rest of the world is either an extreme desert or a semi-desert at the most. The main vegetation is a crude grass and dominant animals are those that graze on it and the beasts of prey that feed on the former. This period is called the glacial epoch but in the popular language is known as the Ice Age.
Most people know the warm times we live in now happened after the cold period named Pleistocene. The people are told that Pleistocene is now finished for good and from this time on we will always live in our warmth forever. Not to mention common people but even in the science world the Pleistocene is considered to be the closed thing of the past - "It is done, period, it has finished, the Pleistocene has finished, and is now followed by Holocene" it is a predominant, obligatory, "scientific" point of view.
The truth is different, though, and it is even more inconvenient than the "The Inconvenient Truth". As the matter of fact, the Pleistocene has not finished; we still live in it although we live in the INTER-glacial which means that as in case of every INTER, the former stage is to be continued after it. And it will be because it simply has to. The hundred-thousand year oscillation is nothing more nothing less as the dynamic way of keeping the Earth’s heat in balance. Without it the Earth would either overheat becoming another Venus or cool down to the point of becoming second Mars. The fact that the Earth’s temperature has been astonishingly stable over millions of years is because it has ability to control its heat balance dynamically.
Contemporary discussions about the climate completely lack the long-term historical perspective, especially paleohistorical one. Journalists and people involved in ecology treat decadal weather changes as climatic ones getting excited about one year being warmer than the one three years ago or just similar easy to make sensational, nonsense. Climate change discussion makes sense if it is done within at least a 100 year timeframe. 1000 years frame opens even wider horizon. What can we say about the climate change over the last 40 years of moderate warming? The average person knows virtually nothing about the climate changes that happened on Earth 1, 2, 3 or more thousands of years ago, knowledge that allows looking at the climatic phenomena from completely different perspective. The average person has been convinced the climatic world of ours has always been like that and always will be in future unless for our irresponsible actions. Seemingly intelligent and educated people feed the society with rubbish like the alleged "right to the stable climate". The average people buy that because they do not know the climate has always been changing, that the very intrinsic characteristic of the climate is its changeability. But they do not know that. They do not know that for most of the past the world was much cooler, drier and generally much more difficult to live in than it is today. They do not know the periods like the one we live in add up to just a fraction of the total time of the world’s long time climatic history.
The general, almost obligatory viewpoint is: well, we have global warming now and it looks as it is only can get warmer and warmer. The concept of the reversing temperature trend in future seems to be (especially in the eyes of a general public)) at least improbable not to say preposterous.
Because of certain atmospheric interactions, though, the climate can undergo radical changes, no matter global warming or not. In the previous interglacial called Eemian or shortly Eem the temperature of the Earth was much warmer than today yet it has finished quite suddenly after only 12 thousand years just like did other interglacials (and there have been many of them) before. As the temperature plummeted the glacial (or the Ice Age) period followed. Scary enough, that period lasted for nearly 90 thousands of years. The length of that period seems to be beyond comprehension. The oldest civilizations started "just" 6 thousand years ago. The famous Egyptian and Chinese civilizations are circa 4 thousand years old, Roman Empire that seems to be disappearing in the abyss of the past time just 2 thousand years ago. Our modern civilization is just three hundred years old and now we are facing nearly one hundred thousand years of extremely adversary world. Something that socially functioning mankind has never experienced so far.
We, the global civilization, live in our own interglacial, so far the last one, called the Holocene. It has started 11,744 years ago or very close to it. That sharp number comes from the analysis of the ice core samples from Greenland glaciers. Now, after almost twelve thousand years the Holocene is facing similar demise as its long gone, predecessing it, Eemian brother. Why can we expect the Holocene is to finish and to finish soon? One way of confirming this thesis is by studying paleohistory. Looking at the history of the hundred-thousand year oscillation we can only admire the regularity of its amplitude: over ninety thousand year-long periods of the ice age are interlaced with 12-13 thousand years long interglacials. It looks like a heartbeat. (Fig 1.1) or like a graph of thermostatically controlled temperature. In fact, the hundred-thousand year oscillation is working like the thermostatically controlled system. That’s why it has to continue to work. It has worked for hundreds of thousand years. Interglacials have been intertwined with glacial periods (ice ages) hundreds of times. If we like it or not this process has to continue to work in future if the Earth is to continue to be a heat balanced entity. And it will. The Pleistocene has not finished yet. It is only interrupted by the warm period we now live in. The period our civilization developed in, grew and thrived. That period is to end at some point and, many signs indicate it, is about to end soon.
The word "soon" may be used here in its geological terms but it may also have much more literate meaning than one could think.
The hundred-thousand year oscillation is in fact a heartbeat of the Earth’s life. It keeps the Earth alive. Any disturbance of that oscillation would mean developing heat imbalance of the planet. And the planet has been in balance so the next glacial period is to happen. It is inevitable and it is good for Earth although it may not be very convenient to us, so to speak. We must remember, though, that we are just guests here, our planet is our host and the interests of the host are always more important than those of a guest. As the ice age comes back we will have to accommodate to it or die. In times of the last ice age the bands of Homo-Sapiens accommodated to it and survived. The Homo erectus and Neanderthal men could not accommodate to bitter cold and the dusty air of the glacial maxima and died out. The Homo-Sapiens will have to accommodate to the ice age once again as it is about to come back. It is inevitable – it will happen because it has to. There is no way out. Do we have plan how to prepare for it? No. Are we even aware of it? No, we are currently too busy fighting a global warming (or rather pretending to do so). As shown on the Fig. 1.1 in our last half a million years we had five similarly developed interglacials each lasting around 12 thousand years (with some variations) separated by eons long glacial periods of ice ages. "Eons long" means roughly 90 or so thousand years. It is a mind paralyzing number. It is petrifying just to think about it. An interglacial lasts roughly 12 thousand years. The proportion is producing a headache. It is eight times as long. When our interglacial is gone the people of the future world will have to wait for another Garden of Eden (that’s how the Holocene will be perceived by them in their future dreams and yearnings) over 90 thousand years. I feel very, very sorry for them indeed. And those unlucky generations may appear not that far in time away from our one. Can the time of our interglacial end then be predicted and the time of it estimated scientifically? I believe it can. There are two ways to do so: one, simpler, is by comparison of the last two interglacials to find the similar stages of their development and to compare which of them have already happened in our one and which have yet not and based on their proportions to attempt to estimate how much time we still have left. Second way, much more difficult but also much more interesting, is to attempt to find the pattern of physical changes, the mechanism by which the oscillation is set in motion. What makes the temperature shoot up in the beginning of an interglacial and what makes it to (relatively) slowly go down after "only" 12 thousand of warm years. What makes the planet to cool down so drastically that nearly half of its area is eventually covered by 2 miles thick ice and almost the rest of the ice-free world consists of hostile to civilized life extreme deserts? Knowing the mechanism of so far mysterious changes would bring us one mile closer to how to estimate the contemporary warm period’s length and its projected termination time. The attempt of this website is then:
I will attempt to try to show why the contemporary global warming is a minor feature in the whole paleo climatic history first and as such bears rather little importance. Putting it in the proper perspective, it will better explain it is rather one of many of such warming events not "the one" as it is widely perceived in society now. As any other warm period in the past it is to eventually end either by itself or by demise of the more powerful one that carries it on its back.
Fig 1.1: Paleohistorical Timeline of the past 5.5 million years.