Will there be another Ice Age?
I remember the first time I saw the movie The Day After Tomorrow.1 I was fairly young, with a wild imagination, so when our community experienced a hailstorm shortly after, I thought we were about to experience another ice age. (I even started planning how my family and I would survive.) Now, years later, with a more informed understanding of the science behind the (actual) Ice Age, I am convinced that there is no reason to fear we will experience another ‘big freeze’. Unfortunately, most people don’t know what caused the Ice Age, and that only the biblical creation model explains it. This has resulted in some (I think unwarranted) panic and confusion on issues like ‘global warming’ and whether or not the earth is heading into another ice age as in the above movie. Let’s put those worries to rest.
Different models, different conclusions
Today, ice sheets and glaciers cover approximately 15 million km2 of the earth’s total land mass—roughly 10% of its land surface. Both young-earth and old-earth scientists agree that this is left over from an ice age. But there is much disagreement as to the number of ice ages that have occurred throughout Earth’s history, as well as over what causes an ice age to start and end. A proper understanding of these issues will help us with regards to whether Earth might face another ice age in the future.
Those who believe the earth is billions of years old argue that there have been multiple ice ages throughout Earth’s history, the most recent of which ended about 10,000 years ago.2 Proposed causal mechanisms for these massive glaciations have included large meteorite impacts,3 supervolcano eruptions,4 and changes in things such as atmospheric carbon dioxide,5 the sun’s output,6 and the moon’s orbit.7 The most popular model today relies on so-called Milankovitch cycles, which posit that fluctuations of about two degrees in the earth’s axial tilt every 41,000 years, and changes in its elliptical orbit around the sun every 100,000 years, would produce a cooler climate.8 The proposed effects of these mechanisms are much reduced precipitation, with rainfall half of what it is today, and global average temperatures about 5–10°C below today’s.9
A major difficulty with all these ideas is that the proposed effects on global temperatures are too small to trigger an ice age, leading old-earth scientists to further propose ‘positive feedback’ mechanisms to amplify the change.10However, these are unsubstantiated.11
An even bigger problem is that, while the proposed changes could account for the freezing of the oceans,9 simply cooling down the earth’s temperature will not cause ice to build up on the continents. Instead it would create a cold desert, like most of northern Siberia and Antarctica today.12 In order for continental ice build-up to occur, there would need to be increased precipitation of ice and snow12 and, unfortunately for old-earth scientists, all of the proposed theories can only account for temperature change. A plausible explanation for an ice age needs a mechanism13 that would provide not only lower temperatures but also increased precipitation of ice and snow.
And finally, proponents of these views remain in the dark as to why an ice age would end—that is, why the snow and ice would cease to accumulate and begin to thaw.14
The young-earth model
Contrary to old-earth ideas, models based on biblical history propose that only one Ice Age has occurred and that it took place subsequent to and as a direct result of the global Flood (about 4,500 years ago). This Ice Age is understood to correspond to what old-earthers call the Pleistocene Ice Age (1.8 million years long in the old-earth timeline), though taking place over a much shorter span of time—about 700 years. As for the supposed ‘earlier ice ages’,2 examination of the evidence indicates that their features are different from those of the Pleistocene one. They are better interpreted as huge underwater landslides caused by massive sediment movement during the Flood.15
Unlike old-earth scientists, young-earth scientists have a scientific model, drawing on the events of the Flood, that can explain both the beginning and the end of the Ice Age.16 The catastrophic, tectonic and volcanic activities during the Flood would have made the post-Flood oceans warmer than they are today (evidenced in ice core samples). This caused much greater evaporation, leading to increased precipitation of ice and snow, allowing ice to accumulate on the continents.
Furthermore, all that volcanism would release fine volcanic dust and aerosols high into the atmosphere, reflecting a larger percentage of sunlight back into space, keeping the interiors of the continents cooler in summer than today. This would prevent the snow and ice that fell on the continents in winter from fully melting the following summer, allowing the ice to build up from year to year.
It is estimated that the ice accumulated for approximately 500 years following the Flood.16 Once the oceans had cooled (reducing the evaporation) and the atmospheric dust and aerosols had cleared, it would have taken about 200 years for the ice sheets to retreat to near where they are today. Thus, the global Flood provides the necessary conditions for the beginning and end of the Ice Age, with its end ushering in the typical temperature fluctuations experienced today.17
Will there be another ice age?
Old-earth models not only require multiple ice ages in the past, they also suggest that the earth will face more in the future.18,19 Given the lack of consensus among old-earth scientists as to what causes an ice age, they have much difficulty predicting, according to their models, when another might happen.19
While many think that global warming will save us from the next ice age, media hype has given the impression that it will actually trigger it, through its supposed effects on oceanic circulation. But the proposed effects of global warming are in any case insufficient to trigger an ice age.20
Regardless, the history in Genesis implies that the earth is a highly stable system, considering that its climate returned to equilibrium following the incredibly large deviation caused by the Flood.12 This knowledge can usefully inform our thinking about climate models and concerns, and our responses to them.
No future Ice Age
Whatever the latest media buzz, we can safely predict that the world will not see another Ice Age. This is founded in the confidence that the account of the global Flood in the book of Genesis is true, and that the Flood is what triggered the Ice Age. In Genesis 9:11, God made a covenant with Noah, saying, “I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” Logically, if the Ice Age was caused by the Flood (the only model to date that explains the Ice Age), then since God has promised to never again send such a flood, we should not expect another such ice age, either.21 Ever.
References and notes
- See Vallorani, B., Movie Review: The Day After Tomorrow; creation.com/day-after-tomorrow. 31 May 2004. Return to text.
- Old-earth scientists typically argue for a total of five major glaciation events: the Huronian, the Cryogenian, the Andean-Saharan, the Karoo, and the Quaternary (or Pleistocene); see Marshall, M., The history of ice on Earth; newscientist.com, 24 May 2010. Return to text.
- Jones, N., Evidence found for planet-cooling asteroid; nature.com, 2 September 2013. Return to text.
- Ambrose, S.H., Late Pleistocene human population bottlenecks, volcanic winter, and differentiation of modern humans, Journal of Human Evolution 34(6):623–651, June 1998. Return to text.
- Eldredge, S., and Biek, B., Ice ages—what are they and what causes them? Survey Notes 42(3), September 2010; geology.utah.gov. Return to text.
- Welsh, J., Global warming or little ice age: Which will it be? livescience.com, 21 June 2011. Return to text.
- Schirber, M., Ice ages blamed on tilted Earth; livescience.com; 30 March 2005. Return to text.
- Abe-Ouchi, A., Saito, F., Kawamura, K., Raymo, M. E., Okuno, J., Takahashi, K., and Blatter, H., Insolation-driven 100,000-year glacial cycles and hysteresis of ice-sheet volume, Nature 500(7461):190–193, 8 August 2013. Return to text.
- Zimmermann, K.A., Pleistocene epoch: Facts about the last ice age; livescience.com, 9 October 2013. Return to text.
- University of Exeter, Direct evidence for a positive feedback in climate change: Global warming itself will likely accelerate warming; sciencedaily.com, 30 March, 2015. Return to text.
- Oard, M.J., Wild ice-core interpretations by uniformitarian scientists, J. Creation 16(1):45–47, April 2002; Sibley, A., Likely causes of the Ice Age, J. Creation 18(2): 83–90, August 2004. Return to text.
- Walker, T., The Geologic Record; in: Evolution’s Achilles’ Heels, (Ed.) Robert Carter, Creation Book Publishers, Powder Springs, GA, p. 188, 2014. Return to text.
- The need for “a complicated dynamic interaction” between several climatic and geographic features was noted by an old-earth scientist in Maasch, K.A., What triggers ice ages? pbs.org, 1 January 1997. Return to text.
- Biello, D., What thawed the last ice age? scientificamerican.com, 4 April 2012. Return to text.
- Oard, M.J., Ancient Ice Ages or Gigantic Submarine Landslides? Creation Research Society Books, Chino Valley, AZ, 1997; Molén, M., Diamictites: ice-ages or gravity flows? in Walsh, R. E. and Brooks, C. L. (Eds.), Proceedings of the Second International Conference on Creationism, Creation Science Fellowship, Pittsburgh, PA, pp. 177–190, 1990. Return to text.
- Oard, M.J., An Ice Age Caused by the Genesis Flood, Technical Monograph, Institute for Creation Research, El Cajon, CA, pp. 135–149, 1990; Snelling, A. A., Earth’s Catastrophic Past: Geology, Creation, & the Flood [Volume 2], Institute for Creation Research, Dallas, TX, 773–778, 2009. Return to text.
- Gallop, R.G., Evolution: The Greatest Deception in Modern History, Red Butte Press, Jacksonville, FL, p. 72, 2011. Return to text.
- Sheldrick, G., Scientist predicts earth is heading for another Ice Age; express.co.uk, 29 March 2013. Return to text.
- Edmonds, M., Will there be a new Ice Age? geography.howstuffworks.com, accessed 24 May 2015. Return to text.
- Weaver, A.J., and Hillaire-Marcel, C., Global warming and the next Ice Age, Science 304(5669):400–402, 16 April 2004. Return to text.
- This would not preclude a future period of cooler temperatures due to, for example, reduced solar activity. But as shown, that is not the type of ice age the earth has had, with huge volumes of ocean water locked up in vast continental ice sheets. Simply cooling the earth would mean less evaporation from the oceans to form ice. Return to text.