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Will there be another Ice Age?

by

Polar-bear

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.

Old-earth models

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

  1. See Vallorani, B., Movie Review: The Day After Tomorrow; creation.com/day-after-tomorrow. 31 May 2004. Return to text.
  2. 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.
  3. Jones, N., Evidence found for planet-cooling asteroid; nature.com, 2 September 2013. Return to text.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Welsh, J., Global warming or little ice age: Which will it be? livescience.com, 21 June 2011. Return to text.
  7. Schirber, M., Ice ages blamed on tilted Earth; livescience.com; 30 March 2005. Return to text.
  8. 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.
  9. Zimmermann, K.A., Pleistocene epoch: Facts about the last ice age; livescience.com, 9 October 2013. Return to text.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. Biello, D., What thawed the last ice age? scientificamerican.com, 4 April 2012. Return to text.
  15. 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.
  16. 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.
  17. Gallop, R.G., Evolution: The Greatest Deception in Modern History, Red Butte Press, Jacksonville, FL, p. 72, 2011. Return to text.
  18. Sheldrick, G., Scientist predicts earth is heading for another Ice Age; express.co.uk, 29 March 2013. Return to text.
  19. Edmonds, M., Will there be a new Ice Age? geography.howstuffworks.com, accessed 24 May 2015. Return to text.
  20. 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.
  21. 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.

Helpful Resources

Readers’ comments

Robert D.
Hi. Great article! Quick question;

"It is estimated that the ice accumulated for approximately 500 years following the Flood. 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."

I wonder why they have "stabilised" for the last almost ~2500 years? Are glaciers not still reducing today? Or are they just fluctuating? Thanks :-)
Tas Walker
The growth and retreat of glaciers on Earth depend on many factors, the heat contained within the ocean being the major factor that caused the post-Flood Ice Age. When the oceans cooled to their present equilibrium temperature, about 4,000 years ago, the glaciers retreated to adjust to a new equilibrium. However, there have been subsequent advances and retreats caused by variations in the climate, but these are minor compared with what happened during the Ice Age. At present it appears many glaciers are retreating but some are growing.
Chris W.
Dear sirs,

I know that very warm oceans (30 degrees C is often posited), post the flood, is standard/classical Creation understanding, but it has never sat comfortably with me. Why? Well let's think about the UK, which most agree was on the edge of the ice sheets.

At present in January the sea temperature around the Biscay/FitzRoy/ Sole sea areas is around 11-12 degrees C with an average for the year around 15-17 degrees. If the jet stream positions itself to the North of the UK during January many depressions form, bringing strong southwesterly winds which travel over these sea areas and bathe the UK in an average temperature of about 10 degrees. This synoptic situation can continue for weeks on end, and if there are any long periods of clear skies, of say 10 hours at night, the temperature, with strong winds, may not dip below 7 degrees.

So my point is this: if the atlantic ocean, say one year after the Flood, is at 30 degrees, given similar weather patterns over the UK that we have today, even if sunlight is nil, there is not the slightest chance of having any snow during even the winter months. None at all. In fact in modern times, with mild southwesterly winds covering northern Europe during January, if they are strong enough, one has to go further east than Moscow to obtain day temperatures of below freezing!

There must, therefore be some other mechanism or mechanisms at work to produce ice age conditions over places like the northern half of the UK, not just very warm oceans and little radiation trying to pierce through volcanic aerosols.

Perhaps the pevailing wind was easterly not southwesterly? Probably there was no Gulf Stream? Perhaps little or no weather systems as we know then today, causing the air to be heavy and stagnant?

Chris Westbrook
Michael Oard
Dear Chris:

You are so correct that with a North Atlantic temperature starting out about 30 deg C right after the Flood, there would be no snow and ice in the U.K. In fact with warm, onshore flow of moist air, the U.K. would have mild winters with heavy rain. And that is why hippopotamus fossils are found at about 100 locations in Ice Age sediments in the U.K. They are also found in France and Germany. Snow and ice likely would have started accumulating in the high Scandinavian mountains.

However, it was dynamic climate, and ocean temperatures would gradually cool. Eventually, about half way through the Ice Age, I believe snow and ice started on the high Scottish Mountains. Then by the end of the Ice Age buildup of 500 years, the ice spread to low altitudes and covered much of the British Isles, except southeast England. By then cold-climate mammals migrated into at least the southern U.K. to end up dying with hippos.

I hope this helps.
William R T.
The Earth's climate is returning to stability, relative to the stability it enjoyed before the Flood catastrophe. One of the effects of that catastrophe, was a shift of the whole Earth's crust, which resulted in the current locations of Antarctica, and more northern land masses, in their respective Arctic circles. Evidence of this has been found in the form of fossilized forests buried under the snow in Antarctica, and quick frozen corpses of large numbers of huge animals, some with green vegetation in their mouths and stomachs, in the Arctic. Another effect of the catastrophe, was the tilting of the Earth's axis, which was probably near vertical before the catastrophe, making Earth's climate mild over the whole globe. Since there is no way to return the Earth's axis to that orientation, the climate can never return to that state. It appears the only way we will know when Earth has reached it's new normal, is when enough time has passed to observe it.
Tas Walker
There are articles on this site that deal with all the issues you mention.
Chris W.
Dear Mike,

Thanks for your response, but I still can't quite square the circle on some of the points you make.

Are you saying that you believe there was a period of time, post Flood, when the sunlight in the UK was minimal, but because of the very warm Atlantic, Hippos were still able to breed and survive? If so, then I assume there must have been enough sunlight for vegetation to photosynthesize to support the Hippos and other animals during that time?

Then, many years later, because the Atlantic was colder (but much warmer than it is today) the warm winds just weren't as warm, so the snows came and stayed.

But the problem with that modelling, as I see it, is that if we move on a number of years, aerosols would have been less and more radiation from the sun would have warmed the land. But if that happened then the UK would not have become colder and entered the Ice Age. Would you agree?

The only scenario I can think of, whereby, if what you say you think happened did occur, then perhaps there was a lot more further volcanic activity which blotted out the sun, whilst the oceans were cooling.

Any comments would be most appreciated.

Regards,

Chris Westbrook
Mike Oard
Chris,
Yes, sunlight was reduced causing cooler summers, but for other reasons winters would be milder. There would be little seasonal contrast. But of course there must be enough sunlight for photosynthesis or you would not have animals in the region. Sea surface temperatures cooled throughout the Ice Age. By the end of the Ice Age, temperatures of the North Atlantic would have been even colder than today with more sea ice. The climate of the Ice Age was highly dynamic and changing. About midway in the Ice Age is when I think the mountains of the U.K. started accumulating snow and ice, which with time spread to lower altitude and latitude.

In regard to aerosols, we had tremendous volcanism during the Ice Age. Most of the 700 stratovolcanoes, probably mostly post-Flood cones, erupted at times during the Ice Age. These eruptions would replenish the stratosphere with volcanic aerosols to keep the cooling going for hundreds of years. In fact, I think differential volcanism erupting over a decadal timescale can explain the millennial climate oscillations first deduced from the Greenland ice cores and then 'found' in other climate archives. I would say we had enough aerosols to keep the summers cool. Aerosols stay in the stratosphere from 3 to 10 years depending upon the height of ejection into the stratosphere.

Yes, volcanism occurs during oceanic cooling for the Ice Age, which begins early in the most favorable areas away from onshore flow of warm air, such as central and eastern Canada. High mountains and mid and high latitude, such as in Scandinavia, likely would start glaciation early.

I hope this helps,

Mike Oard

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