Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne Ice Age and Earth's Parameters
Name: Richard
Status: Educator
Age: 40s
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: September 12, 2002


Question:
Many theories exist about what caused the many "Ice ages" that the earth has experienced. Some people say we are still in an ice age, but that we have just been in a warming trend for the past few thousand years. My question is this: How much influence does the fluctuating orbit of the earth and the gradual change in the tilt of the earth's axis have on the cyclical ice ages the earth has been through?
And secondly, do we have cause to believe that the great ice sheets (glaciers) may return fairly soon?



Replies:
Whether we are expecting "global warming" or a "great ice age" seems to depend upon whose crystal ball you choose to look into. In any case "ice ages" occur on geological time scales, so none of us will have to worry about it. We will all be long gone.

Vince Calder


Richard,

You may want also to look up the answer that I gave concerning the orbit and tilt of the Earth in the NEWTON archive. However, most climatologists agree that the orbit and especially the tilt have a significant effect on climate and thus on the cyclical ice ages.

Some Penn State scientists have hypothesized that the tilt of the Earth may have been as much as 54 degrees at one time and it slowly changed to the present 23 degrees as huge ice sheets formed and melted, and changed Earth's shape over the past 150 million years. This theory would help to account for tropical fossils appearing in polar areas.

David R. Cook
Atmospheric Research Section
Environmental Research Division
Argonne National Laboratory



Click here to return to the Environmental and Earth Science Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (help@newton.dep.anl.gov), or at Argonne's Educational Programs

NEWTON AND ASK A SCIENTIST
Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory