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Increased Antarctic Sea Ice Could Trigger an Ice Age

Image credits: Denis Burdin/

Due to the current climate crisis, today’s environmental discourse is focused on the future of Earth’s climate.

Scientists at the University of Chicago are studying the role that the ocean plays in the carbon cycle and using their findings to simulate models of environmental change and are making forecasts for the future.

The Chicago-based researchers have recently simulated a chain of events that demonstrates how an increase in Arctic sea ice culminates in an ice age.

Aimed at better understanding the cycles of the Earth’s climate over geological time, the study draws parallels with shifts in the ocean’s carbon storage and periods of environmental change. Thus, seeking to discover and understand the processes that make up a global climate.

One key question in the field is still what caused the Earth to periodically cycle in and out of ice ages. We are pretty confident that the carbon balance between the atmosphere and ocean must have changed, but we don't quite know how or why.

Malte Jansen, Assistant Professor, The Department of Geophysical Science, The University of Chicago

Some believe that we are currently in between ice ages as typically ice sheets grow in cooler periods and then retreat in warmer periods on a periodical basis. However, due to the current rate at which we are pumping carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere then we could see a delay in cooling as the planet gets warmer.

One of the other factors that contributes to the ice age cycle is changes in the Earth’s orbital cycle which impacts glacial and interglacial formation. Yet, Jansen and his research partner Alice Marzocchi, a former postdoctoral researcher at the University of Chicago and now research scientist at the UK’s National Oceanography Centre, believe carbon storage in the oceans may also play a pivotal role.

Understanding the outsized role played by carbon storage in the ocean can help scientists more accurately simulate future environmental change.

Alice Marzocchi, Research Scientist, The National Oceanography Centre

The recent study, published in the journal Nature, built on a previous model of how glacial transitions occur and allowed them to produce a consistent picture of glacial climates. Their simulation demonstrated how increases of Arctic sea ice is initiated by a cooling of the Earth’s atmosphere. Jansen stated, “As a result, increased Antarctic sea ice has outsize consequences.”

As the sea ice builds it affects ocean circulation as well as physically preventing the flow of carbon dioxide between the ocean and atmosphere. Thereby resulting in a continual build-up of CO2 in the deep ocean which also remains there. “The Southern Ocean around Antarctica plays a key role in ocean circulation, as it is a region where deep waters rise to the surface before disappearing again into the abyss,” says Jansen. Thus, less CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere would mean a cooling of the planet which could eventually lead to an ice age.

"What this suggests is that it's a feedback loop," said Marzocchi. “As the temperature drops, less carbon is released into the atmosphere, which triggers more cooling.” This explanation also matches evidence from other studies that reveal CO2 in the sediments and glacial samples over longer periods of time. "What surprised me is how much of this increased storage can be attributed to physical changes alone, with Antarctic sea-ice cover being the key player," added Marzocchi.

Responsibility for the current climate crisis has been placed firmly in the hands of humanity and the accelerated rising rate of CO2 emissions due to the burning of fossil fuels and industry practices.

Yet, a better understanding of the contribution of other factors in conjunction with human impact will enable the prediction of more accurate future scenarios for ongoing changes in the climate. Thus, Jansen and Marzocchi’s study and simulation models will help develop a deeper understanding of the future of Earth’s ever-changing climate over longer periods of time.

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David J. Cross

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David J. Cross

David is an academic researcher and interdisciplinary artist. David's current research explores how science and technology, particularly the internet and artificial intelligence, can be put into practice to influence a new shift towards utopianism and the reemergent theory of the commons.


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  1. Britney S Britney S United States says:

    I hope these these folks are right. An ice age in the next few decades could extend the lifeline of the human race and allow us to overpopulate and pillage Earth's resources for a few extra centuries!

    • Sam Nicolard Sam Nicolard Netherlands says:

      We're on a collision course with the Andromeda Galaxy so we might as well get as much use out of this planet as we can because it will eventually be destroyed.

    • drdebo Cherry drdebo Cherry United States says:

      It's a very interesting and well written report- Bravo!

  2. Paddy McGinley Paddy McGinley Canada says:

    I agree the increase in CO2 levels can be mostly attributed to humans but i strongly disagree there is a "climate crisis ". With every past climate model used, and there has been thousands, the measurements taken every day, and there are thousands, all showing little or no change, where is this crisis? CO2 levels have been many times higher in past only resulting in greater vegetation. This arctic ice/ocean CO2 level research sounds very promising! Thanks for your article.

    • Chris S Chris S United States says:

      You're spot on. From what I've studied on the topic over the last 2 or so years is that our co2 doesn't impact climate the way the crisis folks say it does. They have yet to establish a true correlation and ratio of co2 output to warming which suggests these crisis claimers are full of it. Our planet is warming and it will eventually cool. This article doesn't give the study the same air to breath that other articles have and bury the lead half way in to take their own liberties in representing the topic. There is a recent study that found glaciers and ice formations in the ocean contain carbon neutralizing components. If there is a noticeable correlation between co2 and warming that is meabingful, these agents in ice would begin mitigating some co2 over time as the ice melts. The planet has a much bigger balancing system than our "scientists" today give it credit for. We'll heat and cool in cycles as we always have and I know I've seen presentations that suggest we may eventually tip back into cooling trends perhaps in the next few decades.

  3. Ernie Foster Ernie Foster United States says:

    Ocean pH is another factor in the absorption of CO2. Ocean acidification releases CO2 back into the atmosphere. Unfortunately human caused pollution from combustion processes is reducing the oceans pH.

  4. drdebo Cherry drdebo Cherry United States says:

    It was an excellent well written piece- I think I "get it"! Fascinating!

  5. drdebo Cherry drdebo Cherry United States says:

    It's a very interesting and well written report- Bravo!

  6. Todd Hubbard Todd Hubbard United States says:

    So today we have increasing sea ice in the Antarctic and decreasing glaciers just 2,000 miles North in Patagonia... hmmmm. Seems we'll really have to pinpoint our supposed human intervention methods with mind boggling accuracy. Or maybe, just maybe, we can't control what is out of our control? Last year the Antarctic see ice was declining.

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