Geoscience Horizons

Press Release

Global warming could force the earth to lose its cool

Pennsylvania State University

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 13, 2003

CONTACT: David Jwanier
Penn State/Phila.
215-881-7446 or
215-206-1111 (cell)

For the last million years, the earth has experienced shifts between periods of relative warmth and relative cold (the Ice Ages). This can mean a shift in average global temperatures of about 7 degrees Fahrenheit. Past patterns suggest that the world should be changing over to a cool period any time now, but there's some reason to believe that this may not happen, according to a Penn State researcher.

James "Bud" Alcock, professor of environmental sciences at the Penn State Abington campus, said that a model he has prepared indicates that global warming and other environmental factors in play today may alter the natural cycle of these warming and cooling periods. He will present these findings to the Geological Society of America at the organization's annual meetings on Nov. 2-5, in Seattle.

"The underlying causes of the warm and cool cycles are thought to be tied to the earth's orbit in relation to the sun - the distance change and the earth's tilt. The differences seem small compared with what appears to happen as a result on earth," said Alcock. "There's a very delicate balance to our climate system. With carbon dioxide becoming a fixture in the atmosphere as a result of burning fossil fuels and the global warming that results, there's a distinct possibility that this balance can be altered and that the earth's climate could behave quite differently."

Alcock noted: "I don't think any knowledgeable scientist thinks global warming is a good thing for the environment." However, he added that some northern areas might benefit in this instance, and if there were no consequences, it would be better than a return to the time when large parts of the United States - including Manhattan and parts of upstate Pennsylvania - were covered by ice some 20,000 years ago.

Still, he remains concerned that we may disrupt the balance in the climate system and cause it to behave in ways we cannot predict, which might be very harmful to the planet.

"It's a lot like playing Russian roulette. You might get lucky, but why take the chance if it is unnecessary," said Alcock.

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