The Spokesman-Review, Spokane, Washington, March 29, 1958
Scientists Predict: Another Ice Age is on the way (Article by Leslie Lieber)
(Those who were hardest hit by last month’s snowstorms may think the next ice-age is already upon us. Others may think it will never come. Whatever you think, it would be comforting to pay no attention to the weather forecast presented on these pages.
Unfortunately Maurice Ewing and William L. Donn are not men to be taken lightly. Dr. Ewing ranks as one of America’s leading oceanographers and geophysicists, its top authority on the world beneath the sea. President of the American Geophysical Union and director of Columbia University’s Lamont Geological Observatory, he has personally designed much of the equipment now used in underseas exploration.
His colleague, Dr. Donn, is Associate Professor of Geology, Brooklyn College, and Chief Scientist, U.S. Atlantic Island Observatories Program for the Inter- national Geophysical Year.
The two scientists point out that the full scientific presentation of their new theory, with graphs and weather charts, has already been made in scientific journals, but say “we have been pleased to co-operate with Mr. Lieber in presenting to the general public some of the highlights of our ideas.”)
Two leaders in their field say the enormous glacier that buried half the world 11,000 years ago is due back and present a startling theory to prove it.
Eleven thousand years ago — give or take a thousand years — the last of the great ice-age glaciers which blanketed the American continent from Northern Canada to the banks of the Missouri River began its retreat from the face of the earth. Known as the Wisconsin stage, it rang down the curtain on four separate Ice Ages which had come and gone during the preceding million years.
Since that time, mankind has been too busy with the problems of everyday living to worry about the staggering possibility that another continental glacier might be in the making. Undoubtedly our Neanderthal ancestors lived in the same ignorant bliss during the warm interludes between Ice Ages. The last thing they suspected was that their temperate weather would ever end. It did, though — in glacial onslaughts which drove them either into local caves or on long treks southward.
Modern man’s hunch that the Ice Age has gone for good is based on what he firmly believes to be common sense. How, we ask, can a new Ice Age possibly be shaping up when everybody knows that existing glaciers — like those in the Swiss passes and Alaska — are melting? How could new ice hulks creep in upon us while weather experts are announcing that even the North Polar ice caps are thinning? And what about the fact that weather records show the weather has been growing warmer over the years - so warm in fact that certain glaciers are melting fast enough to raise the level of the world’s oceans? Can such signs really foreshadow the coming of a new Ice Age?
The answer is very definitely yes — if you listen to two leading oceanographers, Drs. Maurice Ewing and William L. Donn. As a result of extensive research, these eminent scientists believe, in short, that the earth is passing through an interglacial period and that the cyclic phenomena which produced continental glaciers in ages past are at work producing another Ice Age. Its advent may be a matter of thousands of years. It could also conceivably be upon us in a few centuries.
Now how can slightly warmer climate and rising sea levels foster a cataclysm as drastic as another Ice Age? First you must understand just how a glacier is formed.
The glaciers that once blanketed a great part of the earth did not, as is popularly believed, gradually spread out from the poles, nor were they caused by a sudden plunge in the earth’s temperature during the Pleistocene Age.
Glaciers, Dr. Ewing explains, are created purely and simply when more snow falls than melts. Sub-zero temperatures are only one factor. Greenland and the Canadian Arctic Islands, for instance, share the same frigid latitude. But snow-covered Greenland lies under a perpetual blanket of ice whereas the Arctic Islands, with only light snow precipitation, are not glaciated.
Drs. Ewing and Donn reason that the great Ice Ages were produced by practically continuous snowfall coming from some rich source of moisture which has now been shut off.
It is becoming known that the thickest ice concentration during the glacial periods was in the Hudson Bay region. The Ewing-Donn conclusion is that the snow clouds must have gathered their moisture from the Arctic Ocean.
In other words, the Arctic Ocean in the Ice Age was itself free of ice, and offered thousands and thousands of square miles of water surface to winds blowing towards Northern Canada, Europe and Siberia.
The Ewing-Donn theory holds that the barrier standing between us and another Ice Age is a steadily thinning layer of about six feet of ice covering the Arctic Ocean, Should it melt completely, the birthplace of glaciers would be reopened. The weight of evidence from both American and Russian scientists is that the Arctic is warming appreciably. This could mean that all the conditions which led to the four ice-cycles of the last million years are still in operation.
There is an agent which, during past epochs, has repeatedly been able to melt the ice floes of the Arctic. According to Ewing and Donn, that great defroster is not the sun, but the warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
Whenever the tepid Atlantic has found a passageway into the Arctic, it has melted ice faster than the frigid air could form it.
As of this moment Ewing and Donn feel that this ‘hot-water faucet” has been turned on.
Why is it that the warm waters of the Atlantic can reach the Arctic Ocean now — for the first time since before the last glacial stage? It is possible because of the considerable rise in sea-level during the past few thousand years. Normally the Atlantic can’t flow freely into the Arctic because it must pass through several narrow bottlenecks between Greenland and Norway. (Denmark Strait and Faeroe Channel) So shallow is the ocean floor between the Arctic and Atlantic — much of it less than 50 fathoms - that little interchange occurs. But with a rise in sea-level the influx of warm Atlantic water into the Arctic increases many fold.
This traffic is not just one-way. There is a mutual interaction between the two bodies of water: the Arctic seas, swollen by their own melting ice, flow southward into the Atlantic, cooling it.
Some years ago Professor Harold Urey of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography discovered a revolutionary method of determining the temperature at which deep-sea shells were formed. Scientists now know, for instance, that a temperature decline in the surface waters of the Atlantic Ocean, due to the influx of cold Arctic water, was a prologue to the last Ice Age. From 90,000 B.C down to 11,000 years ago it plunged eight degrees Centigrade, a very significant decrease.
The fact that the temperature of the ocean is definitely tied up with ice ages came to light when sediments were cored out during various oceanographic cruises on the Lamont Observatory s research vessel Vema, In ancient ooze Ewing and Donn found marine evidence that an abrupt change in marine life took place in Atlantic and Caribbean waters approximately 11,000 years ago, at the precise time the Wisconsin ice stage was ending. What was this new development? The organisms dramatically changed from cold-water types to warm-water types.
In other words, something had happened (simultaneously with the disappearance of glaciers) to warm up the Atlantic Ocean. The only explanation is that its supply of “icewater” was blocked. What had happened? The Arctic Ocean had once again become covered by ice. The Canada-bound winds no longer found moisture there to stock up on.
And on the American continent, the snow-starved ice sheets gradually wasted away.
Examination of sediment from 11,000 years ago in the Arctic Ocean seems to show the reverse side of the corn. With the Atlantic no longer able to penetrate, the marine fauna switched from warm back to cold-water types. In other words, the pendulum had finally swung the other way, ending an ice cycle.
Just as high sea levels cause glacial periods, so do low sea levels result in a return to the kind of bottleneck that shuts the Arctic off from its warm-water source and ends the glacial period. Lower sea levels are caused when amounts of ocean water become locked in glacial ice.
How The Glaciers Started
Thus sea level has controlled the glacial- interglacial cycles of the past million years, and in turn, the glacial conditions have controlled sea level.
But, how did it all begin? What started these cycles? Much scientific evidence now exists for the startling theory that the crust of the earth can slip, and change its position relative to the interior. Such slipping would cause different places on the surface to be at the poles in different geological periods. There is also evidence to suggest that before the glacial period of the Pleistocene Era the mid-Pacific Ocean was at the North Pole and the South Atlantic was over the South Pole. To have the poles thus situated in open sea would prevent the formation of polar ice caps, since free interchange with warmer equatorial waters would keep them relatively warm.
The North Pole is now situated over the isolated Arctic Ocean, the South Pole over the Antarctic continent. With the poles no longer in freely circulating water and the cooler temperature of the higher latitudes isolated and concentrated, they became sources of cold polar air. Ewing’s and Donn’s startling theory is that this is what started the glacial period, and that as long as the poles remain thus isolated, glacial periods will wax and wane as the sea level rises and falls.
In case of another Ice Age, millions of those living in the most urbanized areas of Europe and the United States would have to flee southward.
But as bad as things would be, another Ice Age would offer tremendous compensations: the major desert areas .of the earth — 12,000,000 square miles —would again become arable, fertile, well-watered lands.
Should another Ice Age strike, the man who controls the Sahara could rule the earth! — The End