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Solving an ice age mystery

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Using new computing power and a model developed at NCAR, the team ran simulations that revealed a distinct pattern of events that lasted 70,000 years. Reporting in this week's edition of the journal Nature Geoscience, the researchers describe a circular process that goes like this:

* Changes in Earth's orbit cooled the climate, causing ice sheets to expand over time. Trapping more water in ice caused sea levels to fall as much as 100 feet, and eventually the flow through the Bering Strait was choked off by a land bridge between Asia and North America.

* This changed the speed of ocean currents which transport heat into the North Atlantic from the Tropics, like a great conveyor belt. When the Pacific flow shut off, the water of the Atlantic became saltier, and heavier, so it dropped more quickly to the ocean's depths, speeding up the conveyor.

* The Northern Hemisphere warmed up, as much as 3 degrees Fahrenheit, enough to cause the ice sheets of North America and Greenland to melt and shrink over thousands of years -- raising sea levels again, reopening the Bering Straits, pushing Pacific water back into the North Atlantic, slowing the conveyor, cooling the Atlantic, and so on…

The map, courtesy of Nature, modified by NCAR, shows the effect on ocean temperatures and ice sheets when the Pacific's flow through the Bering Strait was closed by fallen sea level.

The pattern fell apart about 34,000 years ago, scientists say. At that point in its 95,000-year orbit, Earth was so far from the Sun at certain times that ice sheets continued to grow even when the Bering Strait was closed. By 10,000 years ago, Earth had moved closer to the Sun during the northern winter, causing the ice sheets to shrink back, reopening the strait and leading to the stable climate that cradled the rise of civilization.


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  • 2 months later...

In a somewhat related matter, scientists have also recently solved another ancient mystery:


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There is no means of avoiding the final collapse of a boom brought about by credit expansion. The alternative is only whether the crisis should come sooner as the result of a voluntary abandonment of further credit expansion, or later as a final and total catastrophe of the currency system involved. - Ludwig von Mises

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