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Weird Science Wednesdays: Damn, It’s Cold

October 27, 2010
Snowball Earth

Picture courtesy shatters.net

One of my favorite scientific hypotheses is the “Snowball Earth” hypothesis. This states that hundreds of millions of years ago, the Earth was covered with ice from pole to pole. Some scientists believe it was less of a “snowball” and more of a “slushball”, with some liquid water around the equator. Either way, how freaking awesome would an ice-covered Earth be? I mean, not really to live on, because humans couldn’t, but just the idea that at some points in time the Earth was so drastically different climate-wise that it was just totally white with ice. It’s probably the nerd in me, but I love reading about the evolution of the earth and all the really extreme things that have happened to it.

While you would think being covered in ice would be very, very bad for life on Earth, some scientists now believe that Snowball Earth triggered complex life to form. The glaciation may have started a chain of events that led to a rise in atmospheric oxygen, which we know is quite needed for animals like us to exist. To me, it’s amazing how resilient life is and how unpredictable evolution is. The fact that life managed to exist and eventually thrive despite such extreme conditions gives us hope that some awesome aliens exist on a planet that you wouldn’t think could support life.

Another interesting idea is that life itself could have triggered the Snowball Earth event. When bacteria developed the ability to metabolize water into oxygen, the increase in oxygen destroyed the methane that was keeping the planet warm. Thus, snowball.

Besides the snowball, the Earth’s climate obviously changes regularly from colder to warmer. Why? Because of the tilt of the Earth’s axis. The tilt is why we have seasons, and human-triggered global warming notwithstanding, is why the climate shifts. Of course, anti-science douchebags like to use this to diminish our role in the current warming of the planet, but anyone with half a brain can see that the warming is escalating at a much more rapid pace because of our CO2 emissions. Duh.

So, east coasters/Midwesterners, when you complain about all the snow you’re getting, remember it’s been a lot worse. Hope that helps.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 28, 2010 12:35 am

    I’ve heard the discussion of how perfectly placed the Earth is to the Sun to make a temperate climate, as we rotate and revolve, but then I’ve also heard that there may be an invisible sun (cue The Police track) that our solar system is also revolving around, and that as we move toward it, the climate will warm, and as we move away, will cool back down. So, could it be that nothing at all that we’re doing is warming the planet in any significant way to heat the atmosphere and that it’s this unseen heat source that’s melting the snow?

    Additionally, not that this has a lot of bearing on the climate change, but the solar system is completely designed to help protect the earth… We have big planets like Jupiter and Saturn out beyond us to attract and absorb passing meteors and comets that might have struck the planet if they weren’t there, and a couple of smaller planets closer to the sun that help offset the solar flares and other elements coming from that direction. Maybe it does have a bearing?

  2. evmaroon permalink
    October 28, 2010 3:39 am

    I thought the tilt was responsible for the seasons? But I’m not a scientist, so I could be getting terms wrong. But you’ve reminded me of precession, or the axis wobbling. Every 15,000 years or so the axis flops over. Amazing!

    The other incredible thing you’ve reminded me of is that some scientist friend of mine told me that after all this time, we still have the same amount of water on the planet. It’s just that it is always in circulation in some kind of system, be it waterways, animals, cloud cover, trapped in glaciers, wherever. Blows my mind!

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