Europe froze in just months: "like taking Ireland today and moving it up to [the Arctic]"

Europe and North America are kept artificially warm by a “conveyor belt” that moves warm, tropical surface water northward. That conveyor belt can — and has repeatedly — shut itself off, with civilization-destroying consequences.

Now, horrifying news from climate researchers about the speed with which the “conveyor belt” can shut down: the “Big Freeze” ice age that struck North America and Europe 12,800 years ago and then held the northern hemisphere in its icy grip for 1,300 years engulfed the continents in ice in a matter of just months:

Until now, it was thought that the mini ice age took a decade or so to take hold, on the evidence provided by Greenland ice cores. Not so, say William Patterson of the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Canada, and his colleagues.

The group studied a mud core from an ancient lake, Lough Monreagh, in western Ireland. Using a scalpel they sliced off layers 0.5 to 1 millimetre thick, each representing up to three months of time. No other measurements from the period have approached this level of detail.

Carbon isotopes in each slice revealed how productive the lake was and oxygen isotopes gave a picture of temperature and rainfall. They show that at the start of the Big Freeze, temperatures plummeted and lake productivity stopped within months, or a year at most. “It would be like taking Ireland today and moving it up to Svalbard” in the Arctic, says Patterson.

Posted by James on Monday, November 16, 2009