Ice Ages and Climate Change
Scientists believe that over the past 2.8 billion years, immense layers of ice have covered the Earth. The ice age proposes a puzzle composed of the works and findings of dozens of scientists through history, each providing a crucial piece to the puzzle. Scientists who worked on the development of this puzzle ranged from Geologists, Astronomers, Physicists, and early Biologists whom ultimately proved the complexity of this expanding subject. Progressing from a hypothesis based on myths to factual evidence, the subject of ice ages has provided immense insight to past and current global climate change. The oldest hypothesis is known to provide a tentative explanation for a possible ice age, which began with the discovery of preserved large bones and tusks found in Denmark in 1577. The discovery of these bones and archeological artifacts lead to an explanation rooted from the great Cyclops of Greek mythology. The Swiss explained this phenomenon with the belief that there were giants living in the Northern Sea of Denmark and the Baltic in a time when it was “very cold”. Assuming that the giants were children of a huge giant who ruled Scandinavia, the Swiss came to the conclusion that the huge giant died and caused sea levels to rise. When the sea levels rose, it made his children drown which is why they are now non-existent (Lister and Bahn 48). This explanation was conserved in Icelandic legends and is the earliest recorded hypothesis for the existence of an ice age. Ancient beliefs of a flood that killed off giant animals came to fruition again because of scientific research from the early 19th century. Baron Georges Cuvier, a comparative anatomist in the early eighteen hundreds, brought forth the idea of extinction by looking at mammoth fossils and comparing them to elephants now. He realized by comparing these fossils that the mammoth was similar to the elephant but in contrast had many features that helped it survive in an extremely cold environment (Lister and Bahn, 48). Cuvier ultimately presented the idea of mass extinction, which he speculated was caused by catastrophic changes on the earth’s surface. He proved these catastrophic changes by stressing his findings of rapid sea-level changes that lead to submergence in low-lying areas (Rudwick, 263). On the contrary, Charles Lyell, a geologist during the eighteen hundreds argued against Cuvier’s concept of a catastrophe causing the “mass extinction”. Instead, Lyell argued a more uniformitarianism view of the glacial-age. Lyell thought that the earth had undergone slower, more progressive changes. In his book Principles of Geology, Lyell acknowledges the fact that the same type of natural processes that operate in shaping the earth’s geography today has been occurring since the beginning of time. He concurred through his observations on glaciers that there had been a “glacial drift”, a term that signified the distribution of glacial-age deposits by means of debris-carrying icebergs (Baker, 174). Presently, geographers can prove that both Lyell and Cuvier’s theories on our planets historical changes are correct. Earth has been shaped by sporadic catastrophic events, like the mashing together of large meteors, in addition to the relatively slower natural processes, such as erosion, that are comprised by uniformitarianism. A more profound and emphatically astronomical theory of climate change appeared during the late eighteen hundreds with the findings of James Croll. He put much thought into the idea that the eccentricity (the shape of earths orbit around the sun) was great enough to account for even the most extreme of climatic changes proven in geology. Croll’s theory of ice ages was based both upon the constant changes in the shape of the earth's orbit along with the precision of equinoxes. The first thing that must occur according to his theory is a distinctly extended orbit around the sun, and a winter solstice occurring far from the...
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