Our Climate: An Everchanging Mystery

Cooling and Warming Periods in Earth’s History

Icehouse and Greenhouse Climates

The most recent warming period, roughly 55 million years ago, reached a thermal maximum and marked a cooling period, known as icehouse climates. During icehouse climates, the climate is rich in oxygen and lower in carbon dioxide, which allows for the Earth to cool, essentially an ice age.

Icehouse climates, which last anywhere from 30 million to 215 million years, based on previous cooling periods, are often confused with interglacial periods, intervals of warmer climate between two cooling periods which last anywhere from 80,000–100,00 years.

Scientists have come up with multiple theories explaining the warming and cooling periods in the past. One of the theories behind cooling and warming periods is the increased intensity of the sun over time. When the Earth was young, the sun was dimmer and less intense. The climate was also cooler. Over the course of billions of years, the sun got much warmer, causing a rise in greenhouse gases and warming up our planet.

The second theory that provides insight into our weather is the Earth’s distance from the sun. The distance of Earth to the sun varies and can cause a solar radiation difference of anywhere to 6 to 30 percent.

One of the last theories revolving around warming periods is the evolution of life. Humans began using more oxygen and emitting more carbon dioxide which created an imbalance and led to warmer weather. Once plants started to use that carbon dioxide, the climate began to cool again. Human impact has become much more prevalent since fossil fuels have been utilized as primary sources of energy.

The Impact of Fossil Fuels on Earth

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