7
$\begingroup$

The long-term theory of climate patterns states that the Earth experiences an ice age, freezing over and remaining so for about 40 years, before returning to a normal, seasonal climate. My question is: is it possible for an ice age to happen so quickly? Is 40 years too short, or is that perfectly feasible?

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ Naturally, no. With some catastrophe, yes. Also it is possible naturally on some fictional planet. $\endgroup$ – Anixx Apr 8 '15 at 23:54
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ The Little Ice Age is probably as close you can get. $\endgroup$ – DaaaahWhoosh Apr 9 '15 at 0:05
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ It wouldn't be an age, would it? $\endgroup$ – Samuel Apr 9 '15 at 2:30
  • $\begingroup$ It really depends on what you define as ice age...if you are looking for continental glaciers, then no...40 years is silly short. If you are looking for a sharp decline in temperatures for a few years, then yes...little ice age is a perfect example. Sun cycles and 'nuclear winter' (volcano works) can cause this. $\endgroup$ – Twelfth Apr 9 '15 at 16:46
  • $\begingroup$ Not clear what you're asking. If you're claiming that current theory actually says that, you're just plain wrong. If you're asking for some rationale for how it could happen... Well, I doubt that there's a realistic way. You could get cold spells, but it would take a long time for glaciers to accumulate. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Apr 9 '15 at 18:11
6
$\begingroup$

Yes

This was about the duration of the Maunder Minimum also known as the Little Ice Age. The Sun was known to be unusually quiescent during this time and it is thought the cooling climate was due to this low solar activity.

|improve this answer|||||
$\endgroup$
5
$\begingroup$

Yes. Through a supervolcano eruption. Something like the Yellowstone blowing up.

The ashes in the stratosphere, veiling the sky, would bring an equivalent of "nuclear winter". This would normally end sooner than your planned 40 years, but the eruption may be repetitive or continuous, extending the period as long as necessary. Scale this in time as necessary, with size of the volcano and duration of explosion.

Note that this won't form superglaciers like in the real ice age, covering whole continents and forming mountain ranges as they move - you do need a couple hundred thousand years for these to form from repeated snowfalls. It would be a very long, very cold winter with permanently cloudy skies, not a true "ice age".

|improve this answer|||||
$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ I'd suspect yellowstone going would be a 100-200 year cooling event, not 40. You'd want a smaller eruption for a 40 year cooling phase. Good answer in any case $\endgroup$ – Twelfth Apr 9 '15 at 16:45
  • $\begingroup$ @Twelfth: Eruption lasting is one thing, rapid emission of enormous plumes of ash and smoke is another; I believe it's a relatively short period after the initial eruption. The volcano is still smoking afterwards, but the emission is not nearly as intense. Although with supervolcanos like Yellowstone we can only theorize; no such eruption happened in recorded history. $\endgroup$ – SF. Apr 10 '15 at 7:17
1
$\begingroup$

Yes

If you wanted this to happen repetitively, you could postulate stellar system with orbital configurations that provide the necessary climatic changes.

Binary Star System
If you posit a binary star system of two stars smaller than our Sun, your planet would circle one star and the spacing between the stars would roughly be the distance of Neptune from our Sun.

Habitable planet in binary star system
Habitable planet in binary star system

When the outer sun got closer (the left of the image) you'd get warm periods. When the outer sun got further away, it would plunge the planet into an ice age.

You could play with the solar system mechanics to get the length and severity of warm and cool periods that you wanted.

Elliptical Planetary Orbit
You can use a similar method to induce climate changes with just a single star. Put your planet in an elliptical orbit with the correct attributes to induce periods and severity of warmth and cold.

|improve this answer|||||
$\endgroup$
0
$\begingroup$

Yes

In (astronomer) Fred Hoyle's book The Black Cloud, he states that a sufficiently dense gas and dust cloud could significantly reduce incoming stellar radiation.

You could postulate that your stellar system has passed through a tendril of a star forming nebula and this dust and gas reduces the amount of the star's energy reaching the planet. By this mechanism you could make the duration and timing the ice age completely arbitrary and not subject to repetition. NOTE: that it would take a star a minimum of tens of thousands of years to cross the entire nebula - which is why I suggested just crossing a tendril.

Plus as an SF setting, I imagine the inhabitants of the planet would have astounding sights in the night sky.

|improve this answer|||||
$\endgroup$

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.