The scientific community has by and large accepted that global warming is occurring, and that its effects are largely a result of carbon dioxide emissions from human activity. But some researchers from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden have come to a somewhat different conclusion. They believe that carbon dioxide emissions are helping the world from feeling the effects of our entering global Ice Age.
Throughout the past three million years, the world has entered 18 different Ice Ages. Researchers consider the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries to be a Little Ice Age, which, according to the researchers from Sweden, was cut short by human activity. After all, the end of the Little Ice Age coincides with the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, as well as increased clearing of agricultural land and the toppling of forests. "It is certainly possible that mankind's various activities contributed towards extending our ice age interval by keeping carbon dioxide levels high enough," Lars Franzén, one of the study authors, said in a statement.
In Sweden, about 16 percent of the country is normally covered with peatlands, or lands filled with a certain kind of vegetation decay. Bogs are considered peatlands, and sometimes swamplands are too. Peatlands take in a large amount of carbon dioxide: about 20 grams of the gas is taken in by each square meter of peatland.
Researchers calculated that, in a normal interglacial, peatlands could take over as much as 50 percent of Sweden's space. If that were to happen, carbon dioxide levels would sink in the region by a factor of six to ten. If carbon dioxide was removed from the earth's atmosphere by peats, the world would cool at a much quicker rate than it would warm. Therefore, the researchers say, carbon dioxide is hardly a problem - rather, it is saving us from feeling our entry into our next Ice Age.
"Without the human impact, the inevitable progression towards an ice age would have continued," Franzén said. "The spread of peatlands is an important factor...Our calculations show that the peatlands could contribute towards global cooling equivalent to five watts per square metre. There is a great deal of evidence to suggest that we are near the end of the current interglacial."
The paper is published in the journal Mires and Peat.