Asked by: Randall Barfield, USA
Oddly enough, an Ice Age has gripped the Earth for most of the last 2.6 million years, and we’re currently experiencing an unusually warm break from this so-called Quaternary glaciation, which temporarily lifted around 12,000 years ago. How long the ongoing ‘interglacial’ period will last depends partly on changes in the orbital size, shape and axial tilt of the Earth, and thus the intensity of sunlight, and also global warming – both natural and man-made.
Earlier this year, a team at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Germany, published research suggesting a complex link between sunlight and atmospheric CO2, leading to natural global warming. By itself, this will delay the next Ice Age by at least 50,000 years. Add in the effect of man-made global warming, and the delay is increased to 100,000 years.
Subscribe to BBC Focus magazine for fascinating new Q&As every month and follow @sciencefocusQA on Twitter for your daily dose of fun science facts.