Saturday, September 15, 2007

Mars Experiences Ice Ages, Warming Periods

According to researchers published in the journal Nature, climate change on Mars may illuminate our understanding of climate change here on Earth:

In recent years extensive amounts of ice have been discovered below the surface of Mars. Much of the ice mysteriously survives far from the planet's poles. (Related photo: "'Frozen Sea' Seen on Mars [February 23, 2005].)

Schörghofer suggests that this ice is newer than previously believed.

"Earlier theories have tried to explain this ice with snowfall that would have happened some five million years ago [but struggle] to explain how that ice could have stayed there," Schörghofer said.

"I'm saying it didn't stay. It went away and then came back many, many times..."

Mars, like all planets, experiences small "wobbles" in its axis as it orbits the sun.

Such variations change the amount of sunlight falling on a planet's surface, which can cause major climate shifts, Schörghofer said.

Earth's wobbles, known as Milankovitch cycles, occur in 20,000- and 100,000-year periods and are thought to impact the waxing and waning of the planet's ice ages.

According to Schörghofer, this means both planets have an ice record that tracks the activity of the sun.

Given that we clearly do not entirely understand the nature of climate change here on our planet, does it hurt to wait 10 or 15 years to see if we develop a better understanding? Given the apparent dramatic effect on Mars of the sun and of Mars's own rotation, it's reasonable to look into whether the same is true of Earth. If it is, it could conceivably go a long way to understanding climate change here on our planet.

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