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Did asteroid impacts trigger previous ice ages on Earth?

Did asteroid impacts trigger previous ice ages on Earth?

Throughout its history, the Earth has always been completely covered in snow and ice. How ice ages occur remains controversial among experts. One possibility: asteroid impacts.

How do ice ages occur on Earth? Yale researchers believe asteroid impacts may have caused this.

Photo: Panther Media/grechka333

A team of researchers led by Yale University may have found an explanation for the Earth's so-called “snowball” phases, where the Earth's surface was completely frozen for thousands or even millions of years. The study, recently published in the journal Science Advances, suggests that large asteroid impacts may have caused these global glacial events.

These findings could provide answers to questions that have puzzled scientists for decades about some of the most dramatic climate changes in Earth's history. The research, which also involved experts from the University of Chicago and the University of Vienna, makes an important contribution to the “snowball” debate about the causes of these global ice accumulations.

The causes of severe icing are not yet fully understood

It has been known since the 1960s that the high reflectivity of snow and ice can trigger a critical feedback loop that, if cooled sufficiently, leads to a further increase in sea ice and lower temperatures. This could plunge the planet into an ice age. Such global glaciation, known as “snowball Earth,” occurred at least twice in the Neoproterozoic era, between 720 and 635 million years ago.

The exact causes of these extreme icebergs are still not fully understood, although many theories postulate a reduction in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to a critical point. Minmin Fu of Yale University proposes an alternative hypothesis: Could an extraterrestrial impact suddenly trigger such dramatic climate change?

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Advanced climate modeling aided the study

In their study, the researchers used an advanced climate model that can simulate atmospheric and ocean circulation as well as sea ice formation under different conditions. This model, which is also used to project future climate change, studied the effects of a hypothetical asteroid impact in four different historical periods: