From dust to dust

The planet Earth is a harsh mistress, and life on earth has had to adapt and change across the eons as climate changed.

One thing that has puzzled climatologists for years is how come “planet snowball” would sometimes break out of ice ages. Once enough of earth’s surface is covered in reflective snow and ice the energy loss due to reflection is enough to keep “planet snowball” around until the end of time. Except we know that this is not the case, sometimes the planet warms and we go into an interglacial period.

The simplest explanation for the evidence available is dust. (hat tip to WUWT). As the cold becomes harsher, more carbon dioxide is soaked into the oceans, until plant life is so starved that desertification becomes a reality. The major dust storms push sediment across the ice, where in the next summer it helps the melting go faster. As the ice melts, and the planet gets warmer, the oceans gradually give up their CO2 and plant life can begin to reclaim a bit of the surface.

Note that this explanation solves the “Carbon lag” problem that other researchers have been trying to address, even with the explanation that CO2 bubbles move in ice: It’s nice to have a logical explanation for the end of an ice age that is consistent across both observations. Dust changes the albedo, which raises temperatures, then as the oceans warm they can hold less carbon dioxide, so carbon dioxide levels rise after temperature.

So what does this have to do with the miracle of human civilization? Quite a bit actually. Human civilization is based on the ability to grow crops and graze herd animals, and we can’t do that until we reach a certain level of CO2 in the atmosphere:

So there you have it, dust causes the end of the ice age, which causes the oceans to give up their CO2, which causes plants to grow better, which causes early humans across the planet to adopt primitive agriculture. The entirety of human civilization can be traced back to dust.

And I don’t mean to imply that climate change isn’t real, it is. The climate is always changing, and no matter what anyone thinks about carbon dioxide we have plenty of evidence that we can all agree that the levels of particulate pollution, as well as sulfate and nitrate based aerosols are not good for human or environmental health. Honestly as long as we are in a warming period carbon dioxide levels will continue to rise as the oceans off gas CO2, but atmospheric pollution from soot, other particulates, and aerosols are a much more important problem to address in my opinion. Although whether addressing those problems make one whit of difference to the next big climate shift is anyone’s guess.

But I don’t worry too much about it. In the long run, we are all dust anyways.

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