Since the media is all aflutter over proposed changes to the EPA and various climate-based regulations, we may as well visit (or revisit) the debate on climate change. Is it the result of activities of man or simply the normal patterns of changes in the Earth’s complicated biosphere? Some claim that it’s a combination of the two. But now, a team of astrophysicists has released new data which seems to support a decades-old theory which places the blame, shall we say, a bit further away. Since a picture is worth 1000 words, here’s a hint:
That’s right. The actual culprit for the repeated rise and fall of global temperatures might actually be Mars. That sort of thing is rather hard to square with our current debates but it all has to do with the “chaos” inherent in the orbits of the planets and how they interact with each other. The journal Nature broke the story this week and the details are contained in this release from the University of Wisconsin.
Using evidence from alternating layers of limestone and shale laid down over millions of years in a shallow North American seaway at the time dinosaurs held sway on Earth, the team led by UW–Madison Professor of Geoscience Stephen Meyers and Northwestern University Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences Brad Sageman discovered the 87 million-year-old signature of a “resonance transition” between Mars and Earth. A resonance transition is the consequence of the “butterfly effect” in chaos theory. It plays on the idea that small changes in the initial conditions of a nonlinear system can have large effects over time.
In the context of the solar system, the phenomenon occurs when two orbiting bodies periodically tug at one another, as occurs when a planet in its track around the sun passes in relative proximity to another planet in its own orbit. These small but regular ticks in a planet’s orbit can exert big changes on the location and orientation of a planet on its axis relative to the sun and, accordingly, change the amount of solar radiation a planet receives over a given area. Where and how much solar radiation a planet gets is a key driver of climate.
This all seems to be based on the phenomena generally known as the “butterfly effect.” But in this case, it’s taken to a whole new, interplanetary level. The “chaos” of the orbits of our planet and Mars is something which is apparently both measurable and repeatable. I’ve had the chance to speak with a few science beat reporters over the past few years covering related subjects and am told that our understanding of orbits in the solar system continues to improve with each passing decade because of more accurate measuring technology. Observing the current positions and orbital patterns of the planets allows scientists to do something akin to “winding back the clock” to determine where Earth and Mars were at various points in the past. Our orbits may appear stable but they actually vary a considerable amount over time.
If this theory is correct it could explain the longer trend lines which geological data has hinted at in the past. Check out this frequently referenced chart of global temperature averages spanning the last half-million years or so.
I’ve always found myself wondering what accounted for those regularly spaced spikes in temperature followed by long periods of cooling. The obvious answer is that the mastodons had some sort of top-secret fracking program which Big Oil doesn’t want you to know about. But what if they actually correspond to the shifts in Earth’s orbit caused by our interaction with Mars (as they seem to)? This could definitely add a new wrinkle into the ongoing debate, though I’m under no illusion that this is going to satisfy everyone.