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Massive Tectonic Shifts May Have Triggered Different Ice Ages

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The link between tectonic activities and climatic changes has long been scientifically established. But how exactly they are linked, hasn't been figured out -- not just yet! According to a new research, tectonic shifts seem to have prompted the two major ice ages in world history that have plummeted the planet into an icy cold era.

The reason behind the drastic dip in global temperatures all around the world and plunge in the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, have boggled scientific minds through the ages.

In a recent study carried out by researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the ice ages have been linked to the continental shifts that occurred millions of years ago, even before the ancient ice ages. The first ice age happened about 80 million years ago while the second about 50 million years ago.

"Everybody agrees that on geological timescales over hundreds of millions of years, tectonics control the climate, but we didn't know how to connect this. I think we're the first ones to really link large-scale tectonic events to climate change." said Oliver Jagoutz, associate professor of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS) at MIT.

Going back in time, around 200 to 100 million years before the ice ages, a major continental drift occurred near the equator. Due to the tectonic shifts, the once gigantic supercontinent Gondwana split into several other continents such as South America, Africa, Antarctica, Australia and India.

At that time, rocks present in the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), an atmospheric region located above the Earth's equator, had weathered due to varied environmental influences such as extreme temperatures and incessant rainfalls.

When this tectonic collision took place in the tropical zone back then, it inadvertently triggered certain chemical reactions. This weathering phenomenon ended up absorbing tremendous amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere.

Jagoutz explained in his study that if several rocks are put together in the tropical region where it constantly receives rain showers and exposed to extremely hot climate, and in addition to this, if the tectonics activities constantly wears the rocks down to reveal fresher rocks, it collectively serves as an excellent trigger for sparking the ice ages.

The findings have been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Photo: Andreas Kambanis | Flickr 

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