Ice Age Climate Changed Quickly
Short, sharp fluctuations in the Earth's climate throughout the last ice age may have stopped trees from getting a foothold in Europe and northern Asia, scientists say.
According to a new study, warm spells were so brief that trees were unable to establish themselves before the temperature shot back down again.
'The warm events were so short-lived that ecosystems weren't able to respond in full,' says Professor Brian Huntley, of Durham University, who led the study.
'But at the end of the last ice age, about 10,000 years ago, when temperatures were sustained at 5°C or so warmer, whole ecosystem patterns shifted, trees became established and a large number of species became extinct,' he adds.
The research, published in PLoS ONE, could give clues about how rapid changes in today's climate will affect the world's ecosystems.
'If warming is sustained, then it could result in a shift to a new ecological state, and then we can expect a similar loss of species,' says Huntley.
'But if we can make sure that it's just a blip, by bringing temperatures back down quickly, perhaps within a century or two, maybe the consequences for ecosystems won't be so awful.'
Tundra landscape image via Shutterstock.
Read more at Planet Earth Online.