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Changes in Earth's Orbit Linked to Extinctions 311

Josh Fink writes "A group of Dutch Scientists have recently released a study stating that they have found that changes in Earth's orbit around the sun are linked to mammal extinctions. From the article: '"Extinctions in rodent species occur in pulses which are spaced by intervals controlled by astronomical variations and their effects on climate change..." The cycles are associated with lower temperatures, changes in precipitation, habitats, vegetation and food availability which are the main factors influencing the extinction peaks, the study published in the journal Nature said.' So on top of worrying about global warming, it seems we should also worry about the physics that govern the orbit of Earth around the sun. Too bad we don't have a way of keeping the Earth in the same orbit/on the same axis of rotation."
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Changes in Earth's Orbit Linked to Extinctions

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  • by HoneyBeeSpace ( 724189 ) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @10:47AM (#16408343) Homepage
    We don't have animals in our climate model, but if you'd like to see how orbit effects climate, you can do so yourself.

    The EdGCM [columbia.edu] project has wrapped a NASA GCM in a graphical interface. You can double-click to install, and if you'd like to turn the sun down a few percent or change the orbit, there are checkboxes and sliders. Press play, wait a while (hours to a day or so depending on your computer), and you can look at the results...

    Disclaimer: I'm the developer.
  • Re:BTW (Score:4, Interesting)

    by regular_gonzalez ( 926606 ) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @10:49AM (#16408383)
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tipping_point [wikipedia.org]

    Not saying this necessarily applies; just pointing out that just because a process may be gradual does not mean that its consequences can't be sudden.
  • Re:BTW (Score:3, Interesting)

    by E++99 ( 880734 ) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @11:03AM (#16408595) Homepage
    Yes, but if someone starts looking at actual science like this, they might notice that ALL the actual mass extinction events in earth's history are cooling events, not warming events. The warming (and increased CO2) means more food availability, more fresh water availablility, and more survivable habitats. The only downside is rising ocean levels, and that is only a downside if you either 1) own ocean-front property, or 2) are planning a trip from Russia to the Americas on foot.
  • Re:BTW (Score:3, Interesting)

    by edunbar93 ( 141167 ) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @11:18AM (#16408835)
    Sure, but let's just say that rats aren't exactly a fragile, endangered species. They'll probably survive the next world war despite how practically every other species won't.
  • Re:BTW (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Dun Malg ( 230075 ) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @11:45AM (#16409241) Homepage
    before anyone starts getting all 'see, all you global-warming believers, this is a perfectly rational natural explanation for the current warming trend,' the periods of these natural cycles are on the order of 1.2 and 2.4 million years. not exactly fast-acting.
    Though is is worth noting that something happened either to the earth's orbit or its speed of rotation in the 8th century BCE. History shows civilizations around the world dumping their 360-day calender at right about the same time after having used it for over 1000 years, followed by a struggle to come up with a 365-day one. Attempts to hand-wave this away as "silly ancients couldn't make an accurate calendar" or "it was just a ceremonial calendar" are clearly wrong. With a 5 day variance like that the calender would become 180 degrees out of phase in only 36 years-- within one person's lifetime-- so obviously someone would've noticed and adjusted it and not just left it alone for 1000+ years. As for the second, that ignores the entire purpose of the calender: agricultural planning. A calender so inaccurate you can't plant crops by it is worthless. No, clearly the mechanics of earth's orbit were altered. Probably not enough to make any significant climatic difference, but an orbital alteration nonetheless, and within recorded history. Worth keeping in mind lest people get the idea that we live within a static system
  • Re:Move Along (Score:2, Interesting)

    by buckysphere ( 1011323 ) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @11:53AM (#16409375)
    In the years since 1998, not only has the Earth's temp not risen, but it has fallen slightly...and I mean so slightly that it is practically immeasurable. But, it definitely hasn't risen at all.
  • by mrcgran ( 1002503 ) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @12:27PM (#16409877)
    "...So on top of worrying about global warming, it seems we should also worry about the physics that govern the orbit of Earth around the sun. Too bad we don't have a way of keeping the Earth in the same orbit/on the same axis of rotation."

    Yes, we have! And it's very interesting indeed!

    http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/planetearth/ earth_move_010207.html [space.com]

    A link to the paper: Korycansky, D. G.; Laughlin, Gregory; Adams, Fred C. Astronomical engineering: a strategy for modifying planetary orbits. Astrophys.Space Sci. 275 (2001) 349-366
    http://arxiv.org/abs/astro-ph/0102126 [arxiv.org]
    "The Sun's gradual brightening will seriously compromise the Earth's biosphere within ~ 1E9 years. If Earth's orbit migrates outward, however, the biosphere could remain intact over the entire main-sequence lifetime of the Sun. In this paper, we explore the feasibility of engineering such a migration over a long time period. The basic mechanism uses gravitational assists to (in effect) transfer orbital energy from Jupiter to the Earth, and thereby enlarges the orbital radius of Earth. This transfer is accomplished by a suitable intermediate body, either a Kuiper Belt object or a main belt asteroid. The object first encounters Earth during an inward pass on its initial highly elliptical orbit of large (~ 300 AU) semimajor axis. The encounter transfers energy from the object to the Earth in standard gravity-assist fashion by passing close to the leading limb of the planet. The resulting outbound trajectory of the object must cross the orbit of Jupiter; with proper timing, the outbound object encounters Jupiter and picks up the energy it lost to Earth. With small corrections to the trajectory, or additional planetary encounters (e.g., with Saturn), the object can repeat this process over many encounters. To maintain its present flux of solar energy, the Earth must experience roughly one encounter every 6000 years (for an object mass of 1E22 g). We develop the details of this scheme and discuss its ramifications."

  • by przemekklosowski ( 448666 ) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @12:35PM (#16410017)
    The fascinating average temperature data from Vostok Antarctic ice data:

    http://cdiac.ornl.gov/trends/temp/vostok/graphics/ tempplot5.gif [ornl.gov]

    shows that for last 450,000 years Earth was mostly in the Ice Age, interrupted
    by 10,000 year long warm periods spaced 100,000 years apart. We are about 15,000
    years into the last warm period on record.

    Because of strong periodicity, the current best explanation of this cycle is
    by astronomical phenomena (Earth orbit/axis wobble).

    This does not contradict global warming---it just shows that the climate
    is a very delicate balance between strong opposing phenomena; the point being
    that we should be real careful how we influence it.

Those who do things in a noble spirit of self-sacrifice are to be avoided at all costs. -- N. Alexander.