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Scientists have new theory on ice age
Lawrence Journal-World ^ | 12/29/2003 | Alea Smith

Posted on 12/30/2003 2:29:48 PM PST by EUPHORIC

Scientists have new theory on ice age

KU researchers believe gamma-ray burst caused extinctions, cooling

By Alea Smith - Special to the Journal-World

Monday, December 29, 2003

Researchers now believe a cosmic explosion 440 million years ago may have decimated life on Earth.

Kansas University scientists are attracting international attention with their research into the possibility a massive gamma ray explosion caused an ice age that wiped out much of the life on Earth.

"It appears that the (gamma ray) bursts are a serious danger, although not something you would expect to hit us very often, maybe every few hundred million years," said Adrian Melott, a professor of physics and astronomy.

Melott and Bruce Lieberman, an associate professor of geology, are studying whether gamma ray bursts were responsible for high extinction rates in shallow-water marine species -- amoebas, sponges and coral-like creatures and some marine species with hard shells -- while other species survived.

The effects were worse on shallow-water species, the scientists believe, because deeper water protected other species.

"There is a variety of evidence for this particular time period," Lieberman said. "There is chemical evidence as well as the animals that made it through and those that go extinct."

Two international science magazines, New Scientist and Nature, have recently reported the KU researchers' hypothesis.

Others working on the theory since last spring have included Claude Laird, associate professor of physics and astronomy at KU; Mikhail Medvedev, assistant professor of physics and astronomy at KU; and officials from the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

Previous theories have attributed the extinction to the start of an ice age but offer no explanation as to what triggered the ice age during a relatively warm climate.

Gamma-ray bursts occur when a giant star explodes, creating a burst of nuclear energy in the form of gamma-rays, which have the smallest wavelength and most energy of all radiation.

The Earth's atmosphere would absorb the energy, which would separate nitrogen and oxygen molecules in the atmosphere, creating nitrogen oxides, including nitrogen dioxide, which plays a major role in the atmospheric reactions that produce ground-level ozone or smog.

The scientists' research has led them to believe the long-term effects of gamma-ray bursts would deplete the ozone and cause global cooling and acid rain. It would also increase the amount of direct ultraviolet rays from the sun, which only reach a depth of 10 meters in water. This explains why only shallow marine species were involved in the extinction.

The trilobite, an extinct hard-shelled marine creature, has been the focus of research so far. Its extinction pattern in the fossil record is similar to what scientists would expect to find with gamma-ray bursts. They are now looking further into other species that survived and died out during this time to find more connections.

Astronomers have observed and recorded many recent gamma-ray bursts from distant galaxies that have been harmless to the Earth.

"These bursts occurred more often when the solar system first formed," Lieberman said. "Ones like we think caused this extinction occur once every billion years or so, but that's just an estimate."

Melott said if a gamma-ray burst occurred within 10,000 light years on this side of the galaxy, the effects on Earth would be devastating.

"Anyone outside when this occurred would be blinded," Melott said. "The effects would be noticed right away."


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Extended News; Miscellaneous; News/Current Events; Technical
KEYWORDS: astronomy; catastrophism; climatechange; extinction; gammaraybursts; globalwarming; iceage; oxygen; science; supernova
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KOWABUNGA. At least with an asteroid we might be able to do a little target practice with some of our nuclear toys and have some chance of stopping it but aside from everyone crawling into VERY deep holes there is not much one could do but enjoy the nice toasty warm feeling just before you started to melt!
1 posted on 12/30/2003 2:29:49 PM PST by EUPHORIC
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To: EUPHORIC
"Our new theory about the ice age is that it was pretty darn cold. But to be sure, we'll need a few billion dollars more in federal grants."
3 posted on 12/30/2003 2:41:19 PM PST by TheBigB (...international law is whatever the United States and Great Britain say it is. - Ann Coulter)
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To: JackRyanCIA
No such thing as gamma rays.


4 posted on 12/30/2003 2:41:37 PM PST by jwalsh07
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To: EUPHORIC
I guess I'd better breakout the lead-lined jockies...
5 posted on 12/30/2003 2:44:17 PM PST by Tallguy (I can't think of anything to say -- John Entwistle in "The Kids are Alright")
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To: EUPHORIC
According to Anne Elk, it was rather warm when the ice age began, then it became very very cold, then it got warmer near the end.
6 posted on 12/30/2003 2:45:03 PM PST by zook
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To: EUPHORIC
my only theory about the ice age is that it was very cold for awhile, then it warmed up a little.
7 posted on 12/30/2003 2:45:29 PM PST by isom35
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To: EUPHORIC
According to Anne Elk, it was rather warm when the ice age began, then it became very very cold, then it got warmer near the end.
8 posted on 12/30/2003 2:46:40 PM PST by zook
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To: zook
The above article conclusively proves that science know absolutely nothing about what causes anything.

Once again.

9 posted on 12/30/2003 2:54:25 PM PST by Erik Latranyi
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To: EUPHORIC
Now wait just a minute . . . .The scientists' research has led them to believe the long-term effects of gamma-ray bursts would deplete the ozone and cause global cooling and acid rain. . . . .

Didn't we all learn that depleting the ozone layer causes acid rain and GLOBAL WARMING???????

No way - nuh-uh - can't have it both ways!!

10 posted on 12/30/2003 2:58:28 PM PST by WIladyconservative (Proud monthly donor)
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To: WIladyconservative
This might expl KU's football program lately.
11 posted on 12/30/2003 3:08:03 PM PST by Eric in the Ozarks
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To: EUPHORIC
Anyone outside when this occurred would be blinded

So...sunglasses wouldn't help.

12 posted on 12/30/2003 3:13:37 PM PST by xrp
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To: EUPHORIC
Spongebob Squarepants theory..
13 posted on 12/30/2003 3:14:13 PM PST by Drammach
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To: farmfriend
ping
14 posted on 12/30/2003 3:16:31 PM PST by Libertarianize the GOP (Ideas have consequences)
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To: zook
According to Anne Elk...

Anne Elk?!?! Where???

15 posted on 12/30/2003 3:20:00 PM PST by steveo
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To: EUPHORIC
Gee, this is a badly written article. It doesn't explain well at all how gamma ray bursts cause ice ages, nor does it explain what extinction it is talking about. The date 440 million years ago is not one of the "biggies" normally discussed. Those would be the Permian-Triassic 250 million years ago and the Cretaceous-Tertiary 65 million years ago. Then there was the "Snowball Earth" episode about 700 million years ago. But this is none of those. It apparently refers to the time we started losing a lot of trilobite species.

Not saying it's wrong, just a rather scattershot presentation.
16 posted on 12/30/2003 3:33:44 PM PST by VadeRetro
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To: VadeRetro
Hmmm, I thought they meant "Snowball Earth" but as you point out the dates are wrong.

What's really bad about the article is the average person thinks of the "Ice Age" as the very recent episodes we've had in the last few million years, and the article doesn't point out that it's not the same Ice Age most people are thinking of when they read the headline.

Much of the contempt that people have for science on FR is actually just caused by moron non-science writers getting it totally wrong for a general audience, not the scientists themselves.
17 posted on 12/30/2003 3:42:32 PM PST by John H K
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To: John H K
Much of the contempt that people have for science on FR is actually just caused by moron non-science writers getting it totally wrong for a general audience, not the scientists themselves.

Seems to be what's happening here. Local talent writing for the Lawrence, Kansas newspaper.

18 posted on 12/30/2003 3:50:04 PM PST by VadeRetro
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To: EUPHORIC
I guess this means my tin-foil beanie won't help much?
19 posted on 12/30/2003 4:08:46 PM PST by HangThemHigh (Have you seen Quasimodo? I have a hunch he's back.)
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To: EUPHORIC
Previous theories have attributed the extinction to the start of an ice age but offer no explanation as to what triggered the ice age during a relatively warm climate.

Those theories -- and this one, too -- have an even higher hurdle to worry about it seems to me; namely, what evidence do they have that there actually was an ice age 440 million years ago? They may have evidence there was a mass extinction. But what evidence do they have that an ice age caused it? As I understand it, not very much at all of the earth's crust from the time of the Permian-Triassic extinction is still around, much less from 440 million years ago.

20 posted on 12/30/2003 4:10:18 PM PST by LibWhacker
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