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Thank God for Icy Greenland

Did you know that if it were not for Greenland and all its ice we couldn’t be here? Our large population and high technology requires that we be living in between two ice ages in a 100,000-year ice age cycle at a time when the Sun is most stable and releasing the least amount of ultraviolet and x-ray radiation.

Today, the Sun is about 25 percent brighter than when God created the first life-forms on Earth. By all accounts it is too bright for any reasonable possibility of an ice age—and yet our planet is experiencing a delicate balance between ice and no ice manifesting itself as an ice age cycle. This is due to a “perfect storm” of five amazing tectonic events.

One of those events is the movement and uplift of Greenland. Four geophysicists have demonstrated that over the past 60 million years Greenland has moved northward by 18° latitude (see figure).1 They showed that a “northward rotation of the entire mantle and crust toward the pole, dubbed True Polar Wander,” moved Greenland 12° north.2Plate tectonic reconstruction moved it relative to the mantle another 6° north. Today, Greenland is the northernmost landmass on Earth; its northern tip is just 713 kilometers (443 miles) from the North Pole.

Figure:  Repositioning of Greenland
The map of North America here shows the current extent of continental ice at mid-summer.
Image credit: NASA “Blue Marble” project

While the new location certainly made Greenland a lot colder, the movement by itself is insufficient to explain the country’s enormous store of ice. The four geophysicists showed that as Greenland moved north, a mantle plume pulse thinned the crust below it. Starting about 5 million years ago, younger plume pulses lifted the eastern parts of Greenland to elevations exceeding 3,000 meters (10,000 feet) above sea level.

Greenland’s combination of location and elevation resulted in temperatures cold enough to sustain long-term glaciation. Today, Greenland’s ice sheet covers 81 percent of its land area and contains 2,850,000 cubic kilometers (680,000 cubic miles) of ice. At ice age maxima, coverage = 100 percent. The minimum ice coverage is 1.76 million square kilometers (695 million square miles). All of this ice reflected away more of the Sun’s heat and light, thereby helping to cool the planet.

Other Events Vital to Earth’s Ice Ages

By itself, Greenland did not generate enough global cooling to bring on the ice age cycle that has persisted for the past 2.59 million years. However, it was one of the more critical factors. Without it, there would be no ice age cycle. Other recent tectonics events contributed to activating the ice age cycle include:

  • breakup of the supercontinent Pangaea, resulting in landmasses dominating the northern hemisphere and almost enclosing the Arctic Ocean;
  • Antarctica centering on the South Pole and surrounded by open ocean, resulting in the buildup upon it of 8,000,000 cubic miles of ice 3 million years ago;
  • formation of the Panama Isthmus 3 million years ago, shutting down the flow of water between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans; and
  • uplift of the Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau caused by the ongoing collision of the Indian subcontinent with Eurasia, which produced a store of ice greater than 14,000 cubic kilometers (5,000,000+ cubic kilometers at ice age maxima).

All five of these tectonic events had to occur near simultaneously to make possible an ice age cycle so late in Earth’s history. Any one of these events could be chalked up to coincidence. However, for all five to occur at the same time, to operate in such a way so that each of the five enhances the cooling effect of the other four, and for the timing of the five events to precede the only narrow window of time during which humans could launch and sustain civilization indicates divine planning, design, and purpose.

We have much to thank God for setting up the ice age cycle at the just-right time on our behalf. To find out precisely why we must be living between ice ages in a 100,000-year ice age cycle, check out “Unique Ice Age Cycle Is Ideal for Humanity,” a paper that provides more in-depth exploration of the five factors that set up this ideal ice age cycle and the enormous benefits it provides us.

  1. Bernhard Steinberger et al., “The Key Role of Global Solid-Earth Processes in Preconditioning Greenland’s Glaciation since the Pliocene,” Terra Nova (forthcoming; published online November 18, 2014): doi:10.1111/ter.12133.
  2. Ibid.