Laughing gas may have caused the end of Ice Age

Last Updated: Friday, July 20, 2012 - 15:47

London: It`s no laughing matter! Nitrous oxide commonly known as laughing gas may have brought the last great Ice Age to an end, a new research has found.

Scientists have found that large quantities of laughing gas which appeared in the atmosphere 14,000 years ago caused the temperatures in Europe to rise by as much as 5 degrees.

The research showed that elevated levels of the gas, which has gained notoriety as a party drug, are stored in ice core samples from the period the last Ice Age ended, the `Daily Mail` reported.

The samples, which formed about 14,000 years ago as the ice age drew to an end, contains bursts of nitrous oxide, popularly known as laughing gas.

The gas, used medically for pain relief has gained notoriety in recent years thanks to people using it as a recreational drug.

A study by Mirjam Pfieffer of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, in Lausanne, found that nitrous oxide which ended the Ice Age came from plants that blossomed as the climate began to warm.

The team reconstructed how the ecosystem changed at a Swiss lake during this time by identifying pollen buried in sediment. As temperatures rose, the area was over-run by a shrub called sea buckthorn.

Sea buckthorn uses nitrogen from the air to produce nutrients. Trials suggest that its chemical tinkering released a lot of nitrous oxide, perhaps 1.6 mg of extra gas for every square metre of land.

The scientists told New Scientist magazine that a similar development could happen this century as Arctic ice retreats and warmer Arctic peatlands belch out nitrous oxide.

"If we have climate change proceeding very quickly, the huge amounts of nitrous stored in our ecosystem may be released as nitrous oxide," said Klaus Butterbach-Bahl, of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany.

However, experts say they are unsure how much this will affect temperatures.


First Published: Friday, July 20, 2012 - 15:47

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