The Most Important Strait in the World

NASA Image, Ice in the Bering Sea

Scientists are keeping themselves busy. You’d think they would shut down for a few years and go off on sabbatical. Nope, they keep beavering away, trying to figure out why everything is all screwed up. They keep using science to help us understand what’s going on in the world. Hiding under the covers and screaming for Jesus to come and save you works for a few minutes, and then you have to do snap out of it. We all need a break from the monotony of this hustle and bustle life, and we all need some “me” time. I’m concerned that our scientists are missing their “me” time.

After figuring this out, they deserve a break:

At 50 miles wide, the Bering Strait, which separates Alaska from Russia, hardly seems like a major player in Earth’s climate.

Map, Bering StraitBut a new studyin the journal Nature Geoscience concludes that this shallow strait between the North Pacific and the Arctic oceans has played a large role in climate fluctuations during recent ice ages. Depending on whether it’s closed or open, the strait dramatically changes the distribution of heat around the planet.

When sea levels decline enough that water can no longer flow from the Pacific to the Arctic through the strait, the North Atlantic responds by growing warmer. That warmth is strong enough to melt ice sheets and temporarily reverse the glaciation of the Northern Hemisphere.

Generally, scientists think that changes in Earth’s orbit around the sun have driven the repeated advance and retreat of glaciers during the Pleistocene — the period starting 2.58 million years ago and ending about 10,000 years ago.

That makes sense to me. Think of the Bering Strait as the relief valve, I guess. The prospect of having the Earth maintain its own climate by way of warming up on purpose to relieve the ice blockage in the Bering Strait sounds like an interesting theory. Is this small, shallow path between the Northern Pacific and the Arctic really big enough, though? I guess that’s the part where the scientists have to keep chasing that cheese around.

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