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If you think it's been cold recently, wait a few thousand years.

In his new book, "Ice Drift, Ocean Circulation and Climate Change," (Praxis Publishing 2000) Jens Bischof, a research assistant professor in the Department of Ocean, Earth, and Atmospheric Sciences (OEAS) at Old Dominion University, says that a new ice age is coming.

His studies on the subject, 13 years in the making, prove it, he said.

Debris found in ice afloat in the Arctic Ocean, scraped from land masses on the fringes of the sea by glaciers as they move toward the sea, betrays drift patterns that indicate the global climate is cooling, Bischof said.

Bischof's research was intended as a research paper on the topic, but he found himself with too much information once he started analyzing data from surface ships and submarines on the thickness of the polar ice cap. The book's publisher came to Bischof in 1998 and asked him to write it.

That wealth of data is also evident in Bischof's lab in the Oceanography and Physics Building. A large cooler and several boxes are stacked in a corner, each one filled with Zip-Loc bags that formerly contained ice chunks he collected in the Arctic.
All that remains now is water, silt and rock and mineral residue. Another box holding vials of larger fragments sits nearby. All together, some 370 varieties of mineral and rock fragments are represented here.

The contents of each bag and vial tell its own story, Bishof says. Coal fragments dating back to the Holocene period -- the name given to the last 11,000 years of the earth's history, a relatively warm time since the end of the last ice age - were found floating in ice in the Norwegian Sea more than 4,000 kilometers from the place from which they originated.

In years past, the thinness of the polar ice cap has been looked at as an indicator of a warming global climate. But the different thickness could be the result of different atmospheric circulation and not changing temperatures, he said.

"I suggest that from time to time, circulation gives way to Arctic oscillation out of the Arctic region," Bischof said, promoting the export of icebergs out of the Arctic. This produces lower salinity in water where the Arctic meets Scandinavia, Russia, etc., and makes way for more ice to form.

The last time this happened was in 1955, when Europe was plunged into a deep freeze, Bischof said. Temperatures in Germany dropped to well below freezing and farmers were digging their livestock out of record snowfall in Italy.

Bischof, a native of Oldenburg, Germany, received his master's degree in geology in 1983 and his doctoral degree, also in geology, in 1990 from Kiel University in Germany. His doctorate is a treatise on the dispersal patterns of ice-rafted debris in the Greenland Sea.

In 1992, Bischof joined the Department of Geology at Old Dominion as a post-doctoral fellow and was promoted to the rank research assistant professor in 1995. At Old Dominion, Bischof works with Dennis Darby, professor of OEAS, on the development of the paleoclimate history of the Arctic Ocean.

Bischof's work at Old Dominion has been funded by the National Science Foundation and the Office of Naval Research.

This article was posted on: January 30, 2001

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