When Antarctica Freezes Over

Just in time for the Durban climate conference we have a bit of science fiction from Yale and Purdue universities.  The paper is Pagani et al., 2011, The Role of Carbon Dioxide During the Onset of Antarctic Glaciation, Science, Vol. 334 no. 6060 pp. 1261-1264. (Link to abstract)

The research team claims “A drop in carbon dioxide appears to be the driving force that led to the Antarctic ice sheet’s formation.”  According to the press release:

The onset of Antarctic ice is the mother of all climate tipping points.  The team found the tipping point in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels for cooling that initiates ice sheet formation is about 600 parts per million. Prior to the levels dropping this low, it was too warm for the ice sheet to form. At the Earth’s current level of around 390 parts per million, the environment is such that an ice sheet remains, but carbon dioxide levels and temperatures are increasing.

The team studied geochemical remnants of ancient algae from seabed cores collected by drilling in deep-ocean sediments and crusts as part of the National Science Foundation’s Integrated Ocean Drilling program. The biochemical molecules present in algae vary depending on the temperature, nutrients and amount of dissolved carbon dioxide present in the ocean water. These molecules are well preserved even after many millions of years and can be used to reconstruct the key environmental variables at the time, including carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.

The team actually studied 7 cores but their study is based on computer modeling of only the two cores that seemed to support their hypothesis.

Why I think the study is science fiction

First some background.  Antarctica was drifting toward the south pole since about 175 million years ago and arrived approximately 65 million years ago.  It was still attached to South America and Australia.  In spite of being at the south pole, Antarctica was ice-free until about 34 million years ago.

Paleomap 50

Atmospheric carbon dioxide had been dropping since the mild ice age at the Jurassic-Cretaceous boundary about 150 million years ago.  Carbon dioxide continued to drop after the ice age, but global temperatures rebounded and the planet was hot and steamy until the end of the  Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum about 55 million years ago.  The graphic below shows that there is apparently no correlation between temperature and carbon dioxide.

CCIP fig 2

The drop in carbon dioxide was precipitated by the ice age which allowed cooling ocean water to absorb more carbon dioxide.  The continued drop in carbon dioxide was due, at least in part, to sequestering of carbon by the extensive formation of Cretaceous coal and limestone deposits.

An alternative hypothesis of why Antarctica developed a continental ice sheet about 34 million years ago is that when Antarctica became detached from Australia and South America, a strong circumpolar ocean current developed that isolated Antarctica from the warming tropical ocean currents.  This current developed in fits and starts because the connection to South America opened and closed several times.  This hypothesis is supported by a recent paper:

Katz et al., 2011, Impact of Antarctic Circumpolar Current Development on Late Paleogene Ocean Structure, Science, Vol. 332 no. 6033 pp. 1076-1079. (Link to abstract)

The following graphic shows a more detailed history of Antarctic temperature history.


This shows that the initial glaciation began about 34 million years ago with the establishment of the circumpolar current.  At about 26 million years ago the Drake passage connecting Antarctica to South America became restricted again and Antarctica warmed up.  The carbon dioxide driver hypothesis cannot account for this.  Antarctica reglaciated about 14 million years ago when the Drake passage reopened allowing the circumpolar current to block warm water again.  Also near this time, a source of warm water, the Tethys sea became blocked by tectonic shifts.

Geology provides “hard” evidence; the carbon dioxide hypothesis of the Yale-Purdue team provides only computer speculation.


  1. Climate is complex and there are mulitple drivers of climate (both warming and cooling). Attempting to discount CO2 as one of them, by asserting that the circumpolar current was the only factor, merely demonstrates a lack of understanding that complexity.
    Scientific truth isn’t determine by any single scientific paper, nor is it determined by opinion pieces written in small local papers. You should leave science to the scientists that actually understand it.

    1. By discounting that circumpolar current MAY account for it demonstrates your complete lack of understanding of the complexity of nature, climate, and our inability to improperly predict even localized future weather conditions with any certainty.

      Let’s agree that controlling CO2 levels is neither possible nor wanted, as we cannot determine that actual affects of either. Let’s agree further, that while no one wants pollution, creating an arcane mechanism to take money from polluters will not directly impact global anything except create another way to hide and steal money from average citizens.

      1. Whoa, can’t determine the effects of either?  (And either what?  You only mentioned one option:  controlling CO2 effects, and said two things about that one thing.)
        I agree that “arcane” taxes are bad, but there’s nothing arcane about a simple carbon tax; it’s just a volumetric tax like the one on gasoline.
        Just because we don’t *completely* know all the effects of specific CO2 levels doesn’t mean we don’t know enough about them to make certain moral decisions regarding it.  I don’t know the *exact* effects of whacking you in the head with a 2×4 moving at 1 foot per second, but I have good reason to expect it would hurt.

    2. Russ, your own comment fails scientific reasoning.
      “you should leave science to the scientist”
       First, Jonathan DuHamel graduated from The Colorado School of Mines with a Geology Engineering degree and Master of Science degree, he served as an officer in the Army Chemical Corps. I’d hardly reduce his assessment to “opinion pieces in small local papers”

      Second, “you should leave science to the scientists that actually understand it”
      and who are they? This is where you’re really flawed in your rhetoric. It is an appeal to authority fallacy mixed with a taste of mockery to the author who is actually a scientist very well informed on how the Earth operates. He might be incorrect, we didn’t get that far with your contribution to the conversation, Russ. What we did get is that you didn’t read Mr. DuHamel’s background before writing.

      Third, “Complexity Fallacy”
      ‘Climate is complex’ does not remove the real possibility that one simple “single scientific paper” can alter our view on that complex reality. That a system is complex doesn’t mean a low level human being with out supreme knowledge of the system can’t identify something wrong in the postulated ideas of another group of human beings. You didn’t disprove anything Mr. DuHamel wrote above. You just sort of …stuck your tongue out and mocked.

      And last, small town opinion pieces are exactly where some of the best analysis of the world comes from if you read enough of it. Yes, you’ll run across many highly uninformed people or into faux experts who haven’t been peer reviewed to our fantastic standards. But you’ll also find very schooled people chiming in with a brief glimpse at a view that isn’t carried by the owners of the papers and yet still needs to be heard. Your reduction of this medium says much about you, Russ.

      I needn’t a vast pedigree of universities behind someone’s name to understand whether they get it or not. I’ve watched young people blow scholars out of the room by simply having fresh eyes on topics of resources, cancer, economy and historical knowledge. First hand I’ve seen people without academic power level the playing field by simply seeing truth in something the larger group ignored. I examine constantly for rhetorical fallacies while gathering the observable or inductive facts. Though a person might identify many facts, their conclusion might still be flawed. By this method I can discuss many sciences I am not aware of and yet still examine if their mental process holds up to truth finding. I ask for endless sourcing. I am not interested in beliefs except if we’re naming discarded ones or ones to be discarded.

      By your measure, the “scientists that actually understand it” must be some magical group. I’ve never seen them. The best scientists I know don’t really act very certain on much of anything except if they are hungry or not. They keep asking the question as if living right up on a veil that blinds them from what might be known.

      Science-an amazing thing that isn’t a thing. Good Day. mm

      1. Jon likes Mark Twain quotes. Here’s one he may have missed:
        There is nothing so stupid as an educated man, if you get him off the thing that he was educated in.
        Will Rogers (1879-1935) U.S. actor and humorist.

      2. Dr John,
        Your Will Rogers quote actually supports Jon.  As a geologist, he clearly explained the implications of the events in geological time that led to the separation of Antarctica as a continent. This is precisely the kind of multidisciplinary approach that can lead to greater (though never absolute) understanding.  Compare this to the “scientists that actually understand it”, that mindlessly chant “Uga buga CO2” and set about carefully selecting samples, manipulating models, and selecting teammates to review their papers so that their belief in AGW is supported.
        It reminds me of something a woman I knew said about logic.  She said there is female logic, and male logic.  Male logic means that you collect a bunch of facts from all kinds of sources, do some analysis, and then figure out what you know about it, and what you feel about it.  Female logic means that you develop a feeling using your intuition, and then you use your intellect to find facts that support how you feel, while ignoring information that contradicts what you feel.  How many times have you heard a woman go on about how intuitive she is?   How many times have you heard a woman go on about how analytical she is?
        I should have never let that woman get away.  Such insight is rare.  Damn.
        Anyway, I think we now have male Logic, female Logic, and AGW Logic.  AGW Logic does one better than female logic.    With AGW logic, there is an intense feeling that must be supported (I MUST SAVE THE WORLD!!). And instead of ignoring facts that do not support the feeling, the AGWs actively work so that no one else is exposed to those facts by controlling the access to information that does not support their feeling.
        One day, just like eugenics, people will look back at the 1990s- 2010s and wonder “What in the hell were they thinking.  Why did they keep ignoring all the evidence that was staring them in the face about the fallacy of dangerous man caused climate change?”  Luckily, we live in a time where the Internet has brought us low friction to getting facts and alternate ideas out to people, thus bypassing the gatekeepers.  Even though the AGW scientists **use** computers, many are not very savvy on how they work (hint to Dr. Phil Jones – Deleting the emails from your computer’s Eudora email program (where you are conspiring to destroy data to avoid FOI requests) does not make them disappear from the Internet).   This brings to mind at Will Rogers quote about the stupidity of an educated man……….
        So, does it feeeeeeel like the whole Climate Change cause is crashing down?  I know the warmists point to the “facts” that the shills for the oil companies and rogue commentators that are not “scientists that actually understand it” are winning the PR battle.  But, if the CAUSE needs to be supported by denying other theories and research from seeing the light of day, as displayed even more clearly in Climategate 2.0, maybe that fact needs to be addressed.
        As a AGW skeptic and an observer, I feel there are great days ahead when the shackles on energy exploitation (primarily oil/natural gas) are removed.  How do my warmist friends feel?
        Mark in Sandy Eggo

      3. Hi Mark, Good to hear from you. You always have an interesting take on these posts. I have to agree with you to a certain extent about Jon’s expertise. I find his take on geology (and hence long timescales) informative. I know that the fact that the Antarctic has a circumpolar sea between it and other land masses, has many of the isolating climate effects he describes. The rest of his theory, as far as it’s explicated, is far from convincing. Perhaps Jon should try to put a little meat on the bones and see if he can form a hypothesis that is cogent enough to at least be published for review. The above exposition is far from that.

        I think Jon’s long historical perspective also is his weakness. The fact that life flourished during extreme climactic conditions long ago ignores the fact that that life was not human life. CO2 is higher now than anytime Homo sapiens walked this earth. And it’s climbing fast.

        Mark, it is not out of the question that we as a species could adapt to the climate that appears to be in our future. But what about a civilization of 10 billion people? That civilization would certainly suffer some extreme difficulties.

        Now I know that what I am about say is something we just won’t ever agree on. What about species that can’t adapt to dramatic climate changes like Homo sapiens? Evolutionary biologists like to say that each species has certain abilities to adapt, and what makes humans unique is that our adaptation IS adaptation. Other species can’t do that, Mark, and we either look out for them or we don’t.

        As a moral issue, I don’t think it is right for humans to knowingly cause a mass extinction event. I think we have a moral responsibility to take care of our home and the creatures who share it. I don’t think it’s too much to ask that humans take one or two percent of our wealth to buy some insurance on our home. Most Americans pay about one or two percent of their income on insurance. The odds that their house will burn down is about 16,000 to one. Do you think that there might be a one in 16,000 chance that you and Jon could be wrong about AGW? A one in 16,000 chance that 97 % of climatologists are correct and you and Jon are not? JP

      4. Michael, Yours is a more nuanced post than many here. First you acknowledge Jon’s special credentials, then you go on to explain that credentials are of very limited use, as “[you’ve] watched young people blow scholars out of the room…” Could you relate a few of those stories where scholars of “cancer” and “economy” were “blown out of the room”. I’m sure those must have been fascinating encounters that reader’s would find interesting. I know I would.

        I don’t think anyone would disagree with your statement that “science is not a thing”. Russ certainly didn’t say nor imply that. Science is a branch of study or knowledge. I believe that Russ was saying that those who don’t have a command of the facts in a certain area of study are much less likely to be able to grasp and transmit the principles of the general laws those organized facts might enlighten.

        You also stated that, “…small town opinion pieces are exactly where some of the best analysis of the world comes from.” Could you provide a few examples of that. I was unaware of the contributions small town opinion pieces had on climatology. Or perhaps you had examples of other branches of science that you thought those small town opinion pieces had influenced significantly. I’d be interested in those stories.

        You write well, Michael, and I can tell you are an intelligent person, but you seem to be stretching pretty hard here for something I’m missing. Are you trying to support Jon’s premise? There’s a tinge of anti-intellectualism in your comment that seems at odds with your own intellect. I don’t usually comment on posts that don’t deal with the science of AGW, but I really don’t get your point. And I’d like to. JP

      5. So, on the one hand, you don’t need an advanced education and years of experience in your field to understand very complex matters, but on the other hand, Mr. DuHamel has an advanced education and years of experience.  There is an “authority fallacy” at play here, except where Mr. DuHamel’s authority is concerned?

        On the one hand, the issues at play are very complex.  But on the other hand, anybody should be able to understand the faults in the reasoning of those who spend their lives actually working on the problems? 

        On the one hand, scientists are prone to ‘use’ science as a tool not to answer questions and further our understanding of the universe, but simply as a means to the end of more money and prestige.  But on the other hand, Mr. DuHamel cannot possibly have ulterior motives? (If you read here long enough, you will understand that Mr. DuHamel is libertarian in philosophy and very sympathetic to business interests.)

        On the one hand, you can trust the information coming from the average reader; but on the other hand, you can’t trust science or the pronouncements of scientists?

        If I understand you correctly, I could sum your argument up as the “equivalency fallacy”: that is, anyone’s argument, regardless of background, is equally valid.   

    3. As if there were any scientists out there who understood it. Arrogance does not equal understanding.

    4. Here’s what I do understand about the ‘science’ involved. And I quote, “The team actually studied 7 cores but their study is based on computer modeling of only the two cores that seemed to support their hypothesis.” 2 out of 7 supported their pre-conceptions. How is this science?

      1. I’m not sure that you actually understand all that much. What do you know about the 5 cores that were not used? Is it not possible that these 5 cores were contaminated or in some way not appropriate for the analysis? The bottom line is that you don’t know. Next, what do you know about the authors of the report? Do  you have some sense that they are not trust-worthy? Do you have a reason to call into question their integrity? I suspect that you don’t know much about this either. So, all you have is your “pre-conceptions.”  How is this intelligent?

      2. David, Statistical modeling is a tool. Like a screwdriver. A Phillips screwdriver works for some screws and flat blade screwdriver for others. Jon, and many others here, seem to think of models as either right or wrong. They are not right or wrong, they are useful or not useful. That’s not only me saying that, George E.P. Box, one of the world’s great statisticians describes this in one of his most important works. JP

  2. What qualifications does the article author  have to critique a scientific paper that has been peer-reviewed?  Self-confident opinions, even if internally well-reasoned (which I am not conceding in this instance), do not necessarily make educated opinions.

    1. Frankly, there is so much fraud in the climate group that the number of retractions should warrant massive panic.  Not only is cutting out 5 of 7 samples becuase they dissprove your theory seem highly unscientific, but morally unacademic.  Peer review even nowadays has turned into some kind of yellow journalism.  Studies, especially on the climate cannot be taken at face value anymore.

    2. Tha authors credentials are available at the top left of the page at the link “About the Author.” DuHamel holds a degree GeologyEngineering and a Master of Science degree.

      Peer-reviewed is a joke. The climate fear mongering groups have proven that they would rather lie to support each other than tell the truth.

      1. Erie, There is a high likelihood that you wouldn’t even be alive if it were not for peer reviewed science. JP

    3. So-called “peer review” has led to an unscientific collaberation among writers of “science” articles of the same political persuasion , and the desire for governmental dole to issue unscientific findings in their behalf.  Their supporters then issue statements filled with namecalling (“Bible thumpers”).
         If this is what passes as scientific study, then Lord help the succeeding generations.    

  3. I agree with Poster A.  The author of this piece does not understand the science, let alone present more inclusive strains of evidence.  It isn’t just   the CO2 , or circumpolar currents , or any one of ten other criteria. It’s all of them and then some.  ( Don’t forget our little friend Methane ).
    Sounds like a practicing greenhouse gas  Gore-despising Climate Denier to me, written from  a state and city where they shoot progressive Democratic Congress members in the head  for sport.  ( See, I can be just as ridiculous  when my intellect is insulted…)

  4. Thank you, Mr. DeHamel.  Since when can a computer do everything?  Not likely and I am a computer nerd.  Somehow the data input can be screwed with in any way you want.  Knowledge about history of this planet is more informative as you have stated.  The planet always tries to balance itself and has survived life on it since it began.  I have more faith in the planet than so-called computer scientists(??). 

    1. So you are a “computer nerd”. Would you like to tell us the problems with the GISS-2 model? JP

  5. Seriously, a hydroplate?  If that existed it would be blasted off by the heat produced in the  mantle.  It couldn’t exist physically.

  6. flat earthers tried first to deny global warming, using some dubious research. lately it became apparent that position is untenable, so they switched to the new theory: the planet is warming but is not humans causing it. there is no way to prove or disprove this, because never in history was human population (and consumption) at the level where it could cause dramatic changes in the ecosystem. true, climate is a very complex process, but thermodynamics isn’t, if you keep producing heat at an exponentially increasing rate, eventually that heat has to go somewhere. you can actually calculate it and people who did it predicted the oceans will reach boiling temperatures in about 400 years. of course life would have disappeared long before that

    1. iosax (interesting handle),
      The heat produced by man made sources is small (and not exponentially growing) compared to the heat absorbed from the sun.  Also, as a point of Thermodynamics, heat energy flows away from a hotter body faster than heat energy flows away from a cooler body.  There are also other global temperature stabilizing effects that happen (warmer world = more clouds = more solar energy reflected away instead of getting to the surface).  Doesn’t it seem bizzare to you that for hundreds of thousands of years, the temperature of the earth has been relatively stable.  Does it seem bizarre to you that over the past 15 years CO2 has risen, and the global temperature has remained statistically flat (as admitted to by Dr. Phil Jones)?  Isn’t it more likely that the warmists publish information so that they can be part of the well funded club that gets to travel to Bali, Kyoto, Copenhagen, and Durbin South Africa?  You only are allowed in the club if you believe in AGW.  As shown in Climategate 2.0 emails, if you express doubt (such as publishing a paper that shows hurricanes did NOT increase due to global warming), Dr Michael Mann will try to DESTROY your career.
      Take a look with open eyes.

      1. Mark, Climatologists never said there would be more hurricanes. They said that there was a likelihood that there would be more intense storms. Not the same thing, yet denialists keep claiming that they said more. Additionally, as well as creating more clouds (which reflect energy) increased temperature creates more water vapor which traps heat. The later is expected to be much larger than the former. During those years of climate stability you mention, CO2 never exceeded 289ppm. Now it’s 389ppm and climbing fast. JP

      2. John,
        I know that Al Gore is not a climatologist, but even the cover of the DVD has a hurricane spinning out of a smokestack.  Are you not saying it was part of the “settled science” that hurricanes were increasing due to global warming?  Do you not remember national news programs, when reporting on hurricane Katrina, would say things like “climate scientists say this is due in part to global warming, and is expected to get worse in the future”?
        Not only was the Team asserting global warming would lead to more and stronger  hurricanes, but they actively sought to have Dr. Chris Landsea at NOAA fired because he was expressing doubt about this “settled science”  Dr. Kevin Trenberth (from NCAR, who I believe you will admit is a “Climatologist”) writes (to Dr Phil Jones and Martin Manning):
        I responded to his earlier message in a fairly low key fashion. I think he has behaved irresponsibly and ought to be fired by NOAA for not have an open enough mind to even consider that climate change might be affecting hurricanes. I am quickly becoming outraged by this and I hope it backfires on
        There are many, many more.

        And now you are asserting that no climatologists said there would be more hurricanes?  Please.


      3. Mark, I was simply saying what the IPCC AR4 clearly stated. You can read it for yourself. I never said that “no climatologist said there would be more hurricanes”. I could have been more clear than saying “Climatologists…” I will be more careful in the future to say “IPCC climatologists” or “the consensus among climatologists”.

        Mark, we can’t base our discussions on what various media reports say or we’ll be all over the place.The IPCC AR 4 clearly states the consensus opinion. Recent research is being released that IS able to better quantify the probability of weather extremes associated with AGW. After all, climate is just prevailing weather over a long period of time. JP

      4. Mark, Just an added note. Like every other group of human beings, you can find A climatologist who has or will say just about anything under the sun. This is why consensus is such a vital part of the scientific process. JP

  7. All these hypothetical ideas are just as crazy as creation and Noahs flood so why is it just automatically dismissed I believe creation is what happened not these thousands of individual opinions

  8.  flat earthers tried first to deny global warming, using some dubious research. lately it became apparent that position is untenable, so they switched to the new theory: the planet is warming but is not humans causing it. there is no way to prove or disprove this, because until today, never in history was human population (and consumption) at the level where it could cause dramatic changes in the ecosystem. true, climate is a very complex process, but thermodynamics isn’t, if you keep producing heat at an exponentially increasing rate, eventually that heat has to go somewhere. you can actually calculate it and people who did predicted the oceans will reach boiling temperatures in about 400 years. of course life would have disappeared long before that. and temperature is just one issue in the deadly equation of population+consumption, both increasing exponentially

    1. “climate is a very complex process”

      …and yet you cling to the notion that global warming (previously ‘global cooling’, recently re-dubbed, simply, ‘climate change’) has a singular cause.  I can prove anything, so long as I’m free to discount evidence to the contrary.

    2. Produce heat?  Maybe you should take a closer look at the first law of thermodynamics.  As a system, consider the increase of internal energy with the heat supplied and the work done on the system.  Heat is only a transfer of energy.

    3. The thermodynamic argument is flawed because you are assuming a closed system.  Earth loses heat to space.

      1. Actually, the thermodynamic argument applies to any system in equilibrium. One could argue that since the earth’s global temperature has both warmed and cooled over history it is never at equilibrium. This would be a straw man: Think sine wave. Josh’s comment is correct however. Iosax’s post is very flawed. (S)he should have said: “retained heat”. (S)he also seems to make the mistake of confusing the how the term “feedback” is used by climate scientists, which is different than how it is used in some other sciences.  In climate science feedback loops do not perform as they do in say; computer science; they restabilize at a higher level and do not “run away”.  No climate scientist claims the sea will boil

      2. LOL. Looks to me like you’re doing fine on your own J.P. I’m not a local. I only come to town to buy some rocks in February.  I guess I’m just a sucker for Mr DuHamel’s wry humor when it pops up on the Google searches.

      3. Arch, Maybe I’ll see you at the Gem Show. I’ll look for that ten-gallon hat! JP

      4. Jon, You often use the chart above from GeoCraft.com in your posts. You comment that, “The graphic below shows that there is apparently no correlation between temperature and carbon dioxide.” Just so we are all clear, is that your position Jon? JP

      5. Jon, I’ll submit your article to the Pagani, et al team to get their reaction to your hypothesis. Perhaps you’ve shown something they overlooked. I’ll also submit it to Katz, et al, to see if they agree that your hypothesis is supported, as you claim, by their paper. My interpretation of their work is that it deals with the modern four-layer boundary system rather than the transfer of ocean heat latitudinally. I hope both teams have time to respond. JP

  9. Wow, this is a tough one.  When it comes to climate change, should I listen to world-class scientists from Yale and Purdue, or a conservative activist/journalist for an Arizona newspaper?  Let me get back to you.

  10. Who funded the research?  Seems that everything is for sale, even science.  The victims?  Humans on spaceship earth, including the profiteers of CO2 expansion.  

  11. I am curious where the blue line on the graph for average global temperature came from. Since I do not have access to either the scientific data or the author’s data, I am not committed either way, except to say that the author gave a credible rationale and his article was at least polite, so I bothered to read it. That is more than I will do for long rants or posts beginning with so and so doesn’t understand (so they must be wrong …). Lighten up scientists or you will marginalize yourselves even further. Which matters more? That 98% of scientists agree the climate is changing or 50% of the legislature. Never mind that the scientists have botched it even worse with the average man in the street, who as Russ says, should leave science to the scientists that actually understand it. Nice work.

    1. Science is not hard to understand… I have a 3.4 in my school of science and I hardly even have to try. People just like to feel important.

    2. George, Your instincts about the CO2 /T graph are very well-founded. This is a chart that Jon often uses. I will bring some light to this and a few others soon. You have to be very careful to check Jon’s sources. JP

    3. Good question about the blue line George2. This graph does not appear in  Pagani et al., 2011 (the paper under discussion) nor in Katz et al., 2011 (the next paper cited). Don’t be fooled into thinking that it does.

  12. We always come back to this singular fact: The ice caps are not part of normal conditions on this planet. Quite simply, the world cooled drasticly a few times that lasted for thousands of years and the natural cycle shows this deep freeze always melts away. Nobody really knows why this happened or why it melted, but one thing is certain… As ice melts it starts doing so slowly and as it begins to dissipate, the ice begins to melt more quickly. I can’t believe you people are dumb enough to pay a carbon tax for this.

    1. Actually, once one realizes that much of the benthic foraminifera d18O record (Figure 3) for the last 34 million years is related to changes in ice volume, and once one expands this record in the time domain (and places the data on the correct age axis), you can “see” how it really works.
      For about 34 Million years, there has been significant ice on Antarctica, although this amount has fluctuated.
      For about 2.6 Million years, there have been large oscillations in terrestrial ice in the Northern Hemisphere.
      In general, the northern hemisphere ice sheets grew relatively slow and melted much faster. Moreover, this melting was not uniform: there were definitely intervals of very rapid ice melting (and sea-level rise).
      There is an enormous amount of literature on these topics, and there is no controversy on the basic concepts, which can be tested by multiple independent approaches.
      I’ll leave the idea of carbon taxation to politicians and voters, as this is not in the realm of science.

  13. World temperature is rising because the sun is getting warmer. Good grief; have none of the Al Gore followers ever sat in front of a camp fire?  When more wood is put on the fire, the heat radiates more intensely and you get hotter. Have them ask Nasa to measure the depth of the planet’s atmosphere and they will discover it has expanded.

    1. Amos, You honestly did not know that NASA constantly measures the energy Earth receives from the sun? Well don’t feel bad. Jon evidently didn’t either.

  14. there is a fact that during the different glaciations there were not 7 billion humans polluting the oceans and the atmosphere

    1. This is a point that seems to escape Jon. These ancient climates weren’t happening on a planet with 7 billion people counting on a complex civilization to support them. JP

  15. “Just in time for the Durban climate conference” — isn’t that a bit of science fiction in the making?
    Man-caused global warming is a hoax concocted by Enron, guys. No amount of false science based on faked data can change that.
    Simply admit that the goal of all the global-warming folks is to make money for Al Gore while turning the United States into a Third World cesspool.

  16. As I learned a month or so ago here, Mr. DuHamel does not necessarily take his posts or his own (wry) opinions seriously. Parts of Antarctica have been at the South Pole since the time of Pangaea (200,000 million years ago).

    1. Arch – Jon’s point was that South America and the Antarctic Continent were connected, which prevented currents from circling the Continent like they do now.  Isn’t that how you read it?

      1. Good point Mark. I guess I kinda stopped reading after -drifting towards the south pole and arrived 55mya-.  Although this statement is true, when Pangaea broke up 200mya Antarctica was already at the South Pole (but not as centrally located as it is now) and for the most part all other continents moved away from Antarctica.  My bad.

  17. The causes of climate change depend on which side of the congressional isle you sit on. All the hypothesis and theories are just SWAG’s (Scientific Wild Ass Guesses), no one really knows, because none of us where there.

    1. If we were “there” would we “know?” I prefer to get my scientific opinions from scientists, not politicians. Politicians’ interpretation of what the scientists say does seem to fall upon which side of the isle one is on. Why do you think that is Sailingwindward? Do you have a hypothesis as to the causation of this correlation?

  18. Mankind screws up recent history so royally, I find it impossible to trust anything “scientists” proposed happened even 1 million years ago. The reality that we actually base public policy on this absurdity is mind boggling. This is worse than palm reading or the miracle spring water that Peter Popoff sells.

    1. Kent, So you think we can get along just fine without science? Did “palm reading” give us antibiotics? Civilization owes it’s very existence to science. JP

    2. “The reality that we actually base public policy on this absurdity is mind boggling.”

      What bothers me is that we don’t base public policy on the recommendations and advise of professionals in the relevant field.  Rather, public policy is determined by politicians for political reasons.  

  19. Arizona University? The west coast’s default baby sitter for your underachieving offspring? Kommunity Kollege? I thought so.

  20. Here is the concluding quote from the abstract of the paper by R.A Bemer, whose work is represented in the CO2 levels on the upper chart: “These results correspond to independently deduced Phanerozoic paleoclimates and support the notion that the atmospheric CO2 greenhouse mechanism is a major control on climate over very long time scales.” Much more on this graph later. JP

  21. Clearly, the scientific community studying past climate change has difficulties conveying information. Consider the text and latter two figures in this posting.
    Figure 2 is mostly fantasy, as we do not good proxy records for temperature and atmospheric pCO2 over this time scale.
    Figure 3 is very misleading. It shows the d18O of benthic foraminifera, which lived on the bottom of the ocean. However, the d18O of benthic foraminifera shells depends the d18O of the water, which changes with the amount of terrestrial ice, as well as the temperature of the water. Much of the variance in this record is recording past variations in ice volume not temperature.
    To use these records to support an argument regarding pCO2 and temperature is not appropriate. 
    There are also some factual problems in the text. For example, the PETM at about 56 million years ago was not the time of maximum Earth surface temperature during the last 70+ million years. Rather, this was the Early Eocene Climatic Optimum, about 51-52 million years ago.
    If you want to examine the records regarding pCO2 and temperature over the last 65 million years, a good place to start is the Zachos et al. review paper in Nature (2008).
    And this is where things get really interesting …
    First, one should recognize that we still lack good proxies for past pCO2. However, by monitoring changes in deep-sea carbonate accumulation and carbon isotopes of carbon-bearing phases, we know when CO2 is changing significantly.
    In particular, we know that the CO2 rose across the short-term perturbation called the PETM (which is marked by an Earth Surface temperature change of about 6°C), and we know that CO2 was relatively high during the EECO. How much — we don’t know. We also don’t understand how and why the CO2 rose and fell on either the short- or long- frames over much of the last 65 million years, or how CO2 and temperature are coupled. However, to assert that there is no temporal relationship between CO2 and temperature, especially with incorrect figures, is not healthy for true debate. 

    1. J, I hope Jon doesn’t ignore your post. Yours is a point I’ve been trying to get Jon to recognize for some time. Thanks for the excellent post. JP

  22. My ten gallon hat is off to Jonathan DuHamel  though,  for gaming Google enough to bring this post to the top of the Google Science page, even if it was only until it was replaced by  Livermorium, flerovium and Phobos-Grunt (and thanks for letting me have my say). arch

  23. Why does this article seem political?  Good job on getting some attention on controversial issue.  Instead of playing this political game of mud slinging science.  Why don’t you write articles on reducing our imports.  That in my mind would be much more productive.

    1. Eric – Unfortunately, the intersection of Climate Science and politics is very large and very damaging to the US and the World economy.  I concur that balance of trade is important to the US and to our country’s economic recovery.  One way to substantially increase the balance of trade to our side would be to unleash oil production, so we are not buying oil (and providing enourmous sums of money) to people that hate us and our western values.
      The person who served humanity by leaking the Climategate 2.0 emails included this in his/her  readme file:
      /// FOIA 2011 — Background and Context ///
      “Over 2.5 billion people live on less than $2 a day.”
      “Every day nearly 16.000 children die from hunger and related causes.”
      “One dollar can save a life” — the opposite must also be true.
      “Poverty is a death sentence.”
      “Nations must invest $37 trillion in energy technologies by 2030 to stabilize
      greenhouse gas emissions at sustainable levels.”
      In my opinion, wasting 37 Trillion dollars on a fear mongering  unsupported theory, while worldwide poverty conditions are not addressed, is immoral and callous.  What is your opinion?

      1. Hello Mark,
        Here’s my take on things …
        I’ve been studying past climate and carbon cycling for over 20 years and have written many, many papers on these topics, both in peer-reviewed journals and popular press.
        A well developed theory for how things work in terms of climate and carbon cycling has been formulated over decades, often by cantankerous people who don’t like each other. This theory is based on physics and chemistry. The geological record is mostly consistent with this theory, although it also shows us emphatically that the world is far more interesting and complex than believed, even ten years ago.
        The science, including all the details, subtleties and problems, is really hard to explain to people outside the field. Although much of the relevant information is on the web, it is not simple to digest. In many ways, and for most people, it’s like opening the hood of a Lamborghini.
        I think many people in my field are pretty open and acknowledge problems and issues. A notion that many people do not appreciate, one gets rewarded in science for overturning old ideas and deriving new ideas. Good ideas or data debunking links between atmospheric pCO2 and Earth surface temperature would be welcome. The notion that the leaking of emails between colleagues uncovered some conspiracy is really silly; sadly, this has played right into people’s pre-conceptions.
        It would be great if some person or group donated heaps of money to chase research all to perpetuate unsupported theories; then, I might have a Lamborghini, and open the hood, and be amazed … that when all these parts are connected … the thing goes over 200 mph.
        However, here is where we might agree. A huge disconnect lies between science and policy. I can spend hours, frankly days to weeks, explaining how the world works in the time domain, along with all the unknowns. I can also give clear rationale for how the world will likely change in the future, as well a range of supporting analogs from the geological past, for which we know quite a bit. None of this has anything to do with policy, and whether XX dollars should be spent on mitigation or technological change. And this is the really awkward state of things right now. People want to argue the science, which is really complex in the details, but for the most part agreed upon in the generalities (*); they should be arguing about the policy, which is entirely subjective.
        *I can give you some really interesting puzzles in paleoclimatology that we do not understand if you want. Sadly, when these issues are raised, there is a tendency for many people to think that we do not know the basics.

      2. J, I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to hear someone speak to the (I’m groping for an adjective…’real’, ‘important’…) issues that need discussion. These phony cabals, and supposed controversies regarding the basic physics; prevent us from addressing the more nuanced and potentially rewarding topics. Just because we don’t know everything doesn’t mean we know nothing. The things we don’t know are some of the most intriguing. I really appreciate your input. JP

      3. Hi John,
        The overarching topics of past climate change and carbon cycling remain truly fascinating, at least to me. As I mentioned to Jonathan (who initiated this thread) in some emails, I didn’t get into this field with any angle, especially political: the research is truly interesting and ripe with discovery.
        Almost every week, I see new data and read new ideas that make one think. Indeed, I can barely keep up with the outpouring of papers in sub-fields which I know quite a bit about. Of course, this makes things very, very difficult to explain to people even in our field, let alone Earth Science and Chemistry, and then other sciences and the general public. (How not to start a conversation at a bar, at least in Texas: “So, how do you think annual variations in light affect the production of different tetraethers produced by archaea and hence impact interpretations for past surface water temperatures in the Eocene?” This is a really cool question for which we do not know the answer, but which directly reflects on models and views of how Earth responds to past changes in carbon cycling and climate. But the question itself will seem incredibly cryptic and obtuse to all but about 20 people — see below*).
        I try very hard to separate my political and personal beliefs from my science. I have been chastised several times by colleagues for this, but I like to present the facts as we know them with minimal spin.
        * So, it turns out that crenarchaea produce lipids with pentane rings, and the location and number of the pentane rings relates to water temperature. We don’t fully understand why they do this, although it may have to do with passage of ions through the cell. In any case, the relationship between various crenarchaeal lipid concentrations and average annual temperature is remarkable in the modern ocean … except at high latitudes. A growing number of studies have now generated records of crenarchaeal lipid concentrations over time, suggesting how temperature changes in the past. The oddities are at high latitudes, because the temperatures seem far too warm during past time intervals. So, is it possible that the crenarchaea are only producing lipids in the spring and summer, such that the records get biased?  Note that we did not even know that crenarchaea produced lipids with pentane rings ten years ago … I point this out because it gives the complexity of the problems that we are faced with; for example, just to understand the question requires a cross-diciplinary background knowledge about microbiology, chemistry, oceanography, and geology.

      4. J, I can see why you enjoy your work so much. It’s fascinating stuff. I did not know that Archaea were so broadly distributed in the environment. I had heard of the extremophile species, true wonders of life that they are, but was unaware the little buggers are all over the place. If we were in a Texas bar, I’d buy you a beer for that. This is an example of why it’s so disturbing to hear folks talk trash about the motivation of scientists. We just get a big kick out of knowing the wonders of life. No one would have figured out the magic these little guys perform if their intent was to become rock stars. To show what a nerd I am, I’m going spend the afternoon checking out our archaic cousins. Handing me new knowledge is tossing a bone to a hungry dog. Thanks for the treat J. JP

      5. J Dicken’s comment is just one beautiful peace of writing; succinct, easy to read and understand, well organized and right on the relevant points.  

  24. The article premise is based on science (see the Kietz paper – peer reviewed), the author is a scientist. 
    The comments seem more interested in smearing the author because of his view.  Incidentally if geologists do not know about temperature, climate, etc, then climatologists do not have a chance of knowing it. 
    Apparently climatologists incomes have gone up?  with the new global warming, to CEO levels?  Studies do show that money can influence opinions.

    1. Win, If you mean the Katz paper, stay tuned. I contacted his group for response. My reading of the paper suggests they will not support Jon’s theory based on their work. But I’ll wait to hear what they say. JP

      1. Win, Kid’s all over the world are telling their parents “I wanna be a climatologist when I grow up, so I can be rich!” If someone is hard working and intelligent enough to get a Phd in climatology, they can make much more money in many other fields. Most lucid commenters on this blog are not smearing Jon for his beliefs, they are attacking his bad science. It’s how the process works. JP

  25. Always good to hear from people who find the science fascinating. In fact, the discussion of creanarchea lipids and, more generally, organic molecules leads right to the heart of the study that initiated the thread. Here’s what the authors did and how the data should be examined and debated from a deeper perspective: They collected cores from seven scientific boreholes drilled and cored during past expeditions. (There are over a thousand of these boreholes throughout the oceans, and many have long sedimentary records — think of them as tape recorders of time). 

    The seven sites they selected have reasonable stratigraphy across the Eocene/Oligocene (E/O) Boundary (~34 million years ago). This is a focal point for paleoclimate studies because numerous lines of evidence indicate that Antarctica accumulated significant terrestrial ice sheets fairly quickly (<500,000 years). (Look at Figure 3 in the thread, which is – I think – actually a record of benthic foraminifera d18O, with the y-axis reversed and mistakenly labeled as temperature anomaly. At ~34 Ma, you will see a major rise in the d18O, which is proportional to the 18O/16O ratio in a substance, in this case CaCO3 formed on the deep sea floor. You will see – if you flip the axis – an abrupt drop in the d18O, which is mostly caused by the preferential sequestration of 16O into ice, which makes the 18O/16O ratio of the ocean increase.

    Basically, the marker that says “rapid East Antarctica glaciation” is correct in the view most scientists). There are several papers that suggest the relatively sudden growth of a large ice sheet on Antarctica is best explained by a drop in atmospheric pCO2. Here, it should be stressed, though, that it is not a fast drop in pCO2, but rather a slow drop and the passing of a threshold condition. (Rob DeConto, an author on the paper introduced in the thread, has an intriguing model discussing how and why this would work; Nature, 2003). 

    To test this idea, they extracted alkenones produced by certain algae across this time interval. They then measured the stable isotope compositions (13C and 12C) of these alkenones. They also tried to determine the fractionation of stable carbon isotopes between the alkenones and dissolved inorganic carbon in the water (a parameter called Ep). This is because Ep depends on CO2, as shown in laboratory culturing experiments as well through comparisons, specifically determining Ep in late Quaternary marine sediment sequences, which span the interval of time where ice cores provide direct samples of past atmospheric pCO2.

     All’s good so far at least from my view …  and then we get to the interesting problems in the details. 

    First, they cannot determine Ep at some to all sites. In theory, one might be able to do this, if there was an organism making a CaCO3 shell in equilibrium with dissolved inorganic carbon at the same depth AND at the same time of year as the algae ALL through the time interval of interest. However, the CaCO3 shells are not found at all sites over the interval of interest, so they make some assumptions. 

    Second, the conversion of Ep to pCO2 depends on temperature. To obtain the temperature, they examine our newly introduced friends, pentane rings in crenarchea lipids (the so called TEX-86 index; Schouten et al., EPSL, 2002; Kim et al., 2010). However, there are problems with using this proxy for temperature, especially at high latitudes (Kim et al., 2010). 

    Third, Ep depends on algae growth rates, which are sort of coupled to dissolved phosphate concentrations in many modern locations. There are no proxies from which to determine past growth rates or past phosphate concentrations, so some assumptions are made. 

    In the background, there are two other problems. At high latitudes, the production of organic carbon and carbonate shells, temperature, and nutrients are highly seasonal at present-day and presumably throughout time. (This has to do with the tilt of the Earth, and there are many good arguments for why this was not radically different in the last 100 million years). In other words, one has to consider that production was low in conditions of low light, and the algae may be blooming in the spring, the crenarchea may be making their lipids in the summer, and the phosphate concentrations are variable throughout the year.

    There are also major environmental changes across the E/O boundary, so its highly unlikely that conditions affecting Ep remained constant. The authors discuss most of this in the paper, although they don’t really emphasize the seasonal problems. 

    They also demonstrate that the data from sites at high latitude seem problematic in terms of trying to reconstruct pCO2. Frankly, this is not surprising, and I do not know why they examined such sites in the first place, unless they ultimately want to understand how the alkenone proxy gets impacted at high latitudes.  This explains a bit about why some records were “thrown out” by the authors. It’s not necessarily because these data do not support their original hypothesis; rather, these data come from problematic locations, right from the start. 

    Two additional comments:
    (1) The primary conclusion of one of the original papers on alkenone paleobarometry (Riebesel et al., Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta, 2000) was “… the CO2 sensitivity of an alkenone-based paleobarometer is low and that other environmental factors may easily mask the CO2-related isotopic signal.” Ultimately, any past CO2 record generated by this method will hinge on the ability to constrain these other factors (notably temperature and growth rates). Unfortunately, these are, at least my opinion, poorly constrained. 

    (2) The CO2 of the atmosphere is fairly uniform today, and probably throughout time. The correct way to approach this problem, therefore, is to get samples across the E/O boundary from multiple sites and show that the same result is obtained. I will guess that this is what they started out trying to do; however, they need to go to different ocean basins throughout the low latitudes. Whether alkenones are preserved in these records is a whole other issue (they may very well have looked). 

    So, after reading the paper, I remain fairly skeptical, even though the conclusions may be entirely correct. I like the Deconto model for how to grow to a terrestrial ice sheet on Antarctica fast with dropping pCO2, but it’s going to take much better records to convince me this is how it happened. As I tried to emphasize, the field of paleoclimatology is extremely interesting but complex. We are trying to understand a very complicated world, often with recently conceived techniques and recently conceived ideas that are equally complicated to appreciate and to explain.  Hopefully, this gives an appreciation to readers of this blog the reality of the situation, and how one seriously pulls apart and argues the science (which in fact is what we do continuously in the community).

    1. I thank Dr. Dickens for these comments that help put the research in perspective.  Note to readers, O18 is frequently used as a proxy for temperature, that’s probably why the graph was constructed as it was.

      1. Hi Jonathan,
        Thanks for being open-minded and posting my comments. Even after giving probably hundreds of talks all over the world on these topics, I find it very difficult to convey current ideas and problems in a field that is in (wonderfully) a state of discovery and flux.
        A slight correction: it’s not really that 18O is used as a proxy for temperature.
        Oxygen has three stable isotopes 18O, 17O , and 16O, although for most generic discussions, we can forget about 17O. There is an ocean, an atmosphere, and ice, each which can hold water. In equilibrium, vapor has a lower ratio of 18O/16O than liquid (and this is temperature dependent). So, the atmosphere has a lower 18O/16O ratio than water (the ocean). When ice accumulates through precipitation, this “low 18O/16O water” is sequestered in the ice, so the water in the ocean increases in 18O/16O.
        These changes are recorded in the shells of organisms that incorporate O (most notably CaCO3). So, we can go down sediment sequences, and sieve out shells and measure the 18O/16O ratio. HOWEVER, there is a fractionation of isotopes between the 18O/16O composition of water and that of the shells that depends on temperature. Ultimately, what we measure, therefore, is combination of 18O/16O changes in the water (caused by the storage of 16O-rich water in ice) and the fractionation effect related to temperature.
        In a nutshell, the d18O record of shells from the bottom of the ocean include both components. For the last 34 Million years, most (though not all) of the variance relates to ice volume; before this time, most (though POSSIBLY not all) relates to bottom water temperature. 

    2. Dr. J, I just received some correspondence from Dr. Scotese and Dr. Berner regarding their work represented on Fig. 2. I’m working on compiling the authors perspective on how those, and several other charts have been used here (and at other sites). I have also contacted Dr. Katz and am waiting to hear whether he agrees with Jon that his recent work supports Jon’s hypothesis.

      I was very pleased that you walked readers through the investigative process, so they can see some of the complexities involved in putting in place just one small piece of a monumental puzzle. So often the media portray the endeavor as this/that study proves/disproves AGW. In reality, it’s thousands of people like you putting together tens of thousands of lines of evidence. When these lines of evidence are arranged systematically, they present a picture that is the current best representation of the general principles of how our climate operates.

      I hope hearing from you will allow readers to put a human face (voice) on climate scientists. The media caricature of the greedy, power hungry con men greatly disturbs me. I think you’ve helped to dispel that notion. Thanks J. JP

      1. Well, if you really want to open Pandora’s Box, and see how basic pieces of the puzzle DO NOT align and how scientists DO NOT have consensus on basic issues, ask Bob Berner about the details behind the black curve in Figure 2, and how this makes sense over the late Paleocene and early Eocene. I will bet he will be intrigued by the question but he will not have a good answer.

        Here’s the background … The curve for past CO2 principally derives from the modeling of temporal records of carbon and sulfur isotopes. The basic idea is that Earth has a series of carbon and sulfur reservoirs (mass), with external and internal fluxes (mass/time). Different reservoirs and fluxes have different isotope compositions. So, by measuring the isotopic compositions over time, we can, in theory, reconstruct past changes in the reservoir masses, including the atmosphere. 

        About now is where I lose most people. However, with some basics, you not only can understand how and why Berner has generated the curve, but the problems with the curve. (From my previous post, it’s like you open the Lamborghini hood, and instead of thinking “this is monumentally complicated” …  you pull out the tools and start tinkering). Consider things at the most basic level: a three-reservoir model for the carbon cycle, the three reservoirs being the ocean, atmosphere and terrestrial biomass. Each has a different mass as well as a ratio of the stable carbon isotopes, 13C and 12C. The latter is for good reasons that lie in an understanding of physical chemistry.  In particular, during photosynthesis, plants preferentially incorporate 12C-O2 over 13C-O2. The ratios of stable isotopes are conveniently expressed in delta notation (for example, d13C and d34S or d18O, which was mentioned in previous posting). These ratios can be thought of as proportional to relative amounts of the “heavier” and “lighter” stable isotopes normalized to a standard. In fact, for carbon and sulfur, the equations are:d13C = [(13C/12Csample – 13C/12Cstandard)/  13C/12Csample] * 1000; andd34S = [(34S/32Ssample – 34S/32Sstandard)/ 34S/32Ssample] * 1000. 

        At pre-industrial conditions, the ocean had about 36,000 gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon (as HCO3-) with a d13C of 0 per mil, the atmosphere about 600 Gt of carbon (as CO2) with a d13C of about -8 per mil, the biosphere about 2000 Gt of carbon (as organic) with a d13C of about -25 per mil. In other words, the atmosphere is depleted in 13C relative to the ocean, and the biosphere is significantly depleted in 13C relative to the atmosphere and ocean. (This is because of fractionation during gas exchange and photosynthesis). 

        We also know the compositions of various carbon inputs and outputs to these reservoirs. Most notably, organic carbon is about -25 per mil (although this becomes intriguing in the time domain, because it depends on CO2 – which relates to the paper that initiated the thread). We can now ask some simple questions. What would happen if organic carbon burial into sediment increased with all other external fluxes remaining the same? Now recall that organic carbon has a negative d13C, which means it is relatively depleted in 13C … or enriched in 12C.  So, excess carbon as organic matter is leaving the combined ocean-atmosphere-biosphere reservoirs, and the reservoirs become more enriched in 13C (effectively because the 12C is being preferentially removed). 

        And what would happen if excess CO2 were released from the combustion of oil, natural gas and coal? Well, these sources have d13C typically ranging between -25 and -40 per mil. This is because they are, ultimately, the products of past photosynthesis. So, one would predict that the d13C of the combined ocean-atmosphere-biosphere reservoir would decrease (effectively because the 12C is being preferentially added). And, in fact, this is what can be documented since the industrial revolution.  For example, we can core a tree, count the rings, and measure the 13C/12C ratio of each ring, and see the drop … It’s also important to realize that there are internal exchange fluxes with time lags. For example, the d13C at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean has not changed since the industrial revolution because the water takes ~1200-1800 years to sink and reach this location. However, on the geological scale, the reservoirs should change in isotopic composition together because the internal exchange fluxes are relatively fast. 

        Lastly, one needs to recognize that, to first order and at the large scale, the ocean and atmosphere are close to equilibrium in terms of carbon mass. Think of a bottle of beer (or mineral water for those in Utah) with headspace … where some CO2 lies beneath the cap but most is dissolved in water… We can now understand at a basic level what Bob Berner is trying to do. By measuring the d13C of carbonate and organic carbon in the time domain, he is quantifying changes in fluxes to and from the ocean and atmosphere. By incorporating sulfur isotopes into the mix, he is trying to constrain which fluxes have changed, particularly organic carbon. All this is on the web, and probably in many places, much better presented than in my quick explanations.

        So, let’s move beyond the basics, and think about what you won’t find on the web: what are the problems with such modeling and what does this tell about how Earth operates? The basic potential problem is that the models have a limited set of fluxes with a limited range of isotope compositions. In particular, it is impossible to generate rapid, large amplitude variations in d13C and d34S. This is because the fluxes and compositions of these fluxes are not extreme relative to the masses of the reservoirs. (It’s somewhat analogous to changing a swimming pool full of paint between either white or red by adding pink).

        The obvious exception is the modern case for carbon, where we have radically increased the input of 13C-depleted carbon to the atmosphere by transferring components of the geosphere with low d13C. We can test the basic model of Berner by examining numerous past records across the globe … … and in a true revelation that is still permeating through the Earth science community … there are time intervals where secular changes in d13C and d34S happened way too fast and by far too much to be explained by the given fluxes and reservoirs.

        The “classic” (I suppose “neo-classic”) case is the late Paleocene and early Eocene (nominally 62 to 48 million years ago), where we are confronted with very large amplitude variations in d13C and d34S. These changes defy any conventional model for how Earth’s carbon and sulfur cycles work … and we are in a real dilemma circa 2011. All was great and made sense until we really started looking at how Earth works in the time domain … Does this mean that Berner’s models are completely wrong or we throw up our hands and say “it’s all too complicated so all these notions about pCO2 changes and climate warming are nonsense?” Well, people are certainly welcome to do this, but it’s a concession to ignorance. For example, during the wild and wacky world of the late Paleocene and early Eocene, we can clearly tell for multiple reasons that changes in the mass of the combined ocean-atmosphere carbon cycle are coupled to changes in Earth surface temperature. We just don’t fully understand how they are coupled, or how the carbon cycle can change so fast in the past. We can also tell that the basic tenets of the Berner model are correct. However, we think there must be an additional carbon reservoir that responds to environmental forcing. Indeed, you may very likely read about the “missing carbon box” being permafrost over the next couple of weeks, although I think this is wrong … because changes to and from this box would not impact the sulfur cycle, which we know also was affected during times of major oscillations in the carbon cycle.

      2. Dr. J, I suppose it’s a sorry testament to my social life that a.) I’m not a climatologist and b.) I understood what you just said. Remarkably, the Late Paleocene/Early Eocene, has already come up. Unusually obliquely and awkwardly, I might add. Now I have a notion of why. You must know your comment is going to be great fodder for the “email editors”. So I took the liberty to become the first (see below). Thanks so much for elevating the debate around here, J, and for me personally; thanks for being a great teacher. I’ve learned a lot. You can’t imagine how much fun I had with the genetic history of Archaea yesterday. Great stuff. I’ll probably shoot my mouth off this evening after I’ve had time to digest the great spread you laid out for us. JP

      3. I gave up awhile ago worrying about how my research will be spun and how my comments will be sliced and diced. The alternative is to not say anything (a view increasingly taken by many of my colleagues) but not very helpful for informing the public.
        I should emphasize, though, the the spin and “cherry-picking” goes all sorts of ways.
        On the one hand, I’ve had Glen Beck presenting pieces of my quotes to argue that climate and carbon cycle models are wrong rather than that they are incomplete because some fundamental  components are poorly understood. (This prompted a bunch of love and hate mail from random people all over the U.S. … almost none who understood the context).
        On the other hand, the part of the IPCC AR4 Report that deals with and cites my research is wrong in several regards, to the level that it almost intentionally skews things to make certain points. (I have offered to rewrite the section so it is factually correct, but I don’t think this is wanted because it would add a layer of complexity).

      4. J, You are of course correct that “it goes both ways” and it must be maddening at times. I for one, am certainly glad that you are willing to share your knowledge, even in the face of the policy “slings and arrows”. But I think we both share a love of knowledge that is a reward that no one can diminish.

        I know you shy away from the policy issues, J., but I just want to say that my position is simply one of risk mitigation. As the National Academy has said: Uncertainties in projecting future greenhouse gas emissions and in estimating the sensitivity of the climate system to greenhouse gases make it difficult to project the exact severity, location and timing of climate change impacts. Uncertainty is not a reason for inaction, however; it is, in fact, a compelling reason for action, especially given the possibilities of abrupt, unanticipated, and severe impacts. JP

      5. J., I’m intrigued by you comment about rewriting that portion of the IPCC AR4 report that cites your work. I would love to see that. I really would. Which brings me to a certain anxiety I have that you might leave us here to our own feeble devices. Before you do that; I’ve just got to know, if I want to research your work, would I use the initial J. or G. ? I hope this is cryptic enough. JP

      6. Here are my emails regarding the IPCC AR4 section on pre-Quaternary climate, given in response to suggestions from people working on the AR5 report that presentation and discussion of the pre-Quaternary record might be scrapped. I ask politely that none of this will be taken out of context. (I have snipped the bits which mention other people and names; otherwise all is as was sent)
        “Hi all,
        This email comes with unusual timing. I am at XX with YY,  I just gave a seminar that started with some notable
        problems in the deep time section of the last IPCC reports …

        First, some major problems with the last effort.

        1/ The pre-Quaternary section is only 1.4 pages long, and

        2/ Comes to several incorrect conclusions. For example, the principle conclusion is that times of high pCO2 were likely warm, as if we have robust pCO2 records and the large uncertainty lies with temperature

        … or that during the PETM, there was amplification of polar warmth when records do not really support this,

        … or that several references are flat out wrong such as reference to my work on the Miocene to support data at 55 million years
        …. Dare I go on?

        It needs to be better, longer and more accurate. There are several aspects of the PETM and other time intervals that clearly support (at least qualitatively) predictions from modeling exercises for a warm Earth — it goes well beyond temperature and CO2. For example, during the PETM, there’s ocean acidification (virtually certain), amplification of the hydrological cycle (likely), dissolved oxygen deficiency (very
        likely), latitudinal migrations of biota (very likely), etc.

        Anyway, cheers from Europe, where the beer [is] better, the public transporation is efficient but where they are completely incapable of making palatable Mexican food.

        Yes, definitely, and maybe I should clarify. The deep time record across certain key intervals (e.g., the PETM) clearly supports many aspects of model predictions for a warm world, at least qualitatively. This is the first irony: the last report spends hundreds of pages on theory and model predictions and exactly 1.4 pages of text (some incorrect in details) regarding the geological record that provides the only tangible support. The second irony is that, because of uncertainties in quantitative reconstructions regarding various aspects of the deep time record, there is a tendency to push these records to the side. What needs to be emphasized … and I sure hope in more than 1.4 pages … is that the deep-time record very strongly supports generic models as to how Earth responds qualitatively in a warm world, especially including during times when massive amounts of carbon are injected to the system. We can argue for decades on the quantitative aspects, which are obviously important, but the qualitative aspects are, in many cases, almost impossible to ignore. The appearance of palm remains in the Arctic precisely during ETM-2; the appearance of hypoxic conditions precisely during the PETM [on slopes of] of New Zealand — neither are quantitative — both signal clear responses compatible and by predicted in a general sense with models for times of rapid warming.

  26. the silliness with cut and paste … the equations are actually:
    13C = [(13C/12Csample – 13C/12Cstandard)/  13C/12CSTANDARD] * 1000
    34S = [(34S/32Ssample – 34S/32Sstandard)/  34S/32SSTANDARD] * 1000
    with the standards for much work being Pee Dee belemnite (for carbon) and Canyon Diablo Troilite (for sulfur). Actually we now use Vienna Pee Dee belemnite, which has the same 13C/12C composition of Pee Dee belemnite, because we no longer have the original standard.
    If one thinks about the equations, you can see how this works. A cactus in Arizona might have a d13C of say -14 per mil (which means that it — the sample — is depleted in 13C relative to Pee Dee belemnite). Of course, a cactus in Arizona has a different photosysnthetic pathway than most plants … which typically have values closer to -25 per mil …
    In writing these blogs, I can certainly see why those outside of the field get confused!

    1. Not at all G. R., ….err, I mean J.; but I did think you were heading for trouble with the CAM pathway. I should have known better. JP

  27. The potential cost of the “solution” for Global Warming is staggering, even in comparison to the costs of the latest and greatest hurricanes, etc.  Before we go and begin taxing everyone we really need three things proven.

    First, we need to prove that there is a problem.  20 years ago the problem was the coming Ice Age.  Oops, that was wrong.  Things got a bit warmer.  Then it was Global Warming.  Oops, the straight line trend people were predicting did not happen either.  More than likely we are seeing multi-decade cycles, not long term trends.

    Second we need to prove that man and/or CO2 are the cause.  The CO2 argument is highly debatable.  More than likely weather fluctuations and pattern changes are driven by other things, like the Sun, geological events like volcanos, under sea events, etc.

    Third, we need proof that what these guys have come up with has any chance at all to solve some perceived problem.  These meetings are more about how they are going to divvy up all this money and less on how they are actually going to fix any problems.

    Whether or not you believe the Global Warming stuff, the sums of money involved are way too high to go jumping into anything blindly.  My own personal opinion is that the money is just too attractive to those who are sponsoring this.  I think it is ALL about the money.  In 20 years we will all know just how much of a scam was almost put over on the world population.       

    1. Alas, here is perhaps the biggest problem facing scientific discussions when it comes to carbon cycling and earth systems: the weird blending and distortion of facts, theories and personal ideas, typically from a perspective with little understanding of the science.
      I tried to explain and to show how one should digest and discuss the science. Policy is whole other issue.
      Such a comment is almost impossible to respond to. “Problem” — do you mean scientific problem or policy problem. Clearly, there is an interesting scientific problem — what happens when we superimpose carbon emissions of 8 Gt/yr (circa 2011 and growing) to a carbon cycle that had near steady state inputs (and outputs) of ~0.4 Gt/yr.
      “Straight line trend people” — who are they?
      “Prove the man and/or CO2 is the cause” — of what? That humans (have to be politically correct and include women …) are causing a rapid rise in CO2 is really indisputable. The arguments and past evidence for a coupling between CO2 and Earth’s surface are not debated by anyone who understands the science. On the other hand, how this coupling occurs and what the quantitative impacts are … these are certainly debatable.
      And, of course, whether one wants to put money to mitigate CO2 emissions versus say money to cure cancer is certainly debatable. But this has nothing to do with the science.
      “money is too attractive to those sponsoring this” — and where is this money and who is sponsoring? Believe me, I know of no scientist working on carbon cycling and climate change who got into the field for the money; certainly, I do not receive any money from sponsors to provide some sort of preconceived result. I set a hypothesis and then try to test, and sometimes I receive grants, which mostly pay for the analyses and overhead.
      I could get really cynical here and point out that about 14% of the U.S. GNP goes to health care, which is way, way beyond almost any other country but we are nowhere near the top in almost any standard metric for the overall health of a society. I could also point out that no matter how much we spend on health, it is a closed-sum game — we could cure cancer and guess what … more people would die of something else. If you want to talk real and very expensive scams that are very much ALL about money … look no further than U.S. health care industry. But, of course, this view has almost nothing to do with science (except the absolute fact that death is a closed sum). So, my opinion is about as valid as that of someone else.

    2. Dragos, Dr. J. is being too kind. Climatologists never had a consensus agreement that there was a imminent “Ice Age”. Time magazine ran a sensationalized cover story nearly 40 years ago (not 20) to get those ignorant of the science to buy their magazine. The trend line of global temperatures has not been broken. Statistical analysis shows that this is a climate trend not decadal weather patterns. The lines of evidence for human CO2 emissions as the cause are overwhelming (see NASA, NOAA, NCDC etc.). The fact that energy from the sun has been decreasing for years, means it is not the cause. Volcanoes increase the amount of aerosols in the atmosphere increasing earth’s albedo and decreasing temperature (eg, Pinatubo). You are correct that we need to debate how best to deal with the problem. To vilify, and denigrate scientists as greedy scammers is despicable and you should be ashamed for saying so. JP

      1. Dr. John,
        Really?  You would have us believe that writers sitting in New York City, out of the blue, decided that a new Ice Age was upon us.  They did not interview the climate scientists of the day, they just made it up.  At the same time, all of the REAL climate scientists conspired to NOT talk to anyone in the media to raise the bull$^%& flag on Time, even though they all knew that there was no cooling,  but in fact, the world was warming?
        Is it more likely that the climate scientists of the day looked at the data (available at that time) that made them think and Ice Age was coming, and they cooperated with the distribution of this information to the public.
        You cannot just pretend that this did not happen.  There WAS a change in the philosophy from global cooling 40 years ago to global warming today.  With the magic of Google, you can find and go to the Time magazine that is on-line for Nov 13th, 1972 and read what was being said then, including the climate scientists that were interviewed, and even see the cute penguin on the front cover. 
        I believe the scientists of 40 years ago truly believed they were seeing a “signal” of an ice age.  And I believe scientists of 20 years ago, with more information, believe they saw a signal of global warming.  Unfortunately, there was a rush to judgement to enact policy decisions that were driven by people at the UN and across the world that have been working for years to have an excuse for a Global government.  As private doubts emerged, the public stance of the AGW community has been to shout down and coordinate to ignore scientific research and thoughts that did not go along with the “settled science.”  Note that even with rising CO2, global temperature has been statistically flat for 15 years.  But not only the horse, but an entire zoo was already out of the barn.  There is a huge industry that now exists, that loses its reason for being if AGW is not important (not I didn’t say Does not exist).   Half a billion dollars alone was flushed down the Solyndra toilet  Many billions more are being flushed just so we can reduce CO2.  
        One day, we will migrate from fossil fuel energy.  However, that day should be driving by the coming scarcity, and the transition funded by companies that will want to invest in becoming the energy providers of the future.  That may be 20 years from now – that may be 100 years from now.  But artificially making it happen now, before the technology is ready or needed, is an absolute waste.

      2. Mark, I said that there was no consensus among climatologists at that time and on that topic. That’s very different than what you are saying. More fundamentally it’s a distraction from the important issues that need to be discussed. I don’t know why it has such traction with denialists.

        Mark, Global Surface Temperatures have not bee “statistically flat” for 15 years. Regression analysis of the data provide a trend line that has not been broken. Denialist Blogs and web sites take short term graphs and use them to confuse the issue. Go to the National Climate Data Center for the factual data.

        If we taxed carbon, and found out twenty years from now that we were all wrong about AGW, we can “undo” the tax. If AGW is real and we screw up the climate , we can’t “undo” that for a thousand years or more. It’s risk mitigation Mark. Just like buying insurance for your house. JP

  28. As Dr. Dickens so aptly points out, the science is far from settled.  It also seems that policy decisions, unfortunately, are based on money and power; each side extracting bits and pieces to support the lust.  For my part, I’m just trying to understand the science and point out bad policy.  As for the money, I do this blog as a hobby with no payment from anybody to support a particular position.

    1. Jon, It absolutely amazes me that you can read what Dr. Dickens posts and come to the conclusion you do. That the science is not settled does not mean that we don’t know anything.”“Prove the man and/or CO2 is the cause” — of what? That humans (have to be politically correct and include women …) are causing a rapid rise in CO2 is really indisputable. The arguments and past evidence for a coupling between CO2 and Earth’s surface are not debated by anyone who understands the science. On the other hand, how this coupling occurs and what the quantitative impacts are … these are certainly debatable.”

      This is what we should be debating. And in fact that is what is being debated in knowledgeable circles. And we need your and other voices in that debate (economic geologists have a special skill set that can be especially useful). Human beings are conducting a worldwide uncontrolled experiment on our atmosphere. We need to have some ability to modulate that experiment while we fill in the gaps in our knowledge. We need to do something very conservative. We need to buy a little insurance. JP

      1. John,
        I’m still waiting to see some of that “overwhelming evidence” you keep talking about.  Will you be posting some soon? 

      2. Jon, If you’re getting anxious, here’s a preview:

        Global sea level rose about 17 centimeters (6.7 inches) in the last century. The rate in the last decade, however, is nearly double that of the last century.
        All four major global surface temperature reconstructions show that Earth has warmed since 1880. Most of this warming has occurred since the 1970s, with the 20 warmest years having occurred since 1981 and with all 10 of the warmest years occurring in the past 12 years. 
        Even though the 2000s witnessed a solar output decline resulting in an unusually deep solar minimum in 2007-2009, surface temperatures continue to increase. 
        The oceans have absorbed much of this increased heat, with the top 700 meters (about 2,300 feet) of ocean showing warming of 0.302 degrees Fahrenheit since 1969.
        The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have decreased in mass. Data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment show Greenland lost 150 to 250 cubic kilometers (36 to 60 cubic miles) of ice per year between 2002 and 2006, while Antarctica lost about 152 cubic kilometers (36 cubic miles) of ice between 2002 and 2005.
        Both the extent and thickness of Arctic sea ice has declined rapidly over the last several decades. 
        Glaciers are retreating almost everywhere around the world — including in the Alps, Himalayas, Andes, Rockies, Alaska and Africa.
        The number of record high temperature events in the United States has been increasing, while the number of record low temperature events has been decreasing, since 1950. 
        Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the acidity of surface ocean waters has increased by about 30 percent. This increase is the result of humans emitting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and hence more being absorbed into the oceans. The amount of carbon dioxide absorbed by the upper layer of the oceans is increasing by about 2 billion tons per year.

         In pre-industrial times over the last 10,000 years, CO2 was relatively stable at around 275 to 285 parts per million. Over the last 250 years, atmospheric CO2 levels have increased by about 100 ppm. In  1970, NASA launched the IRIS satellite measuring infrared spectra, and
        in 1996, the Japanese Space Agency launched the IMG satellite which recorded similar observations. Both sets of data were compared to discern any changes in outgoing radiation over the 26 year period.  What they found was a drop in outgoing radiation at the wavelength bands that greenhouse gases such as CO2 and methane (CH4) absorb energy. The change in outgoing radiation was consistent with theoretical expectations. Thus we have found  direct experimental evidence for a significant increase in the Earth’s greenhouse effect. This result has been confirmed by subsequent papers using data from later satellites.
        When greenhouse gases absorb infrared radiation, the energy heats the atmosphere which in turn re-radiates infrared radiation in all directions. Some makes its way back to the earth’s surface. Hence we expect to find more infrared radiation heading downwards. Surface measurements from 1973 to 2008 find an increasing trend of infrared radiation returning to earth. Taking this a step further, an analysis of high resolution spectral data allowed scientists to quantitatively attribute the increase in downward radiation to each of several greenhouse gases. The results lead those scientists to conclude that “this experimental data should effectively end the argument by skeptics that no experimental evidence exists for the connection between greenhouse gas increases in the atmosphere and global warming.”
        Our planet’s biosphere is accumulating heat.When there is more energy coming in than escaping back out to space, our climate accumulates heat. The planet’s total heat build up can be derived by adding up the heat content from the ocean, atmosphere, land and ice. Ocean heat content was determined down to 3000 metres deep. Atmospheric heat content was calculated from the surface temperature record and heat capacity of the troposphere. Land and ice heat content (eg – the energy required to melt ice) were also included. From 1970 to 2003, the planet has accumulated 190,260 Gigawatts of heat. As an example, a large nuclear power plant produces about 1 Gigawatt. A map of of ocean heat from 2003 to 2008 was constructed from ocean heat measurements down to 2000 meters deep. Globally, the oceans have continued to accumulate heat to the end of 2008 at a rate of 0.77 ± 0.11 W/m2,  consistent with other determinations of the planet’s energy imbalance. The planet continues to accumulate heat.
        So we see a direct line of evidence that CO2 in our atmosphere is causing global warming. The enhanced greenhouse effect is confirmed by satellite and surface measurements. The planet’s energy imbalance is confirmed by summations of the planet’s total heat content and ocean heat measurements.

  29. Dr. Dickens, Thank you for following through with this post. While playing around with the crenarchaeota, I came across the name G.R. Dicksen a number of times. I didn’t know if that was your work or not. Given the recent email hack, I thought you might have wanted to post here somewhat anonymously and I didn’t want to ” blow your cover” if that was the case. It appears I may have been too clever by half. I spent quite some time rereading/studying your posts last night. I was particularly interested in the ” missing carbon box”. Some research on that led me to a much better grasp of how you and your colleagues approach these questions. I hope we get to hear more from you. It’s been enlightening. JP

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