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Palaeo-climates

 

www.stopglobalwarming-newstrategies.net 

Dr. Michael Tuckson

Although emissions have been rising fairly steadily over the last century, especially since 1950, the averaged global temperature rise that has been taking place since about 1910, with a dip from about 1944 to 1980 and a rough leveling off in the 2000s, is not as steady a rise. The natural and human causes are not yet fully understood in detail in this highly complex surface earth system involving the interests of what are normally at least seven natural science disciplines. Technologies change; rising populations cut and often burn the remaining forests; farmers by their billions are trying new and old techniques, new nations enter the material scramble, while the clouds remain a partial enigma, ‘land-based’ processes present untold complexities to unravel, while seemingly most importantly the oceans gradually reveal their deep secrets. The Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation is just beginning to be understood, while Southern Pacific Ocean presents us with its inscrutable siblings El Nino (warm) and La Nina (cool) oscillations, (or collectively ENSO),and the newly discovered Pacific Decadal Cycles and Interdecadal Pacific Oscillations in the northern Pacific challenge us further. The correlation between global emissions and global temperature can be seen, but in detail over the last hundred years it is not tidy. These fairly late discoveries and understandings in surface earth systems have been used by the extreme sceptics and deniers to distort the nature of contemporary theory.

 

 

This uncertanty is one reason why an increasing amount of research is being conducted on palaeo-climates as they 'integrate' the causes and effects, without human influence, over longer time periods, dampening out the small irregularities to show us the main patterns, although hardly revealing every environmental change at the time. As has been known for a century and a half, the earth has experienced many periods and locations of widespread glaciation that left behind a strange range of rocks and sediments, lying between average periods, and warm periods with high sea levels in which limestone was widely deposited. Using air trapped in ice bubbles and various elemental and isotope ratios in calcareous fossils as well as some calcareous deposits, the temperature and the carbon dioxide content of the past oceans and atmospheres can be estimated in detail. Numerous studies have shown that over many millions of years the two variables are well correlated, again and again, in all strata studied, not in every detail but sufficiently closely for us to be extremely concerned about the present rise in carbon dioxide.

 

 

In Earth history, when carbon dioxide concentrations are high the temperature was high and vice versa. Carbon dioxide has risen to as much as 2000 ppm while temperatures rose up to 6 degrees above the present temperature in the Eocene Epoch about 50 million years ago and several times before that. Moreover, sea level has risen and fallen in parallel with these oscillations as well as for reasons controlled by solid earth or crustal movement, including the formation and discharge of large lakes, probably polar movement and changes in the solid volume of ocean basins. When, in the relative short-term that we are facing today, these solid earth changes are essentially constant in most locations, it is temperature that determines most of the sea level. The exceptions are earth movement caused by the off-loading of the land glaciers themselves, notably in North America, some areas of an imbalance of sedimentation, erosion and subsidence and human induced subsidence. At temperatures and carbon dioxide concentrations similar to the present day, sea level has tended to be tens of metres higher than today. It has risen at times by as much as 4 cm per year, more than ten times the present rate.

 

So the correlations between carbon dioxide, temperature and sea level is significant but which way if any did the cause occur. We know from GHG physical theory that carbon dioxide causes warming, but we also know from biology and chemistry that warming emits carbon dioxide to the atmosphere from water and organic sources. Clearly warming causes water to expand and ice to melt.

 

In the oscillations in the Pleistocene epoch over the last 1.8 million years that we can study in more than usual detail, the initial temperature rise takes place before the carbon dioxide rise and can be shown to be largely due to changes in the geometry of the sun-earth relationship. We have no other explanation for the Pleistocene periodicity. The carbon dioxide by itself could not rise and fall with such a periodicity. Moreover, the changes in sun-earth geometry cannot explain the 3-5 degree range between coldest and warmest phases. As the temperature rises, feedback, firstly in water vapour, then carbon dioxide and then methane, takes over to create greater change. For example, the oceans evaporate faster to form water vapour and clouds that mainly warm the earth, and the forests deteriorate to give off carbon dioxide that warms it still further.

 

In much of pre-human times major additions to the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was provided by volcanic activity on land or beneath the sea, sometimes by giant round volcanoes with craters many tens of kilometers across or by long cracks in the crust. The carbon was taken away again into the solid earth more gradually over millions of years by the formation, subsidence and often the subduction (sea floor sliding beneath continents), of limestone, coal and oil strata, only to eventually be reemitted in new phases of volcanism. Methane was also emitted, and later subtracted by the formation of ‘natural gas’. When the earth was warmed by carbon dioxide rainfall increased in some areas causing the expansion of wetlands and thus the emission of methane. Also methane was probably emitted from permafrost, and in special cases from sub-marine frozen methane or clathrates. Other causes of temperature change such as sun cycles, changes in mountain building, continental drift due to plate tectonics, and polar wandering, contributed to climatic changes along with changes in sun-earth geometry and the greenhouse gases. Probably different causes were dominant at different times, at different scales and at different places over the Earth.

 

Isn't is remarkable that when the sea level rose 120 metres since the depths of the last ice age, that it stopped just where our magnificient beaches are. 

(geological humour!) 

The graphs below from Gregory Retallack (2002) are one example of the detailed work being done on climate history. The graph of the left shows oceanic temperatures based on oxygen isotope ratios in fossil shells going back 300 million years to the Permian Period. Cooling is to the left. The graph on the right is based on the density of stomatal (pore) openings in fossil leaves. When the carbon dioxide concentration is high, the number of openings required to take in the gas is less. A correlation can be observed here, but see below.

 Temperature and Carbon Dioxide, Permian to Present

The next two graphs show exactly what correlation is observed above. The graph on the right shows that the correlation between the concentration and the temperature is observable but rather poor. The graph on the left hits home. Here, the peak ages for temperature and CO2 are plotted, showing clearly that although the absolute amounts are all over the place, the time when each peaked was spot on.

 

Tertiary correlation of CO2 and Temperature

The following diagram covering 600 million years from Dana Royer and team (2004) shows better how the science of palaeoclimatology works. It is best to look first at Part C on the diagram that shows the well established geological evidence for past widespread glaciation (dark blue) and cool periods (light blue). Researcher Shaviv (2002) produced evidence that cosmic radiation (Part B) could be partly correlated with at least the dark blue times, but with serious miscorrelations also. Shaviv and Veiser (2003) produced further evidence that, using oxygen isotope analysis, palaeotemperatures (blue line in Part A) were well correlated with cosmic rays. Royer et al, puzzled by this result, noting the weak correlation with the glaciation evidence, reevaluated the oxygen isotope data. They found that if the pH of the oceans was taken into account (red, black lines and orange band in Part A) then the same peaks and troughs remained, but were better correlated with the glaciation evidence. For example, the temperature trough at 440 Myears was slighter than the one at 300 My (Ma). This shows that oxygen isotopes corrected for pH are a reliable temperature indicator and that temperature is not as well correlated with cosmic rays as once thought. This doesn't however show that cosmic rays are irrelvant, but studies of cosmic rays over the last two decades have not shown any correlation with temperature.

Oxygen isotope temperature corrected for pH

Now, while other causes are changing only very slowly if at all, we are playing with the natural earth cycle of sedimentation, subsidence, subduction and volcanism, taking the buried fossil fuels and limestone and creating our own volcanoes in the form of a techno-economic process, starting from mines and petroleum wells to energy and cement processors and vehicles, and just beginning to understand what we are doing. Apart from the irregularity of the 'global warming', severe climate change of various types from longer droughts to forest fires is beyond dispute. The alternative hypothesis that the sun rather than GHGs is causing contemporary warming has been studied and found to have little support. Oceanic oscillation is likely to account for the 1-4 year oscillations in global temperature. That temperature change has natural influences in no way prevents humans from adding to any upward trend that could exist at times and worsening it to global disaster level. It is feedback, tipping points and irreversibility that the sceptics-deniers do not usually address. Basically it does not matter whether the present warming is partly natural or totally human induced, we must try to stop it before it destroys us.

 

James Hansen's explanation of the PETM peak in the Tertiary Period is covered in the main home page.

 

References

 

Retallack G. J. 2002. Carbon dioxide and climate over the past 300 Myr. Philosphical Transactions of the Royal Society London A Vol.360, pp 659-673. www.rsta.royalsocietypublishing.org

 

Royer D.L. et al, 2004. CO2 as a primary driver of Phanerozoic Climate. GSA Today, Vol 14 No. 3 March 2004. Geological Society of America

 

 

  Copyright © 2009 Michael Tuckson.  All Rights Reserved 

 

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 Michael Tuckson

The website author and publisher, December 2009.

 

Easy Summary

 

We must try to understand up-to-date climate science coming out over the last few years that warns of possible disaster. Ice shelves and sheets are melting much faster than before. Global temperatures are rising, with oscillations due to ocean oscillations. Natural causes are minor compared with pollution. This understanding must be spread by advanced adult education, especially among the powerful. As many readers as possible must spread understanding.

 

Denier leaders are funded by the fossil fuel, tobacco and similar corporations and/or are ideologues. Their arguments are always against, not considering pro and con, as with real science. They rarely call for better understanding, just attempt to confuse. None are climate scientists. Their motivation is salary and weak government, not salary and discovery. Either they do not care about their descendants or they do not understand the probable future.

 

We must put more emphasis on the short-term greenhouse influences such as methane. Carbon dixide must be captured from the atmosphere. Also we must lead with behaviour change before appropriate technology spreads. Birth control is important in some regions. Job-time sharing and retraining can reduce any unemployment resulting from mitigation measures. Mitigation must be coordinated globally by government and citizens in modern sectors. City pairing could be useful.