There is a lot of material available to the unwashed with time on their hands (like me) on this subject. Spending half a year online, looking at, integrating the vast amounts of information immediately at one’s disposal is the equivalent of multiple years of researching a problem back in the day. Simply amazing, and efficient.
The caveat to making best use of this vast information store is that it still requires a modicum of street smarts, a pause to ask “Is this reasonable?” and to use individual intellect to try and sort fact from fiction. The internet of people and things seems to have no shortage of ego, which is not really surprising. It’s hard to navigate a planet steeped in physical separation without it. Just don’t let it drive the vessel. Otherwise, truth as Truth may get bent to conform to some subtle idea posing as reality.
The Climate Change discussion seems to be one of those issues.
The Big Picture
Make no mistake, it is a big picture compared to the tiny human scale of understanding as relatable to big time. For the purpose of this discussion, let’s use the graphs sourced from EPA’s Climate Change Indicators (2014) and Petit et al. (2001). They are based on the Vostok ice core from Antarctica.
I’ve taken the overlay and scaled it in a CAD program to add the markup to make the job simpler.
Source: EPA’s Climate Change Indicators (2014) and Petit et al. (2001)
They are based on the Vostok ice core from Antarctica.
The graphs cover a period of 425,000 Years to the present.
Right Click and “save as” for full size graphs.
• In spite of all the possible external earth disturbing climate events of the last 400,000 years, there is a recognizable, stable repeating period temperature pattern between the glacial and interglacial peaks, not unlike tides, seasons and other earth cycles. That’s pretty resilient in itself, especially if you figure in wild disruptions such as things like the Mount Toba Volcano (apparently spewed out 2,800 cubic kilometers of magma / ash etc approximately 75,000 years ago).
• There is quite a bit online that attempts to connect the pattern period to changes in Earth’s orbital mechanics, called Milankovitch cycles. There are also detractors.
• A meaningful statistical climate trend sample size needs to be more than a few centuries. Look at the scale width of 2,000 years at the top of the chart, and then look at the temperature noise over the same 2000 years. It would be pretty hard to confidently stake one’s career (political or scientific) based on such a tiny time sampling to proclaim an enduring scientific trend against the powerful backdrop of historical oscillations which are still not well understood either in magnitude or direction.
• The CO2 graph generally follows the temperature trend, but does not lead the temperature. There is considerable discussion online that says the CO2 lags the temperature by approximately 6-800 years, which could mean the temperature is the initial driver and CO2 follows as an ‘also ran’. A possible mechanism to explain the lag assumes the release of huge quantities of sequestered Methane in the earth and sea at the initial temperature rise which over a period of time, gets processed into CO2 and water. Initially, the release of the Methane is a potent GHG like water vapor (much more than CO2), all of which contribute to the rocket temperature rise. By the time the loose Methane in the atmosphere shows up as converted to CO2 and water, it’s mostly over, the damage is already done.
• Once the temperature system starts to feed forward (for whatever reason), it essentially rises so fast that it creates a near vertical step input disruption to the overall system. Note that in the last 5 cycles, the temperature rise occurs in a short 9,000 +/- years. That is a very powerful thermal excursion rate compared to everything else on the chart, implying that once initiated, it will run its course. We are currently around one of those peaks. For the past 425,000 years, each cycle seems to hit a wall around 3 to 5+ F above the current temperature. At that point it abruptly (really abruptly.. like a switch) goes into feedback, putting the brakes on in an equally spectacular fashion. The feedback loop takes over then exponentially levels out and (unfortunately) lasts about 10 times as long as the temperature spike, and includes an extended glacial period. Freezing to death is a measurable possibility.
• Curiously, I can’t find an answer as to why the very fast feed forward mechanism is abruptly reversed every time, nor how those screeching brakes are fully applied, but it is clear that it happens. Further, our current temperature cycle top has not peaked any higher / differently than the previous four cycles, and it looks like it’s simply oscillating in some noise around the current temperature. You’d think that would be a very interesting question to explore, as the current temperature cycle is clearly not in synch with the CO2 pattern when you add in the calculated human contribution.
• On the Graph, the previous peak from around 100,000 BC indicates a point where we had a 15,000 year diversion between Temperature and CO2 (for whatever reason). If you follow the lines to both axes, a -9F delta in Temperature corresponds to a small Delta in CO2 of approximately -8 ppm. Now, look at the 300,000 BC peak. For the same -9F delta in Temperature, there is a corresponding Delta in CO2 of -34 ppm, or over 4 times as much. The point here is that the cause and effect part of the CO2 argument seems much less binding / less important verses temperature in actual practice.
• If the climate change cycle could be regulated going forward – that is, if the earth held the climate in a steady state over the 425,000 years, the mean temperature based on integrating the areas along the current temperature curve would permanently settle out at a chilly -8.7F below the current temperature. This would put our climate permanently in a near ice age. Fortunately, the recurring temperature rise we get every 100,000 +/- years does a perfect job of stirring the climate pot and gives our earthlings a brief respite of warm climate between ice ages. (It works out to 3% of the time at / or a bit above the current temperature, and 97% of the time below the current temperature.) The point on this one is to tell your kids to enjoy the brief tropical earth holiday while it lasts.
• The story that the Graph tells over 425,000 years indicates that there are a myriad of interacting major forces at play in Climate change. In spite of that, the climate system spends most of its time in negative feedback except for the brief and powerful near vertical temperature spikes that dramatically recur on a regular basis. Regardless, there is a wall of resistance at the top for temperature that it doesn’t ever cross, and a switch around 5F above our current temperature that shuts it down in a dramatic and rapid 180 degree reversal. What are the mechanics of that gatekeeper? Do we know?
On the Smart Scientist side of this discussion:
Someone in the climate loop with the appropriate toolset needs to refine what is really going on at the top. By top, I don’t mean that in the Political Science sense, but in the New York minute where the rapid temperature rise suddenly inverts and heads back down for the next long and drawn out glacial period. Nothing I’ve seen in the cause and effect department (so far) adequately explains why the wall exists, and why the temperature consistently bounces off at 5F +/- from where we are now, even considering the better precision in the near term data than that gathered for 400,000 BC.
Starter questions for the scientists from the regular unwashed:
• Is it at all possible that the greenhouse effect for the rapid temperature rise is accelerated by the vast quantity of stored methane/ hydrocarbons being rapidly released from the oceans and earth’s crust as the temperature rises, feeding forward and simply stopping when the tank is empty, much like a forest fire eventually runs out of fuel ? (Reference to recent NASA Arctic Methane Work )
• Why do the glacial periods last so long verses the interglacial periods? Would each ice age period reset the population back because of the inability of the planet to support / feed more than the 5 Million we had hanging around the end of the last glacial period? Humans, plants and the supporting carbon based protein seem to have thrived and multiplied well at the top of the current interglacial cycle, going from a paltry 5 Million seven thousand years ago to well over 7 Billion at the top of the cycle today.
• What is the role that the three phases of water play in this cycle end to end? Considering the accommodating temperature window in the process, water exists as a solid, liquid and vapor. At one end, it’s on the earth’s surface as extended glaciers, ice cover and snow reflecting energy back to space. At the other end it shows up as ever increasing vapor and a powerful greenhouse blanket trapping the solar energy. As it transitions from solid to liquid and liquid to gas and back again, it stores and releases huge amounts of energy to the system. Water covers over 70% of the planet, making it hard to ignore.
• Since the cycles are so regular, would that mean the net available water and hydrocarbon flux to the system is more or less constant across the chemistry and physical interchanges over numerous cycles, regardless of how they are delivered to the atmosphere?
• Just asking. What else might it be?
And so to wrap up:
For the regular folk reading this, please pass this along. It’s meant to be a work in progress for everyone, and we the regular people are open to be shown where the logic needs improving / adjusting or where it’s wrong. After all, we share the same planet, and share the same big sky objectives.
But be careful out there. There are clearly Agenda’s in the mix on both sides of Climate Change designed to be retirement plans for a few and exacerbated and reinforced by lazy reporting and politics in the middle. There is currently a lack of unbiased genuine Scientific leadership around willing to actually deliver a clear, end to end unified climate theory that fits the long haul data to the world; – not one motivated by Big Money, Big Ego or Big Politics cherry picking at the edges of the problem for whatever selfish biased reasons that suit a particular agenda.
Regardless, enjoy the temperature tropics for now. It’s a great time to be human, considering the 97% odds of being born on the downside of a glacial period.
That Reminds me: I’m off to buy a lotto ticket.
A link to all the Climate Change posts
Recent NASA article on Arctic Methane