More Bad Science with Antarctica

Every once in a while there is a warmist story that gets more play than average.  My very scientific method of determining how many people are reading such news is based on how many relatives ask if I saw it.  When the long lost relatives send me an email, then I know a lot of people saw the news.  Ok, that isn’t really scientifically rigorous, but I like it anyway.  This one however got onto the SkS webpage so I decided to put together a response.

The issue at hand is the initiation of the ice age in Antarctica that took place ~34 million years ago.  This is a big event geologically speaking as the world’s sea level dropped dramatically and the climate in many places around the world changed.  It is so big that it marks the end of the Eocene period and the beginning of the Oligocene period.  There is a bit of information in the book about this period, so this is not a new topic of study.

The new news that broke over the past month was a study by Pagani that states that a global drop in CO2 is what caused the ice age in Antarctica to start.  There is nothing new about this proposal, but for some reason this got more attention than most such studies.  Perhaps that is due to the release a few weeks before the Durban climate meetings (which I ignored for good reason).

It used to be settled science that it was the opening of the Drake Passage that created the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) that prevented the warm tropical ocean currents from reaching Antarctica and this is what caused the initiation of the current ice age.  The timing fits and for a long time this was the “settled” science.  The warmists have found an angle to fight back with and they use the fact that global CO2 levels dropped at the same time as “proof” that it was CO2 that caused the ice age to initiate.  It seems that every six months there is a paper for the Drake Passage theory and then six months later there is one to push the CO2 theory.  Since the last Drake Passage paper came out in May, late November would be the six month mark, like clockwork.  I covered the last Drake Passage news on May 30th, 2011.

The new news presents nothing new.  Here is the end of the abstract:

Our results show that CO2 declined before and during Antarctic glaciation and support a substantial CO2 decrease as the primary agent forcing Antarctic glaciation

This proves nothing about the debate itself, it simply shows that the climate was changing at the time that Antarctica started it’s ice age.  This is well known, because it was at this time that the Earth’s geography was changing enough to alter the ocean currents.

The major flaw in all CO2 studies is that changes in ocean temperature ALWAYS cause changes in the atmospheric CO2 concentration.  It is not possible that a major change in ocean temperatures will not cause a major change in the CO2 level.  The Southern Ocean is 20.3 million km2 in size which is ~6% of the Earth’s oceans and ~4% of the total Earth’s surface.

The Inconvenient Skeptic

This shows that warm water holds less CO2 than cold water

I am going to start by showing how much CO2 the top 1 m of the Southern Ocean can make to the global CO2 level.  The 20.3 million km2 of ocean turns into 20.3 e+13 m2 of ocean.  Since the lower range of sea water density is 1020 kg/m3, it is easy to figure out the weight of the top meter of the Southern Ocean at a 2.07 e+16 kg.  The average temperature of the Southern Ocean today is 5 °C which means that at saturation, the top 1m of the Southern Ocean could hold 6.0 e+13 kg of CO2.  That is 1.9% of the Earth’s total atmosphere.  Since for most changes in ocean temperature it is the top 100 m that is considered, the top 100m of the Southern Ocean could hold 190% of the Earth’s atmospheric CO2.

Here is where the true absurdity of the latest study that claims it is the CO2 level that caused the Earth’s climate to change 34 million years ago.  A 10 °C change in 100 m of the Southern Ocean could cause a 50% drop in the global CO2 level.

The Inconvenient Skeptic

(Red) CO2 mass at saturation in 100m of Southern Ocean, (Blue) That mass as a percentage of the total mass of atmospheric CO2

Since the solubility of CO2 is linear from 0-20 °C, it doesn’t even matter what the starting temperature was, all that is needed is to know how much the temperature of the ocean dropped.

Perhaps the most interesting thing of all is that the paper states that the CO2 prior to the ice age initiation was 1000-1200 ppm and afterwards it was 600-700 ppm.  Somehow the idea that the cooling of the Southern Ocean by 10 °C would CAUSE a 50% drop in atmospheric CO2 is completely missed by the warmists.  The warmists do not propose what would cause anything, except for the idea that a drop in CO2 caused the drop in temperature.  This is very bad science.

Posted in Bad Science and Science Overviews by inconvenientskeptic on December 19th, 2011 at 5:20 pm.


This post has 18 comments

  1. inconvenientskeptic Dec 20th 2011

    As an article at SkS was part of why I wrote this, I also commented about this on their site. Their open discussion of science apparently doesn’t cover links to this site. If you would like to comment their, feel free.

  2. Richard111 Dec 23rd 2011

    Nice. Thanks John. In live discussions I often point out the top 2.6 metres of ocean has the same heat capacity of the atmosphere above and the mass of the top 11 metres of the oceans equals the total mass of the atmosphere and the average depth of the oceans is 4,000 metres. If I get a bright one I ask them to work out the heat transfer in the Gulf Stream. They can pick their own values for the “pipe” diameters. :-)
    I see over at GREENIE WATCH reports of more nonsense by Hansen about temperature anomalies.
    The amazing thing is if air temperature over the Arctic rises from say -25C to -15C this is shown as deep scarlet red but it has no effect on the ice below. It may raise the temperature of the top ten centimetres of the ice but the ice soon radiates the excess to space. Rough ice has an emissivity coefficient of 0.985, almost a black body!
    I keep an eye on Arctic temperatures here:
    They have an excellent record going back to 1958 and you can see that nothing exceptional has happened to Arctic temperatures over the years displayed.

  3. I noticed on the SKS site, your statement “happened for no particular reason” was refered to as “magic”. I was curious why you chose that particular phrasing and what your answer to that being “magic” would be. I had no problem with your statement and don’t consider it to be “magic”, yet it seems to be a point of contention on that site.

  4. I have no desire to post there.They will delete too much of my comment to worth the time.

    They deleted a link to your blog.Calling it non science.

    [DB] Link to non-science blog snipped.


    They are afraid of you and your challenge to their position.That is why many skeptics no longer try commenting in their blogs.

  5. inconvenientskeptic Dec 25th 2011


    The reason I use that phrase is their explanation does not provide a reason for the CO2 to drop. They explain methods of how that much CO2 could be removed from the atmosphere, but why would it suddenly ‘remove itself’ from the atmosphere.

    It a system in equilibrium (such as the Earth), something has to change to cause the equilibrium to change. Gradual changes in the ocean currents caused by tectonic movement is one of those things that cause real changes to the Earth’s climate.

    Since they did not provide a reason for the equilibrium to change, I used the phrase I did.

  6. Another question: I saw on another website/blog the same question I had when I first read the article. CO2 dropped from 1000 to 600 ppm (using round numbers) but is that not considerably higher than the level today? If at 600 ppm the Anarctica froze, why are we concerned about warming melting the ice when we are just over half that amount? It made no sense to me, unless of course the freezing was due to something beside CO2. Yet the climate change people seem okay with this.

  7. inconvenientskeptic Dec 29th 2011

    To expand upon your thought even more, the Earth had been cooling for ~10 million year prior to the point that Antarctica froze over. It was cooling even though the CO2 levels were even higher that 1200 ppm.

    This is an Occam’s Razor situation. What is the simpler explanation?

    The simplest explanation by far is that geography causes ocean currents to change. These changes can cause the oceans to warm or cool. No one argues that these changes are real and take place.

    That changing water temperatures will absorb or release CO2 depending on the direction of temperature change is the simplest solution. It doesn’t prove it, but it is the simplest solution to the problem.

  8. Richard111 Dec 30th 2011

    Yes! I often wonder about this. If the land bridge at Panama didn’t exist would El Ninos and La Ninas feed into the North Atlantic? Strikes me European climate would become very unsettled. :-)

  9. George Jan 1st 2012

    You might want to look into the Azolla event. It was actually higher than 1300ppm, closer to 3500 ppm and dropped to about 650ppm in about 800,000 years.

  10. Sheri Jan 2nd 2012

    George–that is a very interesting event. Especially where the CO2 dropped to 650 ppm (a familiar number from our friends at SkS). I’m starting to suspect that numbers around 350 ppm are not in any way close to the “tipping point”, if one exists. Some of the articles I found describe continent movement and pinching off of the deep ocean currents as the reason for the Azolla bloom. It seems land,sea and climate are indeed all connected. But you knew that! :) Thanks for the interesting link!

  11. The temperature appears to be dropping BEFORE the Azolla event started.

  12. Richard111 Jan 3rd 2012

    Physics question. CO2 can radiate in the 15 micron band down to MINUS 79.8C. Most of the atmosphere is way above this temperature. Just how much 15 micron radiation can CO2 absorb as it is already above its peak working temperature?

  13. inconvenientskeptic Jan 3rd 2012

    Azolla Event,

    I have not really looked into this much, but a couple of things stand out to me from the quick read on it. The first is how easy it is to change the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. If a plant bloom is capable of drastically altering the climate, why doesn’t it happen more frequently?

    Second is related to the main article on this page. It only takes a 10C change in the top 100 m of 6% of the oceans to drastically alter the atmospheric CO2 level. It is impossible to separate out a large change in ocean temperature from changing CO2 levels because a change in ocean temperature will ALWAYS cause a change in atmospheric CO2 level.

    Cause and effect. That has been lost along the way. Perhaps I will put together a more detailed article on this topic.

  14. inconvenientskeptic Jan 3rd 2012

    Physics Question:

    IR absorption by gases is actually a discussion of statistics. Gases can radiate IR at almost any temperature because individual atoms can gain energy from collisions that allow electrons to reach the correct energy band needed to emit.

    Since CO2 is a solid at -79C, that is the only reason it doesn’t transmit at that temperature. Gases can always emit energy.

    They can also always absorb energy. But the source of energy doesn’t matter. Adding warmer air has the same effect as adding a heat source.

    UVC is blocked at ~99.9%, but UVA is blocked much less. CO2 is the same in that once a certain concentration is met, it will block ~99.9 of the 15 micron band. Since it only takes about 50 ppm to reach that, the concentration above that is meaningless.

    It is really a question of how much energy is there to be blocked and for the most part, that doesn’t change.

  15. Sheri Jan 3rd 2012

    If I understand the articles on the Azolla event, they are postulating an “enormous” bloom that worked as a carbon sequestration area. Some articles said there is research into whether or not Azolla really could do this. Part of the theory was the Azolla around the artic was cut off from the rest of the ocean and grew out of control. It grew until it drew down carbon and lowered the temperature to freezing and then it died. This was not a fast event–nearly a million years, some postulated. There are a lot of assumptions in here and more reading might help me understand it better. It’s kind of hard to condense to a comment box! I don’t have an opinion on the rightness or wrongness, just that it was something I had not heard before and found interesting.

  16. Richard111 Jan 4th 2012

    Statistics… yes, there is a very succinct quote about statistics somewhere. :-)

    I’m still trying to understand blackbody radiation. If a body has a temperature of -79.8C it will be radiating at 79W/m^2 ( wierd that). The problem I see is that any solid/liquid warmer than -79.8C, which is just about everything on the planet apart from possibly the south pole, will also be radiating photons in the 15 micron band so even if a photon is absorbed, the energy will not be passed to a more excited nearby molecule in the solid/liquid, it will be reradiated, in effect, re-flected. So how is there any heat being absorbed anywhere on the surface from the 15 micron radiation in the air above?

  17. Morris Minor Jan 5th 2012

    Well the BIG news in Australia is how Antarctica’s runway is going to “water” because of AGW down there.

  18. . “Of crusoe after we cross that threshold it will still take many thousands of years to melt an ice sheet.”

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