Climate: Geological Views #1

I gave a speech last week at my tennis/squash club on climate change (which presents speeches from time to time). I included some geological concepts that I don’t usually have an opportunity to talk about. The class of scientist who tend to be most unimpressed with IPCC-type climate science are geologists – which is where I got started in this. If you took an Oreskes-type survey among geologists, I don’t believe for a minute that you would get anything like IPCC solidarity. Unlike most scientists, geologists also happen to know a lot about climate history. Here’s an interesting graphic that I used: This is taken from, which has many interesting portrayals of past climate history from a geological point of view. I’m going to post up some more snippets from my presentation in the next week whenI’m not otherwise distracted. There are (at least) 3 things that I find interesting about this graph: 1) from a geological point of view, we are still in an Ice Age. The most recent Ice Age (not individually discernable on this graph), the one ending from 12-17,000 years ago, was one of the deepest in the entire history of the earth; 2) past climate changes have been much larger than the experience of the last millennium; 3) perhaps more surprising, earth’s temperature has careened out of control either up into a Venus-like hothouse of down into a Mars-like icehouse. I don’t get the impression that a whole lot is definitively known about either the causes of major climate change or the reasons for stability. Update (afternoon): Here’s another graphic from showing climate in the Eocene (Early Tertiary ~ 50 MM years). The caption read as follows:

During the Early Eocene alligators swam in swamps near the North Pole, and palm trees grew in southern Alaska. Much of central Eurasia was warm and humid.

One point that is easily lost sight of is the tremendous progress made in plate tectonics so that the location of these Eocene fossils from a polar region can be relied on i.e. one can’t just say that these were tropical fossils which have been transported into polar latitudes by continental drift. So one would certainly not be able to say that 1998 was the warmest year in the past 50 million years. – not even close.


  1. Posted May 22, 2005 at 11:06 AM | Permalink

    Interesting graph, Steve. It looks like a slightly simplified caricature of the real history – or do you believe that there is a physical law that the temperature moves between 12 and 22 degrees of Celsius (with a brief exception at the end of Permian)? I find it funny that the temperature always sits at 12 or 22 for most of the time. Isn’t it simply because they can only postdict binary temperature (cold vs. warm)? Otherwise I agree with your observations.

  2. Buck Smith
    Posted May 22, 2005 at 11:49 AM | Permalink

    That is a very cool graph that is quite surprising to me. I thought that most of the time (even in geologic time) the earth was cooler than it is now, i.e. in an ice age. Are the periods at 12C the ice age periods and in geologic time we are only just emerging from an ice age?

  3. Steve McIntyre
    Posted May 22, 2005 at 1:15 PM | Permalink

    Lubos, I haven’t been through the nuts and bolts of this diagram and can’t say why there are the two states. I’ve sometimes wondered about the early ice ages – I don’t know much about them.

    Buck, the geologist who first interested me in these matters believed that we were (geologically) still in an “ice age” i.e. Antarctica, Greenland, tropical glaciers. These didn’t exist in warm periods such as the Cretaceous or Eocene. In the Pliocene, there would be a glacier on Antarctica, but not Greenland.


  4. Michael Ballantine
    Posted May 22, 2005 at 1:20 PM | Permalink

    Steve, I looks to me like a plot of 4 stable Quantum Mechanical energy or equilibrium levels. We see it all the time in real physical processes that occur on time scales and energy levels where we can gather accurate data. Thre is nothing in Quantum Mechanics, that I am aware of, that precludes this happening on a planetary scale. We are, after all, talking about balanced energy levels in the form of physical motion of atoms (heat).
    Maybe we need to get some Physicists who are well versed in Quantum Mechanics to take a more active interest in climatology.

  5. Peter Hearnden
    Posted May 22, 2005 at 2:12 PM | Permalink

    Interesting graphics. Scotese does good geology for the web.

    I suspect comment 3 reads ‘perhaps more surprising, earth’s temperature has*n’t* careened out of control either up into a Venus-like hothouse of down into a Mars-like icehouse.’?

    There are other temperature recons, for instance this or,000,000years which must merit examination as possible past temperature histories? And what none of these graphs can show is speed of change compared to the present.

    Why, if recons for the past 1000/2000 years are treated to such minute scrutiny here, is one recon for hundreds of millions of years ago accepted just like that, with, apparently, no questions asked whatsoever? I bet you could show it was without merit Steve ;)

    I’m also certain 1998 was cooler than the big bang – but so what? It was, probably, cooler, a lot cooler, than a lot of time past. To compare 1998 with the lower Eocene is not to compare apples with oranges but to compare apples with, say, bristlecones. Indeed, if the IPCC had said today is miles warmer than the ice age, what would you have said? ‘so what?’ I guess.

    To my mind a more interesting approach might be to ask ‘if the continents 50 MYA were as now, what would the temperature of the Earth be?’.

  6. Greg F
    Posted May 22, 2005 at 7:10 PM | Permalink


    Introduction to Abrupt Changes in the Earth’s Climate
    <blockquote cite="Large, abrupt climate changes have affected hemispheric to global regions repeatedly, as shown by numerous paleoclimate records (Broecker, 1995, 1997). Changes of up to 16°C and a factor of 2 in precipitation have occurred in some places in periods as short as decades to years (Alley and Clark, 1999; Lang et al., 1999).”>
    Evidence of Abrupt Climate Change

    The present “speed of change” is so much slower then past events that there can be no comparison.

  7. John A
    Posted May 23, 2005 at 1:46 AM | Permalink

    Re: #5

    Except of course, that the figures shown on the Brighton Freeserve site shows temperatures and carbon dioxide levels far higher in the past than they are today.

    The other link to wikipedia does not work.

  8. Peter Hearnden
    Posted May 23, 2005 at 1:54 AM | Permalink

    Re #^. Well, truth in what you say (at least on a local or hemispheric basis), but *I was* talking about the graphs I mentioned, so you’re quoting me out of context…

  9. John A
    Posted May 23, 2005 at 1:55 AM | Permalink

    Re; #6

    The image at says it all in regard to “rapid” recent climate change.

  10. Peter Hearnden
    Posted May 23, 2005 at 2:41 AM | Permalink

    Re #9, it does, for Greenland and the area around it. I doubt you can extend the Greenland record to represent the globe.

  11. Posted May 23, 2005 at 4:51 AM | Permalink
  12. Michael Jankowski
    Posted May 23, 2005 at 7:03 AM | Permalink

    Re#10 – Are you suggest the graph may simply represent anomolous regional warming on the recent scale of tens of thousands of years in the Greenland area, or are you suggesting anomolous regional coooling for the previous several thousands of years in that area?

    Yes, it’s statistically ridiculous to apply Greenland’s temp history to the entire globe. But I feel the same way about the limited locations for the proxies used to reconstruct temps for the past 1000 years.

  13. Michael Ballantine
    Posted May 23, 2005 at 7:35 AM | Permalink

    Luboà…⟮ Thanks for the clarification. As I indicated, my knowledge of Quantum Mechanics is rudimentary but this looked like it might be worthwhile having a look from that perspective.
    I actually think it looks like something else that I am very familiar with but I had not had time to properly think about the mechanisms. If you use an oscilloscope to probe the middle of a data transmission line you could see signals very much like this graph, especially if you cut in the low pass filter. There are slew rate limited transitions with reversal of signal before reaching the other state. There is a small overshoot at the end of the Permian. The intermediate state leaving the Devonian looks like a reflection from a discontinuity or a 3rd processes briefly fighting for control before falling to the lower state.
    Considering the time scales, it would seem to me that maybe our orientation relative to the sun, our sun’s activity cycle and position in the galaxy, etc set up conditions where the earth has 2 zones of temperature stability.
    Think of it like a sound waves from many sources feeding a digital logic gate. The input is constantly changing and may be quite complex but it can be thought of as basically sinusoidal for this discussion. This feeds a logic gate (very high gain amplifier biased in the middle of the power supply range) that squares the output to one of two states, high/low. The output change is slew rate limited by drive ability and load on the line. The input sine waves are always changing but the output of the circuit only changes when the input crosses the input threshold. There is likely some hysteresis as well.
    To tie this analogy together the earth, with all its own processes, is the logic gate. The solar and galactic influences are the varying input signal. I’m not saying this is how it is. It’s just another way of looking at the whole system for a possible explanation of the graph.

  14. Steve McIntyre
    Posted May 23, 2005 at 8:25 AM | Permalink

    The temperature graphic is hugely smoothed. I’m going to post up a graphic showing th Pliocene-Pleistocene transition which zooms in. I’d also be a bit wary of trying to interpret “states” from this. I agree 1000% with Lubos that this sort of diagram is conceptualized – that’s its purpose. But there’s an important underlying truth to the cartoon: the world appears to have been significantly warmer than at present through most of its history. On the other hand, if you just look at the Pleistocene, the opposite is true, the world has been significantly colder than at present for most of its history over the past 1 million years. It’s all very strange – but you wouldn’t get a hint of this underlying strangeness from IPCC. I simply presented this graphic as constituting the received wisdom of geologists on world climate history, without trying to deconstruct how it’s made. (Peter H – I can’t do everything in the world.) But at a quick look, temperatures are assigned to certain types of fossil formations: coal, bauxite, etc. on the warm side and tillites on the glacial side. One point about the fossil record that’s intrigued me for some time (and I mention this point just out of general interest – I have not tried to pin down an explanation) – the source beds for most oil deposits around the Atlantic (from the North Sea to Brazil to Angola) are pretty much the same vintage: Late Cretaceous black shales representing an anoxic environment; overlying the black shales, exploration geologists look for porous sandstones formed by turbidites (which are the host for oil deposits) overlain by shales (which form the seal). These are interpreted to have formed during ocean low stands and high stands. In the Pleistocene-Holocene transition, ocean low stands are associated with cold periods and ocean high stands with warm periods. By this logic, an ocean low stand after the Late Cretaceous would indicate a cold period not shown on the above cartoon. I have no idea what’s in the literature, but the observation here seems pretty logical, and, if true, would be worth working up. (I’ll try to remember to do this, if I ever surface from multiproxy studies.) Regards, Steve

  15. Peter Hearnden
    Posted May 23, 2005 at 9:06 AM | Permalink

    Re #14

    Steve, the anoxic conditions bit is right I think. The reasons for the anoxic conditions perhaps not so. As I understand it the oceans of the past were less well ‘ventilated’ simply because you need a system of ‘deep water’ production to ventilate them and to do that you need ice cap produce the cold saline water that sinks to depth and pushes a THC. There probably was no THC in the parts of the past having anoxic conditions (?), and oceans were probably more stratified (bit like how the Black Sea is now).

    Also, do we need to take into account subsidance in the basins where these sequences of deposits you refer to were formed? I think, the sea level can remain roughly the same while the deposit both builds up and then sinks under it’s own weight – certainly that’s the case with vaguely similar sequences in Devon. Cyclotherms and all that?

  16. G M Hebbard
    Posted May 23, 2005 at 1:14 PM | Permalink

    Absent any factor that diferentiates ocean water by density (temperature, salinity) it might be possible for the Coriolis effect to cease – a partial driver of THC and mixing. I would rather anoxia occured due to tremendous climate-related die-back of vegetation.

  17. John A
    Posted May 23, 2005 at 4:17 PM | Permalink

    Re: #16

    With the difference in temperature between the poles and the tropics being so much less, weather would have been much quieter and winds lighter. Severe storms like hurricanes depend on sharp contrasts in temperatures in order to form. The jet stream might have been much reduced. With quieter weather, ocean circulation would have been reduced.

    In such a world, especially in shallow seas, anoxic conditions would have been very common.

    That’s why it makes me laugh when people claim that global warming (especially at high latitudes) would result in increased storminess. Utter nonsense,

  18. John Hunter
    Posted May 24, 2005 at 8:22 PM | Permalink

    John A said:

    > That’s why it makes me laugh when people claim that global warming (especially
    > at high latitudes) would result in increased storminess. Utter nonsense,

    Is this really a serious comment or a joke? Does John A really think the climate is as simple as his 6-line explanation suggests? Does this level of discussion (from the site’s manager) lend climateaudit any credibility at all?

    Steve, please comment.

  19. Buck Smith
    Posted May 24, 2005 at 9:55 PM | Permalink

    Would the “Hockey Team” dispute this graph? Anyone with a sense for numbers can see that this graph makes the whole hulabaloo about gloabl warming a fraud.

  20. Peter Hearnden
    Posted May 25, 2005 at 1:44 AM | Permalink

    Re #17

    “Severe storms like hurricanes depend on sharp contrasts in temperatures in order to form.” I think that’s correct re severe storms, but for hurricanes? Surely not.

  21. John A
    Posted May 25, 2005 at 2:50 AM | Permalink

    Re: #18

    John Hunter: My comment was not a joke, your response contained no factual information.

    If the thermodynamic gradient between tropics and poles is reduced, storminess and wind stress of all kinds would be reduced. This would appear to be the case in the conditions of the Eocene.

    If you have some information to the contrary then provide it. Otherwise try not whining to Steve McIntyre because I’ve said something that you don’t agree with. And remember to include some testable facts in meteorology when you reply.

  22. Peter Hearnden
    Posted May 25, 2005 at 3:14 AM | Permalink

    Re #19

    Fraud eh? Strong stuff that’s I’d not get away with… your claim is testable presumably…

    Buck, do you seriously think the Earth flips between being *exactly* 22C and *exactly* 12C? I don’t. I think the graph gives an idea of conditions in the past, and only that – as the other graphs I linked to above do.

  23. John Hunter
    Posted May 25, 2005 at 6:27 PM | Permalink

    Re #17, #18 and #21:

    John A, [snip], It is virtually impossible to
    respond to a statement that may be summarised as "it is utter nonsense
    to say that global warming would result in increased storminess" and
    which is supported by only 6-lines of discussion. Firstly, do you
    believe that there is only ONE warm climate (i.e. that the climate
    as projected by the present models for the next few centuries is the
    SAME as the Eocene)? If you don’t, then do you really believe that,
    for the huge population of "warm" climates that are possible, your
    simplistic explanation ALWAYS holds?

    I don’t think you [snip] can have it both ways. You can’t, on the
    one hand, claim that the most sophisticated computer models cannot
    adequately describe the way the climate works, and on the other
    hand claim that a 6-line explanation does.

    John Hunter

    [snip] by Steve. I’m not at Hunter’s beck and call and have deleted some lordly comments by Sir Hunter pertaining to me being dilatory in responding to his whims.

  24. Buck Smith
    Posted May 25, 2005 at 8:53 PM | Permalink


    I can’t see what I have said that would make you think I believe the earth flips between exactly 22C and exactly 12C. Maybe you are confusing my posts with posts equating quantum states to the climate cycles above?

    Anyway, my point about the hullabaloo over global warming being a fraud could stand more explanation.

    What I meant was that many proponents of global warming seem to believe that nature operates at some divine balance and that any change of this supposed equilibrium point that is caused by man is inherently wrong and sinful. It is really a religious belief, of the religious left, so to speak. Ironically, I bet many of these true believers look down on creationists. Some of them probably believe CO2 is a toxic pollutant that we should strive to eliminate from the atmosphere!

    The questions is: how should mankind think of the Earth? Is it a perfect system that we must not disturb? Or is it a garden that we should cultivate to suit our aesthetic and moral desires? I think the latter.

    Note that I am not necessarily against mankind deciding that the current temperature range is optimal and making efforts to control the climate to keep the climate near this operating point. What I am saying is that a rise in temperature is not an environmental disaster just because it is caused by human action,. Nature has caused and will again cause greater rises and falls in temperature, unless mankind decides to create mechanisms for climate control that can override natural variation.

  25. Dave Dardinger
    Posted May 25, 2005 at 11:24 PM | Permalink

    re: #23

    The question is who has the responsibility to be always right. I don’t believe that skeptics have been trying to claim that they always know what the climate will do. But warmers make pronouncements that say things like “Models show …” This would normally make them responsible to show their results held the preponderence of the time at least.

    Now they try to get around this by pulling out the “precautionary principle” whenever they can. But this is nothing but a cheap trick. It is almost always possible to produce disasters of whatever intensity desired if sufficiently rare events are allowed. It should be up to the modelers to both provide evidence of the liklihood of a given sort of climate change and of the range of results which would then occur, both positive and negative. We hear the negative results to be sure, but when do we hear the positive ones?

  26. Peter Hearnden
    Posted May 26, 2005 at 1:56 AM | Permalink

    Well, it’s your website Steve, but I can’t see how we can judge the comments if we can’t read them. From my pov it would clearly look better to the neutral here (err, if there are any…) if you hadn’t used the bluntly pejorative ‘Hunter’ & ‘Sir Hunter’, in your from behind closed doors judgement especially when you referred to youself as ‘Steve’. And I don’t see why ‘lordly’ comments neeed to be censored, I’ve faced far, far worse here – but, again, I’ve not read the comment so I can’t judge.

    I’m still wondering if hurricanes are driven by strong thermal contrast. I thought it was, basically, sea water warmer that 27C and the right lattitudes N & S?

  27. Posted May 26, 2005 at 10:31 AM | Permalink

    John & John,

    I think (thanks to Rasmus Benestad – of RealClimate) that you need to make a difference between storminess/wind speeds over higher latitudes, which mainly depend of temperature/pressure differences, and hurricanes which are mainly formed with low/absent wind speed over the tropics. The main point for hurricanes is sea water temperature of 23 degr.C or higher. See:

    Thus a warmer climate (which implies less temperature difference between the equator and the poles) may reduce storminess over higher latitudes, but may increase the number and/or strength of hurricanes…

  28. John A
    Posted May 26, 2005 at 2:31 PM | Permalink

    Re: #23

    It is virtually impossible to respond to a statement that may be summarised as "it is utter nonsense
    to say that global warming would result in increased storminess" and which is supported by only 6-lines of discussion. Firstly, do you believe that there is only ONE warm climate (i.e. that the climate as projected by the present models for the next few centuries is the SAME as the Eocene)? If you don’t, then do you really believe that, for the huge population of "warm" climates that are possible, your simplistic explanation ALWAYS holds?

    Why is this more simplistic than climate models that claim that a rise in an extremely minor atmospheric gas causes "positive feedbacks" so dire that they require the practical cessation of the world economy? How’s that for simplistic? Or that climate models stuffed with large non-physical fudge factors to prevent them going mad, represent the behavior of the world’s climate past. present and future? Is that not simplistic enough for you?

    As for the comment about reduced extreme weather in the Eocene: do I have to explain the fundamentals of meteorology to you? Do they not cover these things at the University of Tasmania? Or is it your present hobby to cause unnecessary work to explain the obvious, as a diversion from finding out some extremely expensive science fiction nasties are being portrayed as fact?

    I don’t think you [snip] can have it both ways. You can’t, on the one hand, claim that the most sophisticated computer models cannot adequately describe the way the climate works, and on the other hand claim that a 6-line explanation does.

    I’d love to examine those climate models, but unfortunately those climate models are immune from disproof, and make no useful predictions that can be independently tested or verified. I think to claim that these models are "sophisticated" is a real joke, since they can’t so much as predict the next El Nino, but they are so sophisticated that they can be used to predict the world climate over the next 100 years (and the world economy to boot) and have all of us make a huge one way bet on their veracity (actually on the belief in the scientific authority of their creators).

    It would be a joke to believe that, but unfortunately nobody’s laughing, except some pressure groups – all the way to the bank.

  29. Michael Jankowski
    Posted May 26, 2005 at 2:45 PM | Permalink

    RE#26 Pter,
    I’ve had at least one post completely deleted at this site, not just portions of a post in which I made remarks that were considered over-the-line. Some posters seem to think sites like this are their forums for trying to start childish trouble, and they are still permitted to post here as opposed to being right-out “banned” as they probably deserve. So despite what you may think or wish to imply, there is certainly some semblence of neutrality.

  30. Peter Hearnden
    Posted May 26, 2005 at 3:14 PM | Permalink

    Re #28, John, a terribly extreme view.

    You put all *your faith* in the view the models are wrong. I’m convinced you’ll NEVER accept one – ever, even if it’s 2C warmer in 2050. You think anyone that cares enough to want something done about ghg emissions wants the world economy wound up and the flint mines reopened and you think the pressure groups are, somehow, on a financial par with the vested interests. Good rhetoric for the believers but, nevertheless, an amazingly wrong view.

    “Why is this more simplistic than climate models that claim that a rise in an extremely minor atmospheric gas causes “positive feedbacks” so dire that they require the practical cessation of the world economy? How’s that for simplistic?” It would be, if it were true, but it’s just spin. It’s the child of Warwick Hughes and Zbigniew Jaworowski meets ‘you want to send us back to the stone age you leftie tree hugging enviros’ for a dangerous liason. it’s not widely marketable…

  31. John Hunter
    Posted May 26, 2005 at 5:50 PM | Permalink

    Posted 27/5/2005:

    Re #17, #18, #21 #23 and #28:

    As I’ve already indicated, a statement like "it is utter nonsense to say that global warming would result in increased storminess", supported by only 6-lines of discussion is nonsensical in itself. No one has leapt to John A’s defence.

    John Hunter

    Steve: I’ve snipped something from Hunter, demanding that I attend to him. I’ve got other things to do.

  32. Ed Snack
    Posted May 26, 2005 at 9:49 PM | Permalink

    PDNFTT, thanks.

  33. Dave Dardinger
    Posted May 26, 2005 at 11:16 PM | Permalink

    What’s to need defending? If you want to search for me on google I’m sure you can find my e-mail address and send me the ‘cut portions’ and I’ll be happy to defend which ever of you needs to be. But I am a skeptic and so I don’t know why you’d trust my opinion more than you do any other skeptic. I do know from past experience that some posters in any forum need to be reined in. Whether you fit under that rubric….

  34. Peter Hearnden
    Posted May 27, 2005 at 2:38 AM | Permalink

    Re #29. Ok, Michael, that’s both interesting and encouraging and I accept what you say and it’s implications.

    I am, to be clear, not here to start childish trouble (if it’s me you refer to), but to put alternative views, to *reply* (when provoked enough) to extreme ones in a similar tone and with what I see as the truth, to ask questions and to try and understand views I disagree with.

  35. John A
    Posted May 27, 2005 at 5:05 AM | Permalink

    Re: #30

    Your argument makes no sense at all. It is for the climate models (and climate modellers) to demonstrate that their output represents something that is scientifically meaningful, not for me to demonstrate that they do not. It is an act of *faith* to believe in something without evidence. It is not an act of faith to doubt that which has no proven itself true.

    To claim that my doubt of the utility of climate models constitutes faith is as nonsensical as to claim that my non-collection of stamps constitutes a hobby.

  36. Michael Jankowski
    Posted May 27, 2005 at 7:00 AM | Permalink

    Re#34 – No Peter, I wasn’t referring to you.

    Re#31 – Personally, I don’t see anything in your post(s) worth responding to. But if you insist…Re#23:
    “It is virtually impossible to respond to a statement that may be summarised as…”

    “Virtually impossible to respond,” and yet you were able to respond TWICE thus far, over the course of two days! You’re a regular Sir Edmund Hillary – if not the second coming Himself.

    I didn’t know that people had to support each of their comments with diatribes of info and explanation. Maybe if you simply asked John A to expand on his reasoning or request supporting information, he would be willing to provide it. I understand that such civil discourse may be a stretch for some, but it’s worth a try.

  37. Michael Mayson
    Posted May 28, 2005 at 3:52 AM | Permalink

    Re #36 Michael, your hopes for reason and civility from John Hunter are probably forlorn given his self-confessed affliction

  38. John Hunter
    Posted May 30, 2005 at 2:42 AM | Permalink

    Re #28 (again)

    John A: You say:

    >> I’d love to examine those climate models

    As regards information on climate models, there is both computer code and descriptive resources available in abundance on the web. For a start, you might want to try the ocean component, an example of which is the MOM4 model at:

    There is also more resource material at:

    Happy reading!

    John Hunter

  39. Louis Hissink
    Posted Jun 1, 2005 at 3:03 AM | Permalink

    What is even more surprising is the general lack of geological opinion over global warming apart from the small group we know about. Ironically all of the geological global sceptics seem to be politically conservative, (for which they are pilloried of course).

    Conversations with colleagues generally indicate a lack of interest in the debate or more worryingly, a tendency to actually believe the IPCC line, as if few geologists actually read sites like this one, or the one I have now departed from, (political pressure I suspect).

    The Australian Institute of Geoscientists has published its latest newsletter/magazine and it is pro IPCC – another very worrying situation.

    For that matter does anyone know of any geologists who read this site? (Apart from the known climate sceptics which can be probably counted using 10 fingers).

  40. Louis Hissink
    Posted Jun 4, 2005 at 3:07 AM | Permalink

    For those interested, I still remain Henry Thornton’s politically incorrect scientific correspondent.

    John Ray on his Greenie Watch posted an email from a Canadian Geophyscist who has put another perspective concerning the effiacy of CO2 being capable of its astonishing powers.

    And of course geologically we are immersed within a flimsy atmosphere on top of an enormous source of heat – the earth it self. The earth need only hiccup thermally by an undetectable amount to release enough energy to raise the temperature of the atmosphere, say 2 Deg C.

    The porblem is that this hiccup is unmeasuirable though it might, and I stress might, be amplified by the atmosphere acting as a proxy.

  41. Peter Hearnden
    Posted Jun 5, 2005 at 2:46 AM | Permalink

    Re #40, Louis, is this the clatherites theory or another idea? Since you use the words ‘release enough energy to raise…’ I think not. Can you give an expample from the recent past (say 100 my) where the earth has released enough energy to raise atmospheric temperatures by 2C? Humm, ‘atmospheric temperature’ meaning the whole atmosphere, slices of, or the troposphere down?

  42. Louis Hissink
    Posted Jun 7, 2005 at 9:22 AM | Permalink

    Re #41


    your question is problematical – as I showed elsewhere on the Henry Thornton site, the amount of energy needed to raise the atmosphere 2 degrees C, (everything else being equal) implies a temperature change in the earth of 8 e^-6 deg C. Scientifically unmeasureable in other words.

    Atmospheric temperature means what I wrote – atmosphere – that gas enveloping the solid earth.

    Clatherite theory? I thought if a volcanoe erupts, then that points to a localised increase in deep lithospheric temperature (how else to cause partial melting), which means an increase in energy. How is another matter, but it points to the earth being thermally in disequilibrium, and that localised increase in temperature has but one direction to dissipate – via the atmosphere into space. One assumes, then, that this transient flush of temperature would have some effect on the media it traverses on its way to space.

    As for your question asking me to provide an example from the last 100 my of earth history, we have only been measureing the earth’s atmospheric temperature for the last 150 years. Before that there is no measured data. So on this occasion I must admit I cannot.

    Unless we had Cretaceous humanoids with thermometers measuring Mesozoic atmosphere temperatures.

  43. Dave
    Posted Aug 17, 2005 at 8:09 PM | Permalink

    I feel compelled to briefly comment on Steve’s original posting. As a geologist myself, I completely agree. Geology provides perspective, billions of years of it. This perspective can prevent a lot of hysterical worry. Also, I daresay that geologists are, on average, more skeptical about individual data points than most other scientists and more willing to say, “I don’t know” when the information is insufficient. This is because there are so many messy variables that affect geologic phenomena, and there is a wide range of scatter in the measurements.

  44. TCO
    Posted Aug 17, 2005 at 8:44 PM | Permalink

    1. Alligator! I love them. I want them to live in Virginia!
    2. As Luba said, quantum energy levels while a nice analogy has nothing to do with a macro system that has different metastable states. It’s like a book, a desk and a floor. The book can be on the table or on the floor. It can’t be halfway up. That has nothing to do with Schroedinger.
    3. Corriolis effect is related to the rotation of the earth (it is an accelerating frame of reference). It doesn’t go away because of climate. Fire an artillery shell and you will see. (now it’s effects on currents might be counteracted bu other effects).
    4. I don’t think you should snip John’s posts, unless he is really out of control, steve. Let him talk.
    5. And geologists are used to having to make predictions and live with dry holes. Humbling. But they are evil. Contaminated by the profit motive and by oil companies. We must all be little Euro-wimp Kerry-voting academic instead. This is the path of blue-state, NPR-listening, self-on-back-patting-for-moral-superiority

  45. Mike M
    Posted Jun 23, 2008 at 4:04 AM | Permalink

    That 22C ‘limit’ is very exciting to me in that I believe finding the actual physics to explain it will ultimately lead to a new water vapor model destined to anihilate CO2 alarmism. I’m a mechanical engineer not a climate scientist so maybe someone can explain what happens to the heat of evaporation of water on the surface when it ultimately condenses at ten’s of thousands of feet in altitude? Wouldn’t that given amount of energy, after being physically transported upward to such altitude and regardless of the adiabatic temperature change, represent raw heat energy that was not, and can not be, impeded at all by any amount of greenhouse gas below the point where it condensed? If true then water vapor is a fantasically efficient global thermostat being witnessed by this geologic data.

  46. DeWitt Payne
    Posted Jun 23, 2008 at 1:08 PM | Permalink


    There’s a large Miocene fossil site in Gray, TN, close to the VA border. Alligator fossils have been found there, so it wasn’t that long ago, geologically speaking (~5 to 10 million years), when alligators were in Tennessee and probably Virginia too.

  47. ejmohr
    Posted Jun 23, 2008 at 7:11 PM | Permalink

    45: (Mike M)

    You might enjoy the following regarding water vapor.

    I’m a geology guy not a physics wizard, but this may explain why the climate in the geological past seems to stay within certain bounds. Snow ball earth theories not withstanding that is.

  48. Mike M.
    Posted Jun 24, 2008 at 8:15 AM | Permalink

    47. (ejmohr) While I see that Miskolczi’s theory appears to address the issue of water vapor in terms of a change in humidity and energy balance, I did’t see any summary mention of the ‘heat of evaporation’ being transported up thousands of feet through, (and therefore unimpeded by), greenhouse gases before radiating that same amount back out as it condenses into clouds up there. I didn’t read the whole paper though ..

  49. nevket240
    Posted Nov 13, 2008 at 7:05 PM | Permalink,25197,24648785-11949,00.html

    apologies if not in the correct forum but it fits a few.
    if I understand this article they are saying the CO2 we emit today is going to help avoid a “cool spell” in 10k years from now. ???
    Anyone else read it the same way ??



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