The Flash – Global Temp is What?

I love “the flash”. I used to happen about once a month in high school. About once a week years before. Lately it’s been “a long time” between moments. Maybe a year? I don’t know why it’s slowing down. Perhaps I am slowing down. Perhaps I’m just aware of a lot more so it’s less likely that some new bit of data will set off The Flash… It’s hard to say.

What is The Flash? Also hard to say…

I’ll just be going along half dumb doing some mundane thing and the “Ah HAH!” moment just happens. A bit more often when reading things (as that is when new information comes in) but sometimes for no “reason” at all. Some background process just hits a “inform upward” moment and The Flash comes.

If you have it, you know what it is. If you don’t have it, I don’t know how to explain it. It is just a sudden “knowing what is”. A simple sudden “getting it”. A visual gestalt of something…

So I was just cruising along reading a blog posting and the comments on WUWT and there is a comment. One among dozens. And The Flash comes. Here is the comment, quoted in full:

richard verney says:
December 7, 2011 at 2:40 am

@crosspatch says:
December 6, 2011 at 11:26 pm

You have to bear in mind that the average temperature of the ocean is about 4 deg Cs. This relatively low temperature comes back to bite relatively quickly if for example there is more cloud cover reducing the solar radiance inputted into the tropiclcal oceans.

It is important to bear in mind that after about 4.5 billion years of solar input, this has only managed to heat the oceans to an average temperature of about 4 deg C and it is because of this that in the geological past ice ages seem to dominate past history, If the average ocean temperature was say 15 degs, I would suggest that ice ages extending over a large area of the land mass would be very rare since ocean temperatures would tend to a;ways keep warm winds circulating.

I consider that there are strong arguments that suggest that it is not correct to consider that the Earth is 33degC warmer with its atmosphere/GHGs than would be the case if GHGs were removed. These arguments would sugggest that some weighting should be given to reflect that the average ocean temperature is only about 4 degC . In other words, these arguments suggest that we should review the average temperature of the Earth over a period of say a billion years and it is this average temperature against which comparisons should be made noyt against its present average temperature which present temperature is no more than a blip in the context of geological time..
John Marshall says:
December 7, 2011 at 2:43 am

This report only goes to show that we know less than we thought about the sun. Solar cycles that we know about are perhaps of up to 200 year rotation, longer cycles that may include the behavour we are currently seeing, are not in the text books.

We live in interesting times. Now all eyes are on the sun for the next surprise.
Ex-Wx Forecaster says:
December 7, 2011 at 2:43 am

“Shocked Scientists Ask: Is The Sun Is Dying?”

I’ve read many articles about changes in solar activity, including emissions of a newly discovered particle that alters radioactive decay on Earth. But, seldom have I seen such overhyped, sensationalistic writing about scientific subjects–except, of course, for climate science.
Robert Brown says:
December 7, 2011 at 2:49 am

“I think that because the Sun is losing its magnetism, the tides are weaker (there is lots of iron in ocean water so under normal circumstances, a higher magnetic reading on the surface of the Sun helps the tides), therefore the sloshed warm water in the western tropics doesn’t have the strong tides it needs to go back over the cold water underneath, leaving it exposed and cooling us all off. So the Sun has been directly affecting the ocean surface, leading to the cooling trend.”

Could I have a side order of data/evidence to go with that theory? Perhaps a graph showing a correlation between the average height of the tides and the smoothed AP index? Perhaps a computation showing that the field strength of the sun, modulated by and mixed with the field of the earth, is powerful enough to exert a measurable force on an iron atom immersed in seawater? Perhaps a comparison of the energy of the iron atom in the solar field to kT, plus some argument for why a force acting on iron atoms in a dilute solution would actually affect the background fluid instead of differentially (and slowly!) migrating in the direction of the force, a direction that constantly changes and averages out to zero on a daily basis?

Not that I don’t love theories and hypotheses, but this one doesn’t seem to me offhand to be likely to be physically plausible within many orders of magnitude. I’d be happy to look at numbers or back-of-the-envelope computations that suggest otherwise, of course.


Explaining a joke, or The Flash, just isn’t the same as getting it

So what did I Grok at that moment? (See: Michael Valentine Smith and Heinlein for an explanation of Grock.. Yes, we have almost the same name…)

The “deep ocean” is 4 C. Think about that for a moment. Why?

“Why, don’t ask why. Down that path lies insanity and ruin. -E.M.Smith”

Exploring “why?”…

If you dig into the earth just a few hundred feet, it warms. A LOT. You get to 500 F or so long before you exit the crust and enter the Mohorovičić discontinuity… At the bottom of the ocean are volcanic vents. The mid ocean ridges are 600 F or so and dumping a load of heat into the oceans. Below is very hot earth.

Above, at the surface, most of the world’s ocean surface is well above 4 C. The tropics are about 85 F to 90 F. (Get over it. I’m comfortable shifting from F to C to K to R – yes, even Rankine. So get a little “multiculturalism” in your units, OK? ;-)

So you have this very large surface of the Global Ocean that is bounded by warmer surface temperatures above it.

So you have this very large surface of the Global Ocean that is bounded by the warmer earth temperatures below it.

WHY is it 4 C when sandwiched between two much larger warmer surfaces?


Because of the poles.

At the poles, it’s cold. VERY cold. The rest of the planet can wobble between ice ages, and not. Between “Ice Ball Earth” and not. But at the poles, it’s cold and very icy for at least 1/2 the year each. It is the cold water sinking at the Poles that tells us the real average temperature of the earth.

At any one time, a massive amount of heat is leaving at one pole or the other (or, to some extent, both). Can’t stop it. Can’t deny it. It is the loss from the poles that puts us into an ice age, or out of one. It is the change in radiation, convection, and albedo at the poles that controls everything. The tropics are hot and will be hot and just don’t change their albedo, average temperature, or convection all that much. Seasonally or otherwise. (The frost sensitive plants of Brazil testify that is has not frozen there in a very long time…)

No, it is the poles that dominate the ‘swings’.

And a 4C ocean means?

So we have the poles dumping heat to space, creating the cold water that sinks to the ocean depths. We have the equator getting lots of sunshine and having lots of rain and convection dumping heat to space. But…

The surfaces of the oceans only warm so much… and the depths not at all… despite millions of years…

We are locked in an ice age. We’ve had several glacials, and several interglacials, and the ocean has not frozen solid nor has the ocean warmed to 10 C at it’s depths. The true AVERAGE of all of this is the 4 C of the deep oceans. Just a tiny bit above freezing and just a tiny bit away from “Snowball Earth”.

Yes, we have “surface” temperatures a bit warm right now. Soon enough we’ll be back in a glacial in this ice age and a lot of the planet will freeze over (reducing heat loss from the poles). But it’s not warm enough long enough to change the 4 C of the deep ocean. In “Only” 14,000 years… even with heating from both above and below…

And now we are headed out of the Holocene and into the next Glacial. (NOT speculation. It’s baked into the cake from the cycles of the orbits. It’s just a very slow process.) With an existing average temperature of 4 C RIGHT NOW.

We’re Screwed

The good news is that geologic events are very very slow. The bad news is “we’re screwed”. We’re headed into an orbital configuration where heat loss at the poles will increase. Ice will increase. We go back into the freezer for 100,000 years and the real average of the planet is 4 C heading into that. There will be 100,000 years of ‘water turning to ice’ releasing the heat of fusion and trying to prevent Ice Ball Earth, then, if we are very very lucky, we come out into another interglacial for 10,000 years….

No. We can’t stop it.

No. We can’t slow it down.

The good news?

We get a whole lot more land in places like Florida as the continental shelves are exposed from water turning to ice at the poles. We can come through things OK if we move toward the equators and “down slope” to the continental shelves. It will likely take a few thousand years to get “bad” and it will happen at a pace such that folks in any generation will not notice. (Divide the distance from the Greenland Ice Sheet to New York where it ended in the last glacial by 100,000 years and you get about 800 FEET of ice sheet progress per year, so you can out WALK the coming ice sheet in one week end per year …) and the ice does accumulate more or less linearly, though with great spikes in it…

So I don’t think humanity is doomed. I don’t even think it will be very bad on the Ice Age Glacial scale. (They call it glacially slow for a reason…) No, it is the 1500 year scale cycles that will cause us doom and gloom…

The really bad news is that we are likely at one of those 1500 year events. Yes, we’ve had a bit of warm. Yes, it was nice. But the sun has gone sleepy and the volcanoes are getting restless (just as they have every other time in history we’ve reached this point). So most likely we are not only on a several thousand year down trend (from the peak about 9,000 years ago) but we’ve also just had the “good times” after the bounce out of the Little Ice Age. Next direction is down. Harder and further than for several thousand years before.

The really good news it that this is all measured in geologic time, so we’re looking at things that move in 100’s of years, not next year, at a very fast gauge. Most likely we entered the “next glacial” a few thousand years ago. Nobody really noticed. That 1500 ish year cycle mattered much more. So I’m not really worried about things for me. Heck, not even for my kids. That’s maybe, if you push it, 50 years. Hardly measurable on the scale of things like 1500 year cycles or glacials.

But it is still real.

And the reality that I had in The Flash is that the REAL reflection of the “average temperature” of the earth is 4 C. The soil doesn’t tell you as it is nuclear heated; from below. The air doesn’t tell you as it is nuclear heated; from above (solar fusion). No, it is that lens of water in the oceans that averages over the ‘couple of thousand’ year scale and that averages both the polar dumping and the equatorial influx. That is what tells you the real Global Average Temperature. And that GAT is 4 C. A chilling temperature and a chilling thought in more ways than one…


A modest “side bar” observation on this is that, due to water being most dense at 4 C, you can measure the “faster” changes in average temperature of the planet (those “only” measured in hundreds of years…) by looking at the DEPTH of the thermocline. At some depth, the water is 4 C. Watch that level. If it is rising, we are in an interglacial and gaining heat. If it is falling, we are in a glacial and turning sea water into polar ice.

Unfortunately, as near as I can tell, we don’t have that data.

Everything else is just “noise and fury signifying nothing”…

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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57 Responses to The Flash – Global Temp is What?

  1. There’s an interesting aspect of that average temperature on thermal expansion of the ocean due to heating: To the extent that water heats from 4°C to 5°C and expands, another amount is heating from 3°C to 4°C and contracting. Below the 4C level, a warming ocean is a shrinking ocean.

    It doesn’t quite balance out, but it’s an effect that is counterintuitive.

    To me, the aha! experience in this area was realizing the significance of continental shape for ice ages. Since the K-T impact, Antarctica’s ice age was triggered by the separation of that continent from South America. And more recently, within the last few million years, the northern hemisphere’s ice age was triggered by the joining of South America to North America via the newly erupted Central American volcanoes, closing off that ocean gap.

    That closure would have happened gradually; you scan see it in the temperature cycles over that timeframe. But it would probably be impolitic to blast giant nuclear gaps in Central America just to do away with ice ages.

    ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

  2. Ah, the “post comment” button makes a handy spell-checker. You can spot your errors in the split-second between that click and the appearance of the typo-ridden post. Not that you can fix them…

    ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

  3. hpjunior says:

    I’m impressed. Chiefio, you’re not only a genius, but you’re also kind enough to write in a pretty accessible style. I’d rather be mostly lost than totally lost. Thanks a heap!

    (no sarcasm or satire intended — just in case anyone were to misread my tone)

  4. Serioso says:

    The Earth’s climate is bistable: When cold, there is little water vapor in the atmosphere, and so the average temperature is low, agreeing with the predictions of the standard models; when hot, water vapor increases and so does the greenhouse effect. This is a very old story. The very low temperatures of the deep ocean are no surprise, nor do they contradict modern models. It is essential for anyone commenting on deep ocean temperatures to have at least an elementary understanding of bistability.

    [ So when it’s cold the cold makes it cold? Brilliant… /sarcoff> I’d describe it more as hysteresis than bistablility, but the two are related. BTW, the swap from glacial to interglacial has nothing to do with “modern models” or gasses. It has to do with orbital mechanics. That’s why it comes around on regular schedules in sync with orbital changes. The dominant state is frozen. During that state, ice slowly deposits over about 100,000 years. Note that it is cold the whole time. It just takes that long for the water to leave the ocean and deposit as ice. Yes, megatons of water vapor moving from ocean to the ice sheet during those ‘little water vapor’ times… Oh, and if the hot times were driven to lock up by high water vapor during hot times, we would never exit them. The heat would make the water fall as rain, not snow, and when it’s raining you are at 100% humidity. So you have a very old, but also very wrong, magic gas driven story. Look to the orbital mechanics and then things will start to make sense. Only when all the cycles line up does enough heat deposit at the N. Pole to melt it, then, and only then, do we get an interglacial (vapors be damned). When we leave that alignment, ice starts to accumulate (again, high temps globally and high water vapor be damned). Once the pole is covered, the ice accumulation proceeds pretty much non-stop in a linear way for 100,000 years. Again, no matter that it’s cold or that water vapor goes very low at the end. It is essential for anyone commenting on deep ocean temperatures to have an elementary understanding of celestial changes. AND, I might add, a bit less snide an attitude… Oh, and “modern models” are pretty much useless. They have yet to get the predictions right. -E.M.Smith ]

  5. Chiefio, you are being a tease. You know the answer! And so does Keith DeHavelle.

    In 1867 C.F. Varley was Cyrus Field’s chief engineer tasked with laying a telegraph cable across the Atlantic ocean. Varley hired William Thompson as a consultant. Varley and Thompson made fortunes as a result of the project’s success.

    The cable was constructed in Greenwich and the entire length was stored in 14 tanks, each with a volume of 500 cubic meters.

    To be absolutely sure that the cable would work, Thompson flooded the 14 tanks with water and then chilled them to 277 degrees Kelvin because, even 144 years ago, it was known that was the temperature at the bottom of the Atlantic. The cable was successfully tested prior to being loaded onto the Great Eastern, the only vessel that could carry the entire cable.

    The cable was of the coaxial type and Thompson analysed its performance mathematically. He also explained that the bulk of the oceans have a temperature of 277 Kelvin because that is the temperature at which water achieves its maximum density.

    William Thompson is better known as Lord Kelvin.

  6. Science and spirituality both show that the forces of Nature are far, far beyond the control of mankind – including world leaders and government scientists.

    The actual forces —{Revealed by E = mc^2 (Mass is stored potential energy) and nuclear rest mass data}— that sustain life as a dynamic process, control Earth’s constantly changing climate, and power the Sun and the cosmos [1-4] are . . .

    Far more benevolent and trustworthy than the consensus models that politicians and their armies of public-funded scientists assumed in leading nations into the current social and economic demise fighting an imaginary enemy —{Global Climate Change}— that consensus scientists and world leaders do not comprehend and certainly cannot control !

    1. “The Sun’s origin, composition and source of energy”, 32nd LPSC , 1041, 12-16 March (2001); BEYOND 2002, IOP Proceedings, pp. 307-316 (2003); 36th LPSC , 1033, 14-18 March (2005);

    2. “Attraction and repulsion of nucleons: Sources of stellar energy,” J Fusion Energy 19, 93-98 (2001); ibid. 20, 197-201 (2002); ibid. 21 193-198 (2002); JRNC 252, 3-7 (2002)

    3. “Earth’s Heat Source – The Sun”, Energy and Environment 20, 131-144 (2009); Physics Atomic Nuclei 69, 1847-1856 (2006); AIP Conference Proceedings 822, 206-225 (2006)

    4. “Origin and Evolution of Life”, Journal of Modern Physics 2, 587-594 (2011); Journal of Cosmology 13, 4187-4190 (2011); APEIRON Journal, in press (2011)

    Click to access JMP20112600007_31445079.pdf

  7. Chiefio,

    You said: “So I don’t think humanity is doomed. I don’t even think it will be very bad on the Ice Age Glacial scale.”

    If not “Doomed” we will be in deep trouble! At the peak of the next Ice Age, the Laurentide glacier will be re-established with more than 1,000 meters of ice where New York City is today. There will be no arable acreage in Canada and maybe two thirds of what we now call the USA.

    Sure, the human race will survive but our ability to grow food will be much diminished, so the populations in high latitude countries will decline sharply. The “Little Ice Age” brought war, famine and pestilence. It will be a hundred times worse when a real Ice Age hits.

    Will nuclear power make a difference? It will but not enough to maintain populations anywhere near current levels.

  8. Gallopingcamel, seems you know little about Engineering. Look at what has been achieved since the days of I K Brunel (designer of the Great Eastern mentioned above). The next iceage is a long, long time away. It is hard to envisage the world and progress in 100 yrs time let alone a 1000 or 10,000 yr time. At one time I took part in a Delphi forecast session estimating breakthroughs and time. Nearly everything has occured sooner than expected expect for nuclear energy (because of political pressure by green idiots). Many breakthroughs such as nanoscale instruments were not even thought about.
    I guess a couple of things a) there will be a lot less people b) people will live much much longer -life expectancy has gone from around 35yrs to about 85yrs now; in 100yrs years time people can expect to live maybe 200yrs. c) most body parts will be artificial and will be replaceable – think now of teeth implants, metal hip joints, artificial veins etc. d) people will be living permanently in the Antarctic (people are there now on bases for extended periods) e) it is likely there people will be setting up colonies on the moon and Mars and maybe setting out to earth like planets outside the solar system. f) nuclear energy will be mastered for heat, electrical energy and light.g) people will think how foolish were the political concerns about AGW and nuclear energy
    Will be interested thoughts/forcasts about 50 and 100 yrs time?

  9. Eddy says:

    Is the maximum density of sea water at 4C? I think the salt changes things somewhat.

  10. George says:

    “The true AVERAGE of all of this is the 4 C of the deep oceans.”

    That is why I have commented over and over again that if you want to measure the average temperature you need to measure in the abyssal deep, not at the surface.

    Also the density/temperature thing with water is only for fresh water. It changes for salt water.

  11. George says:

    1. It is very easy to cool a body of water from the surface.
    2. it is very HARD to warm a body of water from the surface.
    3. Oceans cool quickly and warm slowly.

  12. George says:

    To expand on my previous comment. The surface of the ocean that is above 4C is much greater than the surface that is below 4C yet it is that small amount of surface that controls the temperature of the majority of the ocean. If the poles were to warm to 6C or above year round, then the abyssal deep would warm to 6C.

    You can not warm the ocean by applying heat to a portion of surface of it. You CAN, however, cool the ocean by chilling a portion of the surface of it.

  13. George says:

    What is the adiabatic lapse rate of the ocean. Why isn’t the bottom of the ocean hot?

  14. George says:

    If you want to find a global signal to gradual temperature change, that signal lives at the bottom of the ocean. I suggest sensors in transoceanic cables.

  15. George says:

    Note that the hot ocean bottom question was a trick question.

  16. H.R. says:


    “[…] d) people will be living permanently in the Antarctic (people are there now on bases for extended periods) […]”

    I suppose people who hate mowing lawns and/or hate having neighbors would be interested, but beyond that…?

    Nice series of posts. I’d throw in that one way to cool things down is to remove the heat source, but the sun doesn’t seem to really vary all that much. The other way things can ‘cool’ is if they shed heat faster than heat is input.

    I see you use the same spell checker that I use. We could team up and market it, but I believe that market is saturated.

    @Our host
    Nice, very nice.

    When the ice sheets advance, we’ll all survive on snow cones. Go very, very long on ice shaver companies ;o)

  17. Jason Calley says:

    @ E.M. “looking at the DEPTH of the thermocline. At some depth, the water is 4 C. Watch that level. If it is rising, we are in an interglacial and gaining heat. If it is falling, we are in a glacial and turning sea water into polar ice. ”

    That makes good sense! I would guess that the US Navy keeps track of that for sonar purposes, but getting the info out of them may be problematic. And as you point out, the controlling region is going to be the poles with their water busily radiating outward to space.

    I would do one small modification (and George beat me to it. Go George!) as far as 4C being the average temperature. I think the 4C is slightly lower than average because of the effect George mentions. Just as (and I learned it from you) the atmosphere is a sort of spherical heat pipe, the oceans are a different sort of spherical heat pipe. The ocean is a thermal diode that conducts heat from the bottom upward much better than from the top down. As long as cooler water is denser than warmer water, you get sinking cold — but when you reach a lower temp of 4C or so, the cooler water — say 2C or 3C — is no longer more dense and the diode effect breaks down.

  18. Robert L says:

    There is no way we will allow another Ice Age to occur. If we need to do it we have more than sufficient technological ability to create global energy balance altering effects doing thing like (off the top of my head):
    -Albedo change using balloons.
    -Large Orbital mirrors.
    -Forced alteration of ocean currents (large underwater propellers can result in heat transport thousands to millions of times the energy input)
    -Heat pumps to increase heat transport from surface to depths
    -Large scale desalination to irrigate deserts.
    -Burning forests.
    -Melting permafrost to release methane.
    -Pumping seawater onto icecaps to either melt them or grow them.
    -Setting off large fusion bombs underwater to directly add to heating of earth.

  19. Tregonsee says:

    “…Divide the distance from the Greenland Ice Sheet to New York where it ended in the last glacial by 100,000 years and you get about 800 FEET of ice sheet progress per year…”

    800 feet X 100,000 = 15,152 miles. That seems a bit excessive.

  20. gallopingcamel says:

    The ocean is subject to the same adiabatic temperature calculations as the atmosphere. When you run the numbers, water has low compressibility (0.00005/bar @ 273 Kelvin) compared to air so temperature declines as one descends below the water surface owing to thermal expansion (0.0003/Kelvin @ 300 Kelvin). As you know, the opposite applies in the atmosphere where the temperature falls as one ascends.

    Adiabatic calculations apply over a limited range. In the thermocline, temperatures fall with depth until the temperature reaches ~277 Kelvin, this being the temperature at which water attains its highest density.

    The thickness of the thermocline depends on the temperature at the water’s surface. In the Arctic ocean it may have zero depth while at the equator it may be 1,000 meters deep.

    Below the thermocline temperatures vary very slowly owing to the small effect that pressure has on the density of water at 273 to 277 Kelvin.

    Have you ever wondered what would happen if water was a normal liquid so that ice would sink instead of floating? Maybe Chiefio will enlighten us on that one in a future post.

  21. gallopingcamel says:

    cementafriend & Robert L,

    Your optimism does you credit and I certainly hope you are right. History on the other hand tells us that civilizations rise and fall under pressure from Mother Nature who delivers glaciation, desertification or cataclysm with very little warning.

    Mankind’s ability to handle what Mother Nature can dish out is improving but will it be enough to cope with something major like an Ice Age that affects the entire world? I guess it all depends on the timing. The good news is that full blown Ice Ages take a while to develop so we could have 15,000 years to learn how to cope with a temperature drop of 10 degrees Kelvin.

    Add “sooting up the ice sheets” to cementafriend’s list of geo-engineering ideas.

  22. E.M.Smith says:


    Yes, I suppose it was a bit of a tease… But if we were, on average over 100,000 years, warmer than 4 C, then the ocean depths would be over that temperature. If we were colder, then more of it would be frozen…

    That a thin surface layer is warmer says we’ve had 10,000 or so years of a bit of warm and that the Equator gets one heck of a lot of heat that takes a while to move to the poles and get dumped.

    Basically, if we were much out of equilibrium the ocean would warm well above the freezing point; or it would be freezing more in the cold ends. Neither is happening. We’re balanced nearly on the freeze point of water and the glacial / interglacial cycle shoves the poles one side or the other, but the rest of the planet not so much…

    As the ice age glacial happens, yes, we lose basically all of Russia, Canada, Northern Europe, and New York. But look at the shelf around Florida and you find old shorelines that show it about doubles in area. ALL the islands in the Caribbean and the Pacific grow dramatically (as does a large area around New Zealand and Indonesia).

    Is it a net gain or net loss? I don’t really know, though I suspect it is a modest net loss. However, we lose marginal 1 short season land and we gain 4 season land.

    Now back at the time scale:

    This happens over 10,000 to 30,000 years. The entire length of recorded history is about 1/5 of that. The entire length of time to the oldest indication we have of stone structures (Golbeke Tepi) is the lower bound of it. The entire length of the Industrial Age is less than 1% of the higher number. No empire ever in history has lasted longer than about 10% of that time. There will be NO Russia, nor Canada, nor USA, nor EU; long before this is an issue. It will impact some other political structure and some other nationalities. (Heck, English wasn’t English a couple of thousand years ago… so they won’t even be speaking the same languages… and Latin morphed into everything from Spanish, French, and Italian to Romanian and Brazilian Portuguese…)

    By the time we have another 1000 years of technical advance under our belt, nuclear power may be a ‘quaint antique’ and farming in the dirt banned due to the unsanitary nature when compared to the industrial ’tissue farms’… (We already do this for medical tissues).

    The only way it’s a real problem is if the present age of Technology has a melt down and we fall back into a new Dark Ages for several thousand years so it can ‘sneak up on us’… In essence, the cycle time of civilizations, cultures, languages, and just about everything we care about falls below the ‘cut off filter’ of the cycle time of ice ages. Nothing we care about will survive long enough to have the ice changes of a glacial matter.

    Note: A new Little Ice Age on a 1500 year cycle is an entirely different issue. We will get one of those, perhaps soon. It will have rapid onset, well inside those cultural / national / language / technical / farming cycle times, and it will be worse than the last one. THAT does have all the concerns you were seeing… It’s the “when” for it that is hard to pin down.

    @Keith DeHavelle:

    If I could see what was ‘in error’ I’d fix it, but being ‘spelling challenged’ I’m just not seeing it… (So “why worry?”…)

    I suspect the folks of Panama might have a change of heart in 10,000 years or so when things start getting bad ;-)


    Please drop the personal criticism of others… Ideas, yes, people, no.

    Oh, and I think you meant “except for nuclear” rather than “expect for”… but nobody is perfect…

    While I generally agree with your ‘rosy’ technical projections, history does not bear them out. Empires rise, then have a brittle failure collapse. These often come with only minor stresses. Good times suddenly end. We are no different now.

    So IMHO it is more IFF we hold it together, those things can happen. But just as possible is a nuclear war starting in Iran / Israel leading to a destruction of the N. Hemisphere as the EU / Russia / USA get pulled in. THAT then causes China, Pakistan, and India to finally ‘settle up’ some issues… and the fallout from that (plus the loss of everything their economy depends upon) causes the collapse of Japan and Australia (which gets promptly invaded by folks trying to escape Asia … with an ‘overrun’ of New Zealand in the process…) That leaves South America and Africa as “masters of the world” and “refuge of civilization”… so we have to decide if those folks would ‘rebuild the world’ or in the scramble for dominance end up in their own destructive wars. I don’t feel all that good about Hugo being a nice guy and working for the betterment of the world…. and so far Africa has not shown much tendency to being the sparkplug of civilization and technology… Would Brazil stay stable with the sugar export market gone and nobody to buy their commuter jets? OR sell to them ships and oil drilling equipment or the PARTS to make their cars and aircraft?

    Your rosy picture hinges on “business as usual” for a few thousand years. That has never happened in the entire history of humanity… I’ll vote with the dominance of greed, avarice, envy, and megalomania as evidenced by all of human history…


    I was unclear… The actual duration of ice progress is less than 100,000 years (after a while it’s getting taller rather than spreading out so much and melting a lot at the edges). If you look on the charts you can pick out the actual progress portion of the ice during the glacials. It has some ‘spurts and drops’ in it, so it isn’t a straight linear advance. It ‘surges’ a bit. I ran through that (somewhat more complicated) examination once and it came out at about 800 feet a year. So I said “look in this direction” with the 100,000 years, but then gave the more accurate final result. Yes, it was a bit sloppy of me, but sometimes things have to be left on the editing floor or every posting becomes a Russian Novel…

    So you can accept the 800 feet / year, or do your own calculation ( it has wide error bands on it in any given interval as the spikes can be a bit large in extent; during 1/2 of each spike it will be a negative number…) and come up with something else you like better (anywhere from about 2 miles a year to nearly static can be justified depending on how fine a grain you use for the examination of the spikes. Probably even faster in the mini-spikes that we can’t really see in the ice record – like the L.I.A. Negative for significant periods of time.). Or you can decide that it’s much much smaller than 800 feet on the overall average and call it 100 or whatever else you like.

    None of that changes the POINT: You can out walk the advance of the ice sheet in one weekend per year. Walk 100 feet. Walk a mile or even two. It’s less than one day of Christmas Shopping with the spouse…

    @Robert L:

    I’d like to think so, but geology is a pretty stubborn beast… The total energy flows are massive. As soon as we can stop winter blizzards and hurricanes I’ll be more supportive of the idea ;-)


    I see you addressed the same stability of civilization issue…

    BTW, I replied to your comment here:

    don’t know if you saw it…

  23. E.M.Smith says:

    Oh, and in thinking about the thermocline epilog:

    It too could be a bit unclear. It depends on ‘measured from where’?

    During a glacial, water is being turned to ice. The ocean is dropping, so that the thermocline will be dropping (instead of cold water sinking to the ocean bottom, it is being made into ice and piling up) when measured from the BOTTOM of the ocean… Measured from the surface of the ocean, you have a race condition between the surface level dropping and the cold water turning to ice. This means the particular topologies of the coast lines at the surface and at depth start to matter as to which wins the race… While I THINK it would still be the case that the thermocline would drop relative to the surface warm layer (as that warm layer gets shoved into less surface area, but also cools some) it is also possible that some other effect could cause the surface waters to cool so much that they shrink enough in volume as to let the thermocline become ‘closer to the surface’, as the surface dropped… Basically, I could see surface cooling beating out the topology change.

    During an interglacial, all that ice is melting and sinking at 4 C, so the ‘deep water’ will be increasing and the thermocline rising when measured from the bottom of the ocean. But measured from the top? While I’d expect that the added surface area as the continental shelves are swamped would ‘spread out’ the warm layer and let it thin, so the thermocline would be ‘rising’ relative to the surface; I can see a case for added surface warmth penetrating to a greater vertical depth such that the distance from the surface to the thermocline might be increasing while the thermocline was rising relative to the bottom depth…

    Basically, measuring from the bottom measures the mass flow of cold water back and forth from Glacial Ice to Ocean Bottom and is a proxy for the heat of fusion changes. So it rises as the ice melts. Measuring from the top shows the change in insolation and air temperatures on shorter time scales (as they can only reach relatively shallow depths) but is also influenced by changes of depth as the topology shifts (and currents shift with that).

    So, measure from the bottom to track glacial scale events, from the top to track short term flux changes (but you have to adjust for topology changes longer term).

    IFF we ever lost the polar ice caps entirely, then the bottom measured thermocline would change from heat of fusion proxy to just net flux at the surface and the relationship measured from the bottom would invert. IFF we ever got to “Ice Ball Earth”, the whole ocean would be subject to freeze sinking water and we’d likely lose the thermocline entirely as 4 C ran into the ice layer globally.

    Right now? As we exit this interglacial, watch for a rising thermocline to turn into a dropping one (again, measured from the bottom). There ought to be ‘odd things’ happen as we go through the transition, especially to surface water temps and salinity. So I could see a stabilization of the measure from the bottom (as melt ends) and that at the same time the surface layers could slightly increase in depth as they overshoot the warming a bit (measured from the top) and expand. Then with continued polar cooling, the surface overshoot would reverse, and we would slowly start taking mass out of the deep cold layer as net melt/sink turns into net freeze / stick on the pole…

    . If you look at places like Drakes Passage, both the thermocline and the salinity have a sloping gradient with distance from the pole. You could likely get very fast reads on shifts of the surface conditions (i.e. faster than the pole melt fusion / mass flow deep thermocline) by measuring the displacement of this slope line toward / away from the pole. In essence, where 4 C intersects the surface ought to have latitudinal changes with surface flux changes. If it is AT the pole, you have melting and things are warm. If it is AWAY from the pole, and especially if it is moving even further away, I think that means the pole is winning the ‘cold war’…

    This is all looking at average shifts measured over decades to centuries, not the rapid seasonal shifts or even cyclical shifts with the solar 11 year cycle. Yes, it’s going to be another of those fractal waves within waves things where you need to pick your time scale…

    For example, if you look at it with less than decades scale you start finding things like seasonal shifts and even the ENSO oscillator looks to be driven in part by thermocline wobbling:

    The interactions that drive the El Nin˜o–Southern Oscillation
    (ENSO) are sketched in Fig. 1. Sea surface
    temperature is chosen as a starting point along the cycle:
    large sea surface temperature variations, mostly in the
    eastern equatorial Pacific, change the strength of the
    trade winds, mainly in the center of the Pacific. The
    change in wind stress influences the local sea surface
    temperature directly by means of anomalous zonal advection,
    Ekman pumping (upwelling of cold water),
    evaporative cooling, and mixing. Also, it produces planetary
    (Kelvin) waves, which influence the depth of the
    thermocline. The change in thermocline depth leads to
    a change in sea surface temperature in the east by upwelling
    and mixing, completing the cycle. Negative
    feedback is provided by Rossby waves generated in the
    east, traveling to the western coast where they reflect
    as downwelling Kelvin waves, reversing the process.
    Suarez and Schopf (1988) and Battisti and Hirst (1989)
    describe this feedback loop as a delayed oscillator.
    In the ENSO cycle as described above, sea surface
    temperature (SST) and thermocline depth play important
    roles. SST anomalies are the manifestation of an El Nin˜o
    event, while thermocline depth anomalies mark the onset
    and ending of an El Nin˜o event.

    The paper goes on to conclude that models of climate that do not allow for this fast scale impact of thermocline on ENSO will fail. As it was published in 2002, that would be most of them… With obvious implications for IPCC predictions…

    Figure 8 emphasizes that models that lack mechanisms
    that are vital to the ENSO cycle, such as those
    in the wind coupling feedback, will fail to reproduce
    the time structure of the relation between Z20 and SST.
    Comparing the lag correlation between Z20 and SST with
    actual measurements is a good test of the ENSO dynamics
    in a model, as it is sensitive to the balance between
    the two most important mechanisms that influence
    SST. The test has also been applied to the model
    of Zebiak and Cane (1987). In this model, neither the
    strength nor the time structure of the Z20–SST correlation
    compare very well with observations, with toolow
    correlations in the central Pacific and no noticeable
    time lag between Z20 and SST. Latif et al. (2001) use a
    similar test, the correlation between upper-ocean heat
    content and the Nin˜o-3 index, to compare a large number
    of coupled ocean–atmosphere models. The main difference
    between our test and the test of Latif et al. (2001)
    is that, because our test uses local SST, it is sensitive
    to the strength of the local wind feedback. This allows
    it to distinguish between linear model runs with and
    without wind feedback.

    So there are a load of things that change the momentary thermocline depth in given places. That means that my speculations about the changes in the average depth over century time scales would be a bit hard to tease out of the physical measurements done via sampling data points in the ocean. It also means that measuring the thermocline somewhere is not likely to be useful for showing such changes. You would need to measure it globally and over time to show such changes and to average out (hide) the weather and season induced wobbles…

    Oh, and the fact that we have lousy thermocline data coupled with the paper noting that not using it makes the models wrong; that kind of says that the models are not very useful either… but we already knew that ;-)

    These guys:

    manage to point out that there are a couple of definitions used to locate the thermocline and track changes. They also find that two of them sometimes go in opposite directions… That’s likely ‘an issue’…

    The thermocline depth is defined as the depth of the maximum vertical temperature gradient. In the equatorial Pacific, the depth of 20°C isotherm is widely used to represent the thermocline depth. This work proposes that under the circumstance of a significant mean climate shift, it is better to use the original definition of the thermocline depth in studying the long-term changes in mean climate and tropical coupled climate variabilities. For instance, during the transient period of global warming, the tropical thermocline is usually enhanced because the surface layer warms more and faster than the lower layers. The depth of maximum vertical temperature gradient shoals, which is consistent with the enhanced thermocline. However, the 20°C isotherm depth deepens, which suggests a weakened thermocline. This discrepancy exists in both the observations and the future climate simulations of coupled models.

    So watch out for that in the models and the discussions… That 4 C thermocline is NOT the thermocline folks are talking about when discussing the 20 C isotherm proxy for thermocline nor the actual thermocline of nearly 20 C in the upper layers of the tropics…

    But their quote does show how you get rapid surface warming during hot times, but not much change at depth, and with the two sometimes moving in opposite directions…

    So in any discussion with the model folks or folks who use the 20 C ‘thermocline’ there will be issues of using the word thermocline for at least 3 different things. ( 4 C abyssal thermocline, 20 Cish surface thermocline, 20 C isotherm proxy).

    At this point I’m going to truncate this stroll into thermocline land, on my part, as it’s time for lunch and if I keep going it will be tomorrow and I’ll be very hungry ;-)

    It looks like another one of those black pits of complexity with all sorts of fractal surfaces and contra-moving baselines with mixed measurement systems and definitions and temporal instabilities and externally driven anomalies (wind, currents, tides, etc.) and I just don’t feel like spending the next decade of my life chasing after all of them… If you feel like ‘going there’, go right ahead ;-)

    Besides, folks will just use the models anyway as they are much simpler so they must be right /sarcoff>

    Hypothetical Sinking Ice:

    And if ice sank: IMHO we’d have iceball earth right now. Ice would form at the depths during glacial intervals and then not melt as fast during interglacials (no rain melting, no direct solar heating, insulating cold water layer over it). So the oceans would be frozen up to a shallow layer where the degree of melting would be roughly the same as the present shallow warm layers. But there would be some spectacular things over the mid ocean ridge volcanic areas ;-)

    During a glacial the entire surface would freeze and we’d be an icicle. Don’t know if we would recover from that all white all frozen state… even during a 10,000 year interglacial interval. Probably not.

    Now, the ice layer forms and insulates, preventing the loss of all the heat in the liquid water (and all it’s heat of fusion). If ice sank, all that water would be exposed during the glacial interval and would radiate away it’s heat, even the heat of fusion, and freeze, to sink and be replaced by more water… Repeat until all frozen… The net effect is more efficient heat loss during glacials as opposed to the present negative feedback lower heat loss efficiency.

    I suppose at some point the ability of sinking ice cubes to slide toward the equator would end and we’d get giant piles of ice at the poles that could not migrate very fast toward the equator (think ‘glaciers under water’) so for some period of time we might have a melted equator with giant ice mountains at the poles and ice glaciers sinking under the equatorial melted band… Interesting visual, that…

    There is a physical model of something like this that I’ve seen. Up near the Oregon border of California is a volcanic park. It has “caves” that descend into the earth a short ways. (old lava tubes and such). They only go a short ways as the average air temperature is such that ice forms in them during the winter, but does not melt during the summer (even though it gets quite hot in August…) So you can descend a path for a hundred feet or so and go from summer heat to standing on a huge block of ice…

    “Water checks in, it never checks out”…

    Well, almost never. There is a slick layer on top of the ice where some melts and leaves as evaporation. It is in balance now, at that depth. At some point in time, eons back, it was an empty tube. Then it was out of balance and slowly filled with frozen water. No idea how deep it goes. Doubt if anyone knows. Maybe geo-sonar could tell you…

    So it’s the same ice phase change thing, just from water vapor to ice, and in that case the ice is heavier and ‘sinks’… So I think it’s a fair model of what an ocean would be like if ‘ice sank’… That would make it about a 100 to 200 foot deep ocean over most of the temperate zone… at most.

  24. E.M.Smith says:

    Thinking about ice age land net change:

    The ice sheet was over a mile thick. 5000+ feet. The ocean dropped about 400 feet. Call it a 10:1 ratio. So the slope of the ocean margin would need to be more than 10:1 run:rise for the land cover lost to ice to exceed that gained from the sea… I think… Do we have a 10:1 run vs rise? Don’t know. Looking at some maps of shorelines, it varies quite a bit. Often, though, it’s miles out to sea to get hundreds of feet down…. (Norway not so much ;-)

    My hunch based on nothing more than looking at a couple of maps is that it’s a net loss of land, but not as much as at first blush… This is complicated by the way that the slope is often higher near shore and flattening as you move out (sediments fall fast near shore and pile up) and over geologic time, some of those when exposed will wash out again flattening the average slope of that bit of shore. You can not depend on the slope of the near shore area now to be the slope then…

    So San Francisco Bay would become a giant flat farm friendly plane (as would the whole delta region as most of it is under 10 feet average depth) but once it hit The Golden Gate, the bottom drops off pretty quick. Near the ocean shore it’s steeper than 10:1 for much of California (as we’re uplifting), so not much gained. Gulf of Mexico and Florida gain a great deal. Net? Who knows… But if you can find the average slope of the shoreline of the globe, you will have your answer ;-)

  25. George says:

    As long as there is Arctic polar ice, the bottom of the ocean will not change. The North pole must be free of ice in order for the abyssal ocean to warm. It is that big ice cube floating at the pole the regulates the temperature at the bottom. If that should go away, then we would see the ocean warm.

    I will speculate that is what allowed the climate to warm so dramatically and quickly out of the ice age. At the time, solar insolation in the far North was greater than it is today (the pole was tilted more toward the Sun). This would have allowed the Arctic Ocean to thaw even if the land masses still had considerable ice cover because the arctic ice could break up and drift away on currents of water or melt in place from both top and bottom.

    Once that ice cube was gone from the Arctic Ocean the water there could get very warm (relatively speaking). This would also cut off cold water from falling into the abyssal deep and stop the “conveyor belt” that pulls warm tropical water up to the North. That may have led to the Younger Dryas when things got cold again for a while. But there might have been a different cause for that, too.

    I suspect the Arctic was probably free of summer ice until about 5000 years ago. That is when we see solar insolation begin to decline considerably, regions such as the Levant that were lush with a lot of precipitation begin to dry out and finally about 2000 years ago something REALLY changes I am guessing at 2000 years ago is when we went into a period where summer ice stayed at the pole reliably year after year.

    The rotational pole also HAD to change, in my opinion. If you look at the extent of ice at the greatest extent of the last glaciation you will notice that it is centered at about Ellesmere Island. Now imagine taking 120 meters of ocean globally and depositing that at the North Pole but doing so in an uneven way because the continental land masses are not symmetrical around the pole and there are other considerations due to weather patterns and ocean currents. The Arctic also gets cut off from the Pacific at this point because the shallow strait between North America and Asia is now dry land.

    So now we have a huge transfer of mass from being evenly distributed around the globe in the oceans to being disproportionately placed on the North American land mass. The rotational pole will naturally migrate to where it needs to be to center itself. It doesn’t take any “force” to do this, it “falls” into position naturally. Notice how much of Siberia doesn’t become glaciated but there ARE glaciers much farther South in both North America and Western Europe. This is, in my opinion, because the redistribution of mass caused the rotational pole to change slightly making those places farther North and the places in the opposite direction from where the pole moved become father South. If the magnetic pole didn’t move with the geo pole, we should be able to see this in a magnetic anomaly that looks like a rather sudden movement of the magnetic pole right about the time we are coming out of the last glaciation.

    By eyeball, it looked to me like the pole would have had to have moved about 15 degrees South of its current location toward Ellesmere Island. This pole movement would be gradual as the ice builds up and the mass distribution changes on the planet. Also with the movement of so much weight of water from equator to pole, the length of day would have had to shorten some like a figure skater pulling in her arms would have caused the Earth’s rotation to speed up a little. In addition to ice building up at the poles we would have seen water accumulating in Lake Bonneville (eventually burst) and Lake Lahontan (eventually dried) and Lake Missoula (eventually burst creating Grand Coulee).

    The problem is that we don’t have fine enough resolution for magnetic pole wanderings and the magnetic pole wanders anyway and the rate of that wandering changes. So if we get two samples some thousands of years apart, it is hard to know how much of that was due to the magnetic pole moving and how much was due to the rotational pole moving.

    One thing that could have caused a HUGE change, though, would be when water levels rose to the point where the ice on the land that is now the submerged Newfoundland Banks was floated off. This has the potential to have floated off a berg the size that Newfoundland is today into the Atlantic had it all floated off in one piece (probably impossible). That’s a pretty big ice cube (Younger Dryas?) to be floating around in the Atlantic but the result was probably more like a massive train of bergs.

    What is interesting to me is the Chandler Wobble. We started a period of fairly rapid warming in North America in the 1980s. Chandler Wobble dropped very suddenly in 1984 though it had been trending down in amplitude since 1976.

    But this idea that the pole would move gives me exactly the “something” I needed in my mind that would explain the hysteresis of the glacial/interglacial periods and why we go into ice ages seemingly more gradually than we come out of them. Earth’s rotation and tilt of its axis don’t change suddenly but we always come out of ice ages very suddenly.

    Also note that as we were coming out of the glacial period, it would be possible for the Arctic to be ice free while the continental land masses still had considerable ice. It is likely that large ice shelves migrated onto (and were buttressed/supported by) thick sea ice. As the Arctic Ocean (about 50% of the size it is now due to sea level drop) began to thaw out, some of these shelves (particularly the one grounded on the Lomonosov Ridge) likely suddenly failed resulting in great trains of bergs out of the Arctic and into the North Atlantic. I would speculate that these sorts of events are the source of the H3 and H6 Heinrich event bergs. H3 and H6 also seem to roughly coincide with changes in solar insolation where we had an opportunity to emerge from the glacial period but “missed” it. I suspect that the Arctic Ocean would have been ice free at these times but surrounded by continental ice that didn’t have a chance to melt far enough.

    I had more to say but it was just more speculation so I deleted it. I really do believe, though, that the rotational pole does migrate in response to changes in mass distribution during ice ages and that migration tends to “lock in” the glacial period because it moves more continental land mass above the Arctic circle but it also makes it possible for the Arctic Ocean to thaw out and act as a heat transfer switch allowing the ocean to heat up. I think the only thing really required to get us out of an ice age are a few summers of ice-free arctic ocean conditions.

    As long as we still have ice in the Arctic in summer, how MUCH ice doesn’t really matter, we are cooling the ocean. The ocean can’t start warming until that ice is gone or nearly completely gone.

  26. George says:

    @E.M. Smith

    I have a program that allows me to take the sea level down to what it was at maximum glaciation. It doesn’t plot the glacial maximum advance, though.

    The thing is, much of the midwest becomes summer swamp as there is a broad front of melting going on for about 2000+ miles. The “spring floods” never end each year and just get worse and worse and worse and the seasonal melting at the glacial front continues into probably October. Add rains generated by cold winds coming off the ice meeting the Gulf of Mexico warm air and you have some hellacious rainstorms adding to the melt. Basically think of spring snow melt flooding that never ends all summer.

  27. George says:

    And that pattern of summer flooding continues year after year after year. The moraines at the winter maximum probably create lakes which burst through the moraines at fairly random intervals and at fairly random places so there is no telling with a weeks-long flash flood might hit any given place during the summer melting season. I mean, even thought it is an ice age, it still has seasons and the glaciers would melt back considerably at the leading edge. Temperatures in the leading edge might still get up to the 80’s or maybe even higher at times causing significant melting. Add the increased dust content of the air due to persistent drought globally and the snow darkens as the melting progresses and the dirt becomes more concentrated. I would say that most of the center of the country well South of the leading edge of the ice are rendered virtually uninhabitable as communication is cut off by flooding except during winter when it finally stops.

  28. E.M.Smith says:


    Good stuff…. So we’ll all be living in house boats in Texas…. ;-)

  29. Scarlet Pumpernickel says:

    My question is “What is the temperature of earth TODAY” Like why don’t we have it on the weather report every day. They are so sure it’s warming, lets have a daily updated temperature. Of every area of planet earth (even inside my house)

  30. E.M.Smith says:


    I was wrong. It’s not 4 C, it’s closer to 3 C (yeah, I’m not losing sleep over it either).

    There is an interesting page here:

    That includes the interesting image of the temperature profile that decreases with depth, to about 3000 M, then starts increasing again. They explain that the added pressure at depth warms the water by increasing the collisions between molecules… I’m still pondering that… The image itself is:

    OK, salt water does not reach max density at 4 C, it keeps on getting more dense on down to -2 C or so where fresh water freezes out. Doesn’t particularly change the understanding. We’re above zero, but below 4 C, so that’s the balance. And the depths do not have a hard cut off, but a ‘wobble’ to the temperature. It’s all still inside a 1.5 C band for about 9000 M out of 10,000 M.


    You won’t get that as it would show that the temperature keeps wandering all over the place, not just rising…

    When the air column can be both below freezing in the snow flakes and several degrees above zero C in the air itself, and with even more cold very frozen air above that warm layer (where the snow forms and falls): How can you even say what the temperature is of that chunk of space? It doesn’t have ONE, it has several…

    @R. de Haan:

    So the present cold is only the “warm up” to even colder ;-)

    Yeah, it’s going to get colder… but we already knew that…

    (The AMO often swaps a bit after the PDO. When the PDO swapped, it was pretty much given that in a few years the AMO would go negative. Now it’s about 14 years out of the 18 needed for the hot peak of 1998 that swapped to cooling to have that colder water reach the Arctic – it’s an 18 year drift from the equator to Alaska – so figure about 2016 the Arctic Ice Pack ought to rise spectacularly…)

    One can only hope the “Global Warming” monster freezes before the rest of us get snowed; under… ;-)

  31. George says:

    @SP at this point I would trust the satellite measurements. The discredited GISS and discredited Hadley numbers can’t be trusted as they come from unknown provenance and in some cases the adjustment mechanisms aren’t exactly clear.

    Paleo reconstructions are even worse off, see the link to the PDF explaining the Mann’s discredited attempt to adjust for CO2 fertilization in the discredited “hockey stick” paper.

    By the way, this is a decent paper if you can manage your way past the obligatory tribute paid to AGW

    Click to access waddelin_1.pdf

    The thing to keep in mind is that during the PETM the Drake passage was closed and there was no circumpolar current and the passage between North and South America was open allowing an equatorial current between the oceans. An absolutely huge amount of carbon was released into the atmosphere and CO2 levels are estimated to have gone to 1000-2000 ppm. But the thing to keep in mind was that the release was preceded by warming (maybe) and (maybe) caused a release of ocean methane hydrates, but it could just as easily have come from a volcano erupting through an oil/coal field the size of Saudi Arabia, Texas or Pennsylvania dumping what we might take a century or two to emit to be burned up in less than a decade. I am willing to bet that has happened more than once and will happen again as the crust is recycled every 250 million years or so. All of that coal/oil/gas/limestone, etc eventually gets “reprocessed” at some point.

  32. George says:

    Paleo reconstructions are even worse off, see the link to the PDF explaining the Mann’s discredited attempt to adjust for CO2 fertilization in the discredited “hockey stick” paper.

    That would be at the Bishop Hill blog, btw

  33. @ EM (and gallopingcamel) no offense intended to anyone. I just think that people forget about innovators (engineers in english, ingenieurs in German, Dutch, French and other languages even Indonesia). I agree that civilisations have their ups and downs but the changes to dominant countries is happening quicker, recording of knowledge wider and better. Lots of history was lost when the library of Alexandria burnt down. The first recognised engineer Imhotep was responsible for building the pyramids. There is now considerable evidence that the pyramids were constructed by pouring a “concrete” mix containing a shelly limestone aggregate (see Imhoteps formulae has been found on a stele (now at the Louvre). Most of the Greek, & Roman golden era technology was lost because of lack of permanent records and record destruction by despots and religious authorities. The invention of printing by Gutenberg was a most important change to the spread of information. Now there is a new revolution with the internet and mobile phones.
    Without the internet the spread of the AGW scare would be much more difficult to stop. Too many are easily persauded by authority particularly when they have little engineering science knowledge. From all that I have read, it appears there is not one so-called climate scientist that fully understands heat and mass transfer which is a basic engineering subject based on measurement and empirically derived relations. I have noted that Gavin Schmidt (Real Climate organiser) does not understand the Schmidt number. Radiative heat transfer is just one small part of the wide range of energy transfer.
    The internet needs to work on the scare about nuclear energy (thorium and fusion in particular). The research time and effort on “climate change” has been a huge waste with no outcome. The considerable expenditure on medical procedures has helped to lift life expectancy but would not have had such an outcome without the engineering developments in instruments, scanning equipment, sterilisation, air conditioning, materials (plastics, metals, ceramics etc). The Chinesse, Indians and Russians are researching nuclear technologies and I expect them to achieve major breaktroughs in the next 25yrs. US (and other English speaking countries), and Europe will be second rate countries if the put no effort into nuclear energy research.
    By the way click on my name to learn something about methane which has no significant effect on the atmosphere.

  34. George says:

    Yes, I meant that thermal maximum. So you take CO2 to 1500ppm and mammals THRIVE. It was this thermal maximum where mammals really took off. While ocean species died off, land species took off, mammals in particular, and primates particularly among those.

    But the import thing is, if you took CO2 to 1500 ppm today, the earth would not get nearly as hot because of the configuration of the continents and the ocean circulation patterns. We are currently at 390.20ppm and global temperatures are currently in a downtrend. The growth rate year on year is currently 1.61ppm/year. To reach 1500ppm would take almost 700 years of CO2 emissions. We don’t have 700 years of fossil fuel at the current rate of consumption so we are never going to get there. Best estimates are maybe 200 years. (and I am being generous here).

    So there is NO POSSIBLE WAY we are going to get CO2 levels that high even of we made an effort to! We just can’t. It’s impossible. There isn’t enough fossil fuel. Also, atmospheric carbon levels began to drop nearly immediately after that huge burst.

    But here is the really cool part. The rapid atmospheric carbon rise took less than 20K years. By 150K years, it was back to pre-event levels. So to put this in a more modern context, the period of absolutely astounding atmospheric CO2 increase lasted about the length of one interglacial. Within the period of a single glacial cycle, it was back to pre-event levels.

    What that says is that as soon as carbon emission rates decline below the scrubbing rate of the atmosphere the carbon content begins to drop very quickly. It also says that the rate of scrubbing varies with the amount in the atmosphere (else carbon would fall to zero). So the more carbon you have, the faster it is removed.

    Now China is on a huge nuclear electrification effort. In addition to scores of planned reactors, they are building fast neutron reactors to reprocess fuel (which was our original plan which Carter scuttled). CHINA is going to realize the original American nuclear plan. We aren’t.

    They are going to have massive nuclear electrification with a fuel cycle that will allow them energy independence. We aren’t.

    We could with the technology right now available reduce our fossil fuel consumption by half but we won’t do it.

  35. cementafriend,
    I was not offended by your earlier comment and we seem to agree on some potentially important issues. For example, I am a big fan of molten salt reactors in general and the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR) in particular.

    I am a physicist and electrical engineer, trained in “Radiation Safety” who spent many years making instrumentation for fusion experiments at Lawrence Livermore and Sandia Laboratories. However, my expertise is in “light current” and quantum electro-optics (lasers). While I am an optimist I believe mankind suffers from technological hubris. I am no longer optimistic about fusion power; it is like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

    You suggest that the USA has abandoned its leadership in nuclear technology (likewise the Europeans) to Russia, India & China (don’t forget the Czech Republic). This seems irrefutable and the consequences are likely to be huge in terms of “Realpolitik”.

    Thanks for your comment on “sinking ice”. I agree with your outline and would add that ice at the bottom of the oceans would impede the “Ocean Conveyors” that transfer heat from the tropics to the poles. The only liquid water at high latitudes would be surface melt.

  36. George says:

    “I have noted that Gavin Schmidt (Real Climate organiser) does not understand the Schmidt number. ”

    There is much that these discredited climate scientists don’t understand.

  37. George says:

    Now this is interesting. Apparently Earth undergoes natural carbon maxima in its atmosphere at about 500ky intervals. Also, apparently a natural carbom maximum started about 50 to 60 thousand years ago:

    development of glacial climate over the Plio-Pleistocene was punctuated by multiple steps or “transitions.” The best known of these transitions is the Mid-Pleistocene Transition at ~0.9 Ma (MIS 22), which marked a change in the dominant period of the glacial-interglacial cycles from 41 ka (“obliquity-based”) to 100 ka (“eccentricity-based”). A second, known as the Mid-Brunhes Event occurred at the termination of MIS 12 (~0.42 Ma) and brought with it interglacial intervals characterized by warmer temperatures and/or less ice volume (Hodell et al., 2003b). Lesser known is a transition at ~1.5 Ma (MIS 52) that marked a significant reduction in the ventilation of deep Southern Ocean relative to that of the Pacific during glacial intervals (Venz and Hodell, 2002). Wang et al. (2004) observe that δ13C maxima, which are recorded during MIS 13, MIS 27-29 and MIS 53-57, preceded each of these climatic transitions, thus suggesting that long-term changes in carbon reservoirs, which operate at their own ~500 kyr cyclicty, can modify the response of the climate system to orbital forcing. These δ13C maxima have been associated with changes in productivity, the oceanic “rain ratio,” and increased carbonate dissolution in the Indo-Pacific (Wang et al., 2004). In Chapter 3, based upon my study of hiatuses in the subantarctic Pacific cores, I suggest that these intervals, as well as a period of climatic amelioration known as the early Pliocene warm period, are also associated with an increase the strength of oceanic circulation. Considering that the Earth system is currently passing through a new carbon maximum event, which began at MIS 3 (~50-60 ka), improved understanding of the long-term carbon cycle is of particular importance, and as Wang et al. (2004) stress, without that understanding, the prediction future natural changes in global climate system is compromised.

    So just exactly how much of the CO2 increase is natural?

  38. E.M.Smith says:


    I happened to have known that GallopingCamel was an engineer, so your comment about not knowing much engineering seemed a bit brusque, but GallopingCamel seems to have shrugged it off, so, ok…

    BTW, there’s a lot more than a couple of hundred years of fossil fuels to be used and burned. See the newest posting where the video discusses the amounts of coal and natural gas we’ve got now (and don’t forget the methane clathrates we may be mining some day).


    Per ‘natural CO2 cycles’:

    Maybe it has something to do with the CO2 “lakes” being found on the ocean floor:

    Rare Carbon Dioxide “Lake” Found Under the Ocean, Scientists Report
    Richard A. Lovett

    for National Geographic News
    August 30, 2006

    A team of scientists based in Japan and Germany has found an unusual “lake” of liquid carbon dioxide beneath the ocean floor.

    I have to wonder just how they know these things are ‘rare’ when vast tracts of the deep ocean have not ever been explored by anyone… but hey, they must know as they are experts… There’s probably even a consensus somewhere..

    Shallow Lake

    Inagaki’s team found the lake while studying hydrothermal vents—undersea volcanic hot spots—in the East China Sea off the coast of Taiwan (map of Taiwan).

    The lake’s presence was unexpected, because the seamount lies only 4,600 feet (1400 meters) below sea level. At that depth, liquid CO2 is lighter than water and will slowly rise, eventually bubbling into the air as gas.

    Normally liquid CO2 has to be at a depth of 10,000 feet (3,000 meters) for it to be dense enough not to rise.

    In this case, Inagaki’s team says, CO2 has been moving upward from a deep magma chamber.

    As it nears the seabed, the CO2 encounters cold water in the top layer of sediment. It reacts with this water to form a type of ice called a carbon dioxide hydrate.

    The hydrate creates a cap in the sediment that traps additional liquid CO2 beneath it.

    So only in the parts of the ocean below 10,000 feet or 3,000 meters ought we to expect lakes of CO2 on the ocean bottom… and only near hydrothermal vents and anywhere else that happens to have cold enough water for “carbon dioxide hydrate” (aka clathrate) should we expect to find lakes of CO2 forming trapped beneath them.. That only makes it most all of the ocean bottom of the world…

    Or under any OTHER cold liquid blocking layer or…

    But despite all that, the IPCC is certain that all the CO2 changes come from us burning fuels… couldn’t possibly be those CO2 lakes on the bottom of the ocean that we only discovered a half dozen years ago, after all, the ‘science is settled’…

  39. George says:

    I didn’t make that comment, cementafriend did:

    “Gallopingcamel, seems you know little about Engineering. ”

    I didn’t say that.

  40. George says:

    Seems to me that one significant earthquake or a change in the eruptive conduit could all of a sudden release a huge amount of CO2.

  41. Pingback: Liquid CO2 On The Ocean Bottom « Musings from the Chiefio

  42. E.M.Smith says:


    Sorry, you are correct. Hard to keep track of it all some times… Got a mis-attribution as I read a bunch of comments in a row.. I’ve fixed the attribution in my comment above.

    Yeah, earthquakes, land slides, new volcanoes, change of continental drift rate, change of ocean level causing changes of stability, sea floor uplift, …

    We have no idea what is driving the CO2 dump from the ocean at any one time…

    Oh, and meteors hitting the ocean floor too. Hey, it happens…

  43. Sorry Gallopingcamel. You know more about optics than I do. Thanks for saying we think alike on somethings. I appreciate Perry’s Chemical Engineering Handbook and hope I understand CO2 and its reactions. However, have you seen this and this So-called climate scientists of the AWG persausion seem to like photons which they use to justify backradiation. The whole thing falls down if photons do not exist. This would be in keeping with the findings of engineering research such as by the late Prof Hoyt Hottel (
    I am trying to learn more recently bought a book on string theory (the shape of inner space by Shing-Tung Yau, I always liked maths)

  44. gallopingcamel says:

    That wave-particle duality thing stumped Albert Einstein so don’t expect too much from me.

    You may appreciate the thoughts of Professor Gilbert Stead who created a rousing ditty for physics students to sing while imbibing adult beverages:

  45. H.R. says:

    @gallopingcamel (14:22:21)

    Great link! Thanks.

  46. George says:

    Or a ship sinking or a cable being laid or a local EQ or just about anything.

    I imagine that the 500k year cycle is just a building up of these reservoirs of CO2, then the ocean farts, then they build up again.

    There have also been some spectacular volcanic eruptions in that time, too. More than a few VEI7 and VEI8 events have occurred in that time. In fact there are two VEI8 events roughly in this time period: Toba and Lake Taupo, Taupo Volcanic Zone, North Island, New Zealand—Oruanui eruption. You have to go back 250K years to find another and then 600K years to find the next (that would be Yellowstone)

    There have been 8 VEI 7 events in that period and you have to go back to about 250K years ago to find another such cluster of them.

    One that really interests me is this one:

    Campi Flegrei, Naples, Italy—39,280 ± 110 years ago (500 km³)

    That one spread ash all the way to the Don river in Russia. It would have cut a swath through modern human migration routes. It created a “dead zone” over 50 miles wide in parts of Europe. Animals could not migrate across it. Before the eruption you find evidence of human habitation with Mousterian technology often associated with Neanderthal, then a 3 meter layer of ash, no habitation for 2000 years, and then you have habitation with technology associated with modern man.

    I am willing to bet that the eruption in Naples did more to wipe out the Neanderthal (and their food sources) than anything else. Western Europe was pretty cold 40kya. Animals such as European bison probably migrated along the East of the Alps from what is now Germany to the Czech Republic, through Slovakia and across Hungary to warmer winter grounds just as the American Bison would migrate across the plains of the US. The Neanderthal probably followed the herds just like our plains tribes did. This volcano would have hammered them and if it caused a drop in temperatures, would have possible frozen many to death.

  47. George says:

    What is really interesting in that waddel dissertation is on page 71 and 72 of the PDF where evidence is found of increased ocean circulation during warm periods as opposed to decreased as some have proposed. There is no evidence warming would shut down the “conveyor belt” and there is evidence to the contrary according to apparently circulation when temperatures were warmer. This might, however, cause an increase on ventilation of the abyssal deep resulting in more CO2 being emitted by the ocean.

    Sea water generally picks up CO2 as it sits at the bottom of the ocean and releases it to the atmosphere at upwellings.

  48. E.M.Smith says:


    Yup. “Ocean ventilation dumping CO2 to the air” is exactly opposite from the ‘warmers’ CO2 going into the ocean model, so it must be right ;-)

    (Only half joking… they have so much ‘exactly wrong’ that it’s a productive path to take to simply invert anything they say and investigate to find actual mechanisms… )


    I have to second the vote for that link. Love the song, and also think I’ve finally got a handle on why Plank mattered so much (other than my physics teacher said so and I had to memorize his stuff ;-)

  49. Judy F. says:

    It seems that there is an assumption that any glaciers in the impending ice age will rebuild in the places where they grew before ie: New York, Chicago etc. Is there a mechanism that keeps them in the Eastern US, or could they grow in the Central US or even the upper West Coast? (I am just using the US as an example.) I know that the Eastern US has higher humidity and available moisture, so I am assuming that it would help in glacial formation. Any other contributing factors, like terrain or prevailing wind patterns? Or is it just the luck of the draw?

    Not that I will be around to see it, just wondering…

  50. George says:

    Different glaciations have seen the maximum extent in different places. First of all one must understand that ice under that kind of pressure is a fluid. The main center of the ice was up around Hudson Bay so that is why you see the maximum extent in the midwest. It would have spread out like a blob. So you see it spread down across the great lakes. A previous glaciation got all the way down into about the middle of Missouri before it finally stopped.

  51. E.M.Smith says:

    @Judy F:

    It is also driven by available water ‘up wind’. That’s why you get more in the eastern US than in Russia. A big chunk in the middle of Asia gets wind from a long ways away and by the time it gets there, not much water left.

    Frozen ‘lenses’ of air slide off the north pole and head down over North America. These get slewed off to the east by the Jet Stream where they hit warmer moister air pulled up from the Gulf. Result is lots of snow.

    Thats part of why Bend Oregon can be in a near desert and why there is a desert just over the border in Canada at about the same distance from the ocean. Not much water makes it over the mountains,… and can’t suck any up from further down south.

    Just take a look at two things in stead of one. It’s not just cold. It’s “cold with warm moist air blending in”.

    Northern Europe gets glaciers for the same reason. Cold air off of the arctic, but also the moisture delivered by the Gulf Stream… So Scotland gets glaciated as does Norway / Sweden. But not Poland… (or not all of it ;-)

    At one point someone pointed me at a great paper that explained all this, and I’ve saved the paper and the link to it… somewhere… but it would take me a while to find it. (If I’m lucky they will repost the link ;-)

    IIRC, it was mostly the lenses of cold air sliding off the pole and going under a moist overlayer from elsewhere, but with the lenses steered by mountain ranges and jet winds. It restricts where the cold and water can intersect.

  52. Pete says:

    E.M. , As requested:
    The link to the paper by Marcel Leroux ,(1938-2008 – Professeur émérite de climatologie à l’Université Jean-Moulin – Lyon, France)

    Click to access Leroux-Global-and-Planetary-Change-1993.pdf

    Your reaction was at 2011/11/02 – (12:19:42) : in the comments of :
    In a perfect world anybody discussing weather & climate should have read : Marcel Leroux ‘s “Dynamic Analysis of Weather and Climate” . The second English edition was completed in May 2008 and published in 2010, two years after his death:

  53. Judy F. says:

    @ George, EM and Pete,

    Thanks to all for answering my question. It was what I thought, just didn’t know if I was looking at all the contributing factors. If you look at the terrain and the lack of trees in our area, I can just imagine what it was like here during the last ice age- cold, dry wind scouring the countryside. The grasses are the only things both flexible and brave enough to grow here. Just last night we were looking at a picture of our town, taken 90 years ago. There wasn’t a tree in sight. Even today, you can stand in one place and turn 360 degrees, and in any direction, with the 10-15 mile view to the horizon, the only trees you see are at a farmstead.

    Technically we are a zone 5 on the USDA plant hardiness map. But unless I plant something on the south side of a building or windbreak of some kind, I am not comfortable planting anything that is not hardy in zone 4. Not so much because of temps, but because of wind and winter dessication. At times, when the temps get to zero degrees F and below, the relative humidity gets into the single digits. There are times that our snow doesn’t melt when it is really cold, but rather it evaporates. You know, freeze-dried snow. :)

  54. E.M.Smith says:

    @Judy F:

    has a nice set of maps of the glacial period. Ice extent and type of plants, along with desertification. All that neat stuff.

    North America in the last 150,000 years is here:

    This one is a vegetation map of just before the last glacial ended. That’s what we head back to in a couple of thousand years (and reach some tens of thousands after that):

    Taiga and grasslands cover much of the “heartland” with forests as you get to the coasts.

    While Canada becomes an ice sheet, Mexico gets woodlands and grasslands along with “scrub”. A big improvement from desert… at least if you are trying to farm and eat.

    The ‘granularity’ needs some work, as it shows Arizona in that scrub and woodland type, and we know that the desert there has persisted through the last glacial… Maybe they count palo verde and saguaro as ‘scrub’ ;-)

    To me, it looks like we get a ‘squashed’ version of what is today Canada… So look north of you to about the same position inside Canada. That’s what you get, as a first approximation. (South border of US to south border of Canada; north to north; middle to middle…)

    Hope that helps. Let me know in a dozen thousand years how close I came ;-)

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