Doubting Oxygen Isotopes

The “settled science” is that simply looking at the O18/O16 ratio tells you what the temperature has been. (I’m leaving off the “sigma” in front of the isotope names as it’s a PITA to look up the Unicode for it and type all the escapes to get it printed – Oh for a keyboard with dual Latin / Greek and with all those strange fiddly bits Europeans use to decorate their letters ;-)

At any rate, we just accept that the ratio tells the temperature, unadorned.

It doesn’t.

The question is “by how much” is it recording non-temperature things?

That, IMHO, is one giant Dig Here! One I can’t do right now (reality constraints – I need to work more on getting money and less on brain food). But I can still “admire the problem” and see if other folks have an interesting point of view on it.

First up, what brought this on?

Musing on Rain

I was pondering the recent rains. The globe has gotten a whole lot more wet lately. Flooding all over the “near equatorial” region. Decent snow pack “up north”.

The places with low rainfall tend to be those where the local geography interacts with the local (typically cold) offshore waters and the increased “loopy jet stream” (‘deeper’ Rossby Waves). Places like California.

California has a long history of cyclical droughts. Another “dig here” would be to see how closely they map to other natural cycles and how that package maps to hot / cold cycling. In the Midwest there is a long history of some areas having significant drought during different times. Some areas are ‘perverse’ in that they get more drought during hot times. Others get more drought during cold times (when you would expect the air to carry less water). The Rossby Waves tend to ‘stick’ for a little bit in certain configurations (likely due to the mountains and differential enthalpy heat available over oceans vs the Rocky Mountains). I would speculate that this might be the cause of relative enrichment of rainfall on places, like the South East of the USA, that are often under a “loop” headed north from the Gulf of Mexico water supply; while in California such a “loop” heads north from the Desert South of us or is fed air from a relatively cold off shore current – so little to supply rain. We get rain from two major sources. Storms that come down off the North Pacific / Gulf of Alaska where they loaded up on water from the warm Japan Current or, during times of a “Flat Jet Stream” from the “Pineapple Express” winds that occasionally will rip in off the middle Pacific Ocean.

Ocean Gyres

Ocean Gyres

So, IMHO, that’s why we often have different responses of California and related areas vs “Back East” to generalized “warming” or “cooling” of the planet. Or, more precisely, to the alternate “flat” vs “loopy” configurations of the jet stream. (The jet stream shape / Rossby waves likely depend in turn, IMHO, on Solar UV output changing atmospheric “height” via stratospheric and nearby layer heating and Ozone formation). But back at oxygen…

So we have these histories of “hot” and “cold” that show up as excess rains in some places and excess droughts in others. They also show up in Isotope Ratios. O18 vs O16.

Or do they? That’s the big question… One I can’t answer yet, but one on which a whole host of other presumptions about past climate rest.

Some time back I looked at the Carbon C12 / C13 ratio usage and found that we had more “speculation passing as data” than “well proven facts” about sources and sinks of carbon and their relative isotope ratios. (We just learned about “gut rocks” in fish being ‘pooed’ into the deeps, and we don’t know the isotope ratio of past already burned oil, natural gas, and coal; where each deposit has its own particular range of ratios, BTW… Oh, and there are gigatons of bacteria all eating anything that comes along in the sea or soil, many of which consume oil and methane and put it into the biosphere. We don’t know how much. So even the notion that oil and gas derived C is ‘non-biological’ is wrong on the face of it. It needs a number. One we don’t have. )

That all left me wondering if there might be similar issues with the Oxygen Ratios.

In particular, the question:

“Does the Oxygen Isotope ratio tells use more about COLD or about RAIN?”

We already saw that large quantities of Silicate dissolves into the ocean, adding its oxygen to the mix. Similarly ancient carbonates dissolve as do sulphates and a host of other mineral sources of Oxygen. Erosion is a strong influence on what enters the ocean, and how much is ‘from living things vs. not’ is ‘up for grabs’.

The basic process in making ice core oxygen is that O18 is heavier, so doesn’t evaporate as well. From the start, more stays in the ocean, less gets into the clouds. Then we have rain. O18 condenses out first, leaving more O16. So much that some hurricanes can become substantially depleted in O18 before they are done as the water is ‘recycled’ a bit from cloud to ocean surface back to cloud.

As an air mass moves from a warm region to a cold region, water vapor condenses and is removed as precipitation. The precipitation removes H2-18O, leaving progressively more H2-16O-rich water vapor. This distillation process causes precipitation to have lower 18O/16O as the temperature decreases. Additional factors can affect the efficiency of the distillation, such as the direct precipitation of ice crystals, rather than liquid water, at low temperatures.

Due to the intense precipitation that occurs in hurricanes, the H2-18O is exhausted relative to the H2-16O, resulting in relatively low 18O/16O ratios. The subsequent uptake of hurricane rainfall in trees, creates a record of the passing of hurricanes that can be used to create a historical record in the absence of human records.


So one immediate “issue” is that we might be seeing the result of “rain / huricane fractionation” of the isotopes in Ice Cores in places like Antarctica and Greenland. Just HOW MUCH was there hurricane like isotope fractionation before the water that ended up in that ice was deposited? We don’t know. We could speculate that it would be similar to today. That generally the effect would be similar. But in the case of a climate history, we need a size not a general speculation. How big were the hurricanes in 250,000 BC? Did they follow the same tracks? Was the isotopic fractionation the same? (In degree AND in location).

Now, notice one other bit from that quote: “Additional factors can affect the efficiency of the distillation, such as the direct precipitation of ice crystals, rather than liquid water, at low temperatures”. Oh Dear. Now we need to know how much fell as snow, hail, sleet vs rain. When did the average storm, headed to deposit snow on the ice sheets, shift from making rain to making solids? Off shore? On shore? Can the ice sheet EVER record the ocean isotope ratio OR the atmospheric ratio? We know that major storms fractionate the ratios (vis the use of O16 depletion to mark the local passage of hurricanes) so how can we say it does NOT just show the “average of hurricanes”?

Makes it look like we just did a direct correlation of present temperatures vs Deuterium, called it causality, and then extrapolated. (Yes, I ought to ‘dig in’ to the prior original paper, but as noted, I’ve got real work to do or I start getting skinny ;-) so that will have to go to someone else to prove / disprove.) Deuterium acts very much like O18, only being even heavier, deposits even more strongly. Differential distillation is how we make “heavy water”.

From the article, it looks like Deuterium was used as the proof, then O16/O18 calibrated off of it (but that, too, needs a ‘dig here’ to demonstrate).

3311 m suggests that the Vostok climate records may be disturbed below 3311 m. Thus, discussion of the new data set is limited to the upper 3310 m of the ice core. Petit et al. (1999) reported an ice recovery rate of 85% or higher and a measurement accuracy of ± 0.5°/°° Surface Mean Ocean Water (SMOW). The temperature estimates are based on both experimental and theoretical arguments. One of the fundamental arguments used in deriving this temperature record is that the deuterium content distribution is well documented over East Antarctica and over a large range of temperatures (-20° to -55° C); thus, there is a linear relationship between the average annual surface temperature and the snow deuterium content. The slope of this δD/surface temperature relationship was found by Jouzel et al. (1993, 1996) and Petit et al. (1999) to be 9°/°° per °C. Further details on the methodology are presented in Jouzel et al. (1987), Lorius et al. (1985), and Petit et al. (1999).

One is also left to ponder what can “disturb” a nice stable Antarctic Ice Record below 3311 m but that’s for some other day…

The major point I’m making here is a simple one: Extrapolation of current isotope ratios to past temperatures assumes that the weather and storm patterns then are as they are now and so result in similar “slope” of the deposition curve (and that there is NO ‘fractionation’ happening ‘up wind’ as the storms approach). Has that been proven? Is it ALSO true of Greenland?

In essence, we are presuming past weather was the same as now to show that past climate was different. I find that a bit odd.

It might well be that we can show the “Hurricane Effect” is so narrow and short span as to be something that can be ignored; but near as I can tell that has been left as a “loose end” and is just assumed.

Bugs Bugs, Glorious Bugs

But Wait, There’s MORE…

It turns out that, the more I look, the more I find life itself is involved in the whole isotope game. For carbon we found it acting near sub-ocean vents of methane and volcanic vents, sucking in the ancient carbon as fast as it could and putting it into the food chain. The argument that the carbon ratio of fossil fuels is “ancient” while that of life is “new” fails on that point. Also on the point that deep in the rocks of the earth we find bacteria. More life exists inside the crust than on top of it. Life that eats a variety of things, including rock itself. Releasing C and S and other elements from those rocks. And if those rocks have Oxygen being released, too? Hmmmm….

So for both carbon and oxygen the question of “What is life doing?” matters. Are we “fixing gases” into solids? (Like those “Fish gut rocks” were Carbonate – CO3 – is precipitated. With what preference for isotope ratios?) or are we liberating it from rocks? (As bacteria break down Sulphate – SO4 – and release it). Again, we just don’t know. Life is known to have isotopic preferential reaction rates. So what is the relative rate of biological fixation vs release of the isotopes? Unknown.

(Some characters in the original are shown as question marks. I think they are likely a Greek letter and probably a sigma. Another ‘dig here’ if only a small one)

, markedly decreased d18O values of NO3 � and SO4 2� in forest floor water suggest that microbial processing occurred in organic soil horizons. Similarly low d18O values of NO3 � and SO4 2� were observed in forest floor and mineral soil leachates, groundwater, and streams. Over the winter observation period, most of the NO3 � and SO4 2� in stream water was from a watershed-derived source, whereas atmospheric contributions were relatively minor. Despite differences in soil water NO3 � concentrations between watersheds, the isotopic composition of NO3 � (d15N-NO3 � , d18O-NO3 � ) was similar, and indicated that in both watersheds most of the NO3 � was produced by nitrification in the forest soils. Although there was likely some contribution of SO4 2� from microbial oxidation of carbon-bonded sulfur, most of the stream water SO4 2� appeared to be derived from weathering of S- containing bedrock or parent material. The decreased d18O values of NO3 � and SO4 2� in upper soil horizons indicate that atmospheric deposition of N and S was not directly linked with stream water losses, even during winter and spring snowmelt. Citation: Campbell, J. L., M. J. Mitchell, and B. Mayer (2006), Isotopic assessment of NO3 � and SO4 2� mobility during winter in two

The point here is very simple. Two things are confounding the isotope ratios:

Life is playing with isotopes.

Erosion of soils and decomposition of rocks matters.

So we have to ask: How much is the isotope ratio showing the COLD and how much is it showing the RAIN / Erosion?

How much is LIFE changing those ratios in the surface runoff that takes 3000 years to reach the ocean bottom?

Does covering 1/4 of the planet with a glacier and causing a semi-desert in the rest introduce some kind of systematic bias?

Is there a hysteresis shown in the ‘entering’ vs ‘exiting’ an ice age glacial? (And what might that tell us).

In Conclusion

I’d hoped to make this longer and more detailed, with a better set of conclusions, but as I’m not a paid researcher on the Government Dole getting $Million Dollar wet kisses from the Elite Socialists who run the NGO handouts for politically correct results process, I can only do what can be done ‘for free’ (and for truth…)

So we have to end here at questions.

The general point is that the notion that we know the past was COLD vs WET rests on assumptions. Many of them. Assumptions about the role of erosion. Assumptions about the impact of life and how much of it there is at any one time. Assumptions about weather in the past.

This might not matter so much except that as we’ve take a turn to the cold/wet side, the Warmistas are all hollering that it is hotter than ever and that the snow falling in Europe is because it’s hotter in the arctic. (A particularly stupid kind of thinking, IMHO, but ‘it is what it is’ to quote Paul, my Mechanic… a particularly bright fellow, btw. So put down “It is what it is. Paul The Mechanic” as one of your truth touchstones…)

So lets just speculate for a moment. We look at an ice core and find it has very high O16 in it (so the air must be very depleted in O18, so it must be “very cold”) and we find the ice thicker (so it must be snowing alot, so times are colder)… that’s per the present ‘received wisdom’… But what if the reality of those past ice cores is that the thick snows and depleted O18 are due to LESS arctic ice, so the storms cycle the water a bit more depleting O18 and then dump a load of snow?

What if the past “cold” is really measuring past rain, erosion, and level of life?

In essence, what if the past “very cold” times were exactly as they are now, but we just got screwed up on the details of how the isotopes report things?

Are we using “different rulers” to measure PAST “cold events” vs present cold events, so getting different results?

So that’s the question. I’ll leave you with some links and one or two other minor observations.

Has a load of interesting links / citations at the bottom

That wiki on oxygen isotope ratios includes:

Limestone is deposited from the calcite shells of microorganisms. Calcite, or calcium carbonate, chemical formula CaCO3, is formed from water, H2O, and carbon dioxide, CO2, dissolved in the water. The carbon dioxide provides two of the oxygen atoms in the calcite. The calcium must rob the third from the water. The isotope ratio in the calcite is therefore the same, after compensation, as the ratio in the water from which the microorganisms of a given layer extracted the material of the shell. The microorganism most frequently referenced is foraminifera.

Which has an important implication. As various limestones get subducted and volcanically turned back into lava and CO2 gas, the oxygen isotope ratio released into the air will depend on what it was millions of years before. Similarly, ancient limestone erosion and weathering will put “non-biologic” carbonate into the environment (both the C and O isotopes) As the Pacific Ring Of Fire is one of the major subduction zones on the planet “this matters” as things will be ‘time synchronous’ for much of the subducting rock. We need to put a number on it to know “how important”. An irrelevant fractional percent, or not? (My guess would be irrelevant, but that’s a guess…) “What is the total volcanic O production and with what isotope ratios? With how much dependent on prior depositions?” needs to be asked, and answered.

Look at the history of past ocean isotopes. Rock deposited “then” will have a different ratio than “now”. If we are suddenly starting to decompose a different set of rocks, with a different ratio, then there will be biases introduced into the releases that end up in the snows.

65 Million Years of Inferred Climate from Actual Isotope ratios

65 Million Years of Inferred Climate from Actual Isotope ratios

Look at that for a minute. We have a very long term increase in O18. Near the middle, the Antarctic thaws and that moves it all of 1 point. What moved it the other 4 points from “0” to “4”? Now, from the text, we find that the “zero” is the present value:

This figure shows climate change over the last 65 million years. The data are based on a compilation of oxygen isotope measurements (δ18O) on benthic foraminifera by Zachos et al. (2001) which reflect a combination of local temperature changes in their environment and changes in the isotopic composition of sea water associated with the growth and retreat of continental ice sheets.

Because it is related to both factors, it is not possible to uniquely tie these measurements to temperature without additional constraints. For the most recent data, an approximate relationship to temperature can be made by observing that the oxygen isotope measurements of Lisiecki and Raymo (2005) are tightly correlated to temperature changes at Vostok as established by Petit et al. (1999). Present day is indicated as 0. For the oldest part of the record, when temperatures were much warmer than today, it is possible to estimate temperature changes in the polar oceans (where these measurements were made) based on the observation that no significant ice sheets existed and hence all fluctuation in (δ18O) must result from local temperature changes (as reported by Zachos et al.).

Now contemplate that for a moment. Today is ZERO. But when Antarctica was melted and gone (so presumably it was warmer than today) the number was about 1 3/4 or 1.75. I.e. close to 2 out of 4.

So… how do we get 1/2 of the present value when it was warm enough to melt Antarctica (while today Antarctic ice is growing)?

How can WE be twice as hot as then? Yet adding Ice to Antarctica?

Something is wrong in the O16 / O18 ratio thesis. What, exactly, is a “dig here”… as is what does it mean…

My speculation is that it is confounded by rain and life and rain driven erosion.

In talking about this graph:

Phanerozoic Climate Change?

Phanerozoic Climate Change?


On geologic time scales, the largest shift in oxygen isotope ratios is due to the slow radiogenic evolution of the mantle. A variety of proposals exist for dealing with this, and are subject to a variety of systematic biases, but the most common approach is simply to suppress long-term trends in the record. This approach was applied in this case by subtracting a quadratic polynomial fit to the short-term averages.
As a result, it is not possible to draw any conclusion about very long-term (>200 Myr) changes in temperatures from this data alone. However, it is usually believed that temperatures during the present cold period and during the Cretaceous thermal maximum are not greatly different from cold and hot periods during most of the rest the Phanerozoic. However, recently this has been disputed by Royer et al. (2004), who suggest that the highs and lows in the early part of the Phanerozoic were both significantly warmer than their recent counterparts.

In other words, we just fudge the data based on a “wiggle fit” and then say “warm was warm about like now and cold was cold”.

Somehow, the more I “dig here” the less satisfied I am about what the Oxygen Isotope ratios have to say. In short time periods they are subject to local effects like hurricanes. In long time periods, erosion (and thus a dependence on rainfall rates) along with “radiogenic evolution” matters. Perhaps cosmic rays, too… So exactly when in that continuum of time scales is it an accurate thermometer?

How do we know that the present large snow falls are not the entry signature to a new glaciation? We are showing O ratios that say it is as warm as when there was no Antarctic Ice Sheet, yet the Antarctic ice is growing, and both Europe and New Zealand (and other S.H. locations) are getting increased snows. Could it not be that the increased precipitation rate is what is reflected in the ice cores, and THAT is the signature event about which we ought to care? The added snowfalls, not the absolute temperature?

Is all the hollering about “warm in the Arctic” getting it ‘exactly wrong’ due to the past “cold low O18” snows being from “warmer water cycling depleting O18 prior to snowing”? We could check the snows falling now, but near as I can tell that is not being done.

In short:

I don’t see oxygen ratios as a proven clean thermometer.

Present snowfall is more important than folks think as an indicator of “cold coming”.

More rapid water cycling in heavier rains most likely confounds Oxygen isotope history.

It all needs a big review and needs to be re-proven from the first assumption on up before we use oxygen ratios as a reliable thermometer. Right now it says we are too warm to have an Antarctic Ice Cap and I find that hard to believe… and the “wiggle fit” correction for that just as troubling.

Subscribe to feed

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...
This entry was posted in AGW Science and Background and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to Doubting Oxygen Isotopes

  1. A Team member’s first response to your headline:

    “O2, Bruté?”

    But in fact this is an interesting topic, and in paleoclimatology textbooks of a decade or more ago, they received a rather different treatment. It is apparently possible to airbrush a gas.

    I’ve got a reference I’m looking up anyway; I’ll post it here as well.

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

  2. adolfogiurfa says:

    The only we could affirm about isotopes is that they, relatively, tell us about radiation having caused them, how old? we do not know, worst if trying to define “temperature” (what is it temperature?). If consensual science is currently losing its former respected consensus and “Ex-cathedra” character we will have to wait until the fog disappears to see if somebody survived, or if all former “saints” were just statues built on mud foundations.

  3. L Nettles says:

    Leona Marshall Libby did a pretty good job with isotopes. I’ll lend you my copy of her book,

  4. I was hoping that the oxygen isotope ratio was one of the few things in climate science that meant something.

    You just pulled the rug from under my feet!

  5. Ian W says:

    This is an important phrase in your post. We could check the snows falling now, but near as I can tell that is not being done.. This goes to the heart of the problem with climate ‘science’. Someone comes up with a theory – the number of stomata in leaves tells us how much CO2 was in the air; the thickness of tree rings tells us how hot it was; the trace chemicals in stalagmites tell us how active the sun was; the O16/O18 ratio tells us how hot it was… etc etc.. Then based on that a spaghetti graph of often totally mismatching lines is created which are then wiggle matched sometimes by inverting them – “well yes when we said that equaled more what we meant was less..” – then statistics are used to bury the original data more deeply and tomes are written on how warm/cold/wet/dry it was.

    Yet for most engineers if someone had said we can use X to measure Y we would say lets try it then and validate that X does vary in proportion with Y and if we do try it we can actually produce some kind of metrology for values of Y for measured X. Of course one of the climate ‘scientists’ in the Climatic Research Unit of University of East Anglia (CRU) actually did that. Kept measuring the tree rings right up to close to the present day. And it was found (unsurprisingly) that tree rings actually don’t show temperature – everyone was in agreement that it had got warmer from the late 70s to 2000 and the tree rings showed ‘a decline’. Which like all good climate ‘scientists’ they immediately hid.

    There is a PhD waiting for someone who takes each of the ‘proxy metrics’ used by climate ‘science’ and validates them against actual measurements taken. Reliable metrics go back over 150 years now so each proxy could be validated. But we actually have seen the opposite. Beck went back looking at CO2 metrics taken by a multiplicity of laboratories and scientists – including Nobel’s in Chemistry – and found that the ice core proxies for CO2 did not match the several hundred metrics taken at the time by chemists. So climate ‘scientists’ to a man disparaged Beck _and_ the previous scientists believing instead their claim that the bubbles in the ice somehow remained pristine and precisely the air concentration at the time of being trapped. This despite CO2 being very soluble in water and known to diffuse in ice. The problem is that in climate ‘science’ today the metrics are massaged to fit the hypotheses and even then the data is modified or hidden like ‘the decline’ and as with Beck any attempt at validation results in vilification.

  6. adolfogiurfa says:

    @E.M.: A forbidden issue: If it would be for the scarce CO2 present in the atmosphere crops would die soon. This is why all farmers use up to 91% of all the Urea CO(NH2)2 produced as fertilizer. Of course they use it as a source of Nitrogen, but being the BODY of plants made of Cellulose, a polymer of glucose (C6H12O6), they need a lot of the anathematized and most sinful CARBON to build up their crops´bodies. As you may deduce Hydrogen and Oxygen are supplied by water (H2O), so with just water and nitrogen it is not enough. Farmers use also Humic acid (a benzene polymer, really being in practice a potassium humane, extracted by the alkaline leach of a “young carbon” called Leonardite) as a fertilizer. Official science says that all carbon is obtained from the scarcer source of it: The Atmosphere.
    So, if you are a cool, gay, intelligent liberal global warmer, you will have to realize that without carbon you won´t be able to eat not only your favorite chocolate but of wearing those expensive boutique jeans you wear but your nice underwear also. You would have to walk, as the King of the known tale: Naked.

  7. Scarlet Pumpernickel says:

    At CO2 levels of the early 1900s it actually was getting a bit dangerous for plants, at these low levels plants are starting to have problems if it would drop any further.

    But CO2 was up and down all the time.

    The uptake is underestimated. Using crude experiments hanging things in trees really it’s not known

  8. Scarlet Pumpernickel says:

    I love also how they keep saying how bad higher CO2 is for plants. People with Greenhouses know this is total BS

    Should O2 be increasing in the atomsphere due to the increased CO2 respiration? Water about H20, when “Fossil Fuels” are burnt, O2 and H20 are produced, where is all this H20?

    Also, this Horse getting smaller BS due to heat, ok, if CO2 is the only thing that controls climate, all the plants were getting bigger, so why was the horse getting smaller????????????????? When plants appeared and evolved on Earth, it is known for a fact that carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration was much higher than it is now. Then, the CO2 concentration was certainly above 1000 parts per million (ppm). Actually, the average CO2 concentration in outdoors air is about 400 ppm on the planet (not really true at your location). Thus, plants enjoy and are stimulated by breathing air with a higher CO2 concentration. That’s why so many indoor gardeners enrich their garden with CO2 during photosynthesis to supply the plants with this essential building material. Through photosynthesis, the carbon in CO2 is extracted and takes part in the building of leaves, stems, flowers and fruits. Proper CO2 concentration from early growing to fructification allows for faster maturation and larger yield.

    The benefits of CO2 enrichment are to reduce the time from seedling to harvest, and generally accelerate growth and augment crop yield. Plants also better resist some pests like moulds. Rutgers University compared Romaine lettuce grown outdoors and in a climate controlled greenhouse with CO2 enrichment. The results were clearly to the advantage of the indoor greenhouse grown lettuce. Romaine lettuce grown outdoors reached ready-to-market maturity in 62 days. In the greenhouse under a well controlled climate and CO2 enhancement, lettuce heads were ready-to-market in 48 days: a clear gain of 14 days to get to harvest. Also the greenhouse yield weighted 33 % more than field grown lettuce heads. Yield quality was more uniform and greenhouse heads were paid a higher price.


  10. E.M.Smith says:

    @L Nettles:

    Interesting person:

    Treemometer related link:

    We have obtained evidence that trees store the record of climate in their rings. In each ring the ratios of the stable isotopes of hydrogen and oxygen vary in proportion to the air temperature when the ring was formed because the isotopic composition of rain and atmospheric CO2 varies with temperature. In this paper the stable isotope variations of hydrogen and oxygen in a Japanese cedar have been correlated with the secular variations of radiocarbon measured in bristlecone pines by Suess (1970). We find significant negative correlations for both isotope ratios over the last 1800 years. The inference is that the small-scale (∼ 1%) variations in 14C concentrations in tree rings are related to climate variations. In our data we find periodicities of 58, 68, 90, 96, 154, 174, 204, and 272 years. Because our samples are averaged over 5 years each, we are not able to detect the 21-year sunspot cycle in the present data. The Suess samples averaged over about 25 years each reveal a periodicity of 183 years, in agreement with our periodicity of 174 years.

    I can see how Oxygen Isotopes can be used easily for relative temperatures especially “in one place” and “for short periods of time”. There will still be some ‘rain / cold’ crosstalk in the data, but in many places rain comes when it is cold and not when hot, so perhaps a bit of local calibration could ‘fix’ that. Interesting set of periodicities that are found. I have to wonder if there are really just a couple of cycles having ‘beat frequencies’ at the other points… Or of some, like the 174 vs 204 are just nodal points on a single cycle that wanders as the sun works its way through that complicated orbital “trefoil and not” pattern.

    It looks to me like we have a ‘near 60’ cluster of 58, 68 then a jump to ‘near 90’ with 90 and 96, a loner at 154 that’s got a 1/3 at 51 so might be composed of near 2 x 60 + 1/2 cycle. 174/204 is a known ‘set’, with the offset 1/3 of the ‘near 60’ cycle. 3 x 58 = 174 3 x 68 = 204 so matches a harmonic of the lower two cycles. 272? 204+68 = 272, so it’s just a 4x ..

    58 / 5 = 11.6 while 68 / 6 = 11.3 repetant 3. Both close to the “11 year” sunspot cycle that averages 11 years, by staying on each side of it and avoiding the actual 11… so clearly in the range.

    Looks to me like we’ve got clear weather cycling with the solar 11 year cycle, and then some “ringing” at higher harmonics of cycles.

    Got a title for the book you have? Might be easier for me to just look it up rather than arranging a ‘hand off’ (unless you are somewhere near San Jose… in which case a bit of time sitting in the courtyard of Gordon Biersch might be interesting ;-)

  11. Scarlet Pumpernickel says:

    “During the PETM itself a strange thing happened to some mammals: They got dwarfish. Horses in the Bighorn shrank to the size of Siamese cats; as the carbon ebbed from the atmosphere, they grew larger again. It’s not clear whether it was the heat or the CO2 itself that shrank them. But the lesson, says Gingerich, is that animals can evolve fast in a changing environment. When he first drove into the Bighorn four decades ago, it was precisely to learn where horses and primates came from. He now thinks that they and artiodactyls came from the PETM—that those three orders of modern mammals acquired their distinctive characteristics right then, in a burst of evolution driven by the burst of carbon into the atmosphere.” U know what it actually sounds like, there was a massive event, like a volcanic eruption, which first almost killed a lot of things, so resources shrank and the animals shrank, it wasn’t the warming, the warming came after the fact…

  12. E.M.Smith says:

    Every so often a large rock hits the earth. Wipes out the big things that can not get into a hole in the ground. Leaves all the little things that are hiding in holes. THEY form the basis of the next round. Between giant rocks from space, bigger is better as you get to do the eating and not be the eaten. Then a new rock shows up…

    Nothing to do with carbon. A whole lot to do with “island dwarfism” and what survives major impact events and the food shortage after them.

    Buy, borrow, beg, or dig a hole. Put food in it. Put rebar and concrete over it. Good for all commers: Storms, bombs, famine, stupid wars, rocks from space, etc. etc.

  13. DocMartyn says:

    The 18O/16O ratio in atmosphere O2 is 23.5% higher than in bulk seawater, this is called the Dole ratio as Dole worked it out in the 30’s.
    If nitrogen is oxidized in aqueous media is has a lower 18O/16O ratio than if it was formed by lightening or an internal combustion engine. Atmospheric generation of NOx by lightening or by man-made ammonium nitrate has a high ratio.
    Same with sulphur oxides, the main source of sulphur in the atmosphere dimethyl sulphide (DMS) and this is normally oxidized in both the atmosphere and in water. Volcanic emissions of sulphide and SO2 are mostly transformed to sulphates in the air. The oxygen atoms of sulphate has a very slow exchange rate with water, a t=1/2 of a billion years.
    The oxygen exchange rate of aqueous nitrate is complex, as you normally have other N-oxides and silicate present. Silicates catalyzes the interconversion of different nitrogen oxides.

  14. E.M.Smith says:

    @Doc Martyn:

    I have no doubt those numbers are true and correct right now. What concerns me is change over time. We’ve not watched this system long enough to have worked out all the bits… So take erosion. Loads of water derived carbonates are on land to erode and / or be cooked by volcanic action. One puts it back into the ocean, the other into the air. Or take silicates. All over the planet they are eroding. Or sulphur containing compounds. Some oxidize in air, some in water, then they enter living systems and get moved around.

    So now you have a choice:

    1) There is a fundamental process shoving us back to the same relative percentages.

    2) That mechanism is overwhelmed by other things and / or has a time lag that lets excursions happen.

    The first case has the problem of somehow explaining that long slow drift over time (from 0 to 4) and how we can have a zero now, but still have antarctic ice increasing. Not looking all that permanent a ratio…

    The second case means that until we identify those “things” we can’t really ascribe past O ratios to temperatures… This accounts for a “zero now, with Antarctic Ice”, but at the expense of admitting that the past is uncalibrated and we’ve got some explaining and calibrating to do before we can talk about past temperatures.

    In short: I can see how in short time intervals you can use oxygen ratios for relative temperature comparisons. In long cycle events, there are issues with the ‘wiggle match’ calibration. In short time periods we need to sort out the impact of local weather on bulk longer duration averages (as we KNOW such effects exist from the Hurricane Recording use… and just saying “it all ought to average out” is not good enough…)

  15. DocMartyn says:

    Chief, let me explain it in a way you can completely understand. You have a series of plots vs time; electricity usage, factory chocolate deliveries, ethylene glycol production and stamp sales.
    If the time plots didn’t tell you the season, you could have a guess.However, cities would present a problem; norther US cities use more power in the winter and those in the Southland use more in the summer. If you could just workout when Christmas is, you could guesstimate the location of different cities by annual power usage fluctuations and the power spikes that match the Superbowl and Christmas vacation.
    Chances are you guessitmate would be quite good. However, as long as you understand it is a guesstimate, you are doing fine.

  16. E.M.Smith says:


    Um, perhaps you can refrain from the condescending “in a way you can completely understand” and the amusing allegory that is orthogonal to Oxygen isotopes and just stick with what the facts are, how the conclusions are derived, and why the “issues” raised are not difficult to overcome?

    I’ve not said “it can’t be done”, what I’ve said is “In looking at how it is explained to have been done, I’m seeing some important unaccounted things.” An allegory will not remove those “unaccounted things”. Ever.

    Perhaps I can explain that in a way you can understand:

    You have a dog. It pees in the neighbors yard. You come home and the neighbor is pissed at you. You think it’s because of the dog. (But didn’t know he caught your wife with his wife…)

    BTW, my I.Q. is, well, “gifted” is one way to look at it. 99.9%+ off scale scores on just about every category but ‘clerical’ is another… So I think I can “completely understand” even big words in long sentences… as long as they are hooked together logically and don’t skip over important bits with unfounded assumptions…

    So, take for example the “hurricane depletion”. You can’t just say “O16 enrichment in Greenland shows temperatures fell” unless you can make an assertion about the rate of “hurricane enrichment rates” upwind from Greenland over the period in question. I’ve seen ZERO evidence that they did such a “look up stream”. Absent that evidence, their case is weakened. (NOT over turned, but it has a smear on the finish and a dent in the fender, to use an example you can “completely understand”…) As it stands, we know that there is what LOOKS LIKE a nice correlation. And we can ASSUME that the upwind enrichment is more or less that same in the past as now but we do not know that and at a bare minimum it needs to be in a footnote; preferably it ought to be stated as a “Needs study to raise confidence interval to acceptable values”. (And if already done, references ought to be cited.)

    It really isn’t all that hard to understand. Say what you know. State where there are things you don’t know. State what things you see as possible problems that have not been investigated. Investigate them. When you can state a proper confidence interval, do so. Until then, be suspicious. I’m sure you can understand that, if you apply yourself really really hard… I’ll even help you with the big words…

    (Yes, snitty of me. But folks, it is NEVER a wise decision to assume someone is dumb because they do not AGREE with you, and ‘need help’ to get it… It ends up sounding mean and snitty and nasty, just like my example above. Besides, usually it is the explanation that was lacking, not the listener. In my experience I’ve had a much easier time helping and teaching “dumb” folks than the “smart” ones. I’ve often learned more from them too… “Smart” folks make all kinds of ‘errors of assumption’ and cling doggedly to ill founded things they learned once and never thought through. “Dumb” folks make you show your work and often put a finger on just that spot where you did the hand waving… It wasn’t “dumb” folks who did cupping, blood letting, leaches, prescribed thalidomide, did Eugenics Forced Sterilizations, or founded Marxism… When someone who is obviously bright makes the mistake of condescension with me, I feel fully justified in pointing it out.. even if it does breach my usual ‘be polite’ and not snitty rules…)

    So, Doc:

    There are issues I’ve raised. So far all you’ve said, effectively, is “But it works” and not addressed the issues raised. I suggest citing some reference that shows how those issues were disposed, or that shows the issues are ill founded. I admit I could easily be wrong or worried about things that are handled in a subtle way (explained in some paper I just didn’t stumble upon). But I strongly suggest not saying, in effect, “Are you too dumb to get it? It works already…” when there are some clear loose ends (at least on a casual search).

    You might want to start with “why is a simple ‘wiggle match’ a good enough correction for longer term trends?” Be sure to explain why changes in volcanism and erosion rates over geologic time are either not important or have been allowed for in a ‘wiggle match’…

  17. Jim says:

    E.M.S – See the comment by Paul Dennis here:

  18. E.M.Smith says:


    Interesting link. Thanks!

    I can see one quick “possible” on how to make the data more usable. Do comparison matches of the ice cores to both near and far speleotherms. Once could also use local trees for part of the history to ‘back out’ the degree of ‘rain out’. But given the series shown in that article, it looks like there is one heck of a lot of noise for the signal level asserted.

    I found this one line of interest, too:

    “In interpreting such records in terms of changing climate, we are pushing the limits of these archives in terms of signal to noise ratio.”

    As that is roughly my ‘thesis’ ( or, more accurately, ‘complaint’) in this posting. There are a lot of ‘confounders’ in the isotope ratios and it looks like some of them are more nearly ‘assumed away’ than ‘carefully corrected’ (at least in the easily found examples)..

    That some of the folks in that link seem to have similar concerns is comforting. That means they are looking at them and may well have worked out a solution (or at least are working on one.)

  19. Jim says:

    It seems that sublimation in the polar regions would tend to concentrate O18 in the ice. However, I don’t have a handle on the sublimation rates and if they are large enough to be significant.

  20. Pascvaks says:


    About deposits of light and heavy O2(et whatever al;-): Looking at the first pic of Ocean Gyres, above, would it be reasonable to assume that geologic layers of O2 over time, or whatever other marker, in New Zealand and Japan would show similar (warm side) spikes and valleys, and Chile and California would show similar and different (cold side) spikes and valleys for fairly good climate variance determination in the Pacific? (East + West divided by 2 = Pacific Variation over time) And a ’similar’ determination could be made vis-à-vis N. America and S. America (warm) and Europe and W. Africa (cold) to get another graph for the Atlantic? etc.? Might this be a ‘proof of the pudding’ test to check current assumptions about oxygen isotope temp charts and long ago global temperature assumptions? Would this answer anything, or just be more of the same?

    Help –

    Ice is like glass isn’t it? It’s not really a solid solid and over time doesn’t the heavy stuff sink faster than the lighter stuff? Understand that at the deepest parts of the ice the oxygen isotopes aren’t very helpful. Might this be the result of heavy O2 sinking and light O2 rising? I guess they’ve already come up with a “flow chart” for how fast things go up or down, at what depth, temp, etc., and correct the graphs accordingly?

Comments are closed.