Errors in CO² Emissions?

Is the Climate Change CO² Science Right?

A section of this post dealing with an alternative theory on how the Earth warms and cools naturally by re-radiating greenhouse gases was originally included in this post.  It attracted sufficient interest to warrant it’s own post here: Alternative Greenhouse Theory.

Science has historically not always got it right despite any “overwhelming proof” in their day.

For almost three decades the IPCC and its advocates have been saying that their scientists are right in declaring human kind responsible for causing dangerous global warming aka AGW – Anthropogenic Global Warming.   Not proven, but so near that they agree it IS indeed right. So right in fact that they are squandering literally trillions of dollars around the world still trying to prove it. They believe implicitly that excess CO² greenhouse gases (GHG) produced by mankind are warming the planet higher than natural processes.

According to climate alarm sceptics which include thousands of eminent scientists among them, they believe there is sufficient evidence to at least cast some doubts on the accuracy of many of the IPCC pronouncements, if not throw out the case for AGW completely.

The question is – could the IPCC actually be right?  This article will take a look at just a few of the disputed issues that relate to CO² emissions.

The Current Warming Trend

The mainstay of the IPCC argument is that mankind is responsible for the late 20th century warming trend.  But it’s important to understand that there is a natural warming phase going on right now anyway.

As we know, the planet goes through cyclical periods of warming and cooling. The Earth is currently on a natural warming trend following on from the last Little Ice Age.  Hypothetically, how long this warming cycle  would  have lasted without mankind’s contributions is anybody’s guess.

A Caution About Global Averages

The term “global average” is often used in public discussions of climate change to demonstrate negative trends such as rising global temperatures or the amounts of global CO² in the atmosphere.  But at the end of the day it is merely a statistical figure usually based on different specimens of different data from several different sources. Data is collected and manipulated in any number of legitimate methods by different people with different statistician skills to produce different outcomes – just select the one that suits your argument best.

Images from IPCC Summary for Policy Makers AR5 showing a 0.8°C global surface temperature rise since 1850 and a 0.2mm global rise in sea levels since 1900

The IPCC in their Fifth Assessment Report of 2014 (AR5) continuously mentions global averages  in respect of temperatures, CO² emissions, sea level rises, precipitation and so on.

To be fair they do acknowledge that temperatures etc at any given region may experience more, or less, or no effects of increased global warming in the future.  But it’s a passing sentence and you need to actually read the document rather than just skim through it. It really ought to be flagged more prominently.

But of course temperatures vary widely around the Earth depending on time of year, latitude, ocean and wind currents,   For example, the coldest inhabited place on Earth is arguably the village of Oymyakon in Russia where it can reach -45ºC, and the hottest inhabited is probably Death Valley in California USA where it can get up 56.7ºC.

Whether people could actually live independently of outside sources in places like these is another story. But in general, any given place will usually have a hotter or colder climate than the stated global average.

But let’s get back to the overuse of global averages … professional writers know that the written word (and diagrams etc) are often interpreted differently depending on the reader or their level of focus at the time of reading.

It’s not likely to be stretching things too far to say that the constant use by alarmists in using global average figures can lend itself to misconceptions in some lesser educated or inattentive people that it is going to get hotter where they actually live – or that extreme weather events are going to happen in their own region.

The bottom line is that if a media presentation keeps blathering about global averages and how negative it’s going to be, and which does not relate it to your geographical region then please let me suggest you turn it off. Such stuff is neither scientific or even sensible and is more about devotion to an quasi-religious eco-alarmism … or headline seeking.

Uncertainty Errors in CO² Emission Calculations

Scientists generally refer to an “error bar” or “uncertainty range” where an exact figure is not known.

So let’s take a common method of measuring an unknown distance by asking a group of people to give a visual distance estimate and call it a range of uncertainty or as in science, an error bar.  Now remove the highest and lowest distances and what’s left is your error bar or range.  Somewhere within that range the real distance should be located – hopefully. Now either centre or else average out between the highest and lowest to find what you hope is close to the real distance or to provide a baseline point.

Average atmospheric CO2 concentrations measured in the 19th and 20th century. Encircled are the values used by Callendar (1958). Redrawn after Fonselius et al. (1956).

In a very basic sense this is how scientists originally estimated the pre-industrial levels of CO² in the atmosphere as being 280 ppm. And that’s ignoring the many scientifically recorded measurements taken during the 19th and 20th centuries which indicated higher readings. And so it’s been used during pre-industrial times and then accepted by the IPCC when it first formed.

Obviously the methodology was more calculated than that but the principles were most likely basically the same.  But let’s stick with 280 ppm because it at least provides a kind of baseline.

If we assume the GHG theory as being correct, there can be little argument that humans have contributed to the current estimate of about 400 ppm of  CO² in our atmosphere.  Nor do scientists necessarily argue that CO² is at the very least a mild GHG – though of course there is diligent argument whether it is more than that.

Yet doubts have been cast on the previously accepted levels. Examination of glacier data has often been used to determine the levels of CO² concentrations in the atmosphere during the pre-industrial era, and they are also used for important calculations in climate change research.   For example, Messrs Jaworowski, Segalstad & Hisdal in their 1992 paper discussed this in their paper, “Atmospheric CO2 and Global Warming – A Critical Review, 2nd Revised Edition 1992″.

The report is believed to be the first critical review of CO² trapped in air bubbles in glaciers.   It reveals several errors in methodology and incorrect scientific assumptions which question the very validity of the AGW hypothesis. Some of the issues discussed include:

  • the subjective manner in which the value of 290 (sic) ppm was originally decided;
  • the siting of some of the observatories near volcanic activity and the methods used to edit the results;
  • the instrumentation and methods used to record historic thermometer temperatures; and
  • a new discovery of liquid found still trapped in air bubbles in ice under -73C that can significantly enrich or deplete CO² compared to an original atmosphere.
The projections of man-made climate change through burning of fossil carbon fuels (coal, gas, oil) to CO² gas are based mainly on interpretations of measured CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere and in glacier ice. These measurements and interpretations are subject to serious uncertainties…
Jaworowski et.al 1992

The Uncertainty Range of Volcano Effects

There have been some very big volcanic eruptions in recent decades causing all sorts of problems spewing out volcanic dust and CO². Major fractures, hot springs and geysers also vent CO². Over the last 10,000 years or so there have been around 1500 land volcanoes active.

The Kilauyea Volcano in Hawaii

Let’s take just one example. The Kilauyea Volcano in Hawaii has been active for a long time erupting on average about once per three years or so and is among the most watched in the world. Until recently it was thought to be emitting around 2,800 tons of CO² per day. In 2001 it was thought to be more accurately amended to 8,800 tons/CO2/day. In 2008 the USGS – the US Geological Survey changed it again to 4,000 tons/CO²/day.  That all makes for an uncertainty error bar of between 100% to 300%.

But compared to land volcanoes, not so much is known about sub-sea volcanoes which make up the majority on the planet. There are literally  thousands of them. CO² is the most common gas found in their volcanic hydro-thermals but rarely is it found in liquid form as well.

White smoking vents at the Champagne sub-sea volcano

In 2006 the Champagne volcanic site in the Mariana Trench was found to be discharging a 103°C gas rich fluid and droplets at less then 4°C of mainly liquid CO2 were also discovered. The hot fluid at a molecular level of 2.7 moles/kg of CO² was the highest ever reported. The droplets contained 98% CO². All of this CO² was being absorbed into the ocean before it had risen less than 200m. This site alone is estimated to be contributing 0.1% of the “global carbon flux” i.e. from all natural sources being sent into the atmosphere – and that’s a lot.

An example of a “global carbon flux”

See: Submarine venting of liquid carbon dioxide on a Mariana Arc volcano

Following the Champagne discovery there have been suggestions that perhaps sub-sea volcanoes may be contributing more to the global carbon flux than previously realized.  With so much uncertainty on volcanoes generally and other forcing (CO² adding) agents, how can the IPCC be so certain on the extent of mankind’s contributions of CO² compared to natural sources?

The bottom line is they can’t really know.  Very little of it is yet known. They are forced to make calculated, educated guesses and produce results that include error bars of uncertainty about accuracy. And the ranges of those error bars are also under attack by sceptics.

CO2 “Residence” Time in the Atmosphere

As of 2010 there was an estimated  780Gt of CO² of which about 210 Gt (25%) was believed to be exchanged between the oceans and land “sinks” e.g. plants etc. So how long does the remainder stay up there?

The IPCC estimates the “residence time” i.e. the time that CO² elements remain in the atmosphere before being reabsorbed or emitted to space is anywhere between 5 and 200 years or more. That’s quite a error bar range of uncertainty.  I have read where one alarmist advocate stated that the rates of absorption of CO² into the Earth varied widely depending on how it’s being absorbed e.g. by the oceans, land or sea biota.  Maybe that is possible.
See also: Working Group I: The Scientific Basis: https://www.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/tar/wg1/016.htm

IPCC AR5 2014 CO2 residence time chart

Other non-IPCC aligned scientists generally estimate a CO² residence time of between 5 to 10 years.

And the observed decrease in the radioactive carbon 14C in the atmosphere following the cessation of atmospheric nuclear testing in 1963 has confirmed the half life of CO² in the atmosphere at less than 10 years.  Incidentally, the 14C radioactive element can also be present naturally.
Source: Environmental Effects of Increased Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide

Unfortunately the IPCC tends to rely on a longer residence time in their computer models which consistently produce a higher global average temperature result by a given time e.g. 2020.
Also read:
Don Aitkin – How Long Does Carbon Dioxide Remain in the Atmosphere.

So if the non-IPCC aligned scientists and educated others are right, then the future temperatures following the currently observed trend is going to be more likely correct?

COMMENTS INVITED

Both the sceptic and alarmist sides of the climate change debate are prone to making exaggerated and implausible claims. So much so that it’s sometimes difficult to find the real truth about the alleged dangerous global warming being caused by humans aka AGW.

This site is about trying to find that truth.  However, these pages may at first appear to be on the sceptic side – but that is not entirely true. Information in support of AGW that can be proven from sources outside the IPCC will be accepted.

The information here is believed to be correct at time of writing. Comments to the contrary which can prove otherwise are welcome.   Only comments from rational people who can discuss AGW issues dispassionately and with common courtesy will be considered.

Sources: 

1. Climate: The Counter Consensus, Professor Robert M. Carter 2010.
2. IPCC Fifth Assessment Report 2014
3. Other Links as indicated in the text.

The Limitations of Climate Science

As a generalisation it would be fairly safe to say we tend to trust those who have expertise in a given field or topic to guide us. So when  some individual scientist pops up in the media somewhere to tell us something, then we’ll often tend to listen and take heed of any warning/s.  It’s what mankind has always done – for example the tribal witch doctor, ancient Greeks and oracles.

The power to sway the beliefs of the masses can be especially stronger today when it comes via multimedia and even more so if the information comes from a notable scientist or scientific organisation(s), or else ostensibly connected in some way to scientific research.

Yet you will often see TV media presenters bringing climate “experts” onto their show in an apparent effort to give some credibility or background information to a particular subject i.e. melting of the polar ice caps, glaciers retreating and so on.

Have you ever wondered about these people when they are so definite about mankind causing climate change? Have you ever wondered how much of the information is from their own expertise and how much is what they’ve learned from someone else? Are they really passing on real proven scientific facts or just what they believe to be true from information provided by someone else?

Or do you just accept what they are telling you?

The Scope of Scientific Research

To date despite the claims to the contrary, the efforts of the best scientists in the world have yet to find a definitive pointer that identifies mankind as the actual cause of dangerous global warming.

The subjects under scientific research are many but basically there are just a few categories from which most scientific fields branch. Each of these encompass a variety of disciplines and sub-disciplines, and can even branch further after that. The three main categories are:

1. Physical Sciences – studies of inanimate objects e.g. physics, chemistry, computers, engineering;
2. Earth & Space Sciences – studies of the natural processes of the Earth and space e.g. meteorology, geology, oceanography, atmosphere, solar system;
3. Life Sciences – studies of living organisms e.g. biology, anatomy.

The average person on the street might be forgiven for thinking that climate change scientists are primarily meteorologists or climatologists plus perhaps some others with supporting expertise.  But that would be only partially right.

The subjects relating to climate change actually diverge into more than 100 scientific sub-disciplines, the elements of which can be exceptionally intricate, highly complicated and intertwined.  Just changing one of the many data inputs e.g. the output chemistry of sub-sea volcanoes to a climate change puzzle can flow-on to incorrect or at least misleading changes in the final solution. And the answer will still be a “best probable” result – not fact.

No matter how acclaimed a meteorologist, climatologist, physicist, chemist or any other individual scientist may be, they will generally only have a partial knowledge or exposure if any, to other sciences that affect climate change.

At most there may be a handful of scientists that have mastery of two or three scientific disciplines such as Professor Robert M. Carter (decd) who was a qualified palaeontogist, stratigrapher and marine geologist.  Yet even if a scientist does have expertise in two or more of the climate change elements, he/she still needs to find and use data from other sources to cover the gaps in his/her own knowledge. Such data may in turn only be a “best probable” solution as opposed to fact(s) as will be explained further below.

Alternatively a scientist may collaborate with others from different scientific fields but at some point they will likely need to use other scientific “best probable” results, or use a form of scientific calculation where the data to be input is not known for example Bayesian Reasoning theorem – read educated guesswork.

It must therefore be obvious that there can be no such thing as an “expert” simply because no one can fully comprehend the entirely of it all.

This doesn’t stop the media, in particular the TV media in regularly presenting interviewees as experts to lend credibility to their show. But anyone who claims or admits to being an expert in climate change is either kidding themselves, egocentric or is being deceitful.

The bottom line is that when a supposed expert fronts up in the media – watch it guardedly or else switch the channel.   At the end of the day everyone, including the scientists themselves are basically amateurs when a topic is outside their own field of expertise – even if they are an educated amateur.

But having someone with at least some scientific background involved in climate change discussions has got to be far more preferable than pulling celebrities into the debate. These people despite their best intentions, are simply promoting their own views and muddying the waters for the public to make a realistic conclusion in their own minds.

So WHO Are The Climate Change Scientists?

Basically there are three different groups of scientists who look into the issue of climate change, and by extension mankind’s role in creating dangerous global warming:

Group 1 Scientists

  • are experts in various weather sciences such as meteorology, atmospheric physics, chemistry and computer modelling;
  • tend to study climate change over shorter periods of time i.e. the last 150 years of recorded temperatures;
  • have expertise in how weather generates and ultimately how climate is formed; and
  • are arguably the loudest in generating alarm about AGW and the warming of the planet.

Group 2 Scientists

  • are experts in geological earth sciences and in use of proxy data over long periods of time e.g. rock formations, fossils, ice core data, tree rings;
  • they look at climate history as it relates to climate today; and
  • generally see no real cause for alarm when comparing current climate with past climate.

Group 3 Scientists

  • are experts in enabling disciplines such as mathematics or statistics.

Bayesian Reasoning

Bayesian reasoning is widely used in science where some but not all the information is known.  It’s an important technique for statistics and especially in mathematics but it does not produce factual evidence.

At its simplest level it goes something like this:
1. a bag is filled with red and green apples,
2. three people are blindfolded and told to pull out an apple from the bag,
3. each pulls out a red apple.

The logical conclusion is that the bag must be full of red apples. This may be accompanied by an indication regarding confidence on the degree of probability e.g. 95% confidence that the bag is full of red apples.

In other words, “If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck and walks like a duck, then it must be a duck”!

Obviously the methodology is much more complicated but the logic remains pretty much the same. The theorem is widely used and is perhaps an acceptable scientific method in some circumstances, but what matters most is how the resulting answer was and is still being  treated as scientific fact.

In the example of the apples, if one were to loudly and unreservedly claim that the bag is full of red apples then that would be at best simply wrong, or at worst underhanded.

Yet this  sort of thing is exactly what is happening on both sides of the AGW – Anthropogenic Global Warming debate.  This Propaganda v. Science image shows an alarmist claim at left with a sceptic response at right.  Neither side yet understands that if you lie about something you will eventually be found out and lose credibility to your cause.

A classic example of misleading propaganda is the infamous Hockey Stick diagram produced in 1988 by pro-AGW scientists Mann, Bradley and Hughes. In that case they cobbled actual thermometer temperature records to the foot of estimations of temperatures calculated from proxy data over the past 1000 years and then extrapolated global warming out to the year 2000.  Then it was promulgated with a 95% high probabilty in being correct. In this case one of the major flaws in statistical calculations was to add real temperature records to assessed or calculated historical records using proxy data.

The Real Argument About AGW

For a scientist to formulate a reasonable hypothesis about AGW he/she would need to have some level of familiarity in all three groups – something which is nigh impossible. It’s therefore not surprising that there are differences between the various scientists and scientific fields using different “best probable” data so it should never be said that the science is “settled”. 

It isn’t. Not unequivocally – even though the IPCC offers what some might consider to be reasonable answers. Ultimately  the theory of AGW is still based on circumstantial evidence including calculated probabilities.

Apart from that all three groups of scientists generally DO agree that the Earth’s climate has always changed, that human emissions affect local climates e.g. urban areas and have a summed potential to affect climate globally, and that carbon dioxide is a mild greenhouse house – note the word “mild”.

The real argument then is not about whether the Earth is heating up, but about how relevant is AGW when considered against natural climate change processes.

Source: Climate: The Counter Consensus 2010, Professor Robert M. Carter.

The Hockey Stick Controversy

The Climate Change Hockey Stick
Was it AGW or not?

If ever there was a single “trigger” to galvanise the average citizens of the world to accept the theory on humans causing dangerous global warming, then it would have to be the Mann, Bradley and Hughes – MBH “hockey stick” schematic diagram.

The Hockey Stick Diagram

MBH constructed their first diagram from AD 1200 to 1900 by looking at 183 tree ring records from across the Northern Hemisphere on the assumption that the width of each ring was related to temperature as the tree grew.  There was some scientific fact to this. They then added actual thermometer records to project temperatures from 1900 to 2100.  Mann et al later reconstructed the hockey stick extending it back to AD 1000.

Figure 1: Michael Mann’s hockey stick schematic diagram

The diagram was originally published in Nature in 1998, revised and published again in 1999 in Geophysical Research Letters.  Mann went on to become one of the Lead Authors of the IPCC Third Assessment Report in 2001 in which an updated hockey stick diagram featured prominently. It also appeared in subsequent IPCC Assessment Reports in some form.

The IPCC Third Assessment Report of 2001 also included a comment that the 1990s was the warmest period during the preceding 1000 years, even though there was abundant evidence to the contrary.  Statements like these and the use of the hockey stick diagram, which by now was being severely questioned, became central to the promotion of AGW by the alarmist cause that humans were causing dangerous climate change.

Figure 2: The Hockey Stick as published in the IPCC First Assessment Report – Summary for Policy Makers 2001

This hockey stick diagram shown at Fig. 2 was constructed using tree rings, coral, ice cores and historical records.  The red line is a “smoothed” 50-year average. The grey lines indicates the degree of uncertainties i.e. a fudge factor which is up to 5% – give or take.  From 1860 to 2000 the line is averaged annually because of more certainty in the data and now including actual thermometer records. From 2000 to 2100 shows 6 computer model “baseline” scenarios which allegedly do not take into account current or future greenhouse emissions.

Understandably the hockey stick immediately attracted attention on both sides of the debate. At least 14 separate reconstructions were done by other scientists. They could use whatever collection of proxy measurement data sets they desired, but apparently were required to only use the proxy data sets provided by the IPCC. Similar results to Mann’s et al were produced leading to an assertion that burning of fossil fuels was causing immediate and drastic heating of the planet.

Climate sceptics proceeded to analyse it to death, from every conceivable angle. Some problems were immediately noticed:

1. That the temperatures on the “shaft” showed a fairly even temperature range from AD 1000 to 1900 (prior to industrialisation), unlike “normal” climate fluctuations e.g. compare Fig 1 & 2 over 1,000 years against Fig 3 over 2000 years, both of which represent primarily tree ring calculations.

Figure 3: Southern Hemisphere tree ring records with an even temperature range and no dramatic changes.

2. That the “blade” showing temperatures rising at such an alarming fast rate just begged to be double checked, especially since other records such as quality spelotherms (mineral deposits in caves) and tree ring data from the Southern Hemisphere hadn’t shown any similar temperature rise at in the late 20th century. This appeared to negate any global warming allegations.

3. Statistician trained scientists noted a basic flaw in statistical compilation in that assumed measurements from proxy data e.g. tree rings had been combined with actual thermometer records in the same diagram and used to draw an alleged scientific conclusion. Additionally there was doubt about the conditions under which those thermometer records may have been taken and may not be standardised.

Despite the claims from non-aligned IPCC scientists, other computer modelled hockey stick versions started appearing, not a few of which were highly exaggerated such as used by Al Gore in his “An Inconvenient Truth”.

Thus the dogma of AGW – Anthropogenic Global Warming started becoming widely accepted by the lay public. Anyone who did not believe in AGW were dubbed as “denialist” or “sceptic” and world opinion turned against those seeking better answers.

Any scientist labelled as such began to be stonewalled when trying to gain access to raw data from which to do further research, including as I understand it data about the Medieval Warm Period and Little Ice Age. If it could be proved that the temperature during the MWP was the same or higher than today it would negate the statement that the 1990s where the warmest in the last 1000 years.

I will explore this further in a later post.

Source:

Climate: The Counter Consensus, Professor Robert M. Carter 2010.