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Atmospheric CO2 Levels Over Geologic Time

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  1. Are you stirring up trouble again? :-)

    Those temperatures come from here; while the CO2 levels come from GEOCARB, a model of the carbon cycle on geological timescales.

    Inferring what the temperature was, hundreds of millions of years ago, is necessarily a very indirect enterprise, and Scotese and Berner’s assumptions are not necessarily consistent.

    However, Berner was a coauthor on a 2004 paper called “CO2 as a primary driver of Phanerozoic climate”, so we can look there for a conceptually unified account. The counterpart to the mashup above is that paper’s figure 2. In the end it’s not so different to Scotese, though it doesn’t have a temperature curve, just a bar graph indicating warm climate, cool climate, or glacial climate. The latter refers to any period in which there are polar icecaps, so even though we’re in an interglacial period now, this is still an “ice age” by the geological definition.

    In their discussion (page 6) the authors begin by saying that there is broad conformity between CO2 and temperature when it comes to glacial and nonglacial:

    “with low values (< 500 ppm) during periods of intense and long-lived glaciation (Permo-Carboniferous [330–260 Ma] and late Cenozoic [past 30 m.y.]) and high values (> 1000 ppm) at all other times. The late Ordovician (~440 Ma) represents the only interval during which glacial conditions apparently coexisted with a CO2-rich atmosphere.”

    Their take on the late Ordovician anomaly is that it was brief (less than 15 million years) and any temporary drop in CO2 that brief would easily be missed by GEOCARB. They say there *is* evidence of such a drop, but further research is required.

    I guess I’d also point out that the climate change which people are trying to prevent now barely registers on the chart above. The complete melting of the polar icecaps is generally considered the apotheosis of climate disaster, albeit something that would require centuries to occur; and polar icecaps were completely absent during the warm periods.

  2. We’re all gonna die.

  3. What’s the source on this?

  4. Robert,

    See the first comment. :-|

  5. Er… is my pattern recognition module malfunctioning or is there no relationship between CO2 and temperature in that graph?

  6. Thanks for posting the graph Michael. It demonstrates that on long geologic time scales CO2 has very little or no influence on global temperature. There are bigger processes at work. However, on the time scale of the next century I think there should be “some” concern about the build-up of CO2 and other anthropogenic “greenhouse gases”.

    The physics of radiative forcing and the models derived from such are quite sound (as sound as unstable non-linear models can be). The place where the models and the various apocalyptic warnings fall short is in the static or linear inputs. The modelers assume ever increasing use of fossil fuels through at least 2050, and in some scenarios through 2100 (see here: Particularly disturbing is the forecast of increasing oil production, which goes against the majority of findings from studies conducted by geologists and oil industry experts. Some experts think we have already reached the peak of world oil production.

    Due to the likelihood of lower fossil fuel production or the advance of new energy technology, I do not think the worst of “global warming” will come to pass. In fact, I think there is a serious mis-allocation of resources. There are much greater existential risks that deserve more funding and more attention than “global warming”.

  7. Whole lot of other variables changing on geological timescales that have affected climate too, like changing arrangement of continents, changing levels of other gases like oxygen, and changing brightness of the Sun itself! If you want to understand what effects changing CO2 levels will have on climate in the modern world, better to look at ice core data over the last few hundred thousand years when most of these other variables would not have been significantly different than today.

  8. My god! 20 years of peer-reviewed work have shown strong evidence for anthropogenic global warming, but in only one graph you’ve blown it out of the water.

    Those climatologists really are fools aren’t they? I reckon they’re being mind-controlled by big-government myself.

  9. I would just like to add a comment by Freeman Dyson regarding this “crisis”:

    “My first heresy says that all the fuss about global warming is grossly exaggerated. Here I am opposing the holy brotherhood of climate model experts and the crowd of deluded citizens who believe the numbers predicted by the computer models. Of course, they say, I have no degree in meteorology and I am therefore not qualified to speak. But I have studied the climate models and I know what they can do. The models solve the equations of fluid dynamics, and they do a very good job of describing the fluid motions of the atmosphere and the oceans. They do a very poor job of describing the clouds, the dust, the chemistry and the biology of fields and farms and forests. They do not begin to describe the real world that we live in. The real world is muddy and messy and full of things that we do not yet understand. It is much easier for a scientist to sit in an air-conditioned building and run computer models, than to put on winter clothes and measure what is really happening outside in the swamps and the clouds. That is why the climate model experts end up believing their own models.”

  10. I have been trying to get a “balanced” view of the climate debate for some time now. I am not a scientist although have undergrad quals in science from a long time ago.

    After trying to digest so much info for and against, my view is that the debate is focussing far too much on the cause of what appears to be recent warming of the planet (i.e. human or other of some combination of both) and not enough about what impacts to society, ecosystems etc may occur if the current apparent trend (of warming) continues.

    It seems to me that there is a lot of room for error on both sides (predicting the future with computer models and determining the history going back to 590 million years ago then deriving causes for smal time frames) and that regardless of the causes more effort and debate needs to be put into predicting the possible impacts of such warming. Practical solutions to these problems should be developed whatever the cause.

    Both sides predict future global warming – it boils down to when this might occur – and it seems neither has an accurate and reliable way of predicitng the WHEN.

    However it does seem to me that even in the geological time scale view there have been and will be localised ups and downs which are hidden in the low level of granularity in graphs such as the one above.

    There is one argument i have seen which seems to be posited by the climate change pundits via anthrogenic process, which is something like “we owe it to future generations to waiver on the pessimistic side just in case the climate models are accurate”.

    Well it seems to me that this probably applies to either argument.

    Perhaps both sides should agree and unite to form a better set of prediction models so we can take timely action which is pragmatic and will help reduce and manage the impact of what may ultimately be inevitable, together with gaining a better understanding of the real causes of and principal components of climate change, whatever they may be!

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  14. Od dawna szukaÅ‚em artykuÅ‚u na temat Accelerating Future » Atmospheric CO2 Levels Over Geologic Time . DziÄ™ki

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  17. Bob, you more or less nailed the problem, though I disagree with your conclusion. Both sides agree that warming *will* occur again. The points of contention are both “how soon” (as you point out), and “what should we do?” The latter point is the more important one since it affects policy, which impacts all of us. The current popular answer to those questions is “tomorrow, if not sooner!” and “everything possible to stop it!”

    Unfortunately the real question that both sides should be trying to answer is “How can we minimize the impact to our society, to our species, WHEN this happens?” or in other words “How can we prepare?”

    There is no question that we are in an exceptionally cool period, and that things are going to heat up a LOT — even if we (the humans) drop everything and return to the trees and caves. We cannot stop it. Over geologic timescales, we can’t even slow it down. We need to figure out how we are going to survive it, in terms of coastal flooding, food production, and so on. We should come up with a plan now, begin implementing it, and continue to refine it so we are as prepared as we can be when it “starts.”

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