Best Time I’ve Had in 15 Million Years

October 10, 2009

Science Daily reports on an online article published in the Oct 8 Science that CO2 levels haven’t been this high in 15 million years.  Yale Environment 360 picks up the thread.  This recent finding was unearthed by examining ancient marine algae, not tree rings.  (Yes, I know.  The tree ring data were used to reconstruct temperatures, not CO2 levels.)

“The last time carbon dioxide levels were apparently as high as they are today — and were sustained at those levels — global temperatures were 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit higher than they are today, the sea level was approximately 75 to 120 feet higher than today, there was no permanent sea ice cap in the Arctic and very little ice on Antarctica and Greenland,” said the paper’s lead author, Aradhna Tripati, a UCLA assistant professor in the department of Earth and space sciences and the department of atmospheric and oceanic sciences.

“Carbon dioxide is a potent greenhouse gas, and geological observations that we now have for the last 20 million years lend strong support to the idea that carbon dioxide is an important agent for driving climate change throughout Earth’s history,” she said.

387 ppm.  That’s quite a milestone.


  1. Sure there’s correlation, but little clue to causation except that temperature rise has preceded CO2 rise by around 800 years in the record we are somewhat sure of. I see no mention of any temperature reconstruction along with her CO2 record. There are a lot of other factors including Milankovich Cycles and changing land area and distribution besides CO2 to tie together before any sort of causation can be inferred. The outgassing of CO2 from warmer water and the arrow of time militate against CO2 having a warming effect for the record we have. This study seems to extend the known record, but the conclusions drawn by the journalist, perhaps not by Tripati herself, are not justified by the design or the results of her work.

    CO2 level also is related to vulcanic input, the weathering of carbonates, and the action of the sun on the biosphere. Whether or not our somewhat precipitate release of hydrocarbon CO2 will have harmful effects or not is yet to be determined, but ought to be determined. The ongoing dynamic effect of the whole system is for carbon to be semi-permanently sequestered by the sun and the biosphere leaving the earth in a relatively impoverished carbon dioxide environment.

  2. Congratulations, “kim”!

    Most concise repetition of discredited arguments in… 15 million years.

    • I invite the reader to explore these concepts. No one need bother telling me whether Ian has successfully refuted any of these assertions.

      • There are 15 million comments…..er, only 238 comments at Whatupwiththat.com on the thread about this study. Many more questions than answers.

      • kim, no need for me to spend time refuting you! It’s all a google / google scholar search away.

      • – more questions than answers at WUWT? You don’t say!

  3. are you going to join in? this is your own blog. or do just put header comments that interest you & have decided upon already?
    if so, what’s the point.

    ‘Carbon dioxide is a potent greenhouse gas, and geological observations that we now have for the last 20 million years lend strong support to the idea that carbon dioxide is an important agent for driving climate change throughout Earth’s history’

    evidence please for recent history not Earth’s history (i know enough to tell you that the atmosphere has changed slowly, countless times), misleading statements to say the least.

    Kim – ‘The ongoing dynamic effect of the whole system is for carbon to be semi-permanently sequestered by the sun and the biosphere leaving the earth in a relatively impoverished carbon dioxide environment.’

    can you clarify this statment?

    ps – where’s bender?

    • The sun working on the biosphere makes hydrocarbons and carbonates which are virtually permanently sequestered underground. This removes from the atmosphere and functionally removes from the carbon cycle any CO2 added to the system by vulcanism. The advantage is always to the sequestering process which is steady. I suspect we’ve repeatedly scraped the bottom of the barrel where the diminishing returns are and the weathering of carbonates sustains plant life. What the effects of this relatively rapid release of hydrocarbon carbon is unknown.

      • kim, you’re mixing time scales here, but it sounds as if you think they’re similar. Silicate weathering to remove CO2 is orders of magnitude longer than the time to burn hydrocarbons…

      • I’m perfectly aware that the anthropogenic carbon release from hydrocarbons is precipitate. That is an acute event happening over the chronic background of weathering and volcanic sources of CO2. Of course the time scales differ.

      • Okay, good to know.

        May I ask what volcanic sources of CO2 you refer to (or – maybe this is what you mean – volcanic sources over what time scale)?

      • I’ll invite the reader to wonder how long we’ve had volcanoes on earth. Or you could look it up.

      • That’s what I figured, kim, but I was trying to give you the benefit of the doubt. A couple of problems come to mind.

        First, the amount of CO2 annually emitted by volcanoes is dwarfed by human-induced emissions. Anyone with a library can take a look at the volcanic contribution (145-255 m tons), e.g., here:

        Gerlach, T. M., 1999, Volcanic gases, in Marshall, C. P., and Fairbridge, R. W., eds., Encyclopedia of Geochemistry, Encyclopedia of Earth Sciences Series, Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, p. 656-658.

        And the human figure, e.g., for 2006 (~33 b – yes, that’s billion – tons) here:

        Canadell JG, Le Quere C, Raupach MR, et al., 2007, Contributions to accelerating atmospheric CO2 growth from economic activity, carbon intensity, and efficiency of natural sinks, PNAS, v 104(47), pp 18866-18870, Nov 20 2007.

        (The Canadell et al paper is highly recommended, by the way, if you’re interested in the topic, but also as a demonstration of the difference in sophistication between good scientific research and “blog research.”)

        Second, kim, you say you’re aware of the different time scales involved, but you compare human-activity emissions with ALL volcanic emissions. Surely you realize that the CO2 emitted by every volcano that ever outgassed over the last 4 billion years is not still in the atmosphere. You must mean something else, right? You’re not hanging your hat on Khilyuk & Chilingar, are you? (The curious reader can look here for a more detailed rebuttal of what appears to be kim’s disastrous argument: http://www.springerlink.com/content/36w570322514n204/ ).

        kim, for someone who posts so often on climate blogs, you sure have a weak grasp of the science.

      • You seem to have a poor grasp of what I’ve written. You’ve haven’t written a thing I haven’t already said in my original post. The ultimate source of carbon has been volcanic, and most of that has been sequestered by the action of the sun and the biosphere. Of course, our precipitate release of the hydrocarbons is now greater than the volcanic production now, but is not expected to continue for very long.

        I repeat, the effect of our release of carbon is unknown, but has been exaggerated, most likely.

      • Look Ian, all I did in the second paragraph of my original comment was give a thumbnail sketch of the carbon cycle. You derided that sketch and when challenged to back up your derision you misunderstood and misconstrued what I had to say and then responded to your mischaracterization of what I said. This is unpersuasive rhetoric, my friend. For someone who posts on blogs, you sure have a weak concept of debate.

      • kim, I admit, it’s difficult to parse your posts. Your word choice and phrasing strongly suggest that you’re self-educated on climate-related science (this is not a compliment). As I have pressing work, I’ll now leave you to your hobby.

        Best wishes etc.

      • Oops, put my taunt at the end of the comments instead of here where it belongs. So, basically you haven’t discredited anything I said. It’s all very clear now, and good luck to you in your future endeavours. Next time try a little less snark and a little more content.

      • Thanks for those revealing rejoinders, kim.

        If anyone else really IS reading this, by all means, read up on the carbon cycle, and compare with kim’s take on it. If you’re not already, you’ll be left scratching your head about kim’s “content.”

      • OK, let’s see, I assert, you sneer, I invite the reader to look at the literature, you put up a strawman and beat it to a pulp, I sneer, you invite the reader to look at the literature.

        Well, now I agree with you.

    • I’ve been involved in wedding activities all weekend. Just got back. But since you ask, I do, also, think that the role of a blog is not only to comment, but also to keep note of interesting bits of research, to offer pointers to articles that say something particularly nicely, or to bring together several articles or essays that, side-by-side, maybe illuminate something. So yeah, I’ll probably also sometimes just point to articles that others may be interested in reading. That’s definitely how I find articles of interest.

  4. thanks for the reply/rebuke(deserved) Ben.
    i was out off order in my comment & missed the wedding bit, hope you had a good time.

    has reminded me to post only when sober.
    cheers & will now shut up.

  5. What, tired of discrediting arguments? Nyah, nyah a boo boo.

  6. What? Did google scholar search fail you? I invite the reader to explore the carbon cycle and compare what he/she finds with what I’ve said. Ian has resigned from educating you further.

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