Two topics during the past week has seen some extraordinary announcements made in the news media (The Guardian for example), the most striking that average CO2 levels have increased in rate by more than 2 parts per million per year during 2002 and 2003 and this means runaway global warming!
Another moment of madness was the announcement that the dinosaurs were not killed off by a meteorite impact at the close of the Cretaceous 65 Million years ago, but were gradually becoming extinct millions of years before the impact.
Now as far as the rate of extinction of the dinosaurs is concerned, there is small problem of “data”, mainly to do with the fact that there is so little of it in the first place. One of the more interesting problems in palaentology is that it is quite easy to make a mountain from a molehill, since there is so little fossil evidence to work with, and this being so, there is little to say on the matter, except to state that if one looks at the rocks, and at other mass extinctions, say the most recent during the Pleistocene, or last ice age, then the idea that large species died gradually is not supported by the evidence. Finding corpses of Mastadons and Mammoths, some standing upside down in the final rocky resting places tends to support a more violent cause of death. But I am not going to dwell on this because the hysterical cries of imminent global warming based on a noted increase of CO2 (2 ppmv) during 2002 and 2003 is a far more interesting topic.
Now the amount of CO2 in the earth’s atmosphere is rather a small amount, with current estimates from the data at Moana Loa in the Hawaiian Islands as some 378 ppmv (Parts per million by volume). This looks like a big number but in reality it isn’t.
378 ppmv can be written as 0.000378. John Brignell of the Number Watch expressed it here (you need to scroll down the page to get to 0.0004). Now Brignell commented on the politically important number as 400 ppmv, or as he quoted-
“Tom Burke, visiting professor at Imperial College, London, and a former special adviser to the Conservative environment secretaries John Gummer and Michael Howard, said: "The politically significant horizon is carbon dioxide at 400 parts per million - just because it's a big round number”
Now there are two things to note here – firstly the fact that Brignell quoted the number of 400 ppmv and showed it actually be a rather miniscule number when reality is factored into politics.
Secondly I can round off 378 ppmv to 400 ppmv and instantly create a political climate crisis.
In one sense we have arrived at the politically significant horizon simply by the mathematical procedure of rounding a number off. And in another sense we could also reach this politically significant number by assuming that CO2 increases will be 2 ppmv per year, or in some 22 years, everything else being equal). We can have our disaster now, or in 22 years time – take your pick on how the numbers are manipulated.
However the CO2 Centre reckons it is A much ado about nothing, and as usual the data points emphasised by the press are right at the end of the data series, which statistically place an undue emphasis on the trend. Mask the end points and the spectacular trend disappears as the graph which I copied shows below.
Figure 1 Annual rate of growth in the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration in parts per million (ppm) per year, taken from “Much Ado about Nothing”, CO2 and Climate
What our hysterical scientists did was to use the last three values (these are not measurements by the way - just averages from many stations) and interpret this as the real CO2 increase. It is otherwise known as junk-science.
Now the most often quoted source of measurement of CO2 is the measuring station on the Hawaiian Islands. Except there is a small detail which only a geologist would recognise – Hawaii is also a rather large volcano and a significant source of CO2 - 49% ! One would as much place a CO2 monitoring station on an active volcano as one would near a coal fired electricity generating plant. This is problematical to say the least.
But there is even more complexity to the problem as William Kininmonth writes here in Tech Station Central writes
“Monthly and annual values of carbon dioxide concentration for ten global sites are available from the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, USA. Two sites are in close proximity at Hawaii. The difficulty of maintaining an ongoing observation program can be judged from the three sites that have seriously incomplete records and not suitable for intercomparison. Nevertheless, there are six well-distributed sites extending from the Arctic to the Antarctic with long and nearly complete records of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration.
Notwithstanding the media claim, the increase in concentration from 2001 to 2002 exceeded 2.0 ppm at only two of the six stations. The average of all stations exceeded 2.0 ppm but only because of an unexplained large increase at the South Pole site, far from centres of industrialisation”.
Just one elevated measurement of CO2 at the South Pole has the ability to skew the average! And on this skew much ado is made by Sir David King, Britain's Chief Scientist.
Clearly the CO2 content of the atmosphere varies from place to place, and one suspects that the large increase of CO2 at the South Pole site might well be due to Mt Erebus, another active volcano. The geology of this volcano is interesting because "during the last year ash eruptions and even a small lava flow have been observed", so if Erebus is increasing its volcanic activity, this could easily explain the increased CO2 at the South Pole.
Yet this localised natural increase in CO2 that has nothing to do with the burning of coal or gas or petroleum forms the basis of a panic scare by the climate scientists, and of course faithfully reported by the news media, that we have a runaway greenhouse effect.
And another way the data can be interpreted is shown in the following graph which displays the mean monthly temperature and CO2 concentration for the period 1971 to 2000 AD at Hawaii.
Figure 2 – Monthly CO2 and Temperature for Hawaii
The interesting fact is whether the CO2 follows the Temperature or vice versa, but notice that CO2 levels vary from 342 ppmv to 350 ppmv over one year. So estimating the “average” CO2 content of the earth’s atmosphere is not a simple task, since natural variations due to the change of the seasons is in the order of 8 ppmv. (In reality the graphs are much flatter, but are presented here to emphasise the monthly trends in CO2 and temperature over a year from the 30 year averaged data).
On immediate observation is that when CO2 goes down in concentration, the temperature goes up! Or is there a delay in the process, and is it due to the fact that as CO2 increases, so does the temperature, and as it decreases temperature drops as in step?
Oh I omitted the important fact that as the earth has an inclination of some 23.4 Deg off vertical, the temperature changes are actually solar driven, so one could form the interpretation that as it gets colder, CO2 increases in the atmosphere, and as it gets hotter, CO2 decreases.
And of course one could also state that either the CO2 Peak occurs before the temperature peak, validating the global warming view, or one could state that temperature peaks precede CO2 peaks, confirming the climate skeptics!
But it all depends on one’s starting assumptions, and this example is entirely dependent on how well one can flourish one's rhetoric. From a scientific stance one concludes that our understanding of the relationship between CO2 and Temperature is "INCOMPLETE". Not that this would stop the climate changers from misinterpreting the data.
Obviously there is not a direct correlation between temperature and CO2, so the idea that increasing levels of CO2 means increasing temperatures is not observed on a monthly basis. Here we note that maximum CO2 is in May, while the maximum temperature occurs during August, some 3 months later.
Of course the fascinating thing about this graph is where does the CO2 go to in September and October at Hawaii? Move to colder climes? And would we have the same pattern in the southern hemisphere but in reverse? Or is it due to accelerated plant growth during summer, which absorbs the CO2, only to reduce its intake during the cooler winter months?
And let's not forget that by choosing arbitrary scales for the axes on the graph I can mislead the reader into thinking the CO2 change was significant, and by another choice of axis scale instantly show it to be insignificant.
This suggests that CO2 is much like a migratory bird, moving around the planet to colder areas, and I suppose some po-faced scientist will, in all seriousness, confirm this to be fact. But as simple physics tends to inform us, gases completely fill the space that they occupy – so there should not really be any lateral partitioning of CO2 over the earth’s surface. That there is, as the measurements show, is due natural and human sources, with natural causes dominant.
So the last week's media scares are nothing more than a bored media grasping at straws for something to publish. And of course the unscientific hysteria associated with proponents of global warming.
What will this week bring!