A Few Things Ill Considered

A layman's take on the science of Global Warming featuring a guide on How to Talk to a Climate Sceptic.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

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Natural Emissions Dwarf Human's

(Part of the How to Talk to a Climate Sceptic guide)

This article has moved to ScienceBlogs

It has also been updated and this page is still here only to preserve the original comment thread. Please visit A Few Things Ill Considered there. You may also like to view Painting With Water, Coby Beck's original fine art photography.



  • At March 15, 2006 10:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Your argument USES the notion of "balance", which is the biggest ASSUMPTION in the current state of climate "scientology". This assumption is a zero order approximation of reality, and allows only primitive conclusions, in terms of linear "forcings" and "feedbacks".

    The Vostok ice core data on CO2 and temperature clearly show that the climate conditions undergo wide swings while their amplitude was well limited, which usually happens due to variety of strongly nonlinear effects. The data show a lag of one component relative to another, which is another indication of NONLINEAR DYNAMICS. In a science of nonlinear dynamics it means that the system is out of equillibrium, in constant dynamics, so the climate components are continuously OUT OF BALANCE. The climate components were, are, and will be out of balance for at least another billion years. It is the assumption of balance that blocks current climatology from finding an explanation for cyclic behavior of climate.

    Speaking about fluxes, you have selected a picture of carbon cycle which has no error brackets, a thing that is necessary for any scientific argument. I pointed you to a graph that shows at least the range of estimates, low and upper bounds for each component of carbon flux,


    I have seen some other picture that shows the margin of errors, but I lost the link. I insist that consideration of relative contributions of carbon fluxes without considering the error margins is an utter nonsense, especially if the difference between two big numbers (uptake and intake from oceans) is a prime concern. From the estimations shown on the above picture, the anthropogenic contribution is well below the noise level.

  • At March 16, 2006 10:34 AM, Blogger coby said…

    Hi Alexi,

    Thanks for the substantial comment. Balance is of course going to be relative to a timeframe. In the timeframe relevant to the discussion of an anthropogenic disturbance to the climate system it is quite clear that a balance did exist. This is evidenced by the stable concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere over the last several thousand years and also by the stable pH levels that have been reconstructed from analysis of foraminifera shells in ocean sediments. So, no significant changes in CO2 levels in the ocean and no significant changes in CO2 levels in the air over many thousands of years tells us that the large fluxes in and out of the ocean and the atmosphere were in fact in balance during all this time. This is NOT an assumption it is an OBSERVATION.

    Now, regardless of the error margins on the measure of this large flux, even if they are substantially larger than total anthropogenic emissions, we KNOW that the fluxes were in balance before. Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, when mankind began emitting large quantities of CO2 into the air, the concentration of CO2 has risen by 35%. This clearly represents an upsetting of the balance. Further, the pH levels measured in ocean water have dropped and this also clearly represents an upsetting of the balance.

    On top of that, we know the origin of the CO2 added into the air. Isotope analysis allows us to identify that this CO2 is the result of "old" carbon combining with "new" oxygen which is a clear signature of fossil fuel combustion produced CO2.

    Your arguments about dynamic systems and theories of nonlinearity all seem terribly clever, but I suggest that you take the advice of Albert Einstein. "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler."

  • At March 16, 2006 8:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Your concept of balance is still a poor assumption based on a narrow interpretation of observations, which, in turn, are based on another set of equally dubious interpretations of speculative reconstructions of data. Again, look more carefully into the Vostok ice core data
    - contrary to your presentation of stable concentrations over thousands of years, there was no single period in time when concentrations and temperatures were steady stable, they were always changing, and therefore were in dynamics, in a state far from equillibrium. OUT OF BALANCE!

    As people keep saying, the Earth have seen bigger CO2 concentrations, therefore this temporal perfturbation, no matter now bad it is for us, is no proof of anything. Again, I am not talking about this temporal puff, I am talking about time scales of the order of characteristic circulation time of the main "CO2 pump", which is estimated as at least 1000 years. As I also tried to explain, a weakly-coupled systems (like the three oceans) tend to develop mutial oscillations of the order of 100 times longer than each characteristic time, usually inversely proportional to the strength of their coupling, which again fits into the misterious "abnormal amplification of 100k insolation cycle".

    More, by nature of ice data reconstruction (since CO2 obviosly diffuses into neigbouring layers of ice), the CO2 concentrations are effectively the averages over many hundred of years, all dips and peaks are smoothened, so the actual peak amplitudes are unknown. Therefore you cannot directly compare amplitudes from direct air samples in modern gas chromatographs with diffused bubbles in a bulk of ice.

    Additionally, I didn't look closely yet into C13/C12 methodology, but if we are burning c13-depleted fuels at 3% of global fluxes, wouldn't the ocean outgas also some old carbon mixes? Wouldn't soils also outgas some old carbon, from the same sedimented rocks? Again, what kind of error brackets they are talking about? Same 0.1% difference on a data with inherent 10% error? Please let me know if I am wrong.

    Lastly, the "clever theories" of dynamical chaos are really the simplest possible way to explain historical facts, since obviously all attempts to explain climate behaviour are getting nowhere within the "Linear Forcing and Feedback Society" at "realclimate.com". Sorry. Unfortunately, it seems that it takes quite a bit of higher education to get used to those dynamic theories.

  • At March 16, 2006 9:34 PM, Blogger coby said…

    You are correct that the ice core records can not resolve better than a few centuries and any sudden jumps such as we are producing would be blurry BUT atmospheric CO2 has a lifetime of centuries so any 100ppm jumps would indeed still show in the long slow declines if not in well represented peak.

    "there was no single period in time when concentrations and temperatures were steady stable"
    yes, the holocene. It is unusual, but perhaps not unique, see 570K yrs ago, the article here

    Also please keep the time scales involved in mind, the Volstok record looks all jagged and spikey, but even the sharpest trends are around 10 times shallower. Look at this graph for some perspective on that, also here.

    You said: "obviously all attempts to explain climate behaviour are getting nowhere". What would you accept as success?

    About isotope signatures, the "age" of the oxygen also identifies it from carbonate rock disolved and made its way to the air. For any details you have to go to Real Climate's article
    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php?p=87 and the references therein.

  • At March 19, 2006 7:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Alexi needs to study up on Milankovitch cycles. I'll believe he'll find that those are exactly the nonlinear (albeit very predictable) cycles he's looking for.

    Regarding that last jibe about it taking "higher education" to understand the "dynamic theories" that really underpin climate behavior, implying that thousands of PhD climate scientists have no idea what they're talking about whereas the obvious native brilliance of Alexi and friends shows that they do, I'd say Alexi has been reading too much Ayn Rand.

  • At March 20, 2006 10:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Thanks to Dr. Bloom, (I hope I got the salutation correctly), I already undertook some studies, and this is what I found:

    "In no case, including a tuned core, do these forcing bands explain the overall behavior of the records."

    Regarding understanding of dynamic theories, Dr. Bloom caught my drift correctly, "thousands". Proof can be easily found in various "discussions" about "chaotic" versus "predictable" climate, e.g.:


    With exception of weak opposing voices like "Sashka" and Prof. Pielke, most participants have really little to no idea about the subject, starting from topic originators. Unfortunately, the topic is not limited to loose articles like
    therefore my remark about education. Ten-fifteen years (at a right research place), and you might be up to date. Maybe.

  • At March 21, 2006 10:16 AM, Blogger coby said…

    I looked at the paper you referenced Alexi. I will not presume to comment on its internal consistency or quality. I only wish to note that this paper does not appear to even address the issues of physical processes acting as amplifying feedbacks. The "forcing bands" it mentions appear to be those of the various interacting orbital forcings, not the orbital, albedo and GHG forcings I have argued about. I may have missed it, I read the abstract, introduction, summary and skimmed quickly the rest. I did text searches for "feedback", "CO2", "ice sheet", "amplification" and "albedo" and found next to nothing. Perhaps they start with the same mathematical assumptions you do about the nature of the climate system, I don't know, but I don't see this as a refutation of a climate system controlled by broadly deterministic physical mechanisms. I also note that scientific research is active and full of opposing views and finding a single paper (or a few) that take a different angle and comes to a different conclusion does not settle the matter in your favour.

  • At March 26, 2006 2:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Coby: "Milankovic cycles"
    Actually, the article in question does address the issues you mentioned, but in a very broad way:

    "The other line of evidence concerns the very clear energy excess at and about one cycle=100 ka; where the orbital forcing is extremely small, but where various hypotheses have been proposed whereby non-linear interactions in the climate system can rectify the higher frequency forcing into a very large lower frequency response."

    The author finalizes the essense of the issue:

    "One can divide the problem into two parts, ļ¬nding:
    (1) evidence that the orbitally controlled insolation changes drive the major climate shifts and,
    (2) the mechanisms by which that driving occurs.
    Problem (2) arises only if (1) exists."

    ending the introduction to Milankovic forcing theory in a pretty sarcastic way:

    "1) Northern hemisphere high latitude solar insolation controls [global-ap] climate change"

    BTW, value of the article is not in any special opposing "view"; the article establishes a scientific FACT that the observed records of climate variability are dominated by a process undistingushable from a stochastic autoregression process derived from white noise.

    Regarding my concern about accuracy of global CO2 fluxes:

    As I gathered the theory behind the estimations, one need:
    (1) reconstruct the whole SST field from limited number of met stations of satellite views. The reconstruction carries errors, satellite reconstructions use corrections for cloud cover and ocean surface albedo that includes assumptions and uncertainties;
    (2) reconstruct the atmospheric wind field over the same area [how do they do it?];
    (3) apply experimentally-determined "piston velocities" to determine local CO2 fluxes;
    (4) average the product over whole sea area, and over the whole year.

    The fields of Co2 concentration, wind velocity, and SST need to be evaluated at least on monthly time scale in order to get correct estimation of their product since the variables fluctuate over space and time.

    (some very useful and fascinating details can be found in this CO2 LECTURE.)

    The measured "piston velocities" (see slides 16 and 19) have error bars and general scatter of approximately +-80%.

    Now, could you tell me how it is possible to esimate global CO2 uptakes and inhales at about 100Gt/y with the above product of uncertainties, yet to arrive at a small difference (ocean uptake) of 2GT/y with an alledged error margin of only +-0.8Gt/y? Keep in mind that +-0.8Gt/y margins require estimations of two global fluxes with 0.4% accuracy, while piston velocities have 80% error margins alone. What did I miss?

  • At March 26, 2006 7:46 PM, Blogger coby said…

    I think "the article establishes a scientific fact" is rather overstated, but I still appreciate your pointing it out.

    Re CO2 and specifically anthro vs natural I don't see it as a problem that one part of the picture has a much higher degree of uncertainty than another. The natural flux is much larger and much less understood than the anthropogenic portion. Doesn't change the correlation of industrial activity and atmospheric increases, and doesn't change the isotope signatures we are observing.

  • At February 01, 2007 5:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Natural CO2 200 B tons/yr (97.5%)
    Man made CO2 5 B tons/yr (2.5%)

    Now, these numbers are averages, which means that the naturally emmited CO2 will fluctuate yearly by an amount greater than the total produced by man. This should answer your assertion about a natural 'balance'. Mans contribution is not significant.

    Also, CO2 in the atmosphere is about .03%, so even 'dramatic' increases in CO2 are miniscule compared to the amount of H2O in the atmosphere.

    It is just ridiculous to claim that man is affecting the weather, we are not that significant no matter what we may think.

  • At February 01, 2007 6:14 PM, Blogger coby said…

    You have a truly remarkable gift for completely missing the point, or did you not even read the rebuttal to this argument?

    So how do you explain the 35% jump in CO2, equivalent to 10K years of natural CO2 rise in the glacial cycles, in just 100years? Why was CO2 stable for thousands of years until we began burning fossil fuels?

  • At February 20, 2007 5:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    What this argument misses is a notion of balance. Yes, the natural fluxes in and out of the atmosphere are huge, but they were more or less balanced over the holocene until we came along.


    The notion of "ballance" is exactly what the meteorological supercomputers fail to predict.

  • At March 15, 2007 7:15 AM, Blogger Unknown said…

    From DOE: total anthropogenic greenhouse gases are 3.298% of all greenhouse gas concentrations! Any changes we make must consider the 96.702% of natural emissions from the EARTH.

    The Important Greenhouse Gases (except water vapor)
    U.S. Department of Energy, (October, 2000)
    (all concentrations expressed in parts per billion)
    Pre-industrial baseline Natural additions Man-made additions Total (ppb) Concentration Percent of Total
    Carbon Dioxide (CO2) 288,000 68,520 11,880 368,400 99.438%
    Methane (CH4) 848 577 320 1,745 0.471%
    Nitrous Oxide (N2O) 285 12 15 312 0.084%
    Misc. gases ( CFC's, etc.) 25 0 2 27 0.007%
    Total 289,158 69,109 12,217 370,484 100.00%

    1) the data has not been corrected for the actual Global Warming Potential (GWP) of each gas, and 2) water vapor is ignored.

    Man-made and natural carbon dioxide (CO2) comprises 99.44% of all greenhouse gas concentrations (368,400 / 370,484 )--(ignoring water vapor). Anthropogenic (man-made) CO2 additions comprise (11,880 / 370,484) or 3.207% of all greenhouse gas concentrations, (ignoring water vapor). Total combined anthropogenic greenhouse gases comprise (12,217 / 370,484) or 3.298% of all greenhouse gas concentrations, (ignoring water vapor).

  • At March 18, 2007 7:58 PM, Blogger Unknown said…

    just finished reading both your arguments and would like to make a few comments. Keep in mind that I have no scientific background but am a graduate student in politics and my concern is developing governmental policy according to risk mitigation.
    Firstly, from the graphical analysis I have seen, it seems fairly evident that the rise in global temperatures is a leading indicator, and that CO2 emission increases follow global temperature increases. This would seem to indicate that the increased CO2 emissions are not in fact a causal factor of temperature increase. With this in mind, there seems to be a more precise corollary between solar intensity levels and rises in global temperature.
    Secondly, if the data is accurate, and I can only assume that it is, then water vapour must indeed have far more of an effect on the "greenhouse gas effect" than does CO2. Furthermore, the human-induced portion is even smaller and less significant.
    I'm all for a cleaner environment and developing energy policies that mitigate the use of fossil fuels. It's common sense to want that. However, I'm not sure that me accepting science as factual because the ICPP has deemed it so makes any sense at all. The ICPP is far more political than it is scientific.
    I appreciate any response or direction on where I can get more accurate, layman scientific essays (from well-regarded scientist mind you). Keep in mind, I have no background in the sciences.


  • At March 20, 2007 9:31 AM, Blogger coby said…

  • At April 06, 2007 2:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hey Coby,

    Well, I must say your Skeptics articles leave me less than impressed and sound like spin at it's finest.

    No one said temperature rose and THEN CO2 rose 800 years later. Yes, the data says they rose together. But, and it's a big but, the temperature rose first and peaked 800 years before CO2. It's not about the lag necessarily, it's about which one DRIVES the other. And your side better get your Spiritual Guru Mr. Gore off the lie that CO2 drives temperature or even the "normal" folks who are too lazy too look into the data like us geeks will soon catch on and the scam will be up.

    Clean up emissions all you want..I dig clean air, and most of the actual pollutants (not silly CO2) end up as water pollution that water-geeks like myself have to find a way to remove anyway. But, stop hyping and outright lying about it being about CO2 and climate.

    But then it may be too late for the GW believers anyway, since I think (pray?) that it's finally getting to the saturation point where the backlash will start soon. Every day it's another shirll, whining article full of wildly exaggerated and apocolyptic predictions proclaiming with absolute certainty that man-made global warming is an undisputed fact.

    Folks are waking up and asking QUESTIONS...the thing you should fear most. Folks like me who never really looked into the data but have enough of a scientific background to understand, at least generally. And, it doesn't take long to find scientists who disagree with the mantra...despite what the IPCC (even some of the authors diagree), Gore, and the media says about the universal agreement on global warming. It always sounded kinda like BS and after looking at the data and analysis, even yours, I'm pretty convinced it is.

    It's only a matter of time for the bubble to burst and the funding for silly research and carbon footprint analysis goes away. Just like the funding for research on the pending ice age went away in the late 70's after they'd hyped it to the public for 10 years.

    And I can't wait....except this time we've let it grow into such a huge industry while we slept that it may be too late simply becuase the effect on the economy would be too great. It would be a curel but deserving joke on the world to waste billons chasing carbon for 50 years before we wake up and realize we've been scammed simply because too few people had the guts to stand up and say the Global Warming Emperors have no clothes. Group think is great gang....good luck to us. :)

  • At April 06, 2007 3:17 AM, Blogger coby said…

    Hi Darren,

    You should check pretty much the same list of links I offered in the comment just above yours. Check in the guide about the 1970's red herring.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  • At July 25, 2007 6:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    The last reference to the old 70's New Ice Age scare brought to mind nostalgic memories of the eighties and the Acid Rain scare. Where did all that pesky acid go?

  • At July 25, 2007 8:58 AM, Blogger coby said…

    Hi Milton,

    The acid rain problem was addressed with pollution controls and was thus resolved. When a danger is avoided by preventive action it is not very intelligent to conclude that since nothing bad actually happened there was never any danger.

    The problems caused by leaded gasoline are similarily gone, not because the were not real but because gasoline is unleaded now.

  • At July 26, 2007 2:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    hi Coby

    Apologies for defiling your debate with my "not very intelligent" observations. I prefer intelligent debate to personal abuse, but each to his own eh? As for the problem of acid rain being "avoided" - it was being caused by coal-fired power stations which then cleaned up their act - but has anyone told the Chinese and Indians that?

  • At July 26, 2007 3:18 AM, Blogger coby said…


    My remark was about your point, not your self. The point is not a good one, that is not a judgement on you as a person.

    Acid rain is a big problem in China.

    So I don't think that the fact that acid rain was an issue in North America 30 years ago indicates that global warming is a false alarm that will go away on its own. Nor do you seem to think so anymore.

  • At September 06, 2007 1:13 AM, Blogger RS Brown said…

    Surely the issue of natural CO2 output has to be addressed as holistically as possible. By this I mean that natural CO2 does not output all by itself. It's not like the earth pumps a load of CO2 into the atmosphere out of a CO2 tank - what it does is have processes which contribute to a net CO2 input. Those processes tend also to pump out SO2 which has a net cooling effect and other gases which will have heating and cooling effects of their own. Once these gases enter the system they do their own thing and either stay in as gases or leave, following a reaction eg SO2 reacting to produce an acidified rain. What is more interesting is to look back into the geological record at times when there was a carbon spike, to see what effect it had on fauna and flora diversity, for example, and to see if we can ascertain an effect on the environment.

    I agree with Alexei - the last thing this system is, is in balance. There is no balance and no equilibrium as we would define it. There is a sort of meta-stability because by and large the inputs and outputs are balanced as a whole but that's a net effect rather than a driving force. The whole point of climate is it's not in equilibrium and it isn't supposed to be.

    The question is, if we have a 3% increase in CO2 input into the atmosphere, year on year, for a couple of hundred years, would that have a discernable effect on climate chemistry and thermal behaviour. I suggest that it might.

  • At September 06, 2007 3:19 PM, Blogger coby said…

    Hi Simon,

    For an interesting historical example of what a CO2 spike can do to the planet, google Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum. That is maybe a very close analogue to what is ongoing today, with the obvious exception of the underlying cause.

    As for whether we are or are not in balance, don`t you think that depends on your choice of timeframe? If you look at the CO2 record over the last 8000 years I don't think it is at all unreasonalbe to say that net CO2 flux into and out of the atmosphere was balanced and in equlibrium. Starting ~100-150 years ago that balance was upset and CO2 has risen at an accelerating rate since.

    If you chose to examine the system on geological scales then I completely agree, there is no equilibrium, the levels go all over the place, sometimes spiking, sometimes oscillating (on various time scales) and sometimes climbing or dropping to new plateaus. This is surely a fascinating scientific study, but for timescales that concern human policy decisions it is largely irrelevant.

    As for your final question, I think the answer is already clearly observable.

    Thanks for the comments!

  • At September 14, 2007 12:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Please read this: http://mysite.verizon.net/mhieb/WVFossils/greenhouse_data.html


  • At September 14, 2007 1:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Oh, and one more thing. Does solar activity have NO effect whatsoever on the Earth's climate?

    Human activity is totally and utterly dwarfed by Solar activity and to suggest that Human activity is significant in such a context is quite frankly ridiculous!

  • At September 14, 2007 2:06 PM, Blogger coby said…

    Hi DaddyG,

    I have seen that WVFossils stuff and it is not a reliable source, there are many key arrors in its reasoning. Please check out my articles on H2O's role in climate (very large) and climate change (a feedback but not a forcing).

    Re Solar, yes the sun is the largest factor in our climate, it provides some 1300+ W/m^2 of energy into the system and human activity only causes a few W/m^2 of change. However the sun's role is unchanging whereas the climate is changing so the cause must be elsewhere.

    Thanks for your comment.

  • At February 05, 2008 5:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Does the phrase "Piltdown Man" ring a bell here? We're labeled as climate change "skeptics" and "doubters" in other words non-believers. For even a layman, if you adhere to scientific principals, it's obvious that human activity has no discernable effect on global climate. "Science" has proven again and again to the satisfaction of millions that God created the earth and that it is only a few thousand years old. Of course, we know this is not the case. God created the earth over 4.3 billion years ago. Science and facts will never change the mind of a true believer.


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