Our Warming Planet

I’d heard of the Medieval Warm Period (for a good, sensible analysis, I’d recommend “The Global Warming Two-Step” by William Tucker), but the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum was a new one to me until I received an unbidden issue of Inside Smithsonian Research in the mail the other day. In it was an article on how fossils hold clues to predicting how plants will respond to global warming. Here’s a portion specifically concerning the PETM:

[Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History paleobotanist Scott] Wing is studying fossils from a sliver of time known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, or PETM, a geologic eyeblink when that warm, moist world of 55 million years ago grew even warmer. In just about 10,000 years, the basin’s climate went from Floridian to something more like southern Mexico.
“It was a global warming on top of an already globally warm situation,” Wing says. Earth’s average surface temperature rose 4 to 8 degrees Celsius and stayed that way for the next 80,000 to 100,000 years…
Not only was the PETM a rapid change in climate, like the accelerated warming we are witnessing today, but the massive quantity of carbon (about 5,000 gigatons) that was released into the atmosphere during the past event “is roughly the same amount of carbon that we estimate humans are going to produce during the next 500 years by burning fossil-fuel reserves,” Wing says.
…What caused the PETM? No one knows for sure, but one theory suggests that rising ocean temperatures, or perhaps an undersea earthquake, led to the melting of ice containing methane, which was trapped in sediments on the ocean floor. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas. Released into the ocean and atmosphere, it would have reacted with oxygen, producing still more greenhouse gases in the form of carbon dioxide and water vapor. Those gases may have set in motion the abrupt, worldwide warming, the effects of which Wing reads in the fossils he excavates in the Bighorn Basin. {italics mine}

Remember, one theory suggests and note the “perhaps”-s and “may”-s and general hedging language. But, all that being said, I can accept the reasonable argument proferred by the earlier-mentioned Mr. Tucker who cites the astrophysicist Nir Shaviv:

The truth is probably somewhere in between, with natural causes probably being more important over the past century, whereas anthropogenic causes will probably be more dominant over the next century. Following [the] empirical evidence… about 2/3’s (give or take a third or so) of the warming should be attributed to increased solar activity and the remaining to anthropogenic causes.

To this, Tucker adds:

The others are S.K. Solanki of the Max Planck Institute and M. Fligge of the Institute of Astronomy in Zurich, who have done extensive research on solar activity and show that it corresponds very closely with temperature changes. In particular, their data explains the slight decline in temperatures from 1956 to 1970 — a period that carbon-emissions advocates have a great deal of trouble in explaining.
Solanki and Fligge are generally acknowledged by both sides to be very objective chroniclers of the solar theory. Yet when I read one of their leading papers, I found this:
Since approximately 1975 the situation is clearly different…with solar irradiance showing a comparatively much more modest rise than air temperature….[U]nless the influence of solar variability on Earth is very strongly non-linear, at least this most recent temperature increase reflects the influence of man-made greenhouse gases or non-solar sources of natural variability.

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SusanD
SusanD
14 years ago

Wait, there was no hairspray or SUV’s 55m years ago. How could there have been global warming??

smmtheory
smmtheory
14 years ago

That’s back when lizard sapiens used aerosols and pounded around in their SUV’s though, dontcha know?

george
george
14 years ago

Yah its not like we have past historic records of C02 in our atmosphere. Lets just keep polluting, cause nothing can possibly go wrong. Its not like there is a correlation between C02 levels and global temperature changes. From what I understand, even though those temperatures went down from 1956 to 1970, they were still above what would be considered normal.
If we ignore this long enough the problem will just solve itself.
Also, Susan and Smmtheory, CFCs were phased out of American Industries such as hairspray and the OZone started to repair itself. Environmental problems are serious, yet republicans treat the environment like a leftist problem. The conservatives could do themselves some favors by at least acknowledging that we need to protect the environment.

smmtheory
smmtheory
14 years ago

I’m not a conservative, George. Nevertheless, I do acknowledge that we need to protect the environment. It all goes back to that good stewardship principle that can be found in the Christian belief system. Where I find myself lacking in faith in the POP science that has convinced yourself that global warming hoo hah is true, I more than make up for in faith that God created an environment robust enough that it cannot be casually destroyed by humankind, and maybe not even intentionally destroyed. Therefore, this hick requires more than just coincidental platitudes to be convinced that global warming is induced by mankind. In short, I do my part to preserve the environment. Go lecture the Chinese.

george
george
14 years ago

Ok first, didn’t call you a hick, so lets not make up insults shall we. Secondly, this has nothing to do with god. You may believe that he (or she) created this world to be nigh indestructible, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t play it a little safe and try to curb our C02 output. Thirdly, calling it POP science is exactly what i am talking about here. You are plugging your ears and ignoring the problem. Instead of thinking there might be something wrong with what we are doing, you just close your eyes and basically accuse me of being a communist.
Quite frankly, I am personal fan of the quote, god helps those who help themselves.

Marc Comtois
14 years ago

“The conservatives could do themselves some favors by at least acknowledging that we need to protect the environment.”
I think I did with this post, but I also think that the hyperbole has gone way off the charts. Of course we humans should do what we can, but we also shouldn’t be so arrogant to think that we are the sole–nor even the most important–cause of global warming. It has been historically shown to have occurred before we existed and before we had a massively industrialized planet.
Then there is the other caveat whereby the “West” blames itself and is relatively quiet as China and other less-polution conscious industrialized nations burn all the coal they can manage.

george
george
14 years ago

Marc I understand what you are saying. I also know that there are cycles that happen, however, there has never been this much C02 in the atmosphere before, we are way beyond historic levels.
While China and India are a problem and will the major polluters in a few short years, that does not mean we should allow ourselves to fall into a trap of if they aren’t improving C02 output, why should we? Let us take the first steps now and show the world that we are serious about tackling pollution problems. We did it with CFCs why is their such an opposition to C02?

Marc Comtois
14 years ago

Incidentally, one of our sponsors is TerraRossa.com, which is a place where conservatives discuss environmental issues.

johnb
johnb
14 years ago

“there has never been this much CO2 in the atmosphere”
totally wrong. measurable data suggests higher co2 levels as “early” as the pleistocene era — which was defined by ice ages and extensive mammalian evolution

SusanD
SusanD
14 years ago

George, I wasn’t entirely kidding when I said previously that I am a tree hugger. But I am also keen on having all relevant data. This has simply not been provided by the mainstream media on this subject.
Marc’s post talks about two other incidents in history when there was global warming before man was putting greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. How can these be explained? Well, there must be more than one condition that can trigger global warming.
In addition, there was a link (no longer there) to a 2003 article that said that the sun has been giving off more energy/radiation since they began measuring it the late 1970’s but that there was indirect evidence that this had been happening for at least one hundred years. What has been the effect of that?
Now, have any of these items been mentioned in the MSM? No. They prefer to go with the simple yet overwrought line that It Can Only Be Man’s Fault.
I find it difficult to believe that our planet could never be affected by what man does. And no, we cannot take these other possible causes as license to throw up our hands and be totally irresponsible about what we put in the ecosphere.
But there are enormous stakes here. And to be formulating policy (not to mention headlines) on the basis of partial information is seriously irresponsible.

george
george
14 years ago

http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/306/5702/1686
“The scientific consensus is clearly expressed in the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Created in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environmental Programme, IPCC’s purpose is to evaluate the state of climate science as a basis for informed policy action, primarily on the basis of peer-reviewed and published scientific literature (3). In its most recent assessment, IPCC states unequivocally that the consensus of scientific opinion is that Earth’s climate is being affected by human activities: “Human activities … are modifying the concentration of atmospheric constituents … that absorb or scatter radiant energy. … [M]ost of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations” [p. 21 in (4)].”

smmtheory
smmtheory
14 years ago

Clipped quote from George:

basically accuse me of being a communist

Speaking of not making up insults… where in my post did I accuse you of calling me a hick? I called myself a hick.
Can you cite any evidence of ill effect that has arisen from all these “years” of global warming attributable to human activity? Have the sea levels risen? That’s one of the things that is suppose to happen isn’t it? Have people started farming on Greenland again like they did a 1000 years ago? Have they been able to explain how less than one quarter of one tenth of a percent of the atmospheric composition can effect such a massive 3 percent change in temperature?
What is wrong with what measures are currently in place to preserve the environment when the Chinese government still does nothing? This country has cleaned up more than any other single nation on the planet, and we’re the ones that are doing something wrong? I remember being able to look down on L.A. from around San Bernardino and actually see the smoggy atmosphere that enveloped the city back in ’77. People can’t see it any more from my understanding. I sure couldn’t see it when I was back there 5 years ago.

SusanD
SusanD
14 years ago

George, who shall we believe? Scientists from other, unrelated fields or meteorologists, the people who study this subject?
Below is an Op Ed by a meteorologist who says that none of the dozens of meteorologists he knows believes that global warming is man made.
He also says “follow the money”, pointing out that much grant and other money goes to scientists willing to say that global warming is man made.
(This is turning into a real eye-opener for me. I thought research driven, fact based, emotion free science was supreme for all scientists. Apparently not. Add a hysterical media and heaven help us.)

smmtheory
smmtheory
14 years ago

If you would like it better George, I can start calling it check-book science instead of POP science.

WJF
WJF
14 years ago

I don’t think (reasonable) conservatives are saying that we should ignore prudent measures to limit pollutants. Rather, the rub comes when the MSM doesn’t report obvious contradictions to the conventional wisdom.
Such as – “Little Climatic Optimum (LCO), a period stretching roughly from the 10th to the 13th centuries, in which the average temperature was anything from 1 to 3 degrees centigrade higher than it is today.” Even my public school knowledge of history knows that “industrial pollutants” were non-existent at that time.
http://www.americanthinker.com/2007/01/resisting_global_warming_panic.html
Or something like this 1975 Newsweek article showing “global warming” in the 1940’s and the impending “Ice Age” of the 1970’s (which some of us remember and scratch our heads – kind of like when we were told not to eat butter but we should eat margarine, now we are told (and indeed legislated) the opposite)
Pdf of the Newsweek article – http://www.rushlimbaugh.com/coolingworld.pdf

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