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Key Climate Science Problems In Plimer’s “Heaven and Earth’

May 6, 2009

global-warmingEveryone is entitled to their own opinion but not to their own facts
(Senator Daniel Moynihan)

Bold claims as if the science is “missing” from the extensive research conducted by the world’s premier research bodies (Hadley-Met, NASA, Potsdam-Oceanographic, CSIRO, Tindall, national academies of science), reported in thousands of peer-reviewed science journal papers and complied by International and government panels (IPCC, Stern, Garnaut) [2], which amount to attempts at reinvention of the basic tenents of physics and chemistry of climate science, need to be backed by evidence.

This Plimer’s book “Heaven and Earth: Global Warming – The Missing Science” [1] does not achieve.

The book overlooks the effects of more than 305 billion ton of carbon (GtC) emitted since the 18th century, nearly 42% of the total atmospheric inventory of 750 GtC, which pushed CO2 levels to 387 ppm, 38% higher than the maximum of 280 ppm of the last 2.8 million years of glacial-interglacial Earth history [3]. The consequent increased in the energy level of the atmosphere (1.6 Watt/m2 ~1.2 degrees C) (IPCC-2007), once the masking effects of emitted sulphur aerosols are taken into account, are manifest around the globe [2].

Further to numerous errors indicated earlier (http://bravenewclimate.com/2009/04/23/ian-plimer-heaven-and-earth/), Plimer’s book claims current global warming is a natural event consistent with climate variability through time and attributed primarily to the sun, through:

(1) The book negates the well documented consistent relations between climate and carbon gases, which through Earth history resulted in temperature changes in the range of several degrees C [4], including abrupt climate changes and related mass extinction of species [5].

(2) The book exaggerates the effects of the sun. However, since the 18th century the overall rise of solar insolation accounts for no more than 0.12 Watt/m2 (about 0.1 degrees C), an order of magnitude less than the CO2 greenhouse effect [5]. A marked rise in insolation by about 0.3 Watt/m2 during the first half of the 20th century stabilized since the 1970s at +/-0.1 degrees according to the 11 years sunspot cycle, a period during which Earth warmed by about 0.6 degrees C due to the rise in CO2 [6].

Thus, Solanki et al. 2005 state: “Although the rarity of the current episode of high average sunspot numbers may indicate that the Sun has contributed to the unusual climate change during the twentieth century, we point out that solar variability is unlikely to have been the dominant cause of the strong warming during the past three decades [6].

(3)  The book attempts to discredit national and international climate research reports, primarily the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to which the world’s leading climate scientists have contributed. By contrast, as shown by the tracking of CO2, temperature and sea level rises since 2001 at the top of IPCC projections [7], the IPCC reports appeared to err on the conservative end.

Lost in current climate wars is an appreciation of the sensitive balance between the physical and chemical state of the atmosphere and the biosphere, which has controlled the emergence, survival and demise of species, including humans, and whose disruption resulted in abrupt climate shifts and mass extinction of species.. During human history even minor global mean temperature changes of +/-0.3 degrees C resulted in regional droughts and the collapse of agriculture, such as along the great river valleys the Nile, Euphrates, Indus and Yellow River.

The book underestimates the sensitivity of the atmosphere to external forcings, such as posed by massive injections of greenhouse gases with related carbon cycle and ice melt/water feedback effects. Leading US climate and paleoclimate scientists state: “Large, abrupt, and widespread climate changes with major impacts have occurred repeatedly in the past, when the Earth system was forced across thresholds. Although abrupt climate changes can occur for many reasons, it is conceivable that human forcing of climate change is increasing the probability of large, abrupt event.” [8])

The book takes little account of the intimate relations between the greenhouse effect and the history of the atmosphere. By contrast to Venus, with its thick blanket of greenhouse gases, or Mars with its thin atmosphere, the modulation of the Earths atmosphere by trace Carbon gases, CO2 and methane, allows surface temperatures in the approximate range of -50 to +50 degrees C, presence of liquid water and thereby of life. Significant increase in the level of carbon gases triggers powerful feedbacks. These include ice melt/warm water interaction feedback, further release of CO2 from the oceans and drying/burning vegetation, shifts of climate zones toward the poles, reduced capacity of the oceans to absorb CO2 and ocean acidification, documented by the IPCC.

The Antarctic ice sheet formed some 34 million years ago when temperatures plunged associated with decline of CO2 levels below 500 ppm [9]. Combined with methane, current CO2-equivalent levels are tracking toward 440 ppm. Large land-based mammals, whose breathing mechanism is adapted to glacial-interglacial climates, did not exist on a greenhouse Earth warmer by several degrees C relative to the present.

About 3 Ma-ago, CO2 rise to about 400 ppm and temperature rise by about 2 to 3 degrees C resulted in sea level rise of 25+/- 12 meters. About 124 thousand years ago, during the Emian interglacial, mean global temperatures rose by about 1 degrees C and sea levels by 6 to 8 meters [10]. These relations indicate a ratio of sea level rise to temperature rise of at least 5 metres/1 degree C. With mean temperatures tracking at the top of the IPCC projections toward 2 – 4 degrees C later in the century, low fertile delta regions and urban coastal population world-wide will be flooded. So much for the “beneficial” global warming promulgated in the book.

Continuing emissions of CO2 reaching levels as high as 400 ppm, as at 3 million years ago, or 500 ppm as at 34 million years ago, embodies a similar logic as open-ended influx of acid into the oceans, rationalized by the fact seas were acid during past periods of Earth history.

That East Antarctic is still holding its ice does not justify further emission of hundreds of billion tons of carbon before this last part of the cryosphere is lost.

Carbon emission reductions aimed at an upper temperature level of 2 degrees C [11] may overlook carbon cycle, including methane, ice melt feedback effects, and possible climate tipping points. Ideas as if Homo sapiens can alter and transcend the physical and chemical boundaries of the atmosphere-ocean-land-biosphere system which allowed its development in the first place, are founded on a misunderstanding of the geological evolution and the present state of the Earth system and are dangerous.

Dr Andrew Glikson
Australian National University
5 May, 2009
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[1] “Heaven and Earth: Global Warming – The Missing Science” by Ian Plimer. Connor Court Publishing, 2009)

[2] http://www.ipcc.ch/; http://ipcc-wg1.ucar.edu/wg1/wg1-report.html; http://www.garnautreview.org.au/CA25734E0016A131/pages/home; http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/sternreview_index.htm; http://americasclimatechoices.org/; http://books.nap.edu/collections/global_warming/index.html

[3] http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/311/5768/1747; http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2006/2006GL027817.shtml; http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6V62-414P195-5&_user=10&_rdoc=1&_fmt=&_orig=search&_sort=d&view=c&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=2f2cfd319d56a702ab8adb95773bd442;

[4] http://www.pnas.org/content/105/2/407.full?ck=nck; http://www.soest.hawaii.edu/GG/FACULTY/POPP/Royer%20et%20al.%202004%20GSA%20Today.pdf; http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/292/5517/686?siteid=sci&ijkey=NBnP2T9W00vlw&keytype=ref; http://www.google.com.au/search?sourceid=navclient&aq=t&ie=UTF-8&rlz=1T4PCTA_enAU204AU206&q=hansen+2007+trace+gases; http://arxiv.org/abs/0804.1126

[5]  http://www.amazon.com/Under-Green-Sky-Warming-Extinctions/dp/006113791X; Keller, 2005 (AJES v. 52 No 4 and 5);  http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6V61-4GCX1MR-1&_user=10&_rdoc=1&_fmt=&_orig=search&_sort=d&view=c&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=8aae6e7978f2eeaaaaaf7212b44f140c; http://www.amazon.com/Speed-Violence-Scientists-Tipping-Climate/dp/0807085774/ref=pd_bxgy_b_img_b#reader; http://www.amazon.com/Six-Degrees-Future-Hotter-Planet/dp/142620213X/ref=pd_bxgy_b_img_b;

[6]http://scholar.google.com.au/scholar?q=Solanki+2002+solar+variability&hl=en&safe=off&rlz=1T4PCTA_enAU204AU206&um=1&ie=UTF-8&oi=scholart; http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v431/n7012/abs/nature02995.html
[7] http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/sci;316/5825/709
[8] http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/299/5615/2005; http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6V62-414P195-5&_user=10&_rdoc=1&_fmt=&_orig=search&_sort=d&view=c&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=2f2cfd319d56a702ab8adb95773bd442;

[9] http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v451/n7176/full/nature06588.html

[10] http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2008/2008EO490001.shtml; http://geology.geoscienceworld.org/cgi/content/abstract/28/12/1063

[11] (http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v458/n7242/full/nature08017.html)


Dr. Andrew Glikson is a Earth and paleo-climate research scientist at Australian National University. He spends much of his free time invested in efforts to address climate change issues in a timely fashion and can be contacted at: geospec@iinet.net.au.

Dr. Andrew Glikson is a regular columnist for Novakeo.com


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  • http://climate.geologist-1011.net Timothy Casey B.Sc.(Hons.)

    I point out that discussing the holes in our knowledge is not reinventing the laws of physics – nor reinventing anything else for that matter. Surely, the esteemed Dr Andrew Glikson understands this.

    Glikson doesn’t address Plimer’s key questions, which are the whole point of “Heaven & Earth”. Glikson refers us to Barry Brook’s review of Plimer’s book. Barry Brook doesn’t address Plimer’s key questions either. A few days ago, I challenged Brook to simply address Plimer’s key questions about anthropogenic global warming, and thus prove he has actually read Plimer’s book. To date, my challenge remains unanswered, although many other responses have been answered by Brook. Have either Brook or Glikson actually read “Heaven & Earth” or are critics just imitating each other these days without bothering to actually read what they criticise?

    Otherwise, it would seem that Glikson seeks to avoid the main point of Plimer’s book by selectively repeating only the convenient facts (eg. CO2 falling with temperature 34mya) while blatantly ignoring especially pertinent but nonetheless inconvenient facts such as the drastic Triassic temperature drop that coincided with a massive 2000 ppm rise in CO2 (see Royer et al, 2004). I wonder where all this CO2 came from in the Triassic? May I point out that presenting a portion of data limited to what correlates while omitting non-correlative portions of the data only serves create the illusion of a correlation where none exists.

    This only serves to further exemplify Plimer’s understated main point that some of the science is indeed missing from the discussion of climate change.

    Would the esteemed Dr Glikson care to actually address Plimer’s key questions? Perhaps he could also address the implications of Triassic cooling coincident with a drastic CO2 surge (Royer et al., 2004) or maybe Dr Glikson might care to explain with evidence, by what mechanism the rest of the world remained cooler than today but nonetheless allowed tropical organisms to thrive in the Baltic Sea (53-66 degrees north of the equator) during the Medieval period (Andren et. al., 2000) but not today? Why does history remember Medieval times as particularly warm times? I wonder; could it have been that these organisms in the Baltic somehow infected the contemporary people with optimism and the weather was subsequently perceived as being sunnier than it really was…? Perhaps it was perceived as politically incorrect to “overemphasise” the bad weather of the period…? Surely the simplest explanation is that the highly localised tree ring proxies which, according to the Fourth Assessment Report (p.468) do not support the global nature of climate, are incorrectly interpreted and all the other apparently more consistent proxies are more accurately understood.

    There are many facts that may lack easy key words such as “global warming” and “anthropogenic” but that nonetheless cast doubt on the putatively ‘anthropogenic’ nature of a climate system that has been in a state of spectacular flux for billions of years before Homo Sapiens evolved.

    Doubt is the arbiter of science and sole guardian of intellect.
    Discard doubt at your peril.


    Timothy Casey B.Sc.(Hons.)
    Who am I? More importantly, how does this bear on facts which stand on their verifiability alone?

  • http://climate.geologist-1011.net Timothy Casey B.Sc.(Hons.)

    I point out that discussing the holes in our knowledge is not reinventing the laws of physics – nor reinventing anything else for that matter. Surely, the esteemed Dr Andrew Glikson understands this.

    Glikson doesn’t address Plimer’s key questions, which are the whole point of “Heaven & Earth”. Glikson refers us to Barry Brook’s review of Plimer’s book. Barry Brook doesn’t address Plimer’s key questions either. A few days ago, I challenged Brook to simply address Plimer’s key questions about anthropogenic global warming, and thus prove he has actually read Plimer’s book. To date, my challenge remains unanswered, although many other responses have been answered by Brook. Have either Brook or Glikson actually read “Heaven & Earth” or are critics just imitating each other these days without bothering to actually read what they criticise?

    Otherwise, it would seem that Glikson seeks to avoid the main point of Plimer’s book by selectively repeating only the convenient facts (eg. CO2 falling with temperature 34mya) while blatantly ignoring especially pertinent but nonetheless inconvenient facts such as the drastic Triassic temperature drop that coincided with a massive 2000 ppm rise in CO2 (see Royer et al, 2004). I wonder where all this CO2 came from in the Triassic? May I point out that presenting a portion of data limited to what correlates while omitting non-correlative portions of the data only serves create the illusion of a correlation where none exists.

    This only serves to further exemplify Plimer’s understated main point that some of the science is indeed missing from the discussion of climate change.

    Would the esteemed Dr Glikson care to actually address Plimer’s key questions? Perhaps he could also address the implications of Triassic cooling coincident with a drastic CO2 surge (Royer et al., 2004) or maybe Dr Glikson might care to explain with evidence, by what mechanism the rest of the world remained cooler than today but nonetheless allowed tropical organisms to thrive in the Baltic Sea (53-66 degrees north of the equator) during the Medieval period (Andren et. al., 2000) but not today? Why does history remember Medieval times as particularly warm times? I wonder; could it have been that these organisms in the Baltic somehow infected the contemporary people with optimism and the weather was subsequently perceived as being sunnier than it really was…? Perhaps it was perceived as politically incorrect to “overemphasise” the bad weather of the period…? Surely the simplest explanation is that the highly localised tree ring proxies which, according to the Fourth Assessment Report (p.468) do not support the global nature of climate, are incorrectly interpreted and all the other apparently more consistent proxies are more accurately understood.

    There are many facts that may lack easy key words such as “global warming” and “anthropogenic” but that nonetheless cast doubt on the putatively ‘anthropogenic’ nature of a climate system that has been in a state of spectacular flux for billions of years before Homo Sapiens evolved.

    Doubt is the arbiter of science and sole guardian of intellect.
    Discard doubt at your peril.


    Timothy Casey B.Sc.(Hons.)
    Who am I? More importantly, how does this bear on facts which stand on their verifiability alone?

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