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Discussion > Are Geological Paleo-Climate Records Relevant to The Climate Debate?

Paul Dennis

Sorry, about the misspelling of Royer as Roger.My tablet has a very annoying spell checker and keeps changing things without telling me. Just this morning it has changed Palaeontology into approximate and February 2016 into February 2015.

Mar 16, 2016 at 10:21 AM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

EM, I agree with spell checkers! Best thing is to switch them off and read through what one has written before pressing send. I wish I could always follow my own advice! I'll try to with this note.

As for the Royer data plots one always has to be very careful with diagrams and figure captions. I know these papers well so it was an easy pick up for me.

One thing that intrigues me. You say my colleagues are using these kind of data. Who do you mean? In general there are many scientists using data that they have little understanding of. Witness the many debacles over, for example, 'upside down Tiljander' sediments to name a few.

The major part of the Phanerozoic climate record, more so for the Palaeozoic and Mesozoic, is based on the oxygen isotope composition of marine carbonates and their brachiopod fauna. If one takes the raw isotope data and plot this against time there is a clear secular drift with early palaeozoic data being as much as 6 to 8 per mille depleted in 18-O compared to modern carbonates. At face value this would represent something like a 24 to 32 degree C cooling from the Cambrian to the present day. I don't know of anyone who thinks this is a correct record of temperature development throughout the Phanerozoic. So the question is what is the origin of the isotope shift. One school of thought says it represents a constantly evolving oxygen isotope composition of the ocean. i.e. the early Phanerozoic ocean is depleted in 18-O compared to the modern ocean. This could occur through changing characteristics of the mid-ocean ridge spreading centres over time. At these centres the ocean is circulated through hot crust in large hydrothermal cells and it's isotope composition is brought into equilibrium with olivine/serpentinite at temperature. Others don't think this has happened and that the ocean has remained at a constant isotopic composition throughout this period with rates and styles of spreading broadly consistent with the modern day. Small shifts in the oxygen isotope composiiton will be driven by varying rates of weathering and spreading but not the large shifts we see.

If the shift of 8 per mille is not driven by the ocean then it could be the result of diagenetic changes to the sediment and post diagenetic chages to the rock. In general heating a rock in the presence of water will drive it's isotope composition towards more negative values. The argument being that the older the rock the more likely it is to have been heated to a higher temperature and therefore a more negative shift in the oxygen isotope composition.

So you can see the issue is complicated and we haven't even begun to think about the original temperature signal in the fossils or rock! Veizer and co-workers have arbitrarily removed the 600 million year secular drift and identified a periodicity in the residuals that seems to correlate well with estimated cosmic ray doses. They suggest the ocean has evolved. Others have removed the secular drift, e.g. Royer and then applied a 'pH correction'. There is little justification for this pH correction. It has only been observed in foraminiferal cultures where we know the organism has a strong vital effect that results in isotopic disequilibrium. There is no experimental evidence for such behaviour in brachiopods across a very wide range of species. The reason the pH correction is important in many studies is because it is modulated by atmospheric CO2 levels. Thus one introduces a degree of circularity into the argument. Doing the pH correction gives an apparently higher temperature and since there is a relationship betwene pH and CO2 one finds a relationship between temperature and CO2.

Now I'm not sure what is going on. First and foremost we need to unravel temperature estimates from estimates of the ocean isotope composition. This is not easy and I've spent the last six years trying to develop an isotopic technique and instrument that will allow us to do so. Others have been working along similar lines but the present limited data is equivocal. The method, clumped isotopes, is not without promise but inevitably still has a period of development. It may never resolve fine differences at earth surface temperatures but given a fair wind we might do well enough to outline the broad pattern of temporal development of Earth surface temperatures.

It is with this deep knowledge of the technicalities of the measurements and the complexity of the natural systems we are dealing with that I have a degree of scepticism when I read articles that purport to detail the evolution of the surface environment.

I have made the offer here before and make it again. My lab is an open-house. We welcome any visitors who would care to visit and see for themselves what we are doing and how we go about it. My contact details are easy to find but for anyone interested paul dot dennis at me dot com.

Mar 16, 2016 at 10:52 AM | Unregistered CommenterPaul Dennis

Come on, EM, you had the chance to learn something from somebody who knows what he is talking about and was evidently willing to explain it patiently.

But you told him pretty directly va te faire enculer (as they say around here). You blew it.

How fast do temperatures have to change before you call it rapid?

Here, it has been changing at around 1°C per hour since 9:00, but I would not call that specially rapid.


"°C" or "C"?

"C" indicates "coulomb", so I'll stick to °C.

Looking it up it seems that the Bureau International de Poids et Mesures (The International System of Units (SI) p118) endorses °C for degrees Celsius.

I wondered about the unit being written "degrees Celsius". The word "Celsius" in this context has a capital letter, in contrast to the normal rule for units taking the name of a person (coulomb, pascal, newton,...) evidently because it is being used as an adjective, rather than as a noun.

Mar 16, 2016 at 11:03 AM | Registered CommenterMartin A

Entropic man:

Your colleagues regard the data as useful.
As do, no doubt, Messrs Kendall and Dennis, else why would they bother studying it? That they do not put the information to the use that you would like them to (i.e. “prove” cAGW) is really irrelevant.
At the start of the Holocene temperatures rose 5C in10,000 years. That is 0.16C per 320 years.
And it was uniform throughout that time? Could there not have been periods when there was little rise, and periods when there was a lot (very much like is happening in our present – how very odd…)? It is even conceivable that temperatures might have declined during that period; there might even have been many "mini-ice ages" (and what defines an "ice age"?) of the time; who knows? One thing that we can be pretty certain of is that the rise was NOT uniform.
How fast do temperatures have to change before you call it rapid?
And how fast was the temperature change in the first 45 years of the Holocene? As I, nor you, nor anyone else has the data to make any conclusions about that, how can I tell you? When you have nothing to make a comparison against, your declaration of a change being fast is hollow.

Mar 16, 2016 at 11:13 AM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

Martin A: Paul Dennis clearly displays that he is engaged in proper research: presently, the principle work is in the collection and collation of data; no conclusions are being declared, though ideas may well be being formulated and tested all the time. Those ideas (hypotheses, theories: call them what you will) that do not comply with the data are discarded, and new ones raised. It is clear that Mr Dennis accepts that it might be some considerable time before truly validated theories may develop, and I have little doubt that he is well aware of how large his chosen subject is. This is how science should work; that there are branches of science where this is clearly not being applied is not just sad – it is terrifying! When “science” can be used to destroy all that we have built, without any basis on facts, should be something that everyone should be fighting hard against, else the term “scientist” will gain the same respect as witch-doctor or shaman.

There are too, too many humans who cannot comprehend, or unwilling to admit, how insignificant our species continues to be on this planet – “Look upon my work, ye mighty, and despair.”

Mar 16, 2016 at 11:31 AM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

For those who are interested there is a very nice review of the issues in this 2015 paper:

Jan Veizer and Andreas Prokoph, 2015, Temperatures and oxygen isotope composition of Phanerozoic oceans, Earth Science Reviews, vol. 146, 92-104

Mar 16, 2016 at 11:52 AM | Unregistered CommenterPaul Dennis

Radical Rodent

Trust Penfold to come to the rescue with the true facts when needed!

I agree with everything in your post and I hope you do not mind if I pursue it a little further?
As Paul Dennis has demonstrated; human knowledge is not yet sufficient to provide all the answers we would like.
My bottom line in climate change has (for a few years) been that we do not have sufficient knowledge to explain the past let alone predict the future. However we face a huge problem here and now that needs to be dealt with here and now, if we wait for all the answers we risk not only the destruction of our industries and economies but the end of life on Earth (our opponents believe that removing all CO2 from the atmosphere would be a good thing and this was a target discussed at the Paris 'conference').
The only logical course of action for human beings is to pursue adaptation and forget about predicting the future but our opponents will not allow it (or in the case of our politicians; are too stupid to think outside their parliamentary box). There are new but unproven hypotheses appearing almost on a daily basis and the sceptics seem to spend all their (our) time knocking down these straw men.
So the current sceptic strategy means we are constantly on the back foot, following the argument and not leading it. I believe that a combination of biology and geology can get us on the front foot and release us from the environmental dross in which we are drowning right now.
First we start to emphasise the positive/essential nature of CO2.
Second we point to the trends (not precise information) we get from geology for example the constant fall in the level of atmospheric life giving CO2 over the 4.5 billion year history of the Earth. There are lots of other ways of expanding on this obviously.

Mar 16, 2016 at 1:57 PM | Registered CommenterDung

Why, thank you, kind sir.

Your observations and sentiments are laudable, however, you approach it with rather too much…erm… enthusiasm, much of it somewhat misdirected. I suspect that this is what irks TheBigYinJames.

Mar 16, 2016 at 2:42 PM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

Paul Dennis

You say my colleagues are using these kind of data. Who do you mean?

Good tutoring. You have me digging around for answers.

How about Frames, Francis and Syktus who wrote Climate Modes of the Phanerozoic

I haven't read the book, (though I'll have to find a SH copy if this goes on). However the CUP website give the first ten pages of the Introduction as a taster and I found this.

"Palaeoclimatologists appear to be inveterate seekers after causes of change and the authors of this book are no exception."

As Martin A pointed out, I am an inveterate hypothesis generator. I tend to start juggling ideas even with thin data and hope that better data will follow. I feel more sympathy with these authors than with thatyour own cautious approach.

Veizer's paper reminds me of the problems calibrating radiocarbon dating, the difference between radiocarbon years and actual years due to variations in 14C production. I have read that 18O nuclei are several times more frequent in cosmic rays than on Earth. Is he really suggesting that cosmic rays are affecting 18O ratios in the oceans on a 60 million year cycle?

You listed a number of other possible processes which might deplete or richen 18O in sediments; heating,processing through mid-ocean ridges and hydrothermal vents, etc.

I can certainlly accept differential processing of oxygen isotopes by living organisms. I remember that carbon compounds whose carbon came from photosynthesis have more 12C and less 13C and 14C. Are plankton and brachiopods 18O depleted relative to the water and CO2 they grew in? Has anyone measured it experimentally in modern forams?

Would that lead to lower 18O ratio in chalk and limestone sediments and anomalously high 18O levels in he ocean? This would only invalidate the pH correction if the differential absorption is large.

Be cautious of discussing uncertainty here. The locals tend to equate any uncertainty with complete uncertainty.

Mar 16, 2016 at 5:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

Martin A

Until I can decipher the superscript function on my tablet Celsius will have to remain C.

Rates of change are relative. A rate which is normal for a diurnal range would be abnormal on a geological timescale.

As you already know, the early Holocene warming was sinusoidal; slower at the beginning and end, faster in the middle. Why do you ask such silly questions?

Radical Rodent

This is why warmists worry, We are more aware of the possibility that climate change will end our civilisation, as desertification did for Ozymandias.

"round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away."


I would encourage a positive evidence based approach to arguing the sceptic case (if you can agree on what it is).

You even have a warmist to practice on.

Mar 16, 2016 at 5:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

Radical Rodent

Help me out here and tell me what is misdirected, I do see where you are coming from though because you were always having to hold Danger mouse back from over enthusiastic ideas ^.^

Mar 16, 2016 at 6:38 PM | Registered CommenterDung

EM, you really need Stable Isotope Geochemistry 101 to clear up some of your misunderstandings. Try an introductory text such as Claude Allegre's Isotope Geology, or for a more colloquial style his book 'From Stone to Star'. I know Allegre is considered a heretic by many. As a scientist though he is head and shoulders above most.

Briefly the oxygen isotope thermometer is based on the temperature dependent partitioning of oxygen isotopes between water and a mineral phase (could be carbonate or silicate). At equilibrium it matters not if the mineral is inorganically precipitated, or precipitated by an organsim as in shells etc. Thus in theory to estimate temperature one measures the 18-O of the mineral and the parent water, or water in which the organism lives. Problem here is that we don't have access to the water so our temperature estimates are modulated by our best guess as to the water isotope composition. I say best guess because as yet there have been no reliable measurements of the composition of ancient ocean water. Tghis is a key problem and needs serious attention. You should also know from Thermodynamics 101 that the free energy change at equilibrium is independent of the reaction path. Thus pH should have no effect and in many experimental calibrations of the isotope partitioning as a function of temperature it doesn't.
So with that in mind Veizer is not saying cosmic rays are affecting the 18-O composition of the ocean. The ocean composition is determined by the temperature of equilibration between silicate minerals and sea water in the mid-ocean ridge hydrothermal cells and by the rates of sea floor spreading and continental weathering. What Veizer, Shaviv and others are suggesting is that cosmic ray dose affects planetary albedo through the production of cloud condensation nucleii. The albedo modulates temperature.
Before you pooh pooh this idea I suggest you read carefully the work of Veizer, Shaviv and Svensmaark. Of especial importance are those papers that calculate cosmic ray flux throughout the Phanerozoic and then compare this with the isotope record. It provides another view of the controls on climate on geological time scales.
Rather than taking the sparse data we have and shoehorning it into a model of climate based on CO2 and solar luminosity try to tackle it another way. We have several models of atmospheric CO2 throughout geological history that are reasonably well constrained by the proxy record. We have a good idea of how solar luminosity varies throughout geolgical time. Make a prediction of how the climate should vary and then look to see what the data says. Don't make use of 'fudge' factors such as a supposed, thermodynamically nonsensical pH effect. Just compare, for example Veizers Phanerozoic oxygen isotope record. It's robust and based on more than 58,000 oxygen isotope measurements of marine fossils.

Mar 16, 2016 at 6:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterPaul Dennis

desertification did for Ozymandias.
Mar 16, 2016 at 5:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

The medicine is strong today.

Mar 16, 2016 at 7:58 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

Entropic man, it is your uttermost pomposity that I find your most irritating feature: “This is why warmists worry, We are more aware of the possibility that climate change…” More aware than whom? Are sceptics too stupid to be aware of this? “We are much smarter than you…” – that is the undercurrent of that comment. Of course, there are many examples of the effects of climate change scattered around this planet – all these examples happened centuries, millennia or even eons ago; can you seriously name one present-day example? Happening so long ago (often even before the invention of humans), you can be sure that they happened without any influence whatsoever from humans – how can that be so? If so many events happened without human intervention, thus demonstrating that these events can happen without the guiding hand of humans, what was the driving factor in those changes? Could those factors not exist today; much that existed then still exists now, so what is so different about the present (particularly when you consider that all the changes over the past 200 years have proved to be beneficial, yet the fear is that it will all end in disaster – a mentality that, in spite of what change that has happened has been generally beneficial, any further change is going to be disastrous that has existed for at least 200 years)? How can you be so sure that it is only the effect of humans that is causing it? You ask for positive evidence, utterly ignoring the fact that it is not possible to prove a negative. And then you have the temerity to label yourself a scientist. You were a teacher of a scientific subject – that does NOT necessarily make you a scientist! Why do you not give us the “undoctored” evidence that warming is real, faster than has ever happened before, and dangerous? Why not? Because you cannot – there is none! Even NOAA does not have that evidence; quite the contrary – their radiosonde data shows no warming for nearly 60 years! Even now you have been presented with some of the evidence you clamour for, I know that you will summarily dismiss it; that is your m.o. and, frankly, it is getting rather tedious.

Wake up and stop doodling, boy; you are being led by the nose by unscrupulous people who are prepared to use “science” for their own political agenda. It is amazing that labelling blatant propaganda as science is such a good way to fool so many people. Perhaps there could be some money available for research into that phenomenon…

Mar 16, 2016 at 8:40 PM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

Paul Dennis

I thought I was the only fan of Svensmark so welcome indeed :)

Mar 16, 2016 at 10:21 PM | Registered CommenterDung

Furthermore, EM, how can you be so sure that it was desertification that did for Ozymandias? That the ruins are now in a desert does not mean that it was the desert that brought down his empire; once more, you demonstrate your eagerness to leap to conclusions based on little to no information whatsoever. Not the actions a “proper” scientist should indulge in, surely?


Yes, Dung, Svensmark offers most intriguing theories, which fit far more closely with what we know of the past than the alarmists’ pet theory; whereas data that supports the CO2 theory can be levered (with much “homogenisation” – a.k.a. “adjustment”) to fit with observations for less than 150 years, Svenmarks’ fits more like a glove for some 200 million years. I know which I am more prepared to accept.

Mar 16, 2016 at 11:04 PM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

Paul Dennis

I'll need a day or so to digest your last post. I'll get back to you.

Radical Rodent

You get argumentative about the oddest things.

"Ozymandias" was an allegory on the fragility of empires.

What inspired Shelley was a statue of Ramases II, who ruled Egypt in 1300BC. Unlike the Ozymandias of the poem ,Ramases left a thriving and ongoing Nile valley civilisation behind him.

On climate change, I repeatedly give you evidence and you repeatedly find some excuse to reject it. That is a very active Morton's Demon you have there.

Mar 17, 2016 at 12:01 AM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

It could also be taken as an allegory of the futility of human endeavour on this planet; it is far, far bigger than many accept, and we can only protect ourselves on a limited scale. Whatever we do, it is insignificant to Earth; whatever Earth does, humans notice. I raised the point as it was a good demonstration of you reading far more into a picture than is actually there: “… desertification did for Ozymandias.

Similarly, despite the evidence that climates have changed throughout the life of this planet, that temperatures have risen and fallen over far greater ranges than what is frightening you so, now, and that all of this has been done without any influence of humans, at all, for reasons we have still not fully explained, but, as often as not, irrespective of the atmospheric CO2 levels; despite all that, you remain convinced that, this time, it is the humans wot are doing it (because, after all, this time there are humans around to witness it? Who know what bizarre logic flows through that mind of yours?). And to hold tight to this belief that you hold most dear, you are prepared to ignore any data that indicates you might be wrong, and hold avidly to much-doctored data that comforts your belief. And then you have the audacity to call yourself a scientist! That is something that I would never consider calling myself, though the evidence supports the idea that I might be considerably more scientific than you. If you have presented evidence, then I would not summarily reject it, nor find “some excuse” to do so, but would view it sceptically, and should I doubt it, would offer reasons for doing so. Actually… the only exception to that would be your insistence on referring to the Skeptical Science [sic – neither sceptical nor scientific] site, a site that is beyond parody.

Mar 17, 2016 at 12:58 AM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

Mar 16, 2016 at 5:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man
Martin A
Until I can decipher the superscript function on my tablet Celsius will have to remain C.

Get a proper computer!

Rates of change are relative. A rate which is normal for a diurnal range would be abnormal on a geological timescale.

As you already know, the early Holocene warming was sinusoidal; slower at the beginning and end, faster in the middle. Why do you ask such silly questions?

EM - I have no idea what you are on about.

What questions am I supposed to have asked? Silly or otherwise?

The Holocene warming was sinusoidal ? As in the solution of the equation d²x(t)/dt² = - ѡ² x(t) ? That's a new one on me. Did you imagine that or did you find it somewhere?

You told RR that temperatures changed at 0.16 degrees in 320 decades, then 0.16 degrees in one decade, then 0.16 degrees in a fortnight (about 0.03 decade). So an increase of about thirty-fold between each example. But with the time scale being divided by about thirty at each step.

An overall increase of about 900 in rate of change. Nearly one thousandfold. Scary. Very scary. Very very scary.

A rate which is normal for a diurnal range would be abnormal on a geological timescale.
Of course. I had hoped (but forlornly) that you'd see the parallel between that and what you had yourself said.

“...abnormal on a geological timescale” And yet you see no problem in your pretending that a fluctuation measured over one month can be meaningfully compared with the mean change over ten thousand years?

Really EM, coming up with things like that, how can you expect to be taken even just a little bit seriously?

Mar 17, 2016 at 2:55 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

Was it CO2 that caused the desertification in Egypt, that prompted Shelley to write of Ozymandias, loosely basing it on legends about Rameses ll? Egyptology had recently returned to British control from the French, but part of the interest was trying to prove who the Biblical Pharaoh was, that had upset the Israelites, and help prove parts of the Old Testament. The chronology of much early Egyptology remains a bit messed up, trying to fit Rameses in with the scriptures

Without modern irrigation, you would hardly walk into modern Israel and think "Yup, this is it! The Promised Land of Milk and Honey!"

As a non religious person, the scriptures common to Christians Jews and Muslims confirm historic and significant changes in climate, As EM raised the matter, I thought it was worth amplifying.

Mar 17, 2016 at 5:03 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Martin A: that is the point that I have been trying to make – while you can quite easily determine by proxy that temperatures rose x°C over 10,000 years, thus allowing you to confidently declare that it rose an average of 0.00x°C per decade, that is all that can be said. Unless you can refine your reading of the proxies, you CANNOT state with any confidence that the proxies can determine what the rate of change of temperature was in any geologically brief period such as EM is claiming, thus the changes may well be considerably greater, or perhaps negative, during certain periods of that 10,000 years. Such evidence as I have seen suggests that the least period for which any change occurred is measurable by proxy is a century; there has been a rise of about 0.7°C over the last hundred years. This is less than what many accept as a quite normal rate of change (1°C per century); it gives an average over each decade of less about half the rate that causes such distress to Entropic man.

Mar 17, 2016 at 8:02 PM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

RR - Yes indeed.

Years ago now, I decided to read up on what all this 'global warming' stuff was about.

I read about the hockey stick (this was before the flaws in Mann's home-made analysis methods had become widely known). I could hardly believe it when I read that the 'handle' was from proxy data, the 'blade' from temperature measurements. Imagine a first year student who presented experimental results where the shape of the graph of the plotted results changed drastically just at the exact point where the measurement method was completely changed. They would, to say the least, be given some firm advice by their lab supervisor.

Grafting high resolution recent data on to low-resolution long-term data and then declaring unprecedented recent rate of warming seems to be one of the pervasive signs of the non-scientific nature of 'climate science'. A recent example was the Marcott-Shakun result, announced with great publicity as showing 'unprecedented warming rates' and then much more quietly conceded to be 'not robust' (ie worthless). Even the Met Office deleted its initially crowing endorsement of the paper.

EM is always banging on about his statistical prowess but seems unable to understand that treating different sections of a time series with different temporal resolutions and then calling out that the section with high temporal resolution shows unprecedentedly rapid change is just presenting an artifact of flaky analysis as if it had significance.

His Mar 16, 2016 at 10:11 AM posting is an illustration of his doing just that.

Mar 17, 2016 at 9:15 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

Too true, MA. He is displaying all the signs of being an out-and-out believer, allowing not one jot of truth to disturb his devotion. He has been given as much as he has asked for as can be given, bearing in mind that much of what he asks for does not exist, yet still complains that we give him nothing (well… to tell the truth, there really is not much to give, so he does have some sort of point…). Personally, I am getting weary of him, and will endeavour to resist rising to his bait.

Mar 17, 2016 at 11:09 PM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

To be fair, Martin and RR, Nick Stokes (who does seem to have real math chops) is also guilty of saying that , if you have real measures, you should use them, regardless of the rest of the graph, which depends on bird whistles, farts and EM's trumpetings. I saw him arguing that on climate audit...perhaps I should have clippedmit.

Mar 18, 2016 at 12:02 AM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenes

Martin A

Actually more a half sinusoid.

What is the correct name for a graph which starts with a flat line, increases with a shape approximating the minimum to maximum part of a sine curve and then flattens again at the peak?

I have seen this shape described informally as an S-shaped curve. You see it quite often in Biology.

Mar 18, 2016 at 12:09 AM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man