Are Geologists and Other Climate Scientists at Odds over Climate Change?


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Climate science is a multidisciplinary field of study. There are many factors that influence climate change; the position of the earth relative to the sun, the composition of the atmosphere, and ocean currents, to name a few. Changes in climate, whether they be small-scale, large-scale, short-term, or long-term, cause what we refer to as the weather, and change the weather both spatially and temporally. 

The list of scientists that believe in man-made climate change (MMCC) includes researchers from the disciplines of physics, climatology and meteorology (obviously), chemistry, biology, oceanography, but very few geologists. The list of scientists that deny man-made climate change or doubt its magnitude include a few physicists, climatologists, meteorologists, oceanographers, and many more geologists. 

This is telling. Physicists base their studies on either the very smallest (atom) or the very largest (universe). Much of what they do is relegated to scientific theory, and much of what they work on is either invisible or untouchable. As climate scientists, they study the interactions and changes that occur at the molecular level, say between the sun’s radiation and atmospheric gases, or they understand the forces involved in the winds and waves and in the motions of the planets.

Chemists, climatologists, biologists, and oceanographers study one aspect of the earth. Chemists look at the elements and compounds that are involved in climate interactions. Climatologists study the atmosphere and oceanographers study the hydrosphere (oceans), both looking at patterns and formulating models that help them to understand and predict ongoing and future events. Biologists study plant and animal life and look at their interactions with the environment; the most important one here, obviously, the effect of the dominant life form, humans.

I might be partial. Geologists study the earth; or at least, more of the whole earth than any one of the other disciplines. The compositions of rocks, sediments, and water (including ice), are dependent on their environment of deposition, including climate (weather). The various layers and their patterns of deposition reveal the changes in climate that have occurred through time. It doesn’t really matter what caused the changes, only that changes have occurred, and they can only be natural. To understand the history of the earth and earth’s climate (weather) stored in the rocks, sediments, and water, geologists strive to understand recent environments, which include the sediments that are being deposited now.

Unfortunately, the interactions studied by each discipline would occur whether climate change was natural or anthropogenic (man-made). For example, the claim is made that increasing CO2 causes warming; but warming oceans release more CO2. So, is the increase in CO2 the cause or the effect? There are many examples of this paradox. Humans interact with the environment in a natural way. Who is to say at which point our natural interaction ends and our human interaction begins? We are supposed to be industrious.

The main line of evidence for MMCC that is the basis for all the climate science research in physics, chemistry, biology, climatology, and oceanography is “not” that the earth is warmer than it’s ever been, but that carbon dioxide levels are higher. The history of climate change over the past 450,000 years is contained in one graph, developed through the analyses of Antarctic ice cores. The graph shows the periods of cooling and warming, along with decreases and increases in carbon dioxide and dust levels, corresponding to the waxing and waning of the ice ages. Actual measurements of CO2 levels since about 1950 have been tacked on to “prove” that CO2 levels are increasing at a faster rate than previous periods of warming.

See this page for a few observations of the historical data.

There are some assumptions that have been made by the MMCC scientists to come to their conclusions. The first assumption is that Antarctic ice is always laid down the same way and that there are no changes in deposition or compaction rates. Another assumption is that the CO2 gas measured in the ice is all from the layer that is being evaluated, and that the CO2 bubbles do not migrate between layers. These assumptions introduce potential sources of error. There are margins of error in the data from recently collected data (since 1950) as well, which can vary due to point sources of CO2 and atmospheric circulation anomalies.

Also, there are data nuances that should be considered when viewing the graphs. The data is graphed on a vertically exaggerated scale that makes the variability look large when actually the supposed change is on the order of 100 parts per million, or 0.01 percent. That’s like having a teaspoon of sugar that’s missing 18 grains. Adding the missing grains would be imperceptible.

Geologists have been studying climate change longer than the historical record climate scientists use to insinuate MMCC. It is the very basic tenet of geological study; that the history of climate change is stored in the rocks, sediments, and water (including ice). Data collection and interpretation is not exact science. Assumptions are made that always call into question comparisons with present and real world observations. Climate scientists and politicians know three things: that the climate has changed, is changing, and will change. No one, not even geologists, know what’s going to happen next, to what extent, or the interactions that that may influence climate change. Even meteorologists can’t always get their predictions right from day to day.

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