Archive for August, 2021

The World’s Biggest Thermometer

August 23, 2021

Are temperatures today unprecedented and dangerously high?  Apparently- the IPCC’s 6th Assessment Report says that current temperatures are higher than at any time in the last 125,000 years

But that is wrong.  Temperatures today are cooler than they were in the past.

In making that statement I am not referring to data from ice cores (as in my previous posts here and here), but a simple and accessible temperature measurement device: the biggest thermometer in the world.

The following statements are uncontroversial:

1 Sea level rise is largely due to melting of glaciers and thermal expansion of the oceans.

2 Thermal expansion and glacial melting are symptoms of temperature increase.

3 Higher sea level indicates warmer conditions, lower sea level indicates colder conditions.

4 Sea levels are currently rising (by a small amount- NOAA says Fort Denison, Sydney, has a rise of 0.65mm per year).

5 This indicates temperatures have been rising.

6 But sea levels and therefore temperatures were higher than now about 4,000 to 7,000 years ago.

If you doubt point 6, you can easily tell whether it was warmer or cooler in the past relative to today.

How?  By looking for evidence of sea level change in areas that are not affected by tectonic rising or falling coastal land, or by large scale water run off or glacial melting, or by very large underground water extraction.

Areas such as the eastern coastline of Australia- the world’s biggest thermometer.

The continent of Australia is very old and flat.  It is in the middle of its continental plate with very little tectonic activity.  Australia’s coastlines are therefore largely stable with little vertical movement, apart from a small tilt down at the northern edge and a small uplift along the southern coast.  Australia is also a very long way from ancient ice sheets.

Evidence of higher sea level is plain to see in many places around Australia.  For example, at Phillip Island in Victoria, Victorian Resources Online describes raised Holocene beaches at Chambers Point, 0.5m and 3 to 5m above high water mark.  Arrows on this Google Maps image show where to find them.

More evidence at Wooloweyah Lagoon, near Maclean in NSW:

And Bulli, NSW:

There are many, many other locations where you can find Holocene beaches well above current sea level. 

Some of the height of these stranded beaches is probably due to the weight of deeper seawater from the melting ice sheets gradually tilting up continental coastlines as the sea floor deepened leading to an apparent drop in sea level at the coast.  However, as Lewis et al (2013) and Sloss et al (2018) (see Appendix below) show, this was of lesser importance especially in northern Australia.  Sea level fall was largely due to climatic influences- in particular, cooling and drying since the Holocene Optimum.

To conclude:  Sea levels were higher in the past, so temperatures must have been higher. 

Therefore there is no evidence that current temperature rise is anything unusual.  Just check the world’s biggest thermometer.

Appendix:  Here are a few of many references to higher Australian sea levels in the Holocene, and reasons for variation.

Sloss et al (2007)  Holocene sea-level change on the southeast coast of Australia: a review

“Present sea level was attained between 7900 and 7700 cal. yr BP, approximately 700—900 years earlier than previously proposed. Sea level continued to rise to between +1 and +1.5 m between 7700 and 7400 cal. yr BP, followed by a sea-level highstand that lasted until about 2000 cal. yr BP followed by a gradual fall to present. A series of minor negative and positive oscillations in relative sea level during the late-Holocene sea-level highstand appear to be superimposed over the general sea-level trend.”

ABC TV catalyst 19/6/2008

Even the ABC says sea levels were higher in the Holocene!

Lewis et al (2008) Mid‐late Holocene sea‐level variability in eastern Australia

“We demonstrate that the Holocene sea-level highstand of +1.0–1.5 m was reached ∼7000 cal yr bp and fell to its present position after 2000 yr bp.”

Moreton Bay Regional Council, Shoreline Erosion Management Plan for Bongaree, Bellara, Banksia Beach and Sandstone Point (2010)

“Sea levels ceased rising about 6,500 years ago (the Holocene Stillstand) when they reached approximately 0.4 to 1m above current levels. By 3,000 years before present they had stabilised at current levels”

Switzer et al (2010) Geomorphic evidence for mid–late Holocene higher sea level from southeastern Australia

“This beach sequence provides new evidence for a period of higher sea level 1–1.5 m higher than present that lasted until at least c. 2000–2500 cal BP and adds complementary geomorphic evidence for the mid to late Holocene sea-level highstand previously identified along other parts of the southeast Australian coast using other methods.”

Lewis et al (2013) Post-glacial sea-level changes around the Australian margin: a review

“The Australian region is relatively stable tectonically and is situated in the ‘far-field’ of former ice sheets. It therefore preserves important records of post-glacial sea levels that are less complicated by neotectonics or glacio-isostatic adjustments. Accordingly, the relative sea-level record of this region is dominantly one of glacio-eustatic (ice equivalent) sea-level changes. ….Divergent opinions remain about: (1) exactly when sea level attained present levels following the most recent post-glacial marine transgression (PMT); (2) the elevation that sea-level reached during the Holocene sea-level highstand; (3) whether sea-level fell smoothly from a metre or more above its present level following the PMT; (4) whether sea level remained at these highstand levels for a considerable period before falling to its present position; or (5) whether it underwent a series of moderate oscillations during the Holocene highstand.”

Leonard et al (2015) Holocene sea level instability in the southern Great Barrier Reef, Australia: high-precision U–Th dating of fossil microatolls

“RSL (relative sea level) was as least 0.75 m above present from ~6500 to 5500 yr before present (yr BP; where “present” is 1950). Following this highstand, two sites indicated a coeval lowering of RSL of at least 0.4 m from 5500 to 5300 yr BP which was maintained for ~200 yr. After the lowstand, RSL returned to higher levels before a 2000-yr hiatus in reef flat corals after 4600 yr BP at all three sites. A second possible RSL lowering event of ~0.3 m from ~2800 to 1600 yr BP was detected before RSL stabilised ~0.2 m above present levels by 900 yr BP. While the mechanism of the RSL instability is still uncertain, the alignment with previously reported RSL oscillations, rapid global climate changes and mid-Holocene reef “turn-off” on the GBR are discussed.”

Sloss et al (2018) Holocene sea-level change and coastal landscape evolution in the southern Gulf of Carpentaria, Australia

“ By 7700 cal. yr BP, sea-level reached present mean sea-level (PMSL) and continued to rise to an elevation of between 1.5 m and 2 m above PMSL. Sea level remained ca. + 1.5 between 7000 and 4000 cal. yr BP, followed by rapid regression to within ± 0.5 m of PMSL by ca. 3500 cal. yr BP. When placed into a wider regional context results from this study show that coastal landscape evolution in the tropical north of Australia was not only dependent on sea-level change but also show a direct correlation with Holocene climate variability….  Results indicate that Holocene sea-level histories are driven by regional eustatic driving forces, and not by localized hydro-isostatic influences. “

Dougherty et al (2019)  Redating the earliest evidence of the mid-Holocene relative sea-level highstand in Australia and implications for global sea-level rise

“The east coast of Australia provides an excellent arena in which to investigate changes in relative sea level during the Holocene…. improved dating of the earliest evidence for a highstand at 6,880±50 cal BP, approximately a millennium later than previously reported. Our results from Bulli now closely align with other sea-level reconstructions along the east coast of Australia, and provide evidence for a synchronous relative sea-level highstand that extends from the Gulf of Carpentaria to Tasmania. Our refined age appears to be coincident with major ice mass loss from Northern Hemisphere and Antarctic ice sheets, supporting previous studies that suggest these may have played a role in the relative sea-level highstand. Further work is now needed to investigate the environmental impacts of regional sea levels, and refine the timing of the subsequent sea-level fall in the Holocene and its influence on coastal evolution.”

Helfensdorfer et al (2020) Atypical responses of a large catchment river to the Holocene sea-level highstand: The Murray River, Australia

“Three-dimensional numerical modelling of the marine and fluvial dynamics of the lower Murray River demonstrate that the mid-Holocene sea-level highstand generated an extensive central basin environment extending at least 140 kilometres upstream from the river mouth and occupying the entire one to three kilometre width of the Murray Gorge. This unusually extensive, extremely low-gradient backwater environment generated by the two metre sea-level highstand….”

Climate Change in Context

August 17, 2021

In my last post I showed some plots of temperature data derived from ice cores at Vostok base in Antarctica, which indicate we are close to the end of the Holocene.

Here are some more plots from the same data so we can put present concerns about warming in some context.  Please remember- temperatures calculated from ice cores have a resolution of from 20 years recently to 40 to 50 years in the mid-Holocene, to 80 to 85 years in the glacial maximum.  Temperatures shown may be regarded as a rough average of conditions over those intervals.  Also note this dataset is for one point on the earth’s surface, not a global average.  Nevertheless it is a very important dataset as it shows polar conditions over a very long period.

Figure 1:  Vostok temperatures relative to 1999 over the last 20,000 years

The previous glacial maximum had temperatures in the Antarctic about 9 degrees colder than now.  This was followed by a strong warming, the Termination of glacial conditions, resulting in 11,000 years of warm conditions, the Holocene.  The Holocene was not uniformly warm but featured fluctuations of up to 2 degrees above and below current temperatures.  I will look at this later, but first I shall take a closer look at the Termination.  

Figure 2:  Vostok temperatures during the Termination

Point A marks the start of the Termination warming.  Temperatures rose from A to B (by about 6.5 degrees in 3,000 years- about 0.2 degrees per 100 years- so not exactly “rapid” warming).  Temperatures then fell about 2 degrees, before rising even more sharply from C to D, the start of the Holocene.  Figure 3 shows temperatures in this final part of the Termination.

Figure 3:  Vostok temperatures in the steepest part of the Termination

Temperatures increased by about 5 degrees over a bit more than 1,100 years.  Yes, the warming rate was indeed steeper- 0.44 degrees per 100 years on average.  However, the temperature rose 1 degree in less than 50 years at the end of this period.

During the Termination, long term temperature rise was gradual, but punctuated by short periods of much more rapid rise.

Now let’s look at temperature change in the Holocene.

Figure 4:  Vostok temperatures 7,000 to 9,000 years ago

Conditions were not uniformly warm, with fluctuations from -1 to +.5C relative to 1999 over hundreds of years.  But there was one episode with a rise of 2.93 degrees in less than 100 years- now that’s rapid warming.

Figure 5:  Vostok temperatures in the last 2,020 years

More recently, temperatures rose 1.94 degrees in 155 years to 1602, and again 2.2 degrees in 44 years to 1809.

You will notice I have shown 3 datapoints showing 21 year mean annual surface air temperatures at Vostok (1970, 1990, and 2010, with zero at 1990).  This is merely for interest- instrumental air temperatures should never be appended to ice core data.  What it does show is that the rate of present temperature change is well within the range of natural variation.

This is also evident when a Greenland ice core series is compared with modern surface air temperatures.

Figure 6:  Greenland (GISP2) temperatures in the last 4,000 years

I have inserted the decadal average of -29.9 C at the GISP borehole from 2001-2010.  Notice how unremarkable that is.

As the fluctuations at GISP and Vostok have been occurring for thousands of years something other than carbon dioxide emissions must be responsible.

So what about carbon dioxide? Data in the next figure is from Dome Fuji, also in Antarctica.

Figure 7:  Insolation, temperature, and CO2 in the last 350,000 years

Notice that at no time in previous interglacials did carbon dioxide concentration exceed 300ppm, (and despite the higher temperatures than now there was no “runaway” warming.)    And as the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Centre says

There is a close correlation between Antarctic temperature and atmospheric concentrations of CO2 (Barnola et al. 1987). The extension of the Vostok CO2 record shows that the main trends of CO2 are similar for each glacial cycle. Major transitions from the lowest to the highest values are associated with glacial-interglacial transitions. During these transitions, the atmospheric concentrations of CO2 rises from 180 to 280-300 ppmv (Petit et al. 1999). The extension of the Vostok CO2 record shows the present-day levels of CO2 are unprecedented during the past 420 kyr. Pre-industrial Holocene levels (~280 ppmv) are found during all interglacials, with the highest values (~300 ppmv) found approximately 323 kyr BP. When the Vostok ice core data were compared with other ice core data (Delmas et al. 1980; Neftel et al. 1982) for the past 30,000 – 40,000 years, good agreement was found between the records: all show low CO2 values [~200 parts per million by volume (ppmv)] during the Last Glacial Maximum and increased atmospheric CO2 concentrations associated with the glacial-Holocene transition. According to Barnola et al. (1991) and Petit et al. (1999) these measurements indicate that, at the beginning of the deglaciations, the CO2 increase either was in phase or lagged by less than ~1000 years with respect to the Antarctic temperature, whereas it clearly lagged behind the temperature at the onset of the glaciations. (My emphasis).

Therefore, carbon dioxide did not drive, but followed, temperature change in the past; past rapid warming did not lead to positive feedbacks and runaway warming; and the instrumental record is far too short to draw any definitive conclusion about recent warming, which cannot be differentiated from past Antarctic and Greenland temperature fluctuations.

There is no climate crisis.