back to article Antarctic ice formed at CO2 levels much higher than today's

New research has shown that the mighty ice sheet covering the Antarctic froze into being when the world had a much higher level of carbon dioxide in its atmosphere than it does today. By analysing ancient algae found in deep-sea core samples, Professor Matthew Huber and his colleagues determined that the mile-thick ice which now …

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Devil

My mate had this idea...

...that you could build a medium sized nuclear power plant somewhere on the coast of Antarctica and use it to pump seawater into the heart of the continent where it would freeze. If you do the figures, it turns out that this would be more than enough to counter any kind of future sea level rise. I leave that calculation as an exercise to the reader.

My mate is a libertarian.

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With an annual average temperature of -37 F, the Antarctic isn't going to melt in my or my grandchildren's lifetimes......In fact, I would go out on a limb and predict it will never melt unless our planet experiences a global cataclysmic event big enough to knock it off it's axis. And if that should happen, the melting of the Antarctic would be the last thing we'd be worrying about....LOL!

As for your friend's idea of the nuclear power plant, while that's a cool idea, it's unlikely the environmental wacos would ever allow that to happen......NUCLEAR ENERGY = BAD

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Facepalm

Reg cranking out the FUD again

This article missing the point and misrepresents the study - and the authors of the study. This seems to have become quite traditional here at El Reg, so I guess we shouldn't be surprised.

Of course the Antartic Ice sheet is not going to melt - no-one ever said it would. It's too big and too high (although the West Antarctic Ice Sheet might if we really go for it).

The point is that it was formed as a result of global cooling triggered by a 40% reduction in CO2. We're on course to more than double CO2 (back to levels above those that led to the formation of Antarctic Ice Sheet, incidentally).

Changes in CO2 of this magnitude have major, long-lasting and hard-to-reverse effects on climate. Just to pull one quote:

"The evidence falls in line with what we would expect if carbon dioxide is the main dial that governs global climate; if we crank it up or down there are dramatic changes," says Matthew Huber, a professor of earth and atmospheric sciences at Purdue. "We went from a warm world without ice to a cooler world with an ice sheet overnight, in geologic terms, because of fluctuations in carbon dioxide levels."

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Anonymous Coward

"... no-one ever said it would."

Millions of public school students would dispute that.

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Mushroom

"No-one ever said it would". Apart from....

http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change/melting-of-antarctic-ice-becoming-unstoppable-1648405.html

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=antarctica-andrill-ice-sheets

http://www.desmogblog.com/antarctic-ice-sheets-melting-at-ever-faster-rate-due-to-global-warming-new-study

http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-01-antarctic-ice-sheets.html

Glad that science is settled then. FFS.

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Bronze badge

but surely....

"The point is that it was formed as a result of global cooling triggered by a 40% reduction in CO2."

Isn't that a hypothesis? Since it happened a very long time ago then someone has made an assumption about events and their triggers (and consequences) which, using proper scientific processes, is waiting for evidence to prove or disprove. This latest information sets a new marker for CO2 levels (again this is their belief which could be wrong) at a point in history but until we get markers for the preceding periods the hypothesis you quote above is only slightly more plausible than 'and the sky used to be orange/purple zebra stripes'.

OK that last bit may be a tad inflammatory but you get the gist

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Boffin

Downvoted for careful and comprehensive reading of the report?

Really, commentards, you should be ashamed of yourselves.

GJC

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Geoff Campbell

the reason the commentards are down voting this guy might have something to do with this claim: "No-one ever said it would"

although, I'll give him credit for not making the claim: "no one said that the sea level will rise!"

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And even..

three commentards downvoting someone pointing out their own thundering hypocrisy.

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Anonymous Coward

@Barely registers

"No-one ever said it would"

Note that "melting a nontrivial amount" and "melting entirely" are rather different outcomes; so we

should all try to be clearer which one we mean.

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FAIL

Erm sorry

But the Antarctic ice sheet began to form when the last land link between Antarctica and South America was broken allowing wind and currents to circle Antarctica , isolating it from any heat coming southwards from the equator.

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Anonymous Coward

"science is settled"

Science, by definition, can not be settled.

Interesting study.

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Megaphone

@TomR

Im just going to use your own quote against you, i have no idea if its an accurate quote or not but it doesnt matter

"if carbon dioxide is the main dial that governs global climate"

IF being the intresting word out of all that, THEY DONT KNOW, everyone, no matter what side you take is basing their opinion, and that is all they are, from assumptions made on a topic we dont completely understand

Facts are we dont know what the climate is doing,

we dont know to what extent we are having

we dont know to what extent the sun is having

we dont know how much of climate change is down to natural changes

we dont know what all the factors that effect climate change

We dont know if CO2 causes temp rise or rises because of a temp rise

i could go on, we are taking guesses on many of these and educated guessed on others but they are still guesses, and this is the reason there isnt a unified voice on climate change.

So i think a commen sense approch to this is to not try and save the world, because we dont know what we are trying to save if from and what effect it would have on the world

The best approch we all can take is not to needlessly waste energy, keep pollution to a minimum and do the best we can, we shouldnt make up random targets because its not fair for low paid familys who will always find it harder to adapt to financial changes, forget climate change, we need to drill in to people not to waste things around us, climate change is just confusing the issue and turning people in to either PRO or against, all the while everyone is missing the bigger picture, of lets just not waste energy and dump crap all over the place!

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Ru
Headmaster

FUD? Surely you wanted an antonym?

The Reg's CO2/climate change related news generally tends to be optimistic and hopeful in a "we're not all going to cook to death! yay!" sort of fashion. FUD is not quite the term you need.

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Anonymous Coward

@ru /fud

The Reg (particularly with its AOlowski hat on) tends towards generating fear of excessive social/govt control and of unwarranted and onerous taxes. Remember the oft-quoted "the only thing to fear, is fear itself".

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@Kevin Johnston

No, it is *not* a hypothesis or an assumption. It is based on measured data. It refines/corrects earlier measures but that doesn't mean any of it is just wild speculation.

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@Dazza

There is a big difference between "not completely understood" and "we don't know". For most of the things you claim we don't know, we actually have a pretty good idea, within certain error bounds (which may, of course, be large in some cases).

To say it is all opinion or guesses is a little exaggerated.

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Paris Hilton

It is El Reg who is pushing FUD?

Really?

Do you even know what FUD means?

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FUD???

Surely you know what "FUD" stands for? So the Reg article can't possibly be pushing FUD. Now those who want us to fear the future, they could easily be said to be pushing FUD. And Huber might be an "earth scientist" but he seems to have missed a few classes. The planet was already in what is known as an "ice house" climate state - very long term shifts on the order of about 100 my in length. A "Hot house" or "green house" state would have been warmer. The planet went from a cool state to the present cyclically glacial state. If you look at the best models of atmospheric composition over the last 500 my there is no evidence at all that CO2 has anything to do with driving climate state. The better view is that cooling oceans draw down atmospheric CO2, not the other way round. Plant productivity would decrease as atmospheric carbon diminishes further reducing available carbon. This pattern is visible in ice core data throughout the Pleistocene.

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Anonymous Coward

@the dog ate it

Well, either they know something or they don’t, exaggerated? maybe, that’s why i said educated guess, but you’re missing the point, if you take a complex matter like this an make it even more confusing than nothing constructive gets done, you end up with a polarized debate about what effect we have on global warming, rather than the real issue which we can all agree on, let’s not keep making things worse. if we have an effect on it or not is irrelevant, the fact of the matter is wasting energy is bad no matter how you look at it, unless you’re a power company of course. An polluting the planet is equally bad again from whatever your stance on global warming is.

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Thumb Down

You might want to choose your quotes a bit more carefully

Saying that "Changes in CO2 [..] have major, long-lasting and hard-to-reverse effects on climate" tends to mean that such changes are slow to take place.

Then you pull a quote (from .. ?) that specifically states that "We went from a warm world without ice to a cooler world with an ice sheet overnight, in geologic terms", meaning that such changes can happen rapidly - in geological terms.

Doesn't really add weight to your argument.

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Settled science?

They're interesting references, but they all paint a consistent picture: West Antarctic sheet less stable than East.

The SciAm article clearly discusses the fact that, contrary to expectations, the East Antarctic sheet has seen melting during the period 20-14M years ago. Note that the last glacial maximum was 20,000 years ago. The article is clear that the West Antarctic sheet is less stable than the East.

Desmogblog article is entirely about the *current* West Antartctic sheet melting.

The Physorg article is about the mechanism by which the East Antartctic sheet melted in last interglacial.

So it seems pretty clear to me:

The West Antarctic sheet is less stable than the East, and is melting right now.

During interglacials both the East & West see some melting. We don't fully understand the mechanisms but there are hints that the East is little less stable than we thought a few years ago.

Where's the beef with the science?

As an aside. Antarctic sea ice is indeed increasing (despite warming temperatures), but land ice is decreasing. http://www.skepticalscience.com/antarctica-gaining-ice-intermediate.htm

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FAIL

Nobody said...

TomR said:

Of course the Antartic Ice sheet is not going to melt - no-one ever said it would. It's too big and too high (although the West Antarctic Ice Sheet might if we really go for it).

Your first link starts "The good news is that it would take more than 1,000 years to melt the massive ice sheet in *west Antarctica* that could raise sea levels by 16 feet."

And the second one says "indicated that the *West Antarctic* Ice Sheet has frequently advanced and retreated."

And the third one "While ice loss is still rather small compared with Antarctica’s vast ice sheets,"

And the fourth one is talking about the retreat of the east antarctic ice sheat *at the end of the last ice age*.

So all your links show is that you don't know how to read. None of them claim that the Antarctic is going to melt tomorrow.

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Devil

Let

The fun begin....

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FAIL

Logic fail

The fact that the atmosphere contained more CO2 when the ice formed doesn't mean that the planet was warmer, unless other factors were also the same as they are now. Nor does the melting of ice depend on CO2 content in the ppm level!

Which is not to say that this isn't an interesting finding.

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Bronze badge

Agreed.

It can, following that argument, suggest that CO2 may not be as big a factor as the CO2 global warming lobby would have you believe.

The earth was at a particularly cool point when the caps formed (poles get less heat from the sun, so they're colder than the equator, of course) and has gradually warmed up since - which is interesting as the CO2 level has ended up as low as it is (or at least was).

As an aside, the problem with the debate is simple - scientists (both pro- or anti-) are struggling to keep opinion out of their analysis. It's almost as bad as religious dogma.

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Anonymous Coward

Defintely interesting research...

...and more of it please, but from what I've heard it isn't a huge revelation that antartica would require a super villian death ray amount of warming before the effects of spending 6months in the pitch black are felt on ice that is sitting on well insulated land. Antarctica is going to be a beautiful white terrifying sight for centuries to come, if we have sense enough to leave it well alone.

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Anonymous Coward

Ahh, Lewis Page, a fresh dose of reason in a mad world. Perhaps Lewis could write a series about the debt crisis as well? And why not surveilance and "capitlism" while he is at it? Keep up the good work!

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WTF?

I don't need no steenking Title

"Of course the Antartic Ice sheet is not going to melt - no-one ever said it would."

Sorry mate, I beg to differ. We are constatntly being told that it's going to melt. Or that it won't. Or that it might. Or that some of it will. Or that it's going to get warmer, or colder. Thats the problem with the whole thing. Neither the Disciples and Denyers of Global Warming (Man made or not) have an even remotely consistent argument. There are as many theories as to what any given bit of data means as there are groups reading the data.

All I know, is that if you want to tax the crap out of me, stop me traveling anywhere and generally make my life miserable you need a far more coherent argument than anything I have seen so far.

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Meh

Unfortunately, it looks like Lewis didn't read the article

... ok, I can only read the abstract. But that says:

"...and demonstrate that Antarctic and subantarctic data overestimate atmospheric CO2 levels, biasing long-term trends. Our results show that CO2 declined before and during Antarctic glaciation and support a substantial CO2 decrease as the primary agent forcing Antarctic glaciation, consistent with model-derived CO2 thresholds. "

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Facepalm

You don't just need to read the article

You need to think about what it means in context.

OK, so global CO2 starts out *higher* than 600, and forms a massive ice sheet we're all told will melt, no thanks to world+dog putting all this carbon into the air.

Even if it *stopped* forming at 200, it was forming at a *higher* level than we have now. Nearly double, in fact. That's a *lot* of carbon. Even China couldn't put that much in the air.

In other words, something other than high levels of atmospheric CO2 caused that ice sheet to form, and if you don't know what that is, the assumption that going from 390 to 395 ppb (even that's a *lot* of carbon) is definitely going to make that ice sheet melt is ludicrously bad science.

In other words, raising the global CO2 content isn't the fully understood method for carbongeddon we are told that we have to pay through the nose to prevent, incidentally enriching a lot of politicians and their cronies.

A real scientist would conclude that it is time to go back to the old drawing board -- but not with AGW zealots in the mix. No, they would just like to shout down all attempts at science with the trope "the science is all settled".

for fun reading, featuring *real* scientists instead of mob hysteria:

http://wattsupwiththat.com/

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TRT
Silver badge

Professor Huber T. Farnsworth?

Well, once a year we just drag an enormous ice cube through space from the planet Hoth and drop it into the Atlantic ocean.

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Coat

Bothered me

I thought Professor Huber T. Farnsworth was a Groucho Marx character from one of the Marx Brothers' later movies.

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Anonymous Coward

The question is...

..were levels of this (or any other) gas rising or falling at the time? .. or staying stable?

Before the ice formed, there was obviously no ice but without knowing the change you can't tell if it was because it was too high before, or too low or completely irrelevant; that part of the continent might have been nearer to the equator at the time

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Anonymous Coward

and there are

orbital variations affecting solar flux, and possible solar variation as well.

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Anonymous Coward

TomR

Perhaps you missed this point:

By analysing ancient algae found in deep-sea core samples, Professor Matthew Huber and his colleagues determined that the mile-thick ice which now covers the south polar continent formed around 34 million years ago. At that stage the atmosphere held much more CO2 than it does now, some 600 parts per million (ppm) as opposed to today's level of 390 ppm.

As opposed to your claim:

The point is that it was formed as a result of global cooling triggered by a 40% reduction in CO2.

I think I will go for the former as he seems to be a tad more qualified than you.

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Anonymous Coward

the two statements

"~ 50% more atmospheric CO2" and "after a drop of 40% in CO2" are not mutually exclusive.

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@ Anonymous Coward 11:51GMT

Perhaps TomR was referring to this line in the abstract: "Our results show that CO2 declined before and during Antarctic glaciation and support a substantial CO2 decrease as the primary agent forcing Antarctic glaciation, consistent with model-derived CO2 thresholds."?

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Perhaps you missed the abstract that Hayden Clark posted earlier. That is a summary of how Professor Huber interprets this and, as you say, he is the expert.

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Holmes

Butterflies Wings

Climate models are fatally flawed as they are far too simple. Yes there may be a minute bit caused by CO2 but there are far larger forces at work and ones that are incorrectly factored into the models.

Too much Newton and not enough Schroedinger.

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Anonymous Coward

Err...

Where do you get your knowledge of climate models from? What would be an acceptable level of complexity?

The thing with models - I learned during my degree - is that you can try to model everything, if you want or you can define a point where it's acceptable to stop. Want to model the climate? you'll need to model the plains of the Serengeti. Want to model the plains of the Serengeti, you'll need to model the herds of Wildebeest . Want to model a heard of Wildebeest, you'll need to model a Wildebeest. Want to model a Wildebeest, you'll need to model it's digestive system. Want to model the digestive system of a Wildebeest, you'll need to model what comes into it and how the stomach acids and enzymes work. I could go on, suffice to say that a model isn't worthless because it doesn't simulate at fine enough level, it's about the results and climate models, while they are getting better all the time, simulate what is going to happen in the future, by comparing the model against what happened in the past.

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Headmaster

And ?

I hope you learned during your degree (in what, fine arts ?) that anything in applied mathematics is subject to confidence limits. The variables in climatic models are still to poorly understood and compounded errors in each variable will cause a fundamental systematic error, ie over pessimistic forecasting.

PS my degree was in biochemistry and I understand enzymes and chemical reactions perfectly well and the damn difficulty in trying to model a system on the bench, let alone the entire ecosystem.

Heisenberg uncertainty principle states a fundamental limit on the accuracy with which certain pairs of physical properties of a particle, such as position and momentum, can be simultaneously known. In other words, the more precisely one property is measured, the less precisely the other can be controlled, determined, or known.

It's a fact of life in chemistry, that's why there is no thing as a 100% yield.

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Pint

LOL

The climate models currently used don't work, when you start from way back and feed in known data to calculate what the climate *now* should be, they fail.

So until they can work to within acceptable bounds of credulity with what we know to be fact, why should we entrust them with our future?

http://www.nipccreport.org/reports/2011/pdf/01ClimateModels.pdf this report has some of the info.

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JDX
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@TomR

Did you post purely to balance out the bias you saw in the article? Or did you think asserting several 'facts' without a single link would show us all the True Way?

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Alert

Back to basics

Yes, some Antarctic ice will melt as we warm the globe. No, no-one has claimed that the whold Antarctic ice sheet will melt. It's a non-linear process (like many of the arguments here).

No, I didn't post up no stinkin facts - except to parrot what the researchers themselves said. Google "Willem Sijp" or "Mark Pagani" (who, along with Huber, are the researchers who did the study) to see what the real world makes of this research (or read it yourself). Here's the press release http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-12/pu-dic120111.php

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Boffin

CERN was behind it all

It was a neutrino from CERN that had gone back in time and caused local formation of dry ice, caused in part by high CO2 levels, that actually set off the formation of the Antarctic ice cap. This in turn caused the global cooling (because of the albedo effect on world climate), leading to the current ice-house climate.

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Antarctic Ice

Mr Page makes a comment about Antarctic ice increasing in extent. While this may be true for sea ice, and it happens for reasons that are generally understood, the fact is that land ice - the more significant mass of ice - is decreasing. the thing is, I don't see why I should have to point this out. Either he doesn't know or has chosen to gloss over it. Either way, it isn't much of a recommendation for his journalistic abilities.

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FAIL

iced

Land ice is increasing in the antarctic. Australian scientists, who have been there for a long time, drill a series of holes every year to measure the thickness, and it is increasing.

cheers

Fredds

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Anonymous Coward

Won't anyone think about the Methane??

It has become popular to obcess about CO2 emissions, which science is more or less agreeing is contributing to a warming climate.

But what about methane? Methane is many more times effective as a 'greenhouse' gas than CO2, and human activity is responsible for significant amounts of methane emissions.

For starters, rainforest felling in the Amazon for farming is replacing a CO2 sink with a methane source... genius.

Oh thats right I forgot - industry is generally responsible for methane outputs, not the general public. Can't mess with industry - it might affect 'the economy'. meh.

It doesn't help that the warming climate is beginning to unlock and release an enormous natural store of methane into the atmosphere: http://terranature.org/methaneSiberia.htm

@GougedEye - its all about /you/ isn't it. FAIL.

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Silver badge

Methane rise has actually slowed down to almost a stop in recent decades, although there's no telling when or if it might start rising significantly again. Yes the locked up methane in frozen land and ocean floor is a concern. It probably won't start releasing in massive amounts until we begin crossing temperature levels that haven't been crossed for millions of years. We don't know where this millions-of-year temperature high is, but it's close.

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