Breaking Hockey Sticks: Antarctic Ice Core Edition | Watts Up With That?

huey dewey louie climate scientists

Ancient air bubbles trapped in ice enable us to step back in time and see what Earth’s atmosphere, and climate, were like in the distant past. They tell us that levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere are higher than they have been at any time in the past 400,000 years. During ice ages, CO2 levels were around 200 parts per million (ppm), and during the warmer interglacial periods, they hovered around 280 ppm (see fluctuations in the graph). In 2013, CO2 levels surpassed 400 ppm for the first time in recorded history. This recent relentless rise in CO2 shows a remarkably constant relationship with fossil-fuel burning, and can be well accounted for based on the simple premise that about 60 percent of fossil-fuel emissions stay in the air.

Today, we stand on the threshold of a new geologic era, which some term the “Anthropocene”, one where the climate is very different to the one our ancestors knew.

[…Blah, blah, blah…]


We’ve all heard variations of this meme… ad nauseum… They tell us that levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere are higher than they have been at any time in the past 400,000 800,000 2.5 million 20 million years.   

This claim is generally based on the fact that Antarctic ice cores don’t indicate interglacial CO2 levels above 280-300 ppm at any point in the past 800,000 years or so.  While this is true, does it actually inform us that atmospheric CO2 levels could not have been well over 300 ppm during pre-industrial times?

WAIS Divide and the Effects of Resolution on Amplitude

West Antarctic Ice Sheet Divide Ice Core

On December 1, 2011, the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) Divide ice core project, funded by the National Science Foundation, reached its final depth of 3405 meters (11,171 feet; over 2 miles), recovering the longest U.S. ice core to date from the polar regions. The 12.2-centimeter (4.8-inch) diameter cylinders of ice that make up the ice core contain uniquely detailed information on past environmental conditions during the last 68,000 years, such as the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases, surface air temperature, wind patterns, the extent of sea ice around Antarctica, and the average temperature of the ocean. Successfully retrieving the ice core is the culmination of an eight-year project to obtain a paleoclimate record from one of the remotest parts of the Antarctic continent.


In the WAIS Divide ice core, each of the past 30,000 years of snowfall can be identified in individual layers of ice, with lower temporal resolution records extending to 68,000 years before present. By allowing an examination of past climate at an annual resolution, the ice core record is helping scientists understand why climate can change abruptly and how climate may unfold in the coming century.

Other ice-coring projects have produced cores of lower temporal resolution, showing that the current level of atmospheric greenhouse gases, which is due to the burning of fossil fuels, is the highest in at least 800,000 years. The ice from the WAIS Divide ice core that is between 30,000 and 68,000 years old — while not containing records with annual resolution — contains a higher time resolution record than previous projects.


WAIS Divide

This comment caught my attention:

Other ice-coring projects have produced cores of lower temporal resolution, showing that the current level of atmospheric greenhouse gases, which is due to the burning of fossil fuels, is the highest in at least 800,000 years.

This raises the question: Are the ice cores “of lower temporal resolution” capable of resolving century-scale shifts in atmospheric CO2?  If not, then the conclusion “that the current level of atmospheric greenhouse gases, which is due to the burning of fossil fuels, is the highest in at least 800,000 years” is not supported.

The ice cores cannot resolve CO2 shifts that occur over periods of time shorter than twice the bubble enclosure period.

According to Neftel et al. (1988), CO2 fluctuation with a duration of less than twice the bubble enclosure time (equivalent to approximately 134 calendar yr in the case of Byrd ice and up to 550 calendar yr in Dome Concordia) cannot be detected in the ice or reconstructed by deconvolution.

McElwain et al., 2001

Here is a schematic diagram of bubble trapping process for the DE08 ice core:

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Embarrassing Predictions Haunt the Global-Warming Industry

climate science

It is often said that non-scientists must rely on “expert opinion” to determine whether claims on alleged “catastrophic man-made global warming” are true. Putting aside the fact that there is no global-warming “consensus” among experts, one does not have to be a scientist, or even proficient in science, to be able to review past predictions, and then form an informed opinion regarding the accuracy of those predictions.

Suppose, for example, you regularly watch a local TV weatherman forecast the weather for your area. Would you need a degree in meteorology in order to decide for yourself how reliable, or unreliable, the weatherman’s forecasts are?

Warnings have been issued for many decades now regarding catastrophic climate change that forecasted certain trends or occurrences that we should already have witnessed. Yet such predictions have turned out to be very, very wrong. This was certainly the case with the alarmist predictions of the 1960s and ’70s that man’s activities on Earth were causing a catastrophic cooling trend that would bring on another ice age. And it is also the case with the more recent claims about catastrophic global warming.

What follows is a very brief review of these predictions compared to what actually happened.

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Reader Comment on this article by “Richard Urban:”

“Scientist’s, real scientist’s, like myself, we know what we don’t know, we know, that we only understand about 20% of all the forces that affect climate. So ask yourself this? How can any “Real” scientist’s make computer predictions, that are extremely prone to exaggerating any errors, when they only understand about 20% of the topic?

When weather predictions, aka, mini climate models, that’s what they are, but because the models only look out about 10 days, we call that weather, but they are essentially mini climate models or similar enough for my example. So, how can anyone claim they can predict things out to say 100 years, when often times the weather models get the very next day wrong? Why do they get the next day wrong, on occasions? Because all the needed information that must go into theses models is not available, or simply not understood.

Did you know we Meteorologists have to pick between about 10 different types of weather models, to make a forecast. Why is that? It’s true. This is only to make predictions out for several days, imagine 10 or 20 years, and the complexity required for that?

Note: Many times it’s better not to use any models. Often we can beat the computers just by looking at the stack. (Observations in the Troposphere)

‘Why don’t you skeptics download them, study the code or even try running them based on changes in greenhouse gases.”

And this questions defines how a climate Nazi’s brain works. There is only one variable “Greenhouse gases” What about the hundreds of other variables? You know, the variables that are never even programmed into any of the climate models? It’s true!

When weather models start becoming accurate enough to predict weather several months in advance, and we understood how to make computer models well enough that we can put them all together and just have one, then maybe, just maybe we would have the knowledge to create some basic climate models that work well.

I can hear some of you saying, “But some of these climate models have been correct” To that I say, “Even a broken clock is right twice a day, or even a blind squirrel finds an acorn once in a while” Overall, climate models have not been accurate.

The only reason weather models improve, is because we get to see the answer only a few days later. There is only so much that can be done with hind-casting on something that is as complicated as the earth’s climate, and by the time we see if the climate models were in fact correct, or incorrect, say 20-50 years, well then everything has already changed. The people that made the programs are likely dead, so it is impossible with our 20% understanding, at this time, to make climate models. Does that mean we stop? Of course not,

Because of all of this, I am forced to go back to things we understand better, for example, we know how much water/ice, is on the earth, and we know how much energy it takes to alter it’s temperature. We know it takes 27 times more energy to change water temperature than it does to change air temperatures. Simple stuff compared with trying to put one model together, that takes into account all the earth’s variables.

We can use the climate scientists theories on the amount of heat, from additional CO2, affecting greenhouses gases, is creating. The theory is, that the increased CO2 from man, (Which is just a theory, it could be coming from the earth, volcanic activity on the ocean floor, and so on, but I will play along) is increasing the energy on the earth the same as if the sun’s energy went up by 2%. Now we can take that worst case scenario, meaning we are assuming mankind added the CO2 to the atmosphere, and we are assuming that the added CO2 only creates heat, meaning no negative feedbacks, which you can’t do, but that’s okay, because we are just trying to find out if it’s possible to alter the earth’s climate in any meaningful (Or drastic) way, so I’ll play along.

Side note: Nobody knows the correct temperature for the earth, which is most beneficial to mankind. In other words, the earth is now at 288.8 K, give or take a degree, (When we calculate the earth’s mean temperature, we have an error of +/- 1 K) maybe mankind would do much better if the earth was at 291.8 K? Nobody knows this, but that’s okay, I’ll still play along.

So now we calculate the amount of energy it would take to heat the oceans, a degree or two. (In order to alter climate you first have to change the temperature of the entire ocean, because the ocean (average 2.5 mile depth) mixes thoughout over relatively short periods of time, it takes a long time and a lot of energy to change all the water.

We have all seen this relationship, we have all experienced this in our everyday lives. For example, you store your box of 30 beers in the garage during the winter (1 C) then you bring it into the house and put it in the hallway (20 C) , you were supposed to put in in the refrigerator , but you forgot. Half a day later you go to grab a beer from the refrigerator, Crap, no more beer in there, so you ask your wife, “Honey where is that beer I brought in from the garage?” She says, “I put it in the closet” Crap now I don’t have any cold beer! Yes you do!!!! Just take a can out of the middle of the box, it will still be cold enough to be refreshing.

In college we students had to calculate in class, (This was a word problem in the back of our physic book) how long it would take to heat the oceans, aka, change the climate, if we increased insulation (The sun) by 10 %?

Do any of you Climate Nazi’s out there, think it took less than 1,000 years? The way you talk, you think it takes about 10-15 years to change ocean temperatures.

There is no such thing as rapid climate change or temperature change. History and physic’s has shown that meaningful change takes hundreds of thousands, and even millions of years.

Anyone care to break that argument? Good luck.”