On Pravda’s New Ice Age Story

Commentary, Climate, Frontier Centre

Albert Schweitzer said, “As we acquire more knowledge, things do not become more comprehensible, but more mysterious.” Public knowledge of climate and climate change is growing slowly every day, but as Schweitzer anticipated it is creating more mystery.

Most people, including most scientists recently involved in the subject, are not even at the point climate science was 30 years ago.

The major cause of this lag is the excessive focus on CO2, an infinitesimal part of a vast and complex system. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports are primarily responsible as they convinced the world of global warming due to CO2, while effectively ignoring major components such as the sun. I have said the IPCC focus on CO2 is akin to saying my car is not running well and I am going to determine the cause by ignoring the engine (sun), the transmission (water vapor), and most other mechanical parts and focus on one nut (CO2) on the right rear wheel. Worse, they only look at one thread of the nut, the human portion of CO2. The ease with which they have achieved this degree of focus is frightening, but understandable because it was premeditated.

For a measure of the growing mystery and confusion about climate consider the recent article (Jan 11, 2009) in the Russian newspaper Pravda (Truth) titled “Earth on the Brink of an Ice Age.”

A few media outlets interviewed me intrigued but also confused by the opening sentence: “The Earth is now on the brink of entering another Ice Age, according to a large and compelling body of evidence from within the field of climate science.” A major problem was the article did not specify when this would occur. As a result, many confused the claim with recent discussion about a cooling trend due to declining solar activity but also by the cool winter.

The article was actually talking about a much larger cycle of climate. This is the fact that the Earth over the last 10,000 years has emerged from one segment of the most recent Ice Age (Pleistocene). We are currently in an interglacial (Holocene) and scientists anticipate it will end as we slide into another Ice Age. A diagram of global temperatures over the last 400,000 years derived from Antarctic ice cores shows the pattern during the Pleistocene.

The blue line shows the temperature with current temperatures on the right. Notice there are four previous interglacials, two of them with higher temperatures than today. The intervening periods are the ice ages when massive glaciers formed on the land. Also note how the temperature declines after the interglacial peak; that is the cooling the Pravda article is discussing.

It is generally agreed that changes in the sun/earth relationship are the major mechanism driving long-term climate patterns. These are collectively known as the Milankovitch Effect and include; changes in the Earth’s orbit caused primarily by the gravitational pull of Jupiter with a 100,000-year cycle; changes in the tilt of the Earth of undetermined cause, with a 40,000- year cycle; and a shift in the date of equinox with a 19,000-year cycle. Although Milankovitch’s work was initially accepted it lost favor when his results conflicted with some radiocarbon data. I recall conferences in the 1980s when reference to Milankovitch brought vigorous protest. However, by the 1990s he was back in favor.

Another important point about the Pravda article is the observation that supporters of the human caused global warming (AGW) only consider a short time frame. “ The main flaw in the AGW theory is that its proponents focus on evidence from only the past 1,000 years at most, while ignoring the evidence from the past million years–evidence which is essential for a true understanding of climatology.” It is true that the now discredited “hockey stick” examined climate of the last thousand years, but this was only to try and eliminate the Medieval Warm Period. In fact, the focus is at most the temperature of the last 140 years.

Although the time scales of the Milankovitch Effect cycles seem long, you must consider they are a full cycle. For example, orbital change goes from almost circular as now to greater ellipse and back again in the 100,000 years. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) computer models do not include the Milankovitch Effect. Their reason confirms the Pravda accusation. They assume the effect is on too long a time scale to be effective over the period they examine. The problem with this argument is the changes occur every single year and they are significant if you are arguing the miniscule amount of human impact is significant.

Another important part of the article is the idea of climate due to cyclical events. In 1990, a climate conference in Warsaw saw an intellectual division between the Soviets and the West. The Soviets believed climate was all about cycles. There were a multitude of cycles and the net effect was weather. The challenge was to identify them and determine how they interacted. The West believed climate was chaotic and thereby essentially unpredictable. This theme is still a part of the approach to climate change. IPCC 2001 “The Scientific Basis” says “In climate research and modeling we should recognize we are dealing with a a coupled non-linear chaotic system, and therefore that the long-term prediction of future climate states is not possible.” The intellectual disagreement was interpreted as ideological because of the cold war. It wasn’t!

Confusion over the Pravda article was because people assumed they were talking about the recent discussion of global cooling and threats of more to come. This cooling is related to another pattern of the sun, namely sunspot cycles. These operate on much shorter periods with the 11 and 22-year cycles the best known. High correlation between sunspot numbers and temperatures was noted years ago, but there was no mechanism to provide a cause and effect relationship. The 11-year cycle is an average that varies between 9 and 14 years. Temperature is high with a short cycle and low with a long cycle. We are emerging from Cycle 23 but there is a growing delay in the onset of Cycle 24 (Cycle 1 was from March 1755). Every day that Cycle 24 is delayed increases the chance of a low sunspot number. Currently predictions indicate a number equal to those around 1800 A.D., a period known as the Dalton Minimum with very cold temperatures. Some are suggesting that a little more delay and Little Ice Age conditions are possible when in 1683 there was 3 ft of ice on the Thames in London. Here is a plot by Russian researchers of the potential.

(Solar Cycles)

IPCC Reports and their computer models do not include the sunspot temperature relationship. They used the lack of a mechanism for their decision. When challenged with evidence of a mechanism, they inaccurately claimed it was not available before their cutoff date. Friis-Christensen and Lassen showed the relationship as early as 1991 and Svensmark produced what is called the Cosmic Theory in 1997 (“The Chilling Stars” Svensmark and Calder, 2007). The sunspots are not the cause of Earth’s temperature changes. They are a manifestation of variations in the sun’s magnetic field. Changes in the sun’s magnetic field causes variation in cosmic radiation reaching the Earth, which in turn determines the amount of low cloud. You can think of the cloud like a blind in the greenhouse blocking sunlight and cooling the Earth.

Two cycles of the sun, the Milankovitch and the sunspot, both indicate future cooling; Milankovitch long-term and sunspots now. Both are ignored by the IPCC, yet their reports are the basis for global energy and climate policy. But then a multitude of other cycles are ignored in the IPCC work. You can get a measure of the number and the complexity of cycles at this site.

Cooling since 2000 has raised questions about the human caused global warming argument. Proponents distract from the cooling trend by saying we are still experiencing warmer than average years. This is logical because global temperatures are at the top of a curve, but it does not change the downward trend. In fact, temperatures are already down to what they were in 1978. Here is a plot that shows the pattern.

It’s statistically easy to detect cycles within this graph. Some of them seem visible. The challenge is to identify the cause of these cycles, as they are the net result of a myriad of cycles, including the Milankovitch Effect and sunspots cycles. One thing we know is they don’t fit the CO2 pattern.

So just one apparently simple media article illustrates Schweitzer’s point. They also confirm Rutherford Rogers claim that, “We’re drowning in information and starving for knowledge.” The lack of knowledge does not prevent governments forging ahead based on the completely unwarranted certainty of the IPCC and proponents of AGW.