Rethinking Carbon of the Past: Scientist Uncovers Miscalculation In Geological Undersea Record

A new study examines changes in carbon isotope ratios over the past 10 million years at sites off the Bahamas (Atlantic Ocean), the Maldives (Indian Ocean), and Great Barrier Reef (Pacific Ocean). (Credit: NASA)

Carbon isotope ratios are central to many reconstructions of past climate. For example the IPCC Working Group 1 cited C12/C13 ratios as the basis for determining some of their findings about climate in the last 1000 years. However, longer term reconstructions are less certain, and now with this new discovery, some of the long term work may have to be reconsidered.

From Science Daily: A new study examines changes in carbon isotope ratios over the past 10 million years at sites off the Bahamas (Atlantic Ocean), the Maldives (Indian Ocean), and Great Barrier Reef (Pacific Ocean). (Credit: NASA)New research funded by the National Science Foundation at the University of Miami is showing that carbon isotope correlation (the 13C/12C ratio used to infer age) in the ocean can only be trusted up to 150 million years ago.

From the primary researcher, “This study is a major step in terms of rethinking how geologists interpret variations in the 13C/12C ratio throughout Earth’s history. If the approach does not work over the past 10 million years, then why would it work during older time periods? As a consequence of our findings, changes in 13C/12C records need to be reevaluated, conclusions regarding changes in the reservoirs of carbon will have to be reassessed, and some of the widely-held ideas regarding the elevation of CO2 during specific periods of the Earth’s geological history will have to be adjusted.”

While this research doesn’t necessarily throw carbon dating out the window, it should cause people to rethink so many theories about early life that revolved around ages of sediment in the oceans.

41 thoughts on “Rethinking Carbon of the Past: Scientist Uncovers Miscalculation In Geological Undersea Record

  1. Anthony Watts,
    As a near original ‘lurker’, really big fan and recent poster I want to call your attention to what is going on at Climate Audit. Ian Jolliff has recently refuted the statistical analysis used to create the hockey stick graphs of mann et everyone AGW. I know you already are aware of this from your consistent up to date posts but this can’t be swept under the rug by the media without a fight.
    While the rest of the media focuses on polarbears who need waterwings I feel strongly that those of us who believe there is reason to be skeptical, need to explain to the public what has happened.
    I am requesting you review the significance of this event. When we are inundated with AGW news there is rarely a reply. This is no small opportunity. I have published a short article to explain. You can do a much better job getting the news out, I’m sure!
    http://noconsensus.wordpress.com/2008/09/12/global-warming-takes-a-shot-in-the-globes/
    REPLY: Hello Jeff, many people don’t know this, but I’m more in-sync with CA than you can imagine. It’s my server. I set it up for Steve last year when he was having trouble. With Steve it is a series of steps towards understanding as thr layers are peeled back on the complex reconstructions in Mann-world. The challenge is to condense it to something the layman can understand. I’ve found it prudent to wait before I publish on this, since Steve will likely remove another layer shortly.
    I will examine your article and see if it couldn’t be useful. Thank you for the opportunity. – Anthony

  2. Anthony
    I think it would be better in your piece to call this something like “carbon isotope correlation” rather than “Carbon dating”. This is because the term “carbon dating” relates strictly to the 14C isotope rather than 12C and 13C. Carbon dating is a radiometric method because 14C is radioactive with a half life of around 5600 years or so. Whereas 12C and 13C are not radioactive. Dating by 14C is only feasible back to a maximum of about 60,000 years, and even then only under special circumstances.
    REPLY: Good point, I’ve changed the wording. – Anthony

  3. NOTE TO MODERATOR: This comment relates to the closed theme about sacking Dr Hanson, which included reference to the recently concluded trial of the vandals at a power station. As you will see my comment is about the trial, not about Dr Hanson. A number of comments questioned the right of the jury to return the verdicts they did. Yesterday I wrote an entry in my little blog about this and I think it might be of interest to them. I know it is way off topic for this thread, but I wonder whether you might allow me to make my comment here. I understand entirely if you would prefer to draw a line under that thread. If you would rather not raise the issue again please do not trouble to email me, merely not publishing my comment will be sufficient indication. FB.
    What I would like to say is this:
    Some of you have questioned how the jury here in the UK could have acquitted those accused of criminal damage to a power station. I hope this helps to explain:
    http://thefatbigot.blogspot.com/2008/09/is-gordon-criminal-damage.html

  4. With regard to the post by Patrick Henry about weather in Australia spoiling a record attempt by a wind powered ‘car’. A quote by one of the Greenie drivers amused me……
    “In the next 20 years, I firmly believe that wind power will be our main energy source and wind-powered cars will no longer be the stuff of dreams.”
    Well don’t hold your breath pal……….

  5. Australia is always haveing a drought, sever or otherwise. Pointing at Australia and saying drought proves nothing. They should already know this, but it makes good press.

  6. crosspatch (23:06:28) :
    OT: spaceweather has a sunspeck, better look before it disappears!

    Is your monitor warrantied for dead pixels? There aren’t any corresponding zits on the magnetogram, or EIT, even at full scale.
    I’ll admit watching the sun has been pretty boring lately. Gonna buy me a thick sweater this winter.

  7. I’ve read the paper, and while it is important it has nothing whatsoever to do with dating. I suggest you change the wording. Also it has little or nothing to do with CO2 in ice cores as suggested above.
    Corbon has different 12C/13C ratio depending on whether it is organic or not. For example carbon from organic CH4 is very light (=high 12C/13C ratio).
    At some periods in the past there are large perturbations in the carbon isotope ratio, which have been interpreted as indicating serious disturbances in the carbon cycle. This is true for example for the Permian/Triassic extinction and the PETM (Paleocene/Eocene Thermal Maximum). This has been interpreted as being caused by large-scale melting of methane hydrates, causing catastrophic greenhouse warming. What this study implies is that excursions in shallow-water deposits may be due to sea-level rise instead. So it may actually be a result of rising temperatures rather than a cause.

  8. @DEE NORRIS
    ive free acces to the pnas article.
    i could mail it to you if you want.
    regards
    rutger
    Reply – Thank you. I will be contacting you shortly. From reading the abstract, I get the feeling that Science News didn’t really get the facts straight. They seem to be saying that variations in the sea level cause different types of sedimentation which affect the C12/C13 ratios where previously, it was assumed to be consistent. – Dee Norris

  9. from the article
    Despite the assumption made by numerous workers that the
    13C values of these sediments are related to the global carbon
    cycle, and that they can be used both as a proxy for the burial of
    organic material (15) and as a stratigraphic tool (20), several
    studies have proposed that changes in the 13C of carbonate
    rocks might not be related to variations in the global organic
    carbon cycle. For example, it has been suggested that variations
    in the 13C of carbonate sediments deposited in epeiric seas are
    related to local recycling of organic material, rather than to
    changes in the global carbon cycle (18, 21–23).

  10. Pingback: Maldives » Rethinking Carbon of the Past: Scientist Uncovers Miscalculation ...

  11. All
    Is there a definitive (yes I know I may be asking too much) paper, or papers, on the atmospheric lifetime of CO2?
    I ask because there are ludicrous figures bandied about for anthropogenic CO2 (thousands of years) yet John Daley has laid it out as much, much less than ridiculous.
    Thanks in advance.
    FatBigot – thanks for the input. Hope you enjoyed you time in The States.

  12. @DEE NORRIS
    ive free acces to the pnas article.
    i could mail it to you if you want.
    I do not think that your ‘free access’ to this article is intended as free access to those to whom it is not intended. I also have ‘free access’ to similar articles because my university fees pay pnas but, it is unethical to pass these articles around without compensation to pnas.

  13. @rasmin
    as long as its for non-profit use, i think its alright
    Can others (nonauthor third parties) use my original figures or tables in their works without asking PNAS for permission?
    Yes, PNAS automatically permits others to use your original figures or tables published in PNAS for noncommercial and educational use (i.e., in a review article, in a book that is not for sale), provided that the original source and copyright notice are cited. Commercial reuse of figures and tables (i.e., in promotional materials, in a textbook for sale) requires permission from PNAS.
    Can the news media use my figures without asking PNAS for permission?
    Yes, journalists may use original figures from your PNAS article to illustrate news stories. Written permission from PNAS is not required; however, all figures should be cited as copyright Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA . Figures may not be used to illustrate news stories unrelated to a given PNAS article without express written permission from PNAS. To obtain high-resolution versions of figures, PNASnews@nas.edu.

  14. I’ve looked up the study author’s CV and he appears to be a well-published marine geo-chemist who is not part of the global warming Team (ie. an objective scientist).
    It is tough to say what this study means. If it does away with the relatively high CO2 estimates in the deep paleoclimate (1,500 ppm to 7,000 ppm), that would impact the empirical estimates of CO2-GHG sensitivity.
    Since the estimates of CO2 temperature sensitivity (2.0C to 4.5C per GHG doubling – 3.0C average) depend 100% entirely on the results of climate models (ie. Hansen tweaking), I have prefered to use empirical results.
    The recent temperature estimates (0.7C increase in temperatures for a 40% increase in GHGs since 1850) point to a sensitivity figure of 1.0C to 1.5C per doubling. The deep paleoclimate CO2 and temperature estimates also point to a 1.0C to 1.5C per doubling sensitivity.
    1.5C per doubling indicates global warming will not be a problem at all. Temps will rise very gradually and we won’t even notice it. At Hansen’s 4.5C per doubling, however, we are in big trouble. That is why this figure and the CO2 sensitivity figure is so important. A low number is nothing to worry about – a high number means we need to take action now. The old CO2 and temperature estimates say there is nothing to worry about – hopefully this new study doesn’t rewrite that.

  15. Anthony,
    I also waited 3 days before saying anything. Last night, I searched google for news on what happened and got nothing. So I wrote you.
    I cleaned up the post wording a bit this morning. Thanks for the consideration, keep up the great work.

  16. From the news link provided by Mark, the Science Dude, Gary Robbins, concludes his story about believing in AGW with ” I just now that it does, something I’m reminded of every time I choke on exhaust fumes when I’m stuck in a traffic jam on the Santa Ana (5) Freeway.”
    How scientific is this science dude?

  17. Are the two tiny new spots old or new cycle? I can’t see them on the image.
    =============================================

  18. crosspatch (23:06:28) :
    OT: spaceweather has a sunspeck, better look before it disappears!

    The equatorial speck has vanished (I did see it at SOHO, but it vanished as quickly as it appeared). From the space weather site, there’s a map still showing the equatorial event (SC23?):
    http://raben.com/maps/index.html
    Also, in the latest image from SOHO, there appears to be a new speck in the southern hemisphere, towards the east – mid-latitudes – and appears to be a SC24 event.

  19. What I find interesting is the sunspot number. There is the tiniest of all possible specks, and it gets a number of 12? Shouldn’t that be 11 (10 for a “group” and 1 for the number of spots in the group).

  20. The recent temperature estimates (0.7C increase in temperatures for a 40% increase in GHGs since 1850) point to a sensitivity figure of 1.0C to 1.5C per doubling. The deep paleoclimate CO2 and temperature estimates also point to a 1.0C to 1.5C per doubling sensitivity.

    Bill, that’s assuming no other factors are involved. I don’t think that’s a safe assumption. It’s not even a safe assumption to think that we’ve had a .7C increase since 1850. The instrumentation doesn’t support it.

  21. For what it’s worth, McKitrick et al. (2007) asserts that recorded 20th Century temperature increase is exaggerated by around a factor of two.

  22. Anthony,
    C12/C13 ratios are not used for dating. The strata being investigated has to be dated first. The carbon stable isotope ratio is meant to measure the relative level of the isotopes in the stratum and therefore by inference the level of CO2 in the atmosphere at the time. The carbon stable isotopes are problematic as they are influenced by more than just CO2. I think the paper alludes to this and therefore is calling into doubt the absolute reference of the ratios of the isotopes to CO2 levels.
    I think some of the bloggers are getting confused with C14 dating which is only accurate for about 45,000 years. C14 is a radioactive isotope and therefore useful for aging due to its decay rate (assumed to be a constant decay rate).
    And, to Pofarmer. No, C12/C13 does not necessarily mean it is an indicator of man-made CO2. You cannot differentiate man-made as opposed to natural CO2 on the basis of carbon stable isotope ratios. It is only meant as an indicator of the concentration of CO2.

  23. Leon Brozyna (09:05:39) :
    Also, in the latest image from SOHO, there appears to be a new speck in the southern hemisphere, towards the east – mid-latitudes – and appears to be a SC24 event.
    There are some burnt-out pixels on the SOHO images….

  24. “…concludes his story about believing in AGW with ” I just now that it does, something I’m reminded of every time I choke on exhaust fumes when I’m stuck in a traffic jam on the Santa Ana (5) Freeway.” – How scientific is this science dude?”
    Don’t be too hard on him. This is an obligatory requirement placed on all scientists by RC. Whenever you publish a finding which may conflict with the given truth, you are obliged to retract at the end, otherwise you cannot publish. Cf Gallileo, or Dr Jolliffe just recently.
    In order to help your devotions, I enclose a copy of the Creed. Shortly, I hope to have a full Climate Change Catechism…
    The Climate Change Creed – appointed to be read in laboratories.
    I believe in Global Warming,
    which will destroy heaven and earth unless we change our ways.
    I believe in Al Gore,
    Who conceived the Internet
    and the hockey-stick graph, born of Professor Mann.
    It suffered under McIntyre and McKitrick,
    was crucified, disproven, and was buried.
    It was cast on the reject pile.
    On the third day It rose again.
    It was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science,
    and is displayed in a prominent position in all IPCC literature.
    It will apply again as soon as global temperatures start rising.
    I believe in the CO2 tipping point,
    the IPCC Assessment Reports,
    a CO2 sensitivity figure of over 4 C/W,
    the accuracy of GCMS,
    an anthropic cause for all climate variation after 1970,
    and grants everlasting. AMEN.

  25. “The amount of sea ice around Antarctica has grown in recent Septembers in what could be an unusual side-effect of global warming, experts say.”
    They added that if the warming continues, we could see glaciers in Chicago within five years.

  26. This earth is self replentising, self cleaning and self sustaining. Scientist prove themselves wrong on a daily basis. They have a long history of fraud, theory, and an ability to manipulate statistics to favor their view of what is happening.
    Here is an example of statistical manipulation, the average lifespan has climbed in this century by leaps and bounds, right? Yet, If you take one simple factor out, you see that the average lifespan has declined, and that is Infant mortality. We have made saving babies more effecient, but lifespan has actualy dropped, but because of averages, the total numbers have dropped while the ones who do make it to adulthood live a much shorter life than the statistics suggest.
    I suppose that there are falicies in the weather and it is beintg used as a political tool.
    They will keep pushing “Global Warming” with limited and skewed data to fit the agenda, and the scientist that go against the grain will continue to lose funding.
    Want to know why this is for political gain? go to carbontax.org and read the plan.
    A World carbon tax creates a world government, it is that simple. so just agree, do not think for yourself and follow directions and be good little world citizens. Better go with this or tomorrow the sky may be falling!

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