An Engineer's Questions Regarding Holocene Climate Change

(And Other Questions Concerning an Exothermic Earth)

Guest essay by Ronald D Voisin

This map shows color-coded contours of the global distribution of heat flow at the surface of the Earth’s crust. Major plate boundaries and continent outlines are also shown. The fundamental data embodied in this map are the more than 24,000 field measurements in both continental and oceanic terrains, supplemented by estimates of the heat flow in the unsurveyed regions. The estimates are based on empirically determined charactersitic values for the heat flux in various geological and tectonic settings. Observations of the oceanic heat flux have been corrected for heat loss by hydrothermal circulation through the oceanic crust. The global data set so assembled was then subjected to a spherical harmonic analysis. The map is a representation of the heat flow to spherical harmonic degree and order 12. Source: International Heat Flow Commission [IHFC]
In this post I want to discuss core geo-reactor issues as they might affect the somewhat modest climate change observed through the course of the Holocene.

The Earth is estimated to be exothermic to the tune of 44TW. This estimate comes from borehole measurements as well as other methods. This means then that, at any and every moment of time, more power (~44TW) is leaving the Earth than is solar-received by the Earth. And whatever the true origin of this excess power, it has always been presumed (confoundedly to me) to be nominally homogeneous both spatially and temporally. And if it were nominally homogeneous, it can then be calculated to be as little as ~0.09W/m2 over the Earth surface – an amount considered trivial and inconsequential as it might influence climate. But wait…

Now this exothermic observation all by itself raises some interesting questions:

1) If the Earth today is exothermic by 44TW; and if the Earth today is also now retaining a non-trivial solar-radiative power (say 3W/m2) owing to anthropogenic greenhouse gasses (so as to pre-pause heat the surface and during-the-pause heat the deep oceans); then should it not be so that the Earth must have been substantially more exothermic in pre-industrial times (when there was little GHG solar retention), by something like 31×44=1,364TW? And where then does all this power come from? Is 1,364TW really trivial and inconsequential?

2) And if the greenhouse effect is going up as the atmospheric CO2 level goes up (i.e. more atmospheric CO2 equals more solar-radiative heat retention), then should it not be so that sometime in the near future we should expect that the Earth will be observed to have become endothermic?

3) And why is it that the most resent measurements estimate a yet higher value of the Earth being possibly 60-65TW exothermic? Is that because the previous estimates were in error? Or is it because the thermal power leaving the Earth is going up (its cooling) and our AGW thinking is up-side-down? No matter… 60-65TW uniformly emanating to the Earth surface is still a trivial amount at ~0.15W/m2; such that as soon as the growing greenhouse gas solar-radiative retention goes over 3.15W/m2 the Earth should become endothermic. Right? And quite soon, right?

Be that as it may, the classic explanation of this exothermic observation (44TW) says that it’s a combination of distributed radioactive decay (at ~20TW) plus residual primordial heat. But this seems to me to be a construct-of-convenience. Residual primordial heat likely hasn’t survived several billions of years. The convenience of this presumption is that both distributed radioactive decay and residual primordial heat are quite easily presumed to be spatially and temporally homogeneous. And then at a uniform ~0.09W/m2 it can all be conveniently dismissed as a trivial and inconsequential climate affecting issue. Right?

But please…here is the rub of this essay:

1) We know that the terrestrial surface emanation of Earth internal heat is not temporally homogeneous. I.e. earthquakes do not happen continuously and volcanos do not erupt continuously.

2) We know that the terrestrial surface emanation of Earth internal heat is not spatially homogeneous. I.e. earthquakes do not happen everywhere and volcanos do not erupt everywhere.

3) We know that the same enormous inhomogeneities apply to the sub-oceanic emanation of Earth internal heat.

4) We know that even though the oceanic area of the Earth is only some 3X that of the land area, sub-marine volcanos nonetheless outnumber terrestrial volcanos by a very much larger number (maybe 30-40X) – and likely the same is true for sub-marine earthquakes.

5) We observe that internal heat emanates to the surface very often via sporadic and stochastic, spatially confined events that are often observed in Old-Faithful like “accumulate-then-release, accumulate-then-release” fashion.

6) We have very good reason to believe that the Earth has a huge thermal gradient along its radius – very much implying a central power source – a geo-reactor.

7) And the Earth very likely has a core geo-reactor. Marvin Herndon postulated and found evidence for a geo-reactor in 2003 based on volcanic emission of Helium isotopes. And an international team at KamLAND has more recently established the presence of a core geo-reactor via anti-neutrino study albeit at an output of only ~3TW.

Now if, like me, you have a problem with the existence of residual primordial heat, then the combination of a geo-reactor’s output plus distributed radioactive decay pretty well has to add up to the overall exothermic Earth value. But 20+3≠44. So it’s not clear how well any of these numbers can be relied upon. The “geologically real-time” overall exothermic value of 44TW may well be the most reliable figure. So let’s now speculate how a 3-44TW core geo-reactor with the above mentioned observed and obvious inhomogenieties might affect climate as observed through the Holocene.

If 3TW is accumulated for several years but then released over several weeks you get a 50X multiplier. So if 150TW of power were to be released under the oceans in a spatially confined area for several weeks, could it account for an El Nino event? Could the no-power-release accumulation phase of such a processes result in a La Nina event?

And if the Earth is actually exothermic to the tune of 44TW or more where a majority might be of geo-reactor origin, could the same speculation as above result in the release of >10X this 150TW to give as much as 1,500TW available for impulses of short duration (even if most likely not in just one location and not at just one time)? Could these affect regional climate?

Lastly, would we today readily discern these phenomena from other strong solar-effects?

Previously on a WUWT post (here) I’ve hypothesized major Earth climate change being largely driven by core geo-reactor weather variability currently synchronized to the Milankovitch cycle of orbital eccentricity. This may or may not be so. In a referenced extended essay (here) I’ve explained how and why this might be so and I’ve provided various predictions that should allow validation or repudiation of this hypothesis (as well as a possible method to “save the planet”).


About the Author

Ronald D Voisin is a retired engineer. He spent 27 years in the Semiconductor Lithography Equipment industry mostly in California’s Silicon Valley. Since retiring in 2007, he has made a hobby of studying climate change. Ron received a BSEE degree from the Univ. of Michigan – Ann Arbor in 1978 and has held various management positions at both established semiconductor equipment companies and start-ups he helped initiate. Ron has authored/co-authored 55 patent applications, 24 of which have issued.

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Lance Wallace
September 24, 2014 6:14 pm

In point 1), where did the multiplier of 31 come from?

Reply to  Lance Wallace
September 24, 2014 6:41 pm


Reply to  Eugene Zeien
September 24, 2014 6:42 pm

Oops… 3/0.09

Reply to  Lance Wallace
September 24, 2014 8:26 pm

It’s nonsense, and makes the whole article nonsense. The geothermal output , whatever it is, does not depend on what is happening in the atmosphere. An engineer really ought to know that.

M Courtney
Reply to  jimmi_the_dalek
September 25, 2014 12:46 am

It’s hard to see how heat generated inside of the planet escapes into space without passing through the atmosphere.

Reply to  jimmi_the_dalek
September 25, 2014 7:42 am

Looking at the graphic, I guest image that over 95% of geothermal heat is captured by the oceans and so any effect of geothermal heat on the atmosphere will be found in oceanographic research. Given that water temperature at abyssal depth is only a few degrees above freezing, it does not seem that geothermal heat
is accumulating in ocean water, so it must make its way through the atmosphere.

Reply to  jimmi_the_dalek
September 25, 2014 7:45 am

%!!#&** this$%%#@$!!
Above for guest image please read

Reply to  jimmi_the_dalek
September 25, 2014 2:14 pm

Yes the heat must pass through the atmosphere, but that was not my point. The author says,
the Earth must have been substantially more exothermic in pre-industrial times (when there was little GHG solar retention), by something like 31×44=1,364TW?
and my question was why? and how?. How can changes in the atmosphere’s composition possibly affect whatever is going on in the core? Does the author really think that warming the atmosphere cools the core?

Rational Db8
Reply to  jimmi_the_dalek
September 25, 2014 2:55 pm

He’s not saying the atmosphere is affecting what’s going on at the core. He’s saying the atmosphere affects how much escapes into space, e.g., how exo- or endothermic the Earth system is relative to space. In other words, pre-industrial levels of GHGs were lower, therefore more IR would escape into space and the Earth must have been more exothermic because less would be trapped/slowed by the atmosphere back then.

September 24, 2014 6:15 pm

People have noted that the largest area of geothermal heat given above is in the Eastern Pacific, the same area El Ninos form. Dismissed by climate scientists, which is one reason to give it another thought.
Neither Venus nor Mars currently have plate tectonics (nor any other planets as far as I know), although they once did. I have never heard why the Earth has managed to keep plate tectonics going, possibly we have a higher proportion of radioactive elements in the interior, which drive the convection currents?
Radioactive decay is constant, although the release of heat through volcanism is not.
I ve still got hopes that more advanced forms of geothermal energy might come to the party to greatly influence our energy mix (such as advances in very deep drilling technology), and this might also include new nuclear breakthroughs.

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  thingadonta
September 24, 2014 7:58 pm

lunar tidal flexing of the crust probably helped get tectonics moving and provided some heat. The moon’s size in reality makes us a binary planet, and unique from every other known planet.

Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
September 25, 2014 9:38 am

The Pluto – Charon pair is also close to a binary planet, if I remember right.
Or, nowadays, a binary – not-quite-planet, since the demotion of Pluto . . . . . .

Rational Db8
Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
September 25, 2014 2:58 pm

Apparently they’re now thinking seriously about re-moting Pluto into a planet again. Just saw a headline to that effect in the last few days.

Reply to  thingadonta
September 24, 2014 8:45 pm

If our earth was once a star, now essentially burned out, could the material physics of these “convection currents” that drive the plate tectonics be somehow related to the plasma physics that drove its sun spots when it was a sun?

The Ghost Of Big Jim Cooley
Reply to  noaaprogrammer
September 24, 2014 11:54 pm

noaa, the Earth was never a star. A star forms when any body becomes so large that gravity causes deuterium fusion at its core (it then switches on). Even Jupiter is nowhere near large enough for a protostar to form.

Peter F
Reply to  thingadonta
September 24, 2014 9:13 pm

Thingadonta: “Neither Venus nor Mars currently have plate tectonics (nor any other planets as far as I know), although they once did. I have never heard why the Earth has managed to keep plate tectonics going, possibly we have a higher proportion of radioactive elements in the interior, which drive the convection currents?”
Hi. Current wisdom is that the primordial Earth was involved in a collision with a Mars sized planetoid, resulting in the formation of our moon. It is thought that the Earth absorbed the colliding planet’s core so, in effect, can the Earth be said to have a “double core”? This may go some way to explaining the Earth’s tectonic activity whilst her siblings are effectively inactive.

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  Peter F
September 25, 2014 12:09 am

The Earth received much more water than Mars or Venus received. An ocean’s worth of water (conservative) hydrates the minerals and lubricates the lithosphere-mantle boundary, thereby greatly reducing viscosity. So in addition to the core heat issues and tidal flexing, the water factor must be considered in contemplating why the Earth kept its plate tectonics moving.

Reply to  Peter F
September 25, 2014 6:43 am

Joel, if the earth received more water, it’s only because the earth was larger and was able to capture more comets. Mars lost it’s oceans when it lost it’s atmosphere. On Venus the oceans never formed because it never got cool enough for water to condense.
BTW, the surface temperature of Venus is about 900F. Hot enough to melt lead. I suspect that would reduce the viscosity of the surface more than the presence of water would.

Reply to  thingadonta
September 25, 2014 6:40 am

I can think of two things.
First the Earth is larger than any of the other rocky planets. Larger planets cool more slowly.
Secondly current thinking is that the Earth collided with a Mars sized planet shortly after the crust first formed. This was a glancing blow that threw of much of the crust of both bodies to form the moon, and the cores of both bodies merged to form the core of the new Earth. As a result the Earth has a larger core than would be anticipated had the collision not occurred.

Reply to  MarkW
September 25, 2014 9:47 am

Apologies, since I have a smattering only of astronomy.
If the blow was glancing, I can see why some of the crust (sort of where the Pacific is now, possibly, but NOT certainly or claimed) was ‘blasted’ off.
But, if the blow, as noted, was glancing, I am struggling to see why – or how – the ‘cores of both bodies merged’.
Probably it is my ignorance of these matters, but I would appreciate a Cores Merge 101 to help me see why this could happen from a glancing blow.
Thanks for reading.
Many thanks in advance for responding.
Auto, who is a bit puzzled on this.

Greg Locock
September 24, 2014 6:16 pm

One aspect of the core generator theory is that the heat mostly travels from the core to the Earth’s crust via convective cells in the magma. We know from the changes in magnetism that these can substantially realign themselves in a year (the magnetic pole can move by 50 degrees in one year), and in 200 to 400 years the magnetic poles have been observed to reverse, North for South. The Earth’s magnetic field is an outcome of the convective cell pattern, probably not much of a cause of it, but these shifts in magnetism imply that over the cause of a thousand years or so the convective cells could shift several times, affecting both the spatial distribution of the heat emitted, and, possibly, even the total heat flux.

Greg Locock
Reply to  Greg Locock
September 25, 2014 4:32 am

“over the cause of a thousand years ” read “over the space of a thousand years ” sorry

Reply to  Greg Locock
September 25, 2014 11:37 am

Greg Locock
September 24, 2014 at 6:16 pm
One aspect of the core generator theory is that the heat mostly travels from the core to the Earth’s crust via convective cells in the magma. …

That would be “convective cells in the outer, liquid core. The mantle itself is only poorly conductive, though at the locations of mantle plumes (e.g. Hawaii, Yellowstone, …) flows of liquid minerals are thought to push upward to the mantle/crust boundary – even beyond, since the formation of islands and supervolcanoes is powered by the upwelling plumes.

Col Klink
September 24, 2014 6:17 pm

Maybe ….maybe not.
That’s about it for me.

Gary Pearse
September 24, 2014 6:25 pm

I am a geologist (and engineer) and I felt that the inhomogenity of the geothermal heat flow may have an effect on climate but was argued down on this point as being of too small a significance. I liked the coincidence of the high anomaly in the East Pacific specifically, plus the gathering of this heat at the equator by ocean currents heading for the equator. Also, I felt that 2C temp of the deep oceans trenches were at least partly a result of geothermal heating.
An interesting thing about the anomalies relate to another type of carbon – diamonds occur in what are called stable cratons which are thick, quiet and cool. A look at the graphic pretty much supports this hypothesis. Hmm… A little prospecting trip to Antarctica perhaps?

Reply to  Gary Pearse
September 24, 2014 8:09 pm

I second your opinion. Btw. back in 1979 I once was working for a Swedish Official group translating a study where among other thing it was told that noduls of rare metals and probably diamonds in industrial sizes were under Arctic Ice. Value should, if the study was correct, be much higher than value of oil to be found in Arctic water. For Antarctic I have no knowledge.

Gary Pearse
September 24, 2014 6:27 pm

thick continental crust I meant

September 24, 2014 6:44 pm

This is a thought that I have had regarding the issue as well. One of the problems I have is that 4 billion years is a long time for both residual heat and for radio isotopes to heat the core. I can not help but wonder, with all the heat in the core and the large amount of electrical current flow, if there is not some Low Energy Nuclear Reactions going on which could be influenced by solar wind and the Earth’s magnetic field / eddy currents in the crust.

Rational Db8
Reply to  wyoskeptic
September 25, 2014 3:14 pm

It’s not a long time for radioactivity to play a part – after all, the half life of uranium-238 is about 4.47 billion years and uranium-235 is 704 million years. Plus thorium 232 with a half life of about 14,1 billion years, and potassium 40 at 1.28 billion years. Not to mention all the decay products in the various decay chains with far shorter half lives.
U235 used to be more abundant than it is today of course, and as a result there have actually been several sites found that clearly had natural nuclear fission reactors which operated on and off over millions of years. No joke! Either look up the Oklo reactors, or scroll down this page to the section Oklo Natural Reactor to get you started if interested:
The other info there that often amazes people is the bit on High Background Radiation Areas. And of course you can find a lot more info about such areas with a bit of web searching. All life evolved with much higher natural background radiation levels than on Earth today, and in fact we may be healthier with a slightly higher natural background level than average as suggested by reams of highly reputable research on radiation hormesis.

Steven Burnett
September 24, 2014 6:48 pm

Can someone explain the 31X 44TW calculation, I dont see how the 31 was derived

Steven Burnett
Reply to  Steven Burnett
September 24, 2014 7:03 pm

The second part I follow and its an intriguing Hypothesis. I did the math out on geothermal output with respect to depth and taking the average depth and the average output at depth mst of the “rise” in temperatures can be explained with geothermal heating at the deep layers but I wanted to check it as a back of the envelope.
The first section needs to be more clearly worded so as to convey the though effectively. I can see how he got 31*44 but it doesnt appear on first reading to be a sensible calculation

September 24, 2014 7:08 pm

The map shows that heat flow, as expected, is concentrated at sea-floor spreading ridges. Intuitively, the heat flux should be related to the rate of spreading. I hope some researcher has taken a moment from saving planets, and tried to quantify the rate of spreading by the width of magnetic stripes on the sea floor.

September 24, 2014 7:09 pm

I just rounded 0.09w/m^2 to a tenth watt/m^2. Then if 30 tenths are being retained by GHG’s and yet one more tenth is still leaving the Earth then w/o GHG retention there must have been 31 tenths.

Steven Burnett
Reply to  Ron Voisin
September 24, 2014 8:55 pm

The problem with that assessment is the 30 extra tenths are not in addition to what was leaving. the extra 30 tenths happens as an adjustment to a change in equilibrium conditions. Thus the balance equation is more like a change in accumulation rather than a change in input, output generation or consumption terms. or if Acc=in-out+gen-Consumption, only the out term changes thus our equation which can be considered steady state for small intervals of dt, changes over larger intervals and this change is the effect of more energy staying not extra energy.
analogously (for a cheme) your assuming that the reaction vessel never changes with the inputs when in fact the tank size is whats being varied

Dave Worley
September 24, 2014 7:15 pm

I expect the pressure increase with depth generates heat. In larger objects like the sun it results in a fusion reaction. I believe have a lot to learn about the effect of gravity in “creating” energy even without a fusion reaction. I also agree that sporadic release from the ocean floor could be worth examination in terms of climate cycles. Surely orbital cycles and the stretching forces exerted upon the planet could stimulate such releases.
The passage of small bodies near the sun often correlate with mass ejections. Most experts do not agree with this, but where the surface is already unstable, the gravity field of a relatively small object could certainly be “the straw that broke the camel’s back” triggering such releases.

Reply to  Dave Worley
September 24, 2014 8:57 pm

Are not stars formed in nebulas when the gravity from the accretion of interstellar clouds of dust and gas is great enough to trigger fusion from the resulting pressure and heat?

Steve R
Reply to  noaaprogrammer
September 25, 2014 12:29 pm

In a nutshell…Yes

September 24, 2014 7:18 pm

Thanks, Ronald D Voisin. A thought-provoking article.
Emanation of Earth internal heat as a controlling factor for ENSO looks like really thinking out-of-the-box.

September 24, 2014 7:32 pm

….not to mention, in any way at all, that “missing heat”, but what about all the other ‘stuff’ being exhaled from the crests of the 40,000 mile mid-ocean ridge system? Iceland, in this context, is a microcosm. A mere blip of mid-ocean ridge that happens to be on ‘dry’ land. And how dare I mention the peculiar futility of employing heat as the only metric of climate change (you know, “global warming”). The oceans should be boiling acid by now, but they aren’t. The “missing heat” is insignificant. The REAL heat comes from the ridges…long, unmentionable, hot submarine fissure eruptions (aka ‘black smokers’). Time to unsuppress the obvious….

September 24, 2014 7:41 pm

for wyosceptic: Back in the 1970s,I was doing work on depleted uranium munitions. We stored some du rods in a thermos jug for about three weeks(we forgot about them). When we found them again and pulled them out, their temp was about 25 degrees above ambient. Still lots of heat coming from radioactive decay.

Reply to  rsminus3
September 25, 2014 6:26 am

or a very good thermos…..

September 24, 2014 8:03 pm

tracking the Rossby waves shows that El Nino warming upwelling water off South America came from higher salinity (heavier, due to evaporation) western Pac… I think I remember that from Bobb T’s ENSO basics.

Reply to  joelobryan
September 25, 2014 8:19 am

Yes I’ve read Bob’s stuff as well (Who Turned On The Heat – Best $5 I’ve spent in a long time). While it may not be the cause I’ve wondered if geologic processes could be the difference between a regular and super el-nino event. The super ones don’t happen often and seem very sporadic so somewhat similar to geologic activity.

September 24, 2014 8:18 pm

Interesting concept and proposal.
What I wonder about but have not even begun to chase down is what effect the magnetic dynamo’s have upon each other.
One aspect of magnetism we harness to either generate electricity or to convert electricity to work.
Another magnetic aspect is the performance of induction. With so many folks demonstrating the minimal solar output so far as the sun sinks into a minima; that leaves the question whether a very active sun’s magnetic dynamo is causing electromagnetic induction upon Earth’s molten ferrous core.
The volcanic vents do not vent molten iron but instead vent the molten lighter minerals and elements.
A geo-reactor Earth is intriguing and quite likely given iron’s effect on nuclear reactions. Reviewing Earth’s distribution of lead, a by product of uranium life cycle, there must’ve been massive quantities of uranium during Earth’s initial phases.
One good point about Earth’s geo-reactor process is that atomic half life decay emissions are not a rushed process.
Any nuclear reactor bursts that may drive Earth’s molten currents will likely be episodic with a significant delay for volcanic releases whether magmatic intrusive or surface eruptive. One does wonder if such episodes drove the trap eruptions.

September 24, 2014 8:18 pm

Maybe Bob T will ring in on the issue.

September 24, 2014 8:19 pm

Venus doesn’t have any moons. Mars has a couple of very small ones, probably asteroids that were captured by gravity. Venus and Mars don’t have tectonic activity. Earth’s Moon is large and gravitation forces cause it to move away from Earth about 4.5cm a year meanwhile Earth’s day gradually increases (we had a leap second a few years ago). So there is some transfer of angular momentum from Earth to Moon caused by Earth’s rotation slowing by some milliseconds and Moon’s orbit increasing.
The same gravitational forces gradually caused moon’s rotation to harmonise with it’s orbit – so we can only see one side of it. The harmonisation due to long term effects of tidal forces is particularly noticeable with the 3 innermost moons of Jupiter. The three inner moons – Ganymede, Europa, and Io – participate in a 1:2:4 orbital resonance. Also Charon, Pluto’s moon (it is about half the size of Pluto), is in geosynchronous orbit with Pluto.
Not all of the rotational energy lost by Earth is converted to orbital energy gained by the moon. The balance of the energy is converted into heat under the mantle through tidal friction. The amount of tidal friction changes due to the distance of the moon from Earth at the time and also other celestial influences – such as the sun, Jupiter and Venus (particularly when they are all in alignment). Also the other gas giants can have a small influence also when they are in alignment with the inner planets.
As the amount of tidal friction deep under the Earth’s surface varies, according to extra-terrestrial influences therefore the amount of heat energy added varies over time. As the consequences of this energy input are lagged by years to decades and possibly even centuries, Earth gets decades of higher tectonic activity such as is occurring at present and long periods when the incidence of major earthquakes and volcanic activity is lower (like in the previous century).

September 24, 2014 8:35 pm

The Earth’s interior is millions of degrees. I know because I heard it from Pope Gore.

Richard Sharpe
Reply to  joelobryan
September 24, 2014 9:15 pm

I suspect he meant millions of milli-degrees, but could be wrong.

September 24, 2014 8:45 pm

On a more seriuos note, I everyone would agree that particle physics, nuclear physics, and the Standard Model is on much sounder theoretical and experimental footing than Climate Science.
Thus I have much higher trust in the anti – neutrino results putting a hard upper bound on the output of any on-going core nuclear reactor. I say “on-going” because clearly a manmade fission reactor can have a power generation phase of some time length, then a lower power heat dispersal recharge refuel phase. Could a core reactor power up and then a fuel depletion or neutron moderation phase? Speculative in the extreme.

Steve R
September 24, 2014 8:53 pm

Look at it this way; the average geothermal gradient is about 25C per kilometer depth. Oil is generated in basins up to about 150 C, and gas up to maybe 250C, Yet the majority of the water in the oceans is right at freezing, everything but the upper km is basically ice water.

September 24, 2014 9:19 pm

I am all in favor of a low grade fission reactor in of a few hundred kilometers diameter in the core. Reactivity is bounded by pressure and temp. The hotter it gets, it expands enough to lessen the flux. But we do not have to assume it is a steady rate.
What I found interesting here was that someone actually measured a neutrino flux to get a power level. That he estimated 3TW is interesting. But that is a point in time. Could the core oscillate in power over 1000 to 10,000 years? And if so, where on the cycle might we be measuring it?
Could such a low fission core have an oscillating power output? Well we know our human built reactors can oscillate in power thanks to build up of poison fission products such as Xe-135. And the core will not be uniform, but have shells of greater fission products as you go deeper. There isn’t much gravity down there, so I don’t think density driven convection even from hot spots will make for much mixing.
I may be in the minority; I may be out of date; I may be flat out wrong. But I have not subscribed to the mantle convection cell theory as a driver of plate tectonics since several meetings with John Dewey and A. Sengor in the late 1980s. They convinced me that the mantle viscosity is two orders of magnitude to large for thermal convention to be the driver of plate tectonics. Instead, they argued it is a crustal overturning. The crust, particularly the basaltic oceanic floor crust is more dense than the mantle because the crust is cold. The descending limbs of the plates pull the plates. The spreading centers push the plates. It is the top-heavy imbalance of the crust that moves the mantle, not the other way around. If it is a positive feedback, then it might be a chicken-and-the-egg situation, but crustal overturning is a big part.
Either way, mantle convective cells are a trivial means of thermal energy transfer. Energy transfer at outer core and inner mantle pressures is 99.99% by conduction. Pure assertion on my part. I may be wrong.
What does this have to do with a potentially oscillating core? What if, the core does oscillate? that would mean it would also oscillate in temperature and expansion. The crust would oscillate from a compression, initiating and enforcing subduction, and expansion, enhancing rifting and plate spreading. Expansion and contraction repeated would form sort of a ratchet, helping the plate tectonics along.
It is estimated that the Atlantic is spreading about 1 cm per year. 1 meter per 100 years. 100 meters in 10,000 years. If just half of that is ratchet, a 50 meter change in the circumference of the earth 40,000,000 meters, or 1 part in 1,000,000, then that is all the difference in radius we need from a the thermal expansion of an oscillating fusion core on a 10,000 year cycle.
Oddly enough, one competing theory to Hess & Dietz 1959-1962 expanding + subducting crust (the name Plate Tectonics came a couple years later) was Bruce Heezen’s theory of an “expanding Earth”. He was studying the mid-Atlantic Ridge and was convinced the spreading was real. But how could we be adding ocean crust unless the radius of the earth was increasing? Yep, it was a real theory. So real that Hess took a page and a half to explain how his theory of a “jaw crusher of the descending limb” made the problems of a changing earth radius go away.
How ironic it would be if Heezen was right after all — at least partially right. That the radius of the earth DOES expand — and contract on the order 1 part per million every 10,000 years or so — because the temperature of the core is not constant — because the neutron flux of the core is not constant — because the concentration of fission daughter products in the core is not constant.

Reply to  Stephen Rasey
September 25, 2014 12:49 pm

New crust forms at the spreading centers by fractional melting of solid mantle, according to theory, and the melted fraction is depleted of iron and other heavier elements and richer in the lighter elements than mantle material, by my understanding. Therefore oceanic crust would be lighter than the mantle and heavier than the continents. I agree that convection in the mantle has problems as a concept, but the continents are moving and their roots are deep, thrust far below oceanic crust. The point is the mantle must be plastic enough to accommodate movement of the continents. All rock deforms plastically under the conditions found at depth.

September 24, 2014 9:29 pm

Here is a quick and dirty method to calculate the heat from the core to space:
800 k temperature at bottom of crust
275 k temperature at bottom of ocean
525 k delta T = 800-275
5000 m distance (thickness of oceanic crust)
1.7 W/(m.K) Thermal conductivity of basalt (ocean crust is mostly basalt)
0.1785 W/m² Rate of addition of heat to the ocean =525/5000*1.7
0.18 W/m² Maximum Precision of value.
So about double the 0.09 in the post. What is amazing is this (0.09 to 0.18 W/m²) is transferred from the ocean to space in the relatively narrow band of ice free water where the ocean temperature is less than the mean surface temperature of the planet of 15 C (Where the temperature is above 15 C, the ocean is being heated). The transfer from water to space by conduction in that part of the ocean covered in ice is trivial compared to that lost by evaporation. Gavin S. at GISS says you need a GCM to show the math. Whatever. It is a controlling feedback. As the planet warms, there is less ice, more evaporation, more heat from the ocean to space. As the planet cools, there is more ice . . . etc. Given how much heat must be moved from equatorial water to space, this is a pretty big attenuating effect.

Reply to  John Eggert
September 25, 2014 2:36 am

John, you cannot lose heat to space by conduction or evaporation, which you seem to suggest. The Earth is surrounded by a vacuum. There is nothing to do the conducting.
Heat can only be lost to space by radiation.

richard verney
Reply to  MikeB
September 25, 2014 3:17 am

That is TOA
John is talking about getting the heat/energy from the crust/up through the ocean/up through the atmosphere to TOA.

Reply to  MikeB
September 25, 2014 8:45 am

Heat moves from the mantel to space. It gets there by conduction through the crust, conduction from the crust to the ocean, conduction, convection, evaporation and radiation to move heat from the bottom of the ocean to the atmosphere and some radiant heat from the top of the ocean to space, conduction (very little), convection, condensation at altitude of water evaporated at surface to heat the atmosphere and finally radiation from the atmosphere to space. Yes. heat moves from the mantel to space by conduction, convection and radiation. There is very little radiative transfer of heat at the bottom of the ocean. It is only when there is an optical path to space that radiant loss becomes dominant.

September 24, 2014 9:29 pm

The engineering approach is interesting and seems to be worth doing. I am therefore suggesting a few ways to proceed.
1. The terminology used is not geophysical or radiative transfer terminology as used in climatology. I suggest using the language of both climatology and geophysics by working from a dictionary of Earth science. Most papers by NASA scientists demonstrate the terms and phraseology.
2. The estimated 0.09 Wm-2 transfer from the mantle to the surface of the solid Earth is not trivial. Stephens et al stated the following, “current estimates of the net surface energy imbalance of 0.6 ±0.4 Wm–2 inferred from the rise in OHC.” (OHC = Ocean Heat Content.)
Heat transfer from the mantle to the surface of the solid Earth to the surface would account for 15% of the estimated net surface energy imbalance that is now calculated from the increase in OHC, a percentage that is not trivial..
See Roy Spencer’s post on the subject of OHC. His estimated CO2 sensitivity of 1.3 degC is consistent with 0.6 Wm-2 net imbalance at the surface. URL:
It would be indeed interesting to discover that a significant part of the rise in OHC is due to geothermal heat and in this context 0.09. Wm-2 is not insignificant. Possibly that would mean the sensitivity to CO2 is closer to 1;1 degC, the first estimate made by Stephen Schwartz of Brookhaven National Laboratory before adverse comments forced him to revise his estimate upwards,
Schwartz S. E. J. Heat capacity, time constant, and sensitivity of Earth’s climate system. Geophys. Res., 112, D24S05 (2007). doi:10.1029/2007JD008746
Graeme L. Stephens et al, An update on Earth’s energy balance in light of the latest global observations. Nature Geoscience Vol. 5 October 2012
3. In my opinion, an engineering approach to appraising satellite data such as that presented by Stephens et al. and Loeb et al could be productive and might provide context for examining further the contribution of geothermal heat.
Reference: Loeb et al, Observed changes in top-of-the-atmosphere radiation and upper-ocean heating consistent within uncertainty. Nature Geoscience VOL 5 February 2012.
Loeb et al. Toward Optimal Closure of the Earth’s Top-of-Atmosphere Radiation Budget
Loeb (2009) points out that combined errors associated with (1) assuming a spherical Earth, (2) radiative transfer at the terminator, and (3) calibration of the CERES instrument were greater than the estimated net radiative imbalance.
Loeb et al. cited Kopp and Lean’s paper that has shown that solar irradiance is not as stable as previously believed.
Greg Kopp and Judith L. Lean, A new, lower value of total solar irradiance: Evidence and climate significance, 2011
4. Since most of the authors of four of these papers are NASA or other government institute scientists, we should take seriously their discussion of the problems in measuring the Earth’s radiative imbalance. These scientists have shown that the data now available is not precise enough to say whether the Earth is warming, cooling or maintaining homeostasis and these revelations are begging the attention of a suitably qualified engineer.
Furthermore, these papers provide context for assessing whether or not geothermal heating of the atmosphere and the oceans is significant in the overall energy budget and provide some guidance on the relevance of error bars in making estimates..

September 24, 2014 9:34 pm

In the standard model, a small planet called Theia blew off the continental crust of a large part of the planet, some of which went to help form the Moon, that, plus the substantial increase in plasticity provided by water then explains why Earth’s tectonics didn’t stall out as on Mars, or result in thermal turn-over as on Venus.

Reply to  Steve
September 25, 2014 6:19 am

…and I’m just going to reach up in some dark recess and pull something else out…
Everyone knows by now that Mars, Earth and Venus are all a similar distance from the Sun and were all inhabited by humankind. All had the same basic amount of water, temperature, plant and anuimal life, etc.
The humans on Mars and Venus were very advanced compared to those on Earth. The Venetians drove SUVs and reached their CAGW tipping point, resulting in boiling away their oceans. The Martians however prevented SUVs and ensured a frigid, baren planet devoid of life. Here on Earth, we need to strive for balance between the number of SUVs and the number of watermelons.
There, I made up something equally fanciful and hopefully more entertaining. 8D

John L.
September 24, 2014 9:51 pm

Though not directly related to the climate issue, ( I think the author
makes a reasonable case for the exothermic earth ). I thought
I would toss this into the mix to see the response.
What happens to gravity as it relates to the earths core?
With the mass of the earth equally placed above the core there should be O g.
Pressure would be lessened; but to what extent/effect? The picture this gives
me makes my teeth itch.

Reply to  John L.
September 25, 2014 3:28 am

If you pressurise a sealed container and throw it in to a gravity free environment.
The pressure contained in the container does not diminish.

Reply to  John L.
September 25, 2014 3:37 am

Addendum. Also if said container has a heat source contained in the container
and is in a gravity free vacuum
The only why for the heat to be “lost” is to radiation of the energy.

Reply to  Twobob
September 25, 2014 6:21 am


Steve R
Reply to  John L.
September 25, 2014 2:58 pm

@John L If you assumed a constant density earth, the acceleration due to gravity toward the center of the earth would diminish linearly from the earths surface to the earths center. (Since the earth is actually not a constant density, gravitational acceleration goes up slightly thru the “fluffier” mantle, but it still diminishes to zero by the time you get to the very center of the earth.)
However, the center of the earth is the point of maximum pressure any way you look at it, with pressure aproximately equal to 3.6 million atmospheres. The iron/nickel core has a density of about 13g/cc which is more than 50% greater than its density at the earths surface. (Something to think about when you hear that solids are “incompressible”)

John L.
Reply to  Steve R
September 25, 2014 6:17 pm

Well heck, that makes reasonable sense. Thanks

Dr. Strangelove
September 24, 2014 9:52 pm

Geothermal heat does not affect global or even regional climate. Iceland is a volcanic region. It’s still cold there. Singapore has no volcano but it’s warm there because it’s near the equator. Hot lava must be flowing on large land area to affect local climate. That happens in Hawaiian islands during large eruptions.

Reply to  Dr. Strangelove
September 24, 2014 10:33 pm

Singapore is in a very active region. While you are technically right that Singapore doesn’t have their own personal volcano, Singapore is surrounded by volcanoes .

Dr. Strangelove
Reply to  ATheoK
September 24, 2014 10:39 pm

Those volcanoes are in Indonesia and Philippines. Singapore is an island. It’s surrounded by sea.

Robert B
Reply to  Dr. Strangelove
September 24, 2014 10:48 pm

150 mW/m2 will heat up 1m3 of water by one degree C in about one year. But what does a smaller area that spews out much more heat (volcanic) do to the currents.,

Reply to  Dr. Strangelove
September 25, 2014 6:27 am

Dr. Strangelove, just think deeply for 1-2 seconds about how flawed your logic is. “does not affect” is pretty definitive. A more correct statement would be “minimally affects”. A source of energy is a source of energy.

Dr. Strangelove
Reply to  Eric Sincere
September 25, 2014 8:11 pm

Philosopher specializing in linguistics. Your breath ‘minimally affects’ the climate. If you stop breathing for 1-2 seconds, the atmosphere would cool a bit. We call such causes negligible. BTW your body emits more than 120 mW/m^2 heat. Greater than the average geothermal heat flux.

Reply to  Dr. Strangelove
September 25, 2014 1:10 pm

Geothermal heat has an effect on deep water temperature. Ocean energy uptake re analysis should include it, but I read it doesn’t. The absence of surface warming can be explained by increased ocean energy uptake. But the way this energy uptake into deep water is estimated ought to include the geothermal heat flux. Let me out it this way: what’s the estimated energy uptake into water below 700 meters? Is that within the range of the geothermal heat flux?

Reply to  Dr. Strangelove
September 26, 2014 11:17 am

Geothermal heat does effect local climate and can do so dramatically. For one thing consider the difference between Greenland and Iceland. Iceland lies at the same latitude as the southern portion of the Greenland ice cap. Iceland supports a much smaller ice sheet and the cause is mostly due to geothermal heating. Any marine influence warming Iceland would have had a similar effect on Greenland.
From personal experience and on a smaller scale, I saw the effect of the geothermal heat around Calistoga in the Napa Valley, California, in the early ’70s when a heavy snowfall mantled most of the region overnight. Over 18 inches of snow fell at 1800 feet, where I was living, and in the valley there were three to six inches of snow – except around Calistoga. From surrounding hill tops you could see a fairly regular circular area around Calistoga where no snow was present. It also affects places like Yellowstone where roads are closed occasionally because geothermal heat causes asphalt softening:
That much heat is more than adequate to cause thermal updrafts, which in turn means that local, and to a lesser degree, regional air movements are affected. It is no accident that Calistoga has a glider port.

Reply to  Duster
September 26, 2014 11:21 am

In addition, you want to consider why Edward Lorenz’s “Butterfly Effect” is called by that name.

September 24, 2014 10:27 pm

Plate tectonics is dead. As dead as Carbon theology. Modern seismology shows very clearly that the mantle is stratified, not convective; that the linear midocean ridges and so called hot spots are not supporter from the deep mantle but rather from shallow pools of molten rock immediately below them.
Modern seismology further shows that although there is an LLSVP, an apparent extrusion from the core, in the eastern Pacific, there is no convincing mechanical or thermal connection between this feature and the surface even though this extrusion extends from the core-mantle boundary up to the 660 km discontinuity.
The problem for any exothermic hypothesis based on a core reactor is going to be to explain how it communicates with the surface. The greater geophysical problem is to explain what energy source maintains the shallow molten pools in the upper mantle.

Reply to  gymnosperm
September 24, 2014 11:12 pm

Interesting – I’d like to know more. Can you cite some references?

Reply to  gymnosperm
September 24, 2014 11:52 pm

I, too, would like to see some references.
My view is that Plate Tectonics isn’t dead. The plates are moving. We measure rates, rotation centers, transfer faults were one of those things predicted before they were identified.
We may be wrong on the mechanism, the driver. Just as Wegner was wrong about continental masses plowing through the oceanic crust, he was right that the continental masses were moving (somehow).
If you have good references that the mantle is stratified and doesn’t have convection cells, I’m all ears and eyes. I haven’t believed convection was important to plate movement for 25 years.
To return for a moment to the hypothesis of a changing earth radius by temperature change expansion (9:19 pm above). I was focused on the crust and how the expansion and contraction would assist the movement of the plates by a ratchet. Well, the same goes fro the upper mantle. If you shrink or expand the radius by 1 part in a million, then before the temperature change migrates out, there must be a physical accommodation of a mantle shell forced into a slightly smaller or larger volume. The mantle may be plastic, but there will be a change in stress may be an important element in the creation and maintenance of the “molten pools in the upper mantle.”

Reply to  gymnosperm
September 25, 2014 6:22 am

How do you then explain the movement of Australia norhwards and the height increase of Mt Everest and mountains in the southern part of the Andes? Subduction and expansion zones at plate boundaries exist and can now be measured annually using GPS.

Reply to  cementafriend
September 25, 2014 8:39 am

Pochas, Stephen and cementafriend, there is certainly motion in the crust. To call a continental structure with roots far deeper than the “asthenosphere” it is supposed to be moving on a “plate”, and then to call half of an ocean basin with completely different structure and chemistry a “plate” is not meaningful or useful.
Here are some mantle sections:
G. R. Foulger, M. J. Pritchard, B. R. Julian, J. R. Evans, R. M. Allen, G. Nolet, W. J. Morgan, B. H. Bergsson, P. Erlendsson, S. Jakobsdottir, S. Ragnarsson, R. Stefansson and K. Vogfj¨ord (2001), Seismic tomography shows that upwellingbeneath Iceland is confined to the upper mantle, Geophys. J. Int., 146, 504–530
This guy believes he has found E. Pacific plumes but if you notice all the heat is at the top.comment image

Reply to  gymnosperm
September 25, 2014 10:23 am

at 8:39 am
I don’t see the problem.
From your link, Fig 10 A, it is decidedly an unhelpful orientation, oblique to the current rifting axis in East Africa and they don’t any of the Atlantic rifting. The East Africa and Red Sea rifting are red shallow, the Zagros subduction is blue, though not as distinct as I would expect.
Figure 10 B is better oriented There is a district blue subduction limb under the center, which appears to be Japan. Text book Plate Tectonics.
But what we are looking at is a full scale 3%, -1.5% to +1.5% of the Vs “variation from 1-D” — the “earth-shaking” significance of this variation is left to the imagination. For instance, given the same composition, how much difference in temperature (or any other quantity) would account for a 3% change in the shear wave velocity (Vs). What is the significance?
BTW, liquids do not propagate shear waves, therefore any place with a Vs must transmit seismic “sound” waves like a solid. And as I look at the plots, I have to ask myself if it really looked like that wouldn’t refraction and destructive interference make detection of the Vs arrival(s) hard to impossible? How much of what we are looking at in those plot is noise?

Reply to  Stephen Rasey
September 25, 2014 9:02 pm

Stephen, there are credible examples of subduction, particularly the “flat slab” subduction under Japan, but flat slab subduction does not convection make. Apologies, been on the run all week. Think my citations are on my laptop. Will follow up.

Reply to  Stephen Rasey
September 25, 2014 9:35 pm

If you read my other comments here, I neither need or believe in strong convection. I like the overturning, denser core on top of a less dense mantle. However, I can see it to be easy to lock the crust in place. How do you change the convection currents after Pangea is assembled?
You can break the crust with some “push” and “pull” that could be manifest by a core that can episodically change temperature. How to do that? With a fission of U and Th in the core controlled by temp (expansion) and changing poison concentration.

Reply to  gymnosperm
September 25, 2014 1:12 pm

The core is hot, the outside is not.

Reply to  Fernando Leanme
September 25, 2014 8:56 pm

Fernando, certainly what we expect, not what we see.

September 24, 2014 10:31 pm

Wow – point 1 in the article makes no sense at all. This is worse than IPCC climate science. There is no reason to assume the earth had to generate more power because the atmosphere retained less energy when there was less GHG. The author does not understand that a different steady state balance can be achieved at the upper atmosphere to compensate for less retained energy. ( less energy retained in atmosphere so more energy escapes to space and balance is still maintained)
It is totally erroneous to assume historical surface temperatures are anything else but surface temperatures and the atmosphere being several Km thick means that surface temps are meaningless anyway as some measure of energy storage/balance. Temperature only works rigorously when you have a classical “black body” which the earth is not!

Reply to  Jeremy
September 25, 2014 12:05 am

I used to go out with a girl who had a classical “black body”,
her rigorous ‘working’ certainly raised my temperature;……ah the good old days !!

William Astley
September 24, 2014 11:52 pm

I can answer this puzzle. There is a physical reason for everything that is observed. The reason for the sudden change in the earth’s emitted heat is the same reason why the geomagnetic field intensity is now dropping at 5%/decade, where for the past couple of centuries it was dropping at 5%/century.
Note it is physically not possible for core liquid core changes to cause a drop of 5%/decade in the geomagnetic field intensity. Rapid changes in the conductive liquid create a counter emf which resists fast changes. Geomagnetic reversals and geomagnetic excursion were/are therefore believed to occur over 1000s of years not over a century. (Obviously as it is an observational fact that the geomagnetic field intensity is dropping at 5%/decade and that the change in geomagnetic field intensity started mid 1990s the standard paradigm for what cause the geomagnetic field and causes changes to the geomagnetic field is not correct and there was a significant change in charge starting in mid 1990s.)
The geomagnetic field intensity in the South Atlantic anomaly is now 60% less than the magnified intensity of the total field as the field intensity has been dropping for a couple of centuries. As noted, the drop has very recently accelerated by a factor of 10.
The change is coming from the surface of the planet (charge movement) not from the core. The charge movement explains why volcanic activity correlates with deep solar minimums. The cause of the charge movement is the sun. What we are observing with one star explains the spiral galaxy rotational anomaly, how spiral galaxies form and evolve, explains why there are massive connections of gas between clusters of galaxies, explains why the cluster intergalactic gas is millions of degree Celsius and does not cool.
What we are currently observing is the physical reason why the geomagnetic field intensity drops by a factor of 3 to 4 at the termination of the interglacial period and increases by a factor of 3 to 4 during the start of the interglacial period and is the physical reason why there is a massive increase in volcanic activity during the transition. The solar forcing mechanism is affected by the eccentricity of the earth’s orbit, which hemisphere is pointing towards the sun at perihelion, and the tilt of the planet which explains why the orbital parameters correlate with the glacial/interglacial cycle and explains why the glacial/interglacial cycle periodicity changed roughly 800,000 years ago from a cycle of 41,000 years, to its current 100,000 years.
The mechanism in question also explains the anomalous orientation of the planetary magnetic field of both Uranus and Neptune.

Earth’s Magnetic Field Is Weakening 10 Times Faster Now
“…Previously, researchers estimated the field was weakening about 5 percent per century, but the new data revealed the field is actually weakening at 5 percent per decade, or 10 times faster than thought. (WIlliam: 10 times faster than physically possible if the cause of the geomagnetic field changes is changes at the liquid core/solid core boundary) As such, rather than the full flip occurring in about 2,000 years, as was predicted, the new data suggest it could happen sooner. Floberghagen hopes that more data from Swarm will shed light on why the field is weakening faster now.

William: Swarm is the name of three specialized satellites that were launched by the European space agency in November of 2013. The Swarm satellites are capable of measuring the entire geomagnetic field with laboratory accuracy.

September 25, 2014 2:19 am

“…should it not be so that the Earth must have been substantially more exothermic in pre-industrial times (when there was little GHG solar retention), by something like 31×44=1,364TW?”
Ronald, if there is any logic behind this statement then it escapes me. By the way, there was not ‘little GHG solar retention’ (whatever that is supposed to mean?) ; the GHG is those days raised the temperature of the surface of the Earth by as much as 30 degrees Celsius, as it does today. You need to be clear, in your string of non-sequiturs, whether you are referring to the earth/atmosphere system as a whole or just the surface of the Earth (where we live). Greenhouse gases warm the surface of the Earth, while at the same time cooling the upper atmosphere.
I must confess I do not understand what you are trying to say. But, I would suggest that it should be obvious that a geothermal input of 0.09 watts per square metre is insignificant compared to the heat input from the Sun of 340 watts per square metre.

September 25, 2014 2:29 am

The heat source within the Earth is natural radioactive decay of Uranium, Thorium and 40Potassium. This drives plate tectonics that explains all of the observed variability in geological processes and heat flow at the Earth’s surface.
Over on Energy Matters this week Roger has an interesting article on climate change and species extinction. I am still looking into the C cycle preparing to boot the Bern model into the long grass.

September 25, 2014 2:33 am

Might add that on the map up top the high heat flow areas are the mid ocean ridges ± some subduction zones. The blue low heat flow areas are I believe mainly sedimentary basins.

September 25, 2014 2:57 am

I might add further that everything we know about the age of the Earth and the Solar system is based upon these natural radioactive decays. Lord Kelvin in an early attempt to calculate the age of the Earth based on its heat loss did not know about radioactivity that continuously warms the interior (mainly the mantle and the crust) and therefore he greatly underestimated the true age which is 4.5 billion years.

September 25, 2014 3:17 am

I am surprised that an engineer believes in the GHE.
So called GHG’s are those that are good adsorbers of IR radiation. In fact they do not adsorb the radiation, the radiation induces a temperature rise in the gas. BUT, this means that these gasses are good emitters of IR photons at the same time. So they cannot RETAIN heat. The only gasses that can retain heat are those that are poor emitters, oxygen and nitrogen, which compose 99% of the atmosphere. If the GHE was true then CO2 would be the gas of choice in doudle glazing units. It is not, nitrogen is.
For the GHE to be true would need a heat increase in the mid troposphere. One has yet to be found.

Just an engineer
Reply to  johnmarshall
September 25, 2014 5:40 am

Argon and krypton are the gas fills used most often by window manufacturers to displace the air between the panels in windows. Argon, which comprises slightly less than 1% of the Earth’s atmosphere, is non-toxic, inert, clear and odorless. Its thermal conductivity is roughly 67% that of air and it’s inexpensive, making it an attractive gas fill.

Reply to  Just an engineer
September 25, 2014 11:28 am

CO2 works well in double glazed windows … for a while. Argon and Krypton have the additional advantage that they are inert. My understanding is that the reactivity of CO2 did it in.

September 25, 2014 3:17 am

So let’s now speculate how a 3-44TW core geo-reactor with the above mentioned observed and obvious inhomogenieties might affect climate as observed through the Holocene.

The radioactive elements are heavily depleted in the core and mantle and are concentrated in the crust. There is only one know instance of a natural reactor at Oklo.

September 25, 2014 4:10 am
September 25, 2014 5:05 am

The residual heat from planet formation is partly in the form of latent heat of crystallisation. There is a phase-change front moving out from the planet centre at about 1cm per century. There is also a type of earthquake caused by an explosive phase change in crystal structure.
There is a large amount of tidal heating in addition. The moon is moving away at a measurable rate, and its kinetic energy change is translated into heat within both bodies (Earth and Moon). There is also smaller tidal heating from the solar tides. If you doubt the power of tidal heating, just look at Io.
Then of course we have radioactive decay. The Earth’s geothermal heat budget can be accounted for without internal nuclear reactors.
The core temperature is hotter than the surface of the sun. The planet will only “go endothermic” (in a long-term sense) when the surface temperature exceeds the core temperature. This could possibly happen when the sun turns into a red giant but not before.

Reply to  kzb
September 25, 2014 6:12 am

I forgot about tidal friction. IO is a good example there. I’m not sure there is much of original heat left. Kelvin’s estimate based on heat loss was of order 100 Ma.

September 25, 2014 7:17 am

“This means then that, at any and every moment of time, more power (~44TW) is leaving the Earth than is solar-received by the Earth.”
What? Off by over 3 orders of magnitude. Science fiction…

Jon the Technologist
September 25, 2014 10:12 am

Hey everyone – Ron’s purpose it appears was to start a discussion. From the stream I say he was very successful. Thank you all for a most interesting discussion.

Svend Ferdinandsen
September 25, 2014 10:38 am

Funny time for the post, as i have recently thaught of the Iceland eruption. This eruption equals a 200GW powerstation out of control, and it has done so more than a month. Yes, there is a long way up to 44TW, but anyway it makes you think, and Iceland is small.
These 44TW equals 0.15e22 joule each year and is then not at all minimal relative to the proposed heat uptake in the oceans that is around 0.5e22joule/year.

September 25, 2014 12:20 pm

@euanmearns 9/25 – 3:17 am
The radioactive elements are heavily depleted in the core and mantle.
On what basis could anyone know that?
IF– convection doesn’t happen, if the mantle is stratified, then we could only determine the composition of the core and mantle from remote sensing methods:
1. gravity, therefore density
2. Seismic Velocities, Vp, Vs, Vs shadows, refraction, mode conversion.
(See The Inside of the Earth, “Chart of Elapsed Time…”)
3. Neutrino detection. Nuclear physics inputs needed for geo-neutrino studies (1 MB PDF)

We remind that, assuming the chondritic ratio for the global uranium and thorium mass
abundances, a (Th) a (U ) = 3.9 , one expects that geo-neutrinos from uranium (thorium) contribute
about 80% (20%) of the total U+Th geo-neutrino signal.

I point out that if there is a fission core, we have no business assuming the ratio holds.
But, indeed, maybe neutrino detection puts an upper limit on today’s radioactivity load in the core.
But suppose it is true that the core is heavily depleted in radioactive elements compared to the crust. How did that happen?
The chemical affinities of the elements with Oxygen, Sulfur, or Iron are hypothesized to govern. See: Goldschmidt classification, which does put most of the fissionable elements in the Lithophile class, easily combining with oxygen, to make lighter compounds that don’t sink to the core and remain in the crust. It is an impressive argument.
But I think the theory depends upon there is enough oxygen to oxidize all the lithophile elements. Even Iron is oxygen loving. By the Goldschmidt Argument, should we have any iron of the surface of the earth? The iron should have all sunk to the core. Fortunately for us it was dissolved in acid waters, then soaked up most of the oxygen life created in the first billion years of the planet’s history. So, there is a tug of war among the elements for the available oxygen and sulfur, long before life began. Those that loose, would tend to sink. Stellar evolution argues for much more oxygen and sulfur than heavier elements, but did it preferentially blow away?

Because the inner core is denser (12.8 ~ 13.1)g⁄cm³[12] than pure iron or nickel, even under heavy pressures, it is believed that the core also contains enough gold, platinum and other siderophile elements that if extracted and poured onto the Earth’s surface it would cover the entire Earth with a coating 0.45 m (1.5 feet) deep.[13] The fact that precious metals and other heavy elements are so much more abundant in the Earth’s inner core than in its crust is explained by the theory of the so-called iron catastrophe, an event that occurred before the first eon during the accretion phase of the early Earth. – [Wikipedia: Inner Core: Composition]

The Iron Catastrophe itself has to make assumptions about relative abundances of the metals:

As material became molten enough to allow movement, the denser iron and nickel, evenly distributed throughout the mass, began to migrate to the center of the planet to form the core. The gravitational potential energy released by the sinking of the dense NiFe globules, along with any cooler denser solid material is thought to have been a runaway process, increasing the temperature of the protoplanet above the melting point of most components, resulting in the rapid formation of a molten iron core covered by a deep global silicate magma. This event, – an important process of planetary differentiation, occurred at about 500 million years into the formation of the planet.[1] – [Wikipedia: Iron Catastrophe]

Seems to me that Ni, Fe, and any other heavy radioactive Lithophile that lost out the tug of war for oxygen-silicon and sulfur would wind up in the core along with the iron-nickel. During the Iron Catastrophe the assembly of a fission core would be unavoidable unless the fissionable elements behaved according to Goldschmidt Lithophile Argument.

September 25, 2014 12:51 pm

@ Stephen Rasey
@euanmearns 9/25 – 3:17 am
The radioactive elements are heavily depleted in the core and mantle.
On what basis could anyone know that?
Well a good starting point is to find an isotope geochemist. My PhD thesis title “Isotope studies of crustal evolution in western Norway: 1984”.
Natural radioactive isotopes decay to stable daughter products and by studying the abundances of the daughter products in igneous rocks – for example those being erupted out of the lithospheric mantle at mid ocean ridges (MORB), you can see quite clearly that these deep sources contain very little radioactive parents compared with the crust from their radiogenic isotope content. One of the systems I’m more familiar with is the Rb-Sr system where radioactive 87Rb decays to stable 87Sr. We measure the abundance of 87Sr relative to 86Sr. An 87Sr/86Sr = 0.705 would be considered very low (the Earth started out at around 0.69) and means that the source contained F*k all 87Rb. Thats the sort of ratios you find in MORB. Compared with the crust where ratios may typically be 0.71 to over 1. Believe me that is very significantly different since the measurements are done with a precision of ± 0.000020 (2SE). Most of your MORB is way down there in the 0.705 category, that is all of your ocean floor.
Then you can study ophiolites and lherzoilte inclusions in kimberlite pipes and meteorites. Many meteorites tend not to be the same as depleted mantle because that planet got smashed before the partial melting differntiating processes occurred. It actually got smashed soon after condensation of the solar system. Chondrite meteorites provide insight to the original geochmical composition of the planets. What happens during partial melting of the upper mantle (that is convecting) is that the LILE elements (like the radioactive ones) get partioned preferentially into the interstitial melts that are destined to become continental and oceanic crust (magmas, volcanos and all that crap). Hence they are depleted in the mantle and enriched in the crust.
Granulite facies metamorphism of the lower crust also results in depletion of the LILE elements in the lower crust with transport into the upper crust, this time more related to aqueous expulsion processes.
And I forgot to mention the data on moon rocks that are all a part of the story – but that’s a part I’m not too familiar with.
Hope this helps! My information could be out of date since I haven’t read anything on this for 20 years or so. Maybe the way geology and plate tectonics works has changed in that time?
Just because climate science is Junk doesn’t yet mean that all science is Junk
PS mantle convection does happen. How else do you explain the phase disequilibria that causes partial melting in the first place if not by raising hot rocks to higher levels where they partially melt. and the whole geomorphological structure of the ocean basins.
Over to you Stephen – you plate tectonics denier 😉

Reply to  euanmearns
September 25, 2014 4:07 pm

mantle convection does happen. How else do you explain the phase disequilibria that causes partial melting in the first place if not by raising hot rocks to higher levels where they partially melt.
Because mantle is the only substance that can fill the gap as the plates rift. As the plates spread, mantle rises, pressure drops, partial melting and extrusion and degassing by eruption.
I bow to your greater experience on isotope ratios. And I’ll accept that the upper mantle is radioactive mineral depleted compared to the SIAL crust.
But what do we really know about the elemental composition of the cores? Or even the lower mantle if convection is questioned.
The main topic is the exothermic nature of the earth and where is it getting the energy.

The heat source within the Earth is natural radioactive decay of Uranium, Thorium and 40Potassium. – Euan Mearns 9/25 2:29am

Ok. Where are they? Are they all in the crust and we have an isothermal core?
Or is there a significant amount of U, Th, 40K deeper down?
I do not dispute that natural radioactive decay is a major source of heat.
My questions are oriented around whether high pressure crystal phases of U and Th could assemble in the core into gigantic matrix assemblies such that a significant energy source is also from neutron fission from fissionable materials and the decay of daughter products. Plus, I also see this mechanism as a potential oscillator so that the temperature of the core and upper mantle is not necessarily constant or on a smooth decay. If the temperature can oscillate, then it adds an extra mechanism to assist the driving of plate tectonics.

Reply to  Stephen Rasey
September 25, 2014 5:31 pm

Diameter of Earth is about 12472 km. Thickness of oceanic crust about 10 km. Continental crust abut 30 km. I can’t be bothered doing the sums but the volume of the tiny skin of the Earth is minuscule compared with the volume of the whole.
Fission reactors require a very high concentration of fissile material to work. Why are you interested in this at all as a mechanism for climate change?

Reply to  Stephen Rasey
September 25, 2014 9:20 pm

You misunderstand. Voisin is linking it to climate change. Not me.
He brought up the subject of fission in the core for his purposes.
I like the idea of episodic fission that can.
1) provide a larger and longer source of heat to keep plate tectonics going for billions of years, and
2) to provide a mechanism through slight expansion and contraction of the radius of the earth, to assist in cracking (rifting) and folding (subducting) the earth.
I also have to be clear I’m not talking of a sustained fission reactor. I’m considering configurations where spontaneous fission can cause a limited chain of fission in fissionable, not fissile, material. Neutron fission ratio less than 1. Kelvin made an error when he worked out the heat of the earth without taking into account radioactivity. Perhaps we have mad an error by including the energy from natural decay, but have failed to include the energy from limited fission. Why have we neglected it? We’ve been told since grade school that the core is iron, and iron-nickel in high school.
The ONLY reason it is an interesting question to me is that it must be an episodic reactor of a long duration cycle, Hotter-cooler core temps change the radius of the earth, stretching and shrinking the crust, keeping tectonics and geology active. And it would have to be more than a 1000 year cycle.
Making it episodic is a tough criteria. From a “cooler”, denser state, the fission ratio approaches 1, say 0.9 for argument. the core gets hotter and expands at the same time fission product poisons quench the reaction. Fission ratio drops to 0.7 (it still happens, but the power is much reduced). The heat takes thousands of years to equalize, cooling the core, contracting it, while the fission poisons have had a chance to decay or migrate. Fission ratio back to 0.9
It is a thought experiment. But such an episodic fission core would manifest itself in a 1 part per million change in the radius (or more) which would help crack the crust and help drive tectonics.

Reply to  Stephen Rasey
September 26, 2014 2:51 am

OK Stephen, at least now you’re talking about short bursts of fission. A continuos reactor would have burned out 4.5 billion years ago give or take a million. The concentration of U in the core i imagine will be measured in parts per billion or less. But you are right, no one can prove that there are not some form of high grade ores down there.
U has 2 oxidation states. 6+ is highly water soluble +4 totally insoluble. So in the crust U ores normally form at REDOX boundaries. That’s why there is so much U in coal, for example. What mineralisation process do you propose for the core.
Of much greater relevance I believe is the inner solid core and outer liquid core where the magnetic field is generated and how wobbles to the orbit might affect this amazing system.
The Laschamp Event and Earth’s Wandering Magnetic Field
I have a new post on the Bern model that Willis may find interesting.
What’s up with the Bern Model?
Chart is not Bern by my own 2 tau model with emissions switched off in 1990.

In modelling the growth of CO2 in the atmosphere from emissions data it is standard practice to model what remains in the atmosphere since after all it is the residual CO2 that is of concern in climate studies. In this post I turn that approach on its head and look at what is sequestered. This gives a very different picture

Reply to  Stephen Rasey
September 26, 2014 2:57 am
This is Bern, what is sequestered. On human time scales, the slow sinks do nothing and should not be in the model at all.

Reply to  Stephen Rasey
September 26, 2014 12:26 pm

U has 2 oxidation states. 6+ is highly water soluble +4 totally insoluble. … What mineralisation process do you propose for the core.
At the pressures and temperatures around the core, I don’t think solubility is an issue. Metal compounds are what I had in mind.

In ferrous alloys, uranium increases the elastic limit and the tensile strength. …. nickel-uranium alloys are resistant to even very aggressive chemicals, including aqua regia.[3]
At least two intermetallic compounds of iron and uranium were identified: U6Fe and UFe2. Small amounts of uranium can drastically lower melting point of iron and vice versa. UFe2 reportedly melts at 1230 °C, U6Fe at 805 °C; a mixture of these two can have melting point as low as 725 °C, a mixture of iron and UFe2 can have melting point of 1055 °C.[6]

Once possibility, given the melting points above, U6Fe could concentrate at the solid-liquid boundary of the inner outer core, but at 3,000,000 atmospheres and 5000+ deg C, the chemistry and physical phase can be exotic.
As for concentration, I point out that there was a “natural reactor” at Oklo about 2 billion years ago when U235 was 3% natural abundance. I can’t find any reference that gives the U ore concentration, but it did exist as an oxide, probably in a silica sand matrix. Down in the core, no neutrons escape — they are absorbed by something, somewhere.

Michael Wassil
September 25, 2014 2:04 pm

Interesting hypothesis. I DID read the full .pdf as well. The author includes falsifiable predictions for anyone interested. I’m not convinced of the reactor core and would like to see some of his predictions tested. I do, however, agree that something other than the usual suspects is most likely responsible for the big climate shifts to/from max/min glaciation.
What I found of even greater interest in the paper was the CO2 composition of the early earth atmosphere and Mr Voisin’s explanation. I have seen the high end of atmospheric CO2 content previously in graphs of the CO2 levels throughout geologic time, and its fall from a very high level prior to the Precambrian, but I hadn’t much thought about it. Here I found the following statement:

“When the earth was in its infancy, some four-and-a half billion years ago, it is believed that the atmosphere was predominantly composed of carbon dioxide, which would have put its CO2 concentration, in terms of the units most commonly used today, at something on the order of 1,000,000 ppm.”

By my math, 1 million parts per million means the early atmosphere was 100% CO2. The atmosphere of Venus is 96% CO2 and that of Mars 95+% currently. Mr Voisin addresses why the CO2 portion of the atmosphere decreased on earth, but remained so high on the other two most earth-like planets in the Solar System. His conclusion: life! Specifically carbon-based life.
This is what intrigues me the most. The carbon locked into the early earth’s atmosphere was gradually removed (or ‘sequestered’ if you like) in the living organisms that developed and thrived as the surface cooled. Because they lack life, both Venus and Mars retained high CO2 atmospheres. It suddenly hit me how intimately connected we are to this planet and its natural processes. If for nothing else, I thank Mr Voisin for that reminder.

Reply to  Michael Wassil
September 26, 2014 7:08 am

I don’t believe it’s possible for CO2 to have been substantially over 200,000 ppm (measured by volume; somewhat more if by mass) because we know N2 is ~80% of the atmosphere now, and no one has suggested that has changed substantially. Only the removal of carbon from CO2, leaving O2 in its place, has been claimed.

Michael Wassil
Reply to  The Monster (@SumErgoMonstro)
September 26, 2014 7:40 pm

Don’t argue with me! I’m quoting sources. Think about this, though. The early earth was a molten blob of heavy metals, silicates and carbonates. From a chemical point of view, it makes sense that CO2 would form the initial atmosphere, or at least most significant part of it. O2 got there because of photosynthesis. Current theory postulates that nitrogen was always present and because it is so non-reactive slowly accumulated as the more reactive CO2, H2O and O2 got sucked into the carbon cycle of life. I don’t know.

George Bibel
September 25, 2014 2:38 pm

I asked a local professor who happens to be (in his words) the “custodian of the global heat flow database”.
His response: The incoming solar flux averaged over the surface is 340 W/ m2, not 3W/ m2. It averages 1360 W/m2 at the top of the atmosphere, but only one fourth on average reaches the surface… 700+ at low latitudes and less at high latitudes due to more trapping and reflection and curvature of the surface. Also, his heat flux reference is missing data from the past 38 years. I will send the reference from 2010 which has more than twice as much data and puts the exoteric flux at 47 TW + or – 2 TW.

September 25, 2014 4:15 pm

First, Ronald, my thanks for doing the work and doing the writing. I do like a person who does their own numbers and reports their results.
With that said, geothermal heat is a difference that makes no practical difference. To explain this, I cannot do more than repeat what I said on the previous WUWT post :
Curious George says:
April 24, 2014 at 9:48 am

Willis – the following link is an estimate of an Earth’s heat flow, h/t Pekka Pirila:

Thanks, George, an excellent study. I note that they have allowed for sub-sea vulcanism and the resulting hydrothermal circulation. From the paper:

Abstract. We present a revised estimate of Earth’s surface heat flux that is based upon a heat flow data-set with 38 347 measurements, which is 55% more than used in previous estimates. Our methodology, like others, accounts for hydrothermal circulation in young oceanic crust by utilising a half-space cooling approximation. For the rest of Earth’s surface, we estimate the average heat flow for different geologic domains as defined by global digital geology maps; and then produce the global estimate by multiplying it by the total global area of that geologic domain. The averaging is done on a polygon set which results from an intersection of a 1 degree equal area grid with the original geology polygons; this minimises the adverse influence of clustering. These operations and estimates are derived accurately using methodologies from Geographical Information Science. We consider the virtually un-sampled Antarctica separately and also make a small correction for hot-spots in young oceanic lithosphere. A range of analyses is presented. These, combined with statistical estimates of the error, provide a measure of robustness. Our final preferred estimate is 47 ± 2 TW, which is greater than previous estimates.

A heat flow of 47±2 TW (terawatts, 1012 watts) divided by 5.11E+14 square metres of earth surface gives an average of 0.09 ± 0.004 W/m2 … about a tenth of a watt per square metre.
I’m sorry, but no matter what slow variations there might be in that number, a geothermal forcing of a tenth of a watt per square metre doesn’t explain anything about the climate, including the ice ages. And whether the warming is from a nuclear reaction or not, even if the geothermal heat flux went to zero, the effect on the climate of the loss of the tenth of a watt/m2 would be undetectable.
That’s what I said at the time, and I hold by it.
Whether geothermal heat doubles or goes to zero means nothing. Incoming solar energy is 340 watts per square metre (W/m2). Total downwelling radiation at the surface (shortwave + longwave) is about a half a kilowatt per square meter. In a system with that amount of energy constantly flowing through it, the tenth of one watt per square metre of geothermal heat is too small to have any effect.
My best to you,

Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
September 26, 2014 7:25 am

In terms of the global amount of energy involved, it’s nothing. But it’s not a question of the amount of energy; it’s whether the concentration of that energy over the very place where the El Niño is caused by local heat might amplify the effects on climate.

Reply to  The Monster (@SumErgoMonstro)
September 27, 2014 10:05 am

Thanks, Monster. Is it possible that there is a giant natural reactor that sits under the El Nino region? Sure, anything’s possible. As the author notes …

So if 150TW of power were to be released under the oceans in a spatially confined area for several weeks, could it account for an El Nino event? Could the no-power-release accumulation phase of such a processes result in a La Nina event?

Heck, once you’ve left data behind, almost nothing is beyond the bounds of possibility. However, science is not about “might” and “could” … even the author’s speculation is meaningless for lack of information. How big is a “spatially confined area?
But heck, let’s play his game. The El Nino 3.4 area is the one most commonly used to diagnose El Nino events. The area runs from 5°N to 5°S and from 120°W to 170°W. This is an area of 6.1E+12 square metres. If there were 150 terawatts (TW) of power being released in that area, it would be an energy flux of 25 watts per square metre (W/m2) … sorry, not happening or we’d see it.
There is another problem with the theory. This is that the the solid earth acts as an integrator, rapidly smoothing out cyclical variations in temperature. This means that a hypothetical geo-reactor that is deep in the earth cannot cause rapid thermal variations at the surface, so it can’t be the cause of the rapidly changing El Nino conditions.
On the other hand, if the georeactor is near the surface, we’d be able to detect the radioactivity.
Finally, for a natural georeactor to cause El Ninos, it would have to switch off and on … and although there definitely have been natural georeactors in geological history, I don’t know of any that give evidence of such cycling. Not saying it’s not possible … just saying that once again, it is a hypothesis in desperate need of evidence.
Is it possible? Sure. Is it likely? Very doubtful.

Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
September 26, 2014 12:33 pm

Willis, My background is an electrical engineer with a basic working knowledge of thermodynamics. In addition to being picked by the thermodynamics professor to help a graduate student analyze the thermodynamics of his thesis, I worked with thermodynamics while designing generators for aerospace. Your answer seems incorrect to me, because it appears to confuse heat (energy transfer) with the energy level of two components of a system. Heat (transfer) occurs when there is a delta T, but doesn’t reflect the amount of energy involved. The amount of mass in the earth (crust, mantle, core, ocean) dwarfs the mass of the atmosphere, making the atmosphere a complete slave to the earth in terms of temperature. The heat (transfer) is not fixed, but is solely dependent on delta T. It’s small because the delta T between surface air and earth is small.
I’m not totally sure about the point my fellow EE Ronald is trying to make, but here is what it could be:
Since like you say, the heat transfer is small (implying a small delta T), it wouldn’t take that big of an atmospheric temperature increase to reverse the flow (endothermic). If that were to happen, the relative mass of the two components becomes important. The temperature of the extremely low mass atmosphere would go down quickly, as heat is transferred to the earth system, whereas the temperature of the earth system would increase by millions of times less, until equilibrium was restored.
An analogy for the lay person is to imagine going into a building with lots of marble (the capital building for example). If you place your hand (~98 degrees) on the marble (room temp ~70), the marble feels cold. It feels cold because heat from your hand is being transferred to the marble, which is being conducted to the rest of the marble. If we could measure it, the marble temperature is also increased by a tiny fraction of a degree. However, because of the mass difference, your hand cools a lot more.
In summary, the earth and atmosphere are two components of a thermodynamic system. Temperature is a state variable which reflects energy level of a component, NOT heat (transfer). Delta-T causes heat transfer between components. The earth (crust, mantle, core, ocean) energy level and hot core keep the atmospheric temperature bounded.

Reply to  VikingExplorer
September 27, 2014 10:36 am

Thanks, Viking. I was with you up to a point …
VikingExplorer September 26, 2014 at 12:33 pm

Willis, My background is an electrical engineer with a basic working knowledge of thermodynamics. In addition to being picked by the thermodynamics professor to help a graduate student analyze the thermodynamics of his thesis, I worked with thermodynamics while designing generators for aerospace. Your answer seems incorrect to me, because it appears to confuse heat (energy transfer) with the energy level of two components of a system. Heat (transfer) occurs when there is a delta T, but doesn’t reflect the amount of energy involved. The amount of mass in the earth (crust, mantle, core, ocean) dwarfs the mass of the atmosphere, making the atmosphere a complete slave to the earth in terms of temperature. The heat (transfer) is not fixed, but is solely dependent on delta T. It’s small because the delta T between surface air and earth is small.

While you are correct about the dependence on delta T (∆T), you are looking at the wrong ∆T. The ∆T between surface air and earth is not the basic reason that geothermal heat flow is so small. That has to do with
• the fairly low conductivity of rock, and
• the thickness of the rock between us and the heat source, and
• the temperature of the inner earth
The core of the earth is at about 6,000 K. The relevant ∆T in question is between that 6,000K and the surface at about 290K.
So you are not correct when you say

Since like you say, the heat transfer is small (implying a small delta T), it wouldn’t take that big of an atmospheric temperature increase to reverse the flow (endothermic).

The small heat flow does not imply a small ∆T. Instead it implies a thick layer of insulative rock between us and the heat source. To reverse the geothermal heat flow, the surface would have to get very hot.
All the best,

Reply to  VikingExplorer
September 27, 2014 2:39 pm

You are not correct that the delta T between the core and surface air is relevant. That is not how thermodynamics works. Have you ever written out the differential equations for a complex thermodynamic system? Delta T is only relevant with components in contact. The air is in contact with land and sea. They in turn are in contact with crust, which is in contact with mantle, etc. That’s how we get many differential equations with many unknowns. It’s true that thermal conductivity is key. However, there is no insulator between the air and the land/sea. The heat transfer coefficient differences between land & sea are enough to cause onshore and offshore breezes. The situation would be endothermic if for some reason, the atmosphere was heated to the point where the average temperature was greater than the land/sea. The extremely small amount of energy in the atmosphere would be transferred inwards, and the temperature of the land/sea would increase by the teeniest tiny fraction of a degree. It’s basic science I’m afraid.
Also, If you have knowledge of thermodynamics, I’m not sure why you’d make a statement like “fairly low conductivity of rock”. Some thermal conductivities to consider:
air .03
water .58 (20x air)
Ice (@0c) 2.18
Ground or soil, dry area 0.5
Soil, clay 1.1
Soil, with organic matter 0.15 – 2
Ground or soil, moist area 1.0
Rock, solid 2 – 7 ( 3.4x – 12x water)
Quartz mineral 3
Marble 2.08 – 2.94
Hardwoods (oak, maple..) 0.16
Everyone reading this should imagine placing your hand against each of these substances. What’s it like sticking your hand in the air inside a freezer, compared to sticking your hand into very cold water. That difference is the result of 20x the thermal conductivity. The air doesn’t feel so bad, because your hand warms up the air right next to your hand. However, it tries to do the same thing to the water, except the water is such a good conductor, the heat is conducted away too quickly. Notice that dry soil is about the same as water. The marble that I mentioned before is 4x as good of a conductor as water. As you can see, earth’s crust is a very good conductor of heat, unless you compare it to diamond at 2,200 or copper at 385.
>> The small heat flow does not imply a small ∆T. Instead it implies a thick layer of insulative rock between us and the heat source. To reverse the geothermal heat flow, the surface would have to get very hot.
The average heat (transfer) between land/sea and air IS small because on average, the delta T between them is small. This is basic thermodynamics. To reverse this to be endothermic overall, the average surface air temperature only needs to be greater than the average land/sea temperature. The air could never succeed in raising the temperature of the land/sea by more than a fraction of a degree. This is one factor that results in an upper bound on interglacial temperatures.
The bottom line is that the temperature of the earth/sea is controlled by the hotter interior earth and the solar radiation received from the sun. The atmosphere is a slave to earth & sea, thermodynamically. This combined with the ideal gas law (pv = nrT) pretty much determines the range of the average temperature of air at the surface of the earth.

September 27, 2014 7:22 am

The geothermal heat flux is guesstimated, nobody has good, physical, measurements, especially of the ocean floor. Even slight variations make a huge difference the balance.

Reply to  nickreality65
September 27, 2014 11:39 am

Nick, I gave the link to the study analyzing geothermal heat flow. If you disagree with it, fine, but waving your hands and claiming it is “guesstimated” doesn’t establish your position. They’ve given their numbers. Show us where they’ve gone wrong.

September 28, 2014 12:37 am

We are sitting on a lavaball. Off course it is exotermic. Moon and Earth working as a dynamo explaining the magnetic field as well as tectonics and volcanic activity, perhaps also why we are a lavaball. A minor fluctuation in insolation over Milankovitch cycles of orbital eccentricity explains temperature change from Icehouse Earth to 25 degree C global average temperature over geological time and we do know fluctuations to vary with high percentages in the timeframes as short as that of the modern man. With solar energy hitting the planet to the tune of 20 million barrels of oil equivalent per second, an increase of 0,10% of incoming solar energy over the time periode since the industrial revolution (aka since The Little Iceage Through) is equivalent to 160 million billion (quadrillion) barrels of oil equivalent of energy. That energy is enough to make a difference and is plausible.

September 28, 2014 12:40 am

Ups, 160 thousand billion.

September 28, 2014 6:48 am

Willis, thanks for the link. Based on a cursory review: “…surface…” is the operative word here. And maybe I’ll count the number of times “…estimate…” is used, but at first glance – a lot. Figures 10 & 11 show very high heat flux from ocean plate joints and significant uncertainties as well. My exact point. Section 4, as is the case w/ IPCC TS.6, expresses rather wide ranging & substantial uncertainties. And the whole paper is based on models, and we all know how true to reality those can be – not! I’ll stick w/ my premise – nobody has real measurements and slight variations will make big difference. I’m traveling this week, I’ll try to find time for a closer look at the paper.

September 28, 2014 6:51 am

42 gallon barrels? How many Btu per gallon? Metric, English, or SI gallons? When did barrels become a scientific unit of measurement? Pounds are all that really matter, they carry the energy, do the work.

September 28, 2014 1:49 pm

The approximate average value cited, 1.361 kW/m²
Mean radius 6371.0 km
5.8 × 106 BTU59 °F equals 6.1178632 × 109 J, about 6.1 GJ (HHV), or 1.7 MWh.
1 toe = 11.63 megawatt hours
1 barrel of oil equivalent (boe) contains approximately 0.146 toe (i.e. there are approximately 6.841 boe in a toe).

September 28, 2014 2:04 pm

CO2 + H2O -> H2CO3
H2CO3 -> HCO3- + H+
HCO3- -> CO3– + H+
2H+ + O– -> H2O
CO3– + Ca++ -> CaCO3
Anyone familiar with the term alkalinity and their constituents delicate equilibrium?

September 28, 2014 5:00 pm

toe = ton of oil equivalent. boe = barrel of oil equivalent. equivalence is BS. Are you comparing oil and electricity? Why? The US doesn’t use oil to make electricity so what’s the point? The only comparison that matters is Btus and where and how used. All Btus are not equal nor equivalent in their costs, applications, advantages, and aren’t “equivalent” in reality.

Reply to  nickreality65
September 29, 2014 12:32 pm

>> Are you comparing oil and electricity?
Nick, Watts has nothing to do with electricity per se. Joule is the SI unit of energy. Watt is the SI unit of Power, which is defined as Energy per unit Time. Watt = Joules/second. These units are used for Electrical energy, as well as any kind of energy, be it mechanical, chemical, etc. Oddgeir was simply relating the energy received from the sun to barrels of oil, in order to place it in better perspective.
For example, I’ll try to do the same: a gallon of gasoline has enough energy to charge up an iPhone every night, for 20 years.

September 29, 2014 12:23 am

Hi nick, I am not British. Why would I need to use BTU’s to show energy?
Energy is energy wherever it comes from. If you need them in BTU’s, feel free to use an online conversion calculator.
You obviously didn’t like the simplicity and easy understandibility in my numbers which are showing a huge energy impact for an insignificant change in insolation. An insignificant change in insolation which obviously is big enough to influence our oceans temperature?
With that increased temperature, how much does our ocean release of CO2 for one Farenheit (Celcius, Kelvin, whichever you prefer)? Tip, first google how much ocean there is out there and the amount of Total CO2 within that ocean.
One mg/ltr reduction (from 90 mg/ltr or to simplify 90 mg/kg) times 1,35e21 kg ocean yields 1350 billion tons. I do not say neither 1 degree nor 1350 billion tons here, but solubility is changing.
If our planet is warming and with it, also our oceans are warming… Question is not if solubility has changed, question is how much CO2 our oceans have already released.

September 29, 2014 2:44 am

No, energy is not energy when it comes to economics. Btu, kJ, same same. toe & boe don’t simplify, they confuse and obfuscate. Like Ptg. What the heck is Ptg? It’s E15 gr. 1000 gr per kG, 1000 kg per Tonne equals Giga E9 tonnes. I suppose tossing all these around sounds erudite & scientific, I think it’s intentionally confusing. Like carbon and CO2 and GHG “equivalents.” Just smoke & mirrors.
Everyone is claiming to measure the ocean and atmosphere and heat balance to .01% precision w/ meter/yard sticks.

October 1, 2014 3:25 am

Energy is energy when it comes to heat the planet. A difference in energy received over time amounts to a darn lot of energy over same time.
The total solar energy absorbed by Earth’s atmosphere, oceans and land masses is approximately 3,850,000 exajoules (EJ) per year. (1,22e17 J/second)
This is 20 million barrels of oil equivalent of energy per second. Man consumes perhaps 250 million barrels of oil equivalent of energy per day (all forms of energy, solar, wind, wood and nuke included). Our sun delivers that amount of energy in 12,5 seconds.
These are sizes and a describtions that everyone can understand. You want to go petaJoules, BTU’s or use calories to hide the truth from an engineer, chances are the engineer will engineer a clearer picture (the 20 million boe of energy per second).
You know how many seconds of insolation you need to melt Antarctica? You can use 4,2 kJ per kilo per degree for an increase of 60 degrees C (or Kelvin) and 334 kJ per kilo to turn the ice to water.
Now you only need to find the volume of ice at … You will be amazed by the result when you back-calculate it into how many barrels of oil equivalent of energy that amounts to…

October 1, 2014 5:56 am

“Everyone” does not understand them. It’s a challenge even for those with technical backgrounds as with my BSME and 30+ years in real power generation, not models. You went from MWh to exa joules. I’ll have to get the conversion tables out. All referencing oil does is add an unnecessary emotional/political haze. You do point out the enormous quantities involved which makes man’s contribution 0.00000001%. Hardly of much consequence.

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