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Problems with the Ice Core data

A few days ago I posted a Blog entry and also a website news item at and about a documentary from the UK entitled The Great Global Warming Swindle, which takes apart the conventional wisdom about man-made climate change.
Not surprisingly, I received emails from various folks who feel the documentary is itself a “swindle” — a piece of propaganda for the “other side”, i.e., the climate change “deniers.”
I thought readers would be interested in reading a couple of the more thoughtful of these replies. I have removed the author’s names not because they asked me to, but because I haven’t made the time to seek their permission. One is a lawyer and one is a consultant and they are both quite well read on the climate change topic and debate. There is an excellent web link among these to a website where people who disliked the Swindle documentary list their objections.
When you’re done reading these two letters, I invite you to click at the bottom of this entry to read the extended post, where I’ve copied and pasted Lawrence Solomon’s latest article in his “The Deniers” series (from the FP Comment page in the “Financial Post” section of the National Post newspaper.) Once again, Larry has done an excellent job publicizing science that’s highly problematic for the UN International Panel on Climatge Change (IPCC). It turns out that this ice core data is not as reliable as the IPCC has suggested, and other data sets may offer a better history of CO2 in the atmosphere (and paint a picture that is at odds with the IPCC version of things). The “chilling” point of this article (pun intended) is how the scientist got fired for publishing information that runs contrary to received wisdom on climate change, because it created funding problems for his employer. This whole issue of how scientists are shunned or outright fired for publishing contrarian information is (for me) the most telling thing.
Anyway, here are the letters.
Dear Guy,
I watched it. The premise of the ‘documentary’ seems to be that the
‘theory’ of man-made global warming is wrong, and that it is perpetuated
because “thousands of jobs depend on it” and “funding for scientific
research depends on it”.
Some observations:
Billions of dollars in corporate profits are dependent on continuing to
emit large quantities of toxic pollutants and CO2.
The majority of mainstream media in the developed world is controlled by
conservative interests that are financially locked with large corporations.
A number of the ‘authorities’ in this film are highly suspect (i.e. look
at where they get their money). For example, Patrick Moore has been
completely discredited and exposed as a corporate mouthpiece for the
nuclear and the GMO food industry.
I could go on.
That having been said, there are a number of things in the film that are
clearly true. Science IS very political. There are some credible,
independent scientists who are genuinely skeptical about the link
between human activity and global warming. The majority of the people
who are up in arms about global warming have at best a superficial
understanding of the subject (people crave simple, easy to understand
answers to complex problems, even if these answers are wrong).
However, I believe that the only sane way to approach issues like this
is with an open but skeptical mind, and a consistent application of the
precautionary principle.
Net: This is a propaganda film for sure. I wonder who financed it?
Following the money is always interesting and enlightening.
In closing, the possibilities are:
1. The skeptics are right, and either global warming doesn’t exist or it
is not influenced in any significant way by human activity;
2. Global warming is real and human activity is a significant
contributor to it.
If we cut back on our greenhouse gas emissions it will cost us a LOT of
money that we would otherwise spend on _________. You fill in the blank,
but I guarantee that it will not be combating poverty or some other
noble cause. In this case, if the skeptics are right, the money could
have been spent on _________. If global warming is real, our species
(and most of the others that share the planet with us) will be better
off (i.e. we may survive).
If we do not cut back on our greenhouse gas emissions, and the skeptics
are right, we will have spent all that money on ___________ and reaped
the benefits. If global warming is real, not to be too dramatic about
it, but we are screwed as a species.
To me, given the trade off, the sane course of action is clear. However,
if we don’t care a fig about future generations, our generation can
probably enjoy more material comforts by plowing ahead on our current
course. And as Fred Reed once said, “Inability has always been more of a
check on human activity than wisdom.”
Other commentary:
Dear Guy,
The fact that I am writing this from my office while I should be practicing law (I know its almost midnight) gives you some idea that I think the attention to the “Swindle” may be a swindle.
A couple suggestions. Weigh the “Swindle” against other sources – do not accept its information as gospel (and perhaps not even as considered) – I do not think it really challenges much except the urge not to think critically.
One web site that you may find interesting is the link below that I found by “googling” climate change swindle and “debunking”. I am not suggesting that it is the greatest source (I have not double checked its facts) but it does provide some counterarguments and I am not so sure that the “Swindle” producers double checked all their sources.
A review of the journal articles noted in The Weather Makers adds to ones breadth of knowledge. For instance, the Science article that explains that (contrary to the, until recently, conventional wisdom) the glaciers in Patagonia are indeed shrinking.
Another thought….where are the follow ups on the swindle and is the worlds scientific community really so easily duped (consider the IPCC which included scientists from the US and Australia – those bastions of critical political thought on climate change).
I note with interest the recent American studies regarding the shrinking polar sea ice cap. It was considered obvious to all in my undergrad climatology class (20 years ago) that if there is less ice at the poles the albedo will decrease and the absorption of energy by the oceans at the poles increases. No scientific disagreement that if the polar caps melt the place will get fairly warm.
The current issue of NewsScientist reports that the near surface ocean temperature decline over the last couple years is explained away. Apparently, they changed the type of ocean based temperature sensors a couple of years ago but did not properly calibrate the new equipment to the old. So at first it looked as though the temperatures in the near surface levels of the oceans had decreased which is now known not to have been the case.
I really could go on but I have to get back to the salt mines….I probably wouldn’t spend this much time but you have a good soapbox and I want to share these thoughts with you. I am not so sure that the “Swindle” will turn out to be good journalism with the benefit of hindsight.
I would bet a Guinness that in 30 years climate change and the cause is even more obvious. That said, I really do not want to collect on the bet….we can go Dutch but I will say “I told you so”.

The ice-core man
Financial Post
Once upon a time, and for millennia before then, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere were low and stable. Then came the industrial revolution and CO2 levels began to rise. The more man industrialized, the more that CO2 — and the temperature — rose. In the last half century, with industrialization at unprecedented levels, CO2 reached levels unprecedented in the human history. This is the story of global warming.
This story is a fable, says Zbigniew Jaworowski, past chairman of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, a participant or chairman of some 20 Advisory Groups of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations Environmental Program, and current chair of the Scientific Committee of the Central Laboratory for Radiological Protection in Warsaw.
Dr. Jaworowski agrees that CO2 levels rose in the last half century. Starting in 1958, direct, real-time measurements of CO2 have been systematically taken at a state-of-the-art measuring station in Hawaii. These measurements, considered the world’s most reliable, are a good basis for science by bodies like the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the agency that is co-ordinating the worldwide effort to stop global warming.
But the UN does not rely on direct real-time measurements for the period prior to 1958. “The IPCC relies on icecore data — on air that has been trapped for hundreds or thousands of years deep below the surface,” Dr. Jaworowski explains. “These ice cores are a foundation of the global warming hypothesis, but the foundation is groundless — the IPCC has based its global-warming hypothesis on arbitrary assumptions and these assumptions, it is now clear, are false.”
Ice, the IPCC believes, precisely preserves the ancient air, allowing for a precise reconstruction of the ancient atmosphere. For this to be true, no component of the trapped air can escape from the ice. Neither can the ice ever become liquid. Neither can the various gases within air ever combine or separate.
This perfectly closed system, frozen in time, is a fantasy. “Liquid water is common in polar snow and ice, even at temperatures as low as -72C,” Dr. Jaworowski explains, “and we also know that in cold water, CO2 is 70 times more soluble than nitrogen and 30 times more soluble than oxygen, guaranteeing that the proportions of the various gases that remain in the trapped, ancient air will change. Moreover, under the extreme pressure that deep ice is subjected to — 320 bars, or more than 300 times normal atmospheric pressure — high levels of CO2 get squeezed out of ancient air.”
Because of these various properties in ancient air, one would expect that, over time, ice cores that started off with high levels of CO2 would become depleted of excess CO2, leaving a fairly uniform base level of CO2 behind. In fact, this is exactly what the ice cores show.
“According to the ice-core samples, CO2 levels vary little over time,” Dr. Jaworowski sates. “The ice core data from the Taylor Dome in Antarctica shows almost no change in the level of atmospheric CO2 over the last 7,000 to 8,000 years — it varied between 260 parts per million and 264 parts per million.
“Yet other indicators of past CO2 levels, such as fossil leaf stomata, show that CO2 levels over the past 7,000 to 8,000 years varied by more than 50 parts per million, between 270 and 326 parts per million. We also know that there have been great fluctuations in temperature over that time period — the Little Age just 500 years ago, for example. If the icecore record was reliable, and CO2 levels reflected temperatures, why wouldn’t the ice-core data have shown CO2 levels to fall during the Little Ice Age? ”
Dr. Jaworowski has devoted much of his professional life to the study of the composition of the atmosphere, as part of his work to understand the consequences of radioactive fallout from nuclear-weapons testing and nuclearreactor accidents. After taking numerous ice samples over the course of a dozen field trips to glaciers in six continents, and studying how contaminants travel through ice over time, he came to realize how fraught with error ice-core samples were in reconstructing the atmosphere. The Chernobyl accident, whose contaminants he studied in the 1990s in a Scandinavian glacier, provided the most illumination.
“This ice contained extremely high radioactivity of cesium-137 from the Chernobyl fallout, more than a thousand times higher than that found in any glacier from nuclear-weapons fallout, and more than 100 times higher than found elsewhere from the Chernobyl fallout,” he explained. “This unique contamination of glacier ice revealed how particulate contaminants migrated, and also made sense of other discoveries I made during my other glacier expeditions. It convinced me that ice is not a closed system, suitable for an exact reconstruction of the composition of the past atmosphere.”
Because of the high importance of this realization, in 1994 Dr. Jaworowski, together with a team from the Norwegian Institute for Energy Technics, proposed a research project on the reliability of trace-gas determinations in the polar ice. The prospective sponsors of the research refused to fund it, claiming the research would be “immoral” if it served to undermine the foundations of climate research.
The refusal did not come as a surprise. Several years earlier, in a peer-reviewed article published by the Norwegian Polar Institute, Dr. Jaworowski criticized the methods by which CO2 levels were ascertained from ice cores, and cast doubt on the global-warming hypothesis. The institute’s director, while agreeing to publish his article, also warned Dr. Jaworowski that “this is not the way one gets research projects.” Once published, the institute came under fire, especially since the report soon sold out and was reprinted. Said one prominent critic, “this paper puts the Norsk Polarinstitutt in disrepute.” Although none of the critics faulted Dr. Jaworowski’s science, the institute nevertheless fired him to maintain its access to funding.
Is there an alternative to ice-core samples, which are but proxies from which assumptions about the historical composition of the atmosphere can be made? “Yes, there are several other proxies, and they lead to different findings about CO2,” Dr. Jaworowski states. “But we don’t need to rely on proxies at all.
“Scientists from numerous disciplines have been examining CO2 since the beginning of the 19th century, and they have left behind a record of tens of thousands of direct, real-time measurements. These measurements tell a far different story about CO2 — they demonstrate, for example, that CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere have fluctuated greatly, and that several times in the past 200 years CO2 concentrations have exceeded today’s levels.
“The IPCC rejects these direct measurements, some taken by Nobel Prize winners. They prefer the view of CO2 as seen through ice.”
Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Urban Renaissance Institute and Consumer Policy Institute, divisions of Energy Probe Research Foundation.

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