An Earth Scientist’s Perspective on Climate Change

Geoscientists have a special obligation. We are the historians of Earth’s past, much as medical researchers have a responsibility regarding the understanding and honest communication of the functions of the human body and lawyers to understand and correctly interpret the law. Many of the tools we have established in our search for oil and gas, from plate tectonics to seismic stratigraphy, to study of paleoenvironments and paleontology, are being applied to understanding the geologic past in ways that document climate change.

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Comments (9)

Bravo
Thank you, Ray, and the AAPG editorial staff, for an article which speaks to our organization's values of advancing the science of geology and fostering the spirit of scientific research throughout our community.
10/25/2018 10:57:35 AM
Global temperature ‘hockey stick’
Gentlemen I am questioning the continued use of the global temperature hockey stick illustrated in figure 1. Even a cursory review of the literature surrounding how it was calculated, automatically taints the rest of the article! That really is a shame.
10/19/2018 5:34:10 PM
Let's separate cause and action to deal with the consequences
While I fully support the conclusions made by this article, I think we need to take a different approach when dealing with the larger population who are generally ignorant of the scientific process and are easily swayed by unsubstantiated headlines. My suggestion is that we focus on 1) the fact that temperatures are rising quickly (easy to show as seen in this article) and 2) the consequences of that increase. We don't have to agree on the cause of the increase, which seems to be the big point of debate, to recognize that increasing temperatures will mean larger hurricanes, rising sea level, etc. Once we agree on those two points, we then collectively admit that we have a problem and we have the basis of conversation regarding what we should do next. This approach doesn't solve the issue of the cause(s) of the temperature increase, but it should move society as a whole closer to taking action rather than continuing to debate.
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10/19/2018 1:49:58 PM
Climate Science
Congratulations to Ray Leonard for a reasoned discussion fortified by diverse data sets. Having known Ray years ago I respect his judgement and attention to detail. And I complement the editor of AAPG Explorer for publishing this essay following the previous essay that attracted spirited response. Debate is healthy. The comments by Monte Naylor focus on two aspects of the climate science: how Earth temperature is measured and on the meaning of climate change recorded in ice cores. Earth temperature is measured by a set of different tools from thermometers mounted in a grid above the surface, by ocean stations and by satellites. This set of data distinguishes between local noise, such as urban effects, and regional trends. The ice cores show that for the past 800,000 years CO2 has varied no higher than 300 ppm, in contrast to the current level of 411 ppm measured at the top of a Hawaiian volcano. The effect of solar energy on atmospheric CO2 is clear and the correlation between rising CO2 and temperature is solid science. As explorationists/exploitationists, a key issue is how do we use our scientific skills to continue providing hydrocarbons and yet ameliorate its effects on rising temperatures, melting glaciers and rising sea level. Robert W. Scott
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10/18/2018 7:56:32 PM
Thank you for a climate reality article
Thanks to Ray Leonard and the editors of the EXPLORER for this article. Although, Mr. Leonard is not a climate scientist, he is a “trusted source” since he is a distinguished AAPG lecturer. It certainly is a positive step that the EXPLORER has published a climate change article that voices the majority opinion of climate scientists instead of a minority opinion of a climate change denier (August 2018 EXPLORER). Granted that majority opinions should not be considered the last word, to ignore conclusions of 97% of peer reviewed papers that attributed a causation to climate change is to ignore how we daily perform as geologists (97% is based on published surveys by Cook et al., 2013 and 2016). Hopefully the AAPG membership finally agrees the climate is changing. Even President Trump now states it is not a hoax. And being scientists, we know “things” don’t just happen. Even ignoring climate models, a published examination of historical climate change records indicates no other plausible explanation for global warming other than increased CO2 levels (Rhode et al., 2013). Addressing a point brought up in the comments that in the geologic past increased global temperatures generally preceded increased atmospheric CO2 levels, this is true. But prior to the late Holocene there were not billions of humans injecting prodigious amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. Speaking of humans, in order to insure our kids and grandkids do not have to face the worst of the hazards predicted by the latest IPCC Special Report on Global Warming 1.5oC, there needs to be a greater than a 700% increase in renewable energy within decades. This transition cannot occur without the assistance of the O&G industry. We need to be part of the discussions on how to get there but we can’t unless we recognize the problem.
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10/18/2018 9:48:38 AM
Climate Change
Like Monte Naylor, I'm resubmitting my comment. I haven't yet seen what I sent, so I'll take this opportunity to edit my response. (Like him, I wonder about formats with respect to paragraphs. Whatever.) ¶ I want to thank my colleague Ray Leonard for making his reasoned summary of our responsibility as geologists to help our fellow humans understand climate change. ¶ I see two frequent tropes among geologists like me, we who have made a good living finding fossil fuels for our fellow consumers. First comes the question "How did you get here?" Oh, you drove your car. Cheap shot. Then we claim, "Climate has always changed." To which I reply, "it's changing faster than ever." So many of us geologists are pridefully stuck in deep time, thinking of millions of years, even billions. We understand so much about long-term change that we forget about RATES of change. Humankind has never experienced the kind of rapid climate change that is coming upon us. Try as we might to slow it, let alone reverse it (which we should do), we MUST start reacting to what is happening! Move cities inland, sea level will rise; deal with diseases, they will migrate; water shortages will come, we must adjust agricultural patterns, and maybe even give up eating meat -- sorry, barbecue joints, but that might have to happen. Party-hearty for the moment, my friends! The end is nigh. No, seriously; Ray is right. Read the Conclusion in his piece, and think about our progeny. ¶ I wonder: At the very end of the Permian, during that Great Extinction, did lots of species panic, saying WHAT is happening? Even though they didn't cause it. Or did they play a part? What about that big oxygen event several hundred million years before that? Organisms almost certainly affected climate then, but whatever was alive probably didn't see change coming. We, on the other hand, are aware. And yet ...
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10/15/2018 6:04:26 PM
Another Earth Scientist's Perspective on Climate Change
I want to thank my colleague Ray Leonard for making his reasoned summary of our responsibility to help our fellow humans understand humans and climate change. I see two, frequent tropes among us geologists who have made our living from the finding fossil fuels. We ask, first, "How did you get here?" Oh, you drove your car. Cheap shot. Then we say, "Climate has always changed." To which I say, "it's changing faster than ever." Too many of us geologists are stuck in deep time. We understand so much about long-term change that we forget about RATES of change. Humankind has never experienced the kind of rapid climate change that is coming upon us. Try as we might to slow it, let alone reverse it (which we should do), we MUST start reacting to what is happening! Move cities inland, sea level will rise; deal with diseases, they will migrate; water shortages will come, we must adjust agricultural and habits. Party-hearty for the moment, my friends! The end is nigh. No, seriously; Ray is right. Read the Conclusion in his reasonable commentary, and think about our progeny. Do you think that at the very end of the Permian, lots of species panicked, saying WHAT? Nothing like now.
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recent submission
In my recent comment submission, a review screen seemed to remove the paragraphing. I will try again with the submission. I am disappointed to see this researcher showing the correlation of CO2 and temperature from ice core and thermometer data and then stating that increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is causing atmospheric warming. He must know that the increasing CO2 in the ice core records is the result of atmospheric warming, not the cause. Numerous studies of ice core data from both the Antarctic and Greenland show a 400 to 1000-year lag between increasing atmospheric temperatures and increasing CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere. Atmospheric warming (whether from orbital eccentricities, variable solar irradiation, or otherwise) is followed by ocean warming and the release of carbon dioxide. The ice core data shows the very opposite of this researcher’s assertion. Carbon dioxide concentrations remain very high long after the rapid onset of atmospheric cooling at the beginning of these “cyclical” glacial events. Carbon dioxide seems to have little influence on atmospheric temperature. It is just along for the atmospheric warming and cooling ride. I would add that the global temperature history from thermometer data that the researcher shows at the beginning of the article is highly questionable. My own studies of thermometer-derived temperature histories (TOB adjustment of USHCN stations and then averaging a group of station temperature histories from an area, for example, the eastern plains of Colorado) show about half as much warming as NOAA shows for this area. Other researchers have discussed and demonstrated the contamination of the thermometer data due to expanding urban-heat-island at some USHCN weather stations, along with significant problems with the temperature reporting at a great number of the United States Historical Climatological Station over the previous 120 years.
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10/14/2018 7:50:00 PM
CO2 as climate driver
I am disappointed to see this researcher showing the correlation of CO2 and temperature from ice core and thermometer data and then stating that increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is causing atmospheric warming. He must know that the increasing CO2 in the ice core records is the result of atmospheric warming, not the cause. Numerous studies of ice core data from both the Antarctic and Greenland show a 400 to 1000-year lag between increasing atmospheric temperatures and increasing CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere. Atmospheric warming (whether from orbital eccentricities, variable solar irradiation, or otherwise) is followed by ocean warming and the release of carbon dioxide. The ice core data shows the very opposite of this researcher’s assertion. Carbon dioxide concentrations remain very high long after the rapid onset of atmospheric cooling at the beginning of these “cyclical” glacial events. Carbon dioxide seems to have little influence on atmospheric temperature. It is just along for the atmospheric warming and cooling ride. I would add that the global temperature history from thermometer data that the researcher shows at the beginning of the article is highly questionable. My own studies of thermometer-derived temperature histories (TOB adjustment of USHCN stations and then averaging a group of station temperature histories from an area, for example, the eastern plains of Colorado) show about half as much warming as NOAA shows for this area. Other researchers have discussed and demonstrated the contamination of the thermometer data due to expanding urban-heat-island at some USHCN weather stations, along with significant problems with the temperature reporting at a great number of the United States Historical Climatological Station over the previous 120 years.
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10/14/2018 4:16:58 PM
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