Climate Change and Ice Core Data

I have looked at climate change and the ice core data several times over the past years. I don’t think that enough people are talking about this data and climate change. Most Americans have this abstract idea of climate change, that it was dreamed up by some crazy scientist at Oxford or Harvard. (You know that everyone is picturing someone with that Einstein hairdo or like Doc Brown in Back to the Future.) Well, climate change is a complex science studied by scientists from hundreds of universities across the country and around the world. Some are even from Harvard and Oxford. Let’s look at the data again.

I wrote the following several months ago:

How can climatologists point to some of the events that are happening now as evidence of climate change secondary to man’s burning fossil fuels? Well, thankfully, I don’t have to come up with an experiment off the top of my head. Smart people, scientists, have done this for us. There are a few places in the world that don’t change all that much. As a matter fact, they haven’t changed for thousands of years. One place would be Antarctica; the other, Greenland. In these two places, it gets extremely cold. The ice in some areas is several miles thick. NASA explains it like this:

Throughout each year, layers of snow fall over the ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica. Each layer of snow is different in chemistry and texture, summer snow differing from winter snow. Summer brings 24 hours of sunlight to the polar regions, and the top layer of the snow changes in texture—not melting exactly, but changing enough to be different from the snow it covers. The season turns cold and dark again, and more snow falls, forming the next layers of snow. Each layer gives scientists a treasure trove of information about the climate each year. Like marine sediment cores, an ice core provides a vertical timeline of past climates stored in ice sheets and mountain glaciers.

So, by drilling into the ice, we can go back in time and see what the environment was like. What was the composition of the ice 100 years ago… or a thousand years ago? How much methane or carbon dioxide was in the atmosphere? Whatever was in the atmosphere should be trapped in the ice. Scientists have been able to look back over 420,000 years. (Please click on the picture for a larger version.)

Notice how at the end of the graph (the right side) CO2 levels are higher than at any time during the measuring period. This seems to correlate very nicely with the industrial age, which started approximately 150 years ago. Below is another graph looking at temperature variation and carbon dioxide concentration. This graph covers only 18,000 years. Again, towards the end of the graph, on the right, you can see the abrupt increase in carbon dioxide.

This data makes a compelling argument that the accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere is a new phenomenon. CO2 has not accumulated at this high a level over the last 420,000 years. This is a compelling argument to support the fact that man is having a definite impact on the world around us and that climate change second to man’s burning fossils is really happening. Currently, the leading explanation for this accumulation is the beginning of the industrial age and the burning of carbon fuel at a much higher rate than ever before. The question is whether you are going to believe the scientists or the other guys who are making huge vats of money burning fossil fuels. Is oxygen real or not?

So, here’s my question – what’s the problem with this science? If there’s no problem with the science, then it is clear that CO2 levels seem to correlate with rising temperatures. It is also clear that CO2 levels have risen to levels we haven’t seen in over 500,000 years. Now, we can argue over why CO2 levels have risen. We can pretend that this is some natural phenomenon that started approximately 150 years ago, or we can look at this data and realize that man’s burning of fossil fuels is throwing hundreds of thousands of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere and it may, just may, have some effect on our climate.