Climate Change : Ten Times Faster than Predicted

Image from Greenpeace / UK.

Climate change:
Worse than the worst case scenario

By Bruce Melton / The Rag Blog / June 16, 2010

It takes 196,000 pounds of plants to produce a gallon of gasoline. It takes 40 acres of plants, roots, stalks, and leaves, to go 20 miles in the average car. This is how much ancient plant matter had to be buried millions of years ago to produce one gallon of gas. It is just incredible how much buried sunshine, how many fossilized photons it takes to make up a little bit of oil.

Dr. Jeff Dukes published the paper from which these numbers are taken back in 2003 in the journal Climatic Change. This ancient solar energy is normally emitted back into the environment over tens, or even hundreds of millions of years. Mankind is literally releasing this carbon millions of times faster than it is naturally released.

Since 1983 Dr. James Hansen has been the Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS). GISS is the United States’ foremost climate modeling agency. Hansen, who National Public Radio suggests is “almost universally regarded as the preeminent climate scientist of our time,” says that mankind is causing the carbon dioxide concentration in our atmosphere to increase 10,000 times faster than at any time in the last 65 million years — since the giant asteroid struck the Yucatan Peninsula and the dinosaurs went extinct.

Dr. Dennis Darby from Old Dominion University says, in a paper published in 2008 in Paleoceanography, that Arctic sea ice has not been absent in the Arctic in the summer season in 14 million years. Dr. Wieslaw Maslowski is an Arctic sea ice scientist at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School. He is the scientist in charge of the U.S. Navy’s Polar Ice Prediction System (PIPS).

Maslowksi has been predicting, since 2003, that the Arctic will see ice free conditions in the summer between 2011 and 2016. Carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere today are as high as they have been in 15 million years says Dr. Aradhna Tripati of UCLA and Cambridge University, in a paper published in the journal Science in 2009.

These proclamations, amazingly, go on and on, but one of the biggest, and almost completely unknown beyond the world of science, is that our CO2 emissions today are worse than the worst-case scenario developed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

This was first revealed in the scholarly community in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science in March of 2007 by a team of seven international scientists led by senior scientist Dr. Michael Raupach at the Australian National Science Program (CSIRO: The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization), and then again in 2009 at the University of Copenhagen before the United Nations Climate Talks in a mega-report by the International Alliance of Research Universities (an alliance of 10 of the world’s top research universities including Berkeley, Oxford, Cambridge, and Yale).

I recently talked with one of the scientists that I interviewed in Greenland in 2007. I had found a previously forgotten quote that appeared to be from him (in my old notes from my trip) and I wanted to confirm. The quote was “Climate change is proceeding 10 times faster than we (the climate scientists) had predicted.” The scientist who made this quote is Dr. Konrad Steffen, Director of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

When he returned my email he said he was sitting in the same hotel where I had interviewed him (the Hvide Faulk in Ilulissat, Greenland). He had just completed a month-long field session at Camp Swiss, up on the ice sheet. Dr. Steffen founded Camp Swiss in 1990. This is one of those very important ice stations in Greenland that keeps us in touch with climate change in a region where it is likely changing faster than almost anywhere else on the planet.

His email confirmed that he remembered me and our interview, and that indeed, he had made this quote and that climate change was in his opinion progressing 10 times faster than predicted.

For nearly two decades I have been analyzing academic papers on climate science that talk about climate changes that are one, two, or even three orders of magnitude faster than have occurred in millions of years. (One order of magnitude is 10 times faster, two is 100 times faster, three is 1,000 times, etc.)

I have become jaded as to the significance of the concept of “10 times faster,” so I resort to analogy to understand the true meaning. Understanding that climate change is progressing 10 times faster than predicted takes on an entirely different light when put into perspective. “Ten times faster” becomes a chillingly profound statement. How much faster is 10 times faster? What if the average human life happened 10 times faster than normal?

If our human lives evolved 10 times faster than normal, our average life expectancy of 77.7 years (77 years and nine months) would be condensed down to seven years and 9¼ months. In this abbreviated world — this 10 times faster world — we would graduate from high school at the age of 21 months, become middle-aged at five years and retire at six years and six months… Another analogy? If the speed limit on our highways were 10 times faster, we would be traveling at the speed of sound.

The IPCC, which represents six years of work by a super-consensus of over 2,500 climate scientists from 130 countries, is the basis for the predictions of climate change that are understood by the world today. Predictions made by this many specialists in any field have an extremely high likelihood of being significantly conservative.

Think what it would be like getting 2,500 politicians to agree on a global political platform… The platform that is eventually agreed upon is the most basic, simple, and fundamental knowledge in the field. This is what the IPCC represents. The predictions of the IPCC are basically what Dr. Steffen says are being eclipsed at a rate that is 10 times faster than previously understood.

[When Bruce Melton, P.E., isn’t practicing civil engineering, he’s studying climate change and writing about it. Melton was one of eight Austinites named in the “Heroes of Climate Change” article published in The Good Life magazine in July 2007. To read more of his work on climate change, visit his website, Melton Engineering Services Austin.]


Fossil Plants:
Dukes, Burning buried sunshine, Climatic change, 2003.

Conrad Steffen, Director of Cires:

James Hansen Director of NASA GISS
Hansen, Bjerknes Lecture, American Geophysical Union, December 2008.
Hansen et. al., Target Atmospheric CO2 Where should humanity aim?, Open Atmospheric Science Journal, August 2008.
James Hansen and Mark Bowen on Censored Science, NPR interview. Fresh Air, WHYY, January 2008.
American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting Attendance 2008

Arctic Sea Ice 14 Million Years:
Darby, Arctic perennial ice cover over the last 14 million years, Paleoceanography, February 2008.
Perovich and Richter-Menge, Loss of Sea Ice in the Arctic, Annual Review of Marine Science, October 2008.

CO2 concentration is as high any time in 15 million years:
Tripati, et. al., Coupling of CO2 and Ice Sheet Stability Over Major Climate Transitions of the Last 20 million years, Science Express October 8, 2009.
CO2 emissions are worse than the worst-case scenario developed by the IPCC:
Synthesis Report, Climate Change, Global Risks, Challenges and Decisions, Climate Change Congress, International Alliance of Research Universities, University of Copenhagen, March 2009.
Raupach, et. al., Global and regional drivers of accelrating CO2 emissions, PNAS, April 2007.
World economy in the 20th century, International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook, 2000
International Energy Agency Data
IPCC Special Report on Emissions Scenarios

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8 Responses to Climate Change : Ten Times Faster than Predicted

  1. GrumpyOne says:

    James Hansen is a kook who is in charge of things and has lesser qualifications to assess climate/meteorological data than the average aviator. Nearly everything he proclaims is quickly refutable.

    CO2 is a lagging factor, not leading. Since the hottest period of the current warming period, 1998, a slow cool down has been in place.

    Arctic sea ice alarmists have been wrong in the last few years since the ice pack has been growing, no declining.

    Quoting the IPCC which has been back tracking over the past year is folly. They along with the gang at the University of East Anglia have been discredited by their own sloppy work and fudging numbers to hide cooling trends.

    The 2,500 “scientists that make up the IPCC pales when compared to the over 30,000 scientists that dismiss human activity cause for the natural progression of climate change.

    Bruce I afraid falls into the same category as Hansen, not credible in any way.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Does this make sense; more energy absorbed equals, more ice melt, smaller glaciers, bigger storms,and warmer climate. Is this (more energy absorption on the planet)happening or not? If so is it our use of fossil fuels or not? How do frequency (wave) oscillations of observations factor in?
    All the best,

  3. GrumpyOne:

    Got references? The following are my comments on your classic, very dated talking points:

    (This post will be in three parts and eventually end up on my website under “Mythbusters”.)

    “James Hansen is a kook…” Hansen has published over 150 +/- scholarly articles on climate, 100 +/-, since the late 70s, on the climate of Earth. His early specialty was climate on other planets in the solar system. He has been the Director of the main U.S. Government climate modeling agency for 27 years.

    “CO2 is a lagging factor…” The science has understood this since the mid 1980s. Where the non-scientists’ have led the discussion astray is that CO2 can be a climate forcing as well. The way it works is – Naturally; astronomical changes warm the planet slightly. This increases CO2 (CO2 lags as you say). Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a feedback mechanism. It is a climate atmospheric warming gas that traps the suns energy (the greenhouse effect). The additional CO2 caused by the slight increase in the sun’s energy as the Earth’s orbit cycles closer to the sun causes more CO2 to be naturally emitted into the atmosphere (lags) because a warmer biosphere naturally has a higher concentration of CO2. The added CO2 then adds more warming that adds more CO2 which warms more which feeds back into a continuing loop . . .

    The following paper (by Dr. Hansen describes feedbacks and CO2.
    Hansen, J., Mki. Sato, P. Kharecha, G. Russell, D.W. Lea, and M. Siddall, 2007: Climate change and trace gases. Phil. Trans. Royal. Soc. A, 365, 1925-1954, doi:10.1098/rsta.2007.2052.

    “Arctic sea ice…” Has not been increasing in the last few years. This is another misunderstanding that denies chaos its rightful place in the study of climate. The year-to-year fluctuation of sea ice coverage is quite variable (lots of chaos) because of normal weather variations (chaos). The actual volume of Arctic sea ice has continue to diminish in both 2008 and 2009 has set a new record each time. This has to do with the thickness of the sea ice. The trend of ice coverage reduction apparently crossed a tipping point in 2007. Ocean currents and winds have been changing as our climate changes and in 2007 they conspired (chaotically) to create the extraordinary record set that year. The chaos has not been as coordinated since, but the warming remains. This warming has continued to reduce the thickness of the sea ice. This reduction in thickness is continuing and it is accelerating. Even though aerial coverage was greater in 2008 and 2009 than ti was in 2007, the reduced thickness means that the amount of ice in the Arctic has continued to row smaller.

    Think of the Arctic as an ice chest taken to the beach to store cold drink. The ice continues to melt as long as the temperature outside of the ice chest is above freezing. Eventually it all melts. The time that the Arctic spends warmer than the freezing point is increasing more rapidly than any other place on the planet and the rate that the warming is increasing is accelerating rapidly.

    The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC)has prodigious information about the actual state and periodic summaries. The amazing thing toady is the enormous leap that the melt season has this year over the extreme record set in 2007. There is a great graph on the NSIDC site that shows this as well.

  4. GrumpyOne (part two of three)

    “Quoting the IPCC…” This comment must be referring to the glaciers of the Himalayas and the stolen emails. Dr. Jones and his colleagues have been cleared any legal or ethical wrongdoing by investigations and boards of inquiry three times now – without caveats. The Himalaya error was valid, though taken seriously out of context. That mistake is regrettable. However, nearly every single item of change in the Fourth IPCC 2,500 page report, prepared by 2,500 scientists from 130 nations, except for one exception, shows an increase in amount, frequency severity or extremeness.

    There are literally thousands of facts cited. The one exception is sea level rise. Papers published during the six year report period have shown a better understanding of mountain glacier melt and sea level rise due to ocean expansion. A better understanding than we had in the Third IPCC Report. This better understanding has reduced the range of expected sea level rise. The maximum amount has been reduced and the minimum amount has been increased. The scientist say the data has been “better constrained”. They narrowed down the results.

    The media (and or whoever) has interpreted this to mean that the projection has been lowered because the upper limits have been lowered. Folks fail to recognize however that the lower limit has been raised…

    The exception of sea level rise is greatly underscored though – in that the Fourth IPCC report acknowledged dynamical ice sheet changes in polar ice (not Arctic sea ice – this is about Greenland and Antarctica). The Third Report did not even acknowledge the existence of dynamical ice sheet change. Six separate times in the report, the IPCC authors caveat their sea level rise projection as “not including” (these) dynamical ice sheet changes).

    What these dynamical… things are: the are the measured rapid thinning of and speed increases (iceberg discharge) of Greenland and Antarctic outlet glaciers in the last decade or two, the unprecedented collapse of ice shelve like the Larson B in 2003 and the Wilkins in 2008/9, the measured warming of ocean waters off of Greenland and Antarctica resulting in measured increases in under-ice melting of discharge glaciers and ice shelves (floating extension of the land based ice sheet) and measured rapidly increasing surface melt on both Greenland and Antarctica. All of these things have categorized and quantified now and have been shown very robustly to be increasing rapidly.

    Other things – Icequakes in Greenland that are 1,000 times more powerful than anything before recorded have been discovered from seismographs a half a world away. These events began in the early to mid 1990s and now been measured by the hundreds. They are thought to be caused when meltwater reaches the base of the ices sheet through crevasses, thousands of feet below the surface. Enough meltwater can accumulate to actually float a portion of the ice sheet: it has been measured form space. This floating ice sheet becomes unhinged – thousands of feet thick thick, and slides towards the sea. When it stops moving a 5.4 to 5.6 magnitude “icequake” happens. The largest seismic event previously measured has been of magnitude about 2.1 on the Richter scale.

    These dynamical changes are known to be occurring and their rates are known. But the basic physics are poorly understood. It’s like knowing what cancer cells are and how they grow and what they do without knowing how they actually start the process (smoking) and what exactly influences (chemotherapy) the process along the way. Climate scientists just cannot base their future projections on the knowledge that has been learned today about these dynamical changes. So, six separate times in the Fouth IPCC report, sea level rise based on dynamical changes of ice sheets was purposefully caveated in the report – because they just did not have enough information to project future changes.

  5. GrumpyOne (part three of three)

    Since 2007, sea level rise knowledge has accelerated rapidly. The common knowledge today is a 1 meter (plus or minus a little) sea level rise in the next century with a 1 to 3 meter rise possible. The scary thing about these projections too is that they all disclaim dynamical ice sheet influences. Coral reef coring have now shown (back stepping and stranded reefs) that sea level rises of five meters per century for centuries on end and event “sea level jumps” of 10 to 24 feet in a decade have happened in the past when CO2 concentrations on earth were rising far more slowly than they are rising today.

    But the most profound understanding of what the IPCC means to climate science is likely the understanding that the IPCC is conservative. This concept is similar to the common platform that 2,500 politician’s would agree upon if they had to make such an agreement. The 2,500 politicians’ platform, like that of 2,500 climate scientists’ would be greatly watered down.

    This article has some good references: Will We Know When Our Climate has changed dangerously.pdf

    “…30,000 scientists that dismiss…” This must be the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine (OISM). I ask the reader to follow this link and skim the website for pertinent information. Simple observations are all I ask. Then follow the link to their “treatise”. One of the strangest things about this paper that concludes “At present, the unique attribution of climate change caused by radiative forcing of increased atmospheric CO2 is not possible…” is that the graphs presented almost all show warming. Warming that has been identified as robust, cumulative and anthropogenic by thousands of scientists in thousands of separately published papers. And most of these other papers have been published in journals far more scholarly than Climate Research (which sounds like a good references, but whose actual record is continually tarnished by hypotheses failures.

    The following is a personal correspondence that I wrote some years ago that refutes a number of issues with the OISM paper. I apologize for it not having references. Most of the facts I cite are quite common knowledge in climate science. Institute of Science and Malarkey.pdf

    Cheers everyone,

    Films, Essays and Climate Discovery Chronicles

  6. Richard says:

    “Climate Science” you call it.

    Statistics are NOT facts, but a good way to lie and bullshit.

  7. David says:

    The article doesn’t seem to give specific number about the “10 times faster” claim. Does anyone have a link to specifics on this?

  8. John says:

    Climate change came in ten times harsher than predicted. The most visible effect is its direct hit to our ground, to our soil. Going into a smaller scope, it affects the soil stabilization of our ground, making our houses to crack and eventually collapse. Being human, and being the principle doer on this earth – which magnifies that we are responsible why this climate change is happening. – we need to take a look not only on our lifestyles but on the possible things we can do to restore our nature’s beauty. We have to think of soil stabilization methods and frankly, a more precise method that will deal everything about the earth’s soil – and then eventually to its other element – and then to our own lifestyle.

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