The Antithesis

You know, in science, there was once this thing we called the Theory of Multiple Working Hypotheses. Anathema (a formal ecclesiastical curse accompanied by excommunication) in modern climate science. So, in juxtaposition to the hypothesis of future global climate disruption from CO2, a scientist might well consider an antithesis or two in order to maintain ones objectivity. One such antithesis, which happens to be a long running debate in paleoclimate science, concerns the end Holocene. Or just how long the present interglacial will last.

Looking at orbital mechanics and model results, Loutre and Berger (2003) in a landmark paper (meaning a widely quoted and discussed paper) for the time predicted that the current interglacial, the Holocene, might very well last another 50,000 years, particularly if CO2 were factored in. This would make the Holocene the longest lived interglacial since the onset of the Northern Hemisphere Glaciations some 2.8 million years ago. Five of the last 6 interglacials have each lasted about half of a precession cycle. The precession cycle varies from 19-23k years, and we are at the 23kyr part of the range now, making 11,500 years half, which is also the present age of the Holocene.

Which is why this discussion has relevance.

But what about that 6th interglacial, the one that wasn’t on the half-precessional “clock”. That would be MIS-11 (or the Holsteinian) which according to the most recently published estimate may have lasted on the order of 20-22kyrs, with the longest estimate ranging up to 32kyrs.

Loutre and Berger’s 2003 paper was soon followed by another landmark paper by Lisieki and Raymo (Oceanography, 2004), an exhaustive look at 57 globally distributed deep Ocean Drilling Project (and other) cores, which stated:

“Recent research has focused on MIS 11 as a possible analog for the present interglacial [e.g., Loutre and Berger, 2003; EPICA community members, 2004] because both occur during times of low eccentricity. The LR04 age model establishes that MIS 11 spans two precession cycles, with 18O values below 3.6o/oo for 20 kyr, from 398-418 ka. In comparison, stages 9 and 5 remained below 3.6o/oo for 13 and 12 kyr, respectively, and the Holocene interglacial has lasted 11 kyr so far. In the LR04 age model, the average LSR of 29 sites is the same from 398-418 ka as from 250-650 ka; consequently, stage 11 is unlikely to be artificially stretched. However, the June 21 insolation minimum at 65N during MIS 11 is only 489 W/m2, much less pronounced than the present minimum of 474 W/m2. In addition, current insolation values are not predicted to return to the high values of late MIS 11 for another 65 kyr. We propose that this effectively precludes a ‘double precession-cycle’ interglacial [e.g., Raymo, 1997] in the Holocene without human influence.”

To bring this discussion up to date, Tzedakis, in perhaps the most open peer review process currently being practiced in the world today (The European Geosciences Union website Climate of the Past Discussions) published a quite thorough examination of the state of the science related to the two most recent interglacials, which like the present one, the Holocene (or MIS-1) is compared to MIS-19 and MIS-11, the other two interglacials which have occurred since the Mid Pleistocene Transition (MPT) and also occurred at eccentricity minimums. Since its initial publication in 2009, and its republication after the open online peer review process again in March of this year (2010), this paper is now also considered a landmark review of the state of paleoclimate science. In it he also considers Ruddiman’s Early Anthropogenic Hypothesis, with Rudddiman a part of the online review. Tzedakis’ concluding remarks are enlightening:

“On balance, what emerges is that projections on the natural duration of the current interglacial depend on the choice of analogue, while corroboration or refutation of the “early anthropogenic hypothesis” on the basis of comparisons with earlier interglacials remains irritatingly inconclusive.”

An astute reader might have gleaned that even on things which have happened, the science is not that particularly well settled. Which makes consideration of the science being settled on things which have not yet happened dubious at best.

As we move further towards the construction of the antithetic argument, we will take a closer look at the post-MPT end interglacials and the last glacial for some clues.

Higher resolution proxy studies from many parts of the planet suggest that the end interglacials may be quite the wild climate ride from the perspective of global climate disruption.

Boettger, et al (Quaternary International 207 [2009] 137–144) abstract it:

“In terrestrial records from Central and Eastern Europe the end of the Last Interglacial seems to be characterized by evident climatic and environmental instabilities recorded by geochemical and vegetation indicators. The transition (MIS 5e/5d) from the Last Interglacial (Eemian, Mikulino) to the Early Last Glacial (Early Weichselian, Early Valdai) is marked by at least two warming events as observed in geochemical data on the lake sediment profiles of Central (Gro¨bern, Neumark–Nord, Klinge) and of Eastern Europe (Ples). Results of palynological studies of all these sequences indicate simultaneously a strong increase of environmental oscillations during the very end of the Last Interglacial and the beginning of the Last Glaciation. This paper discusses possible correlations of these events between regions in Central and Eastern Europe. The pronounced climate and environment instability during the interglacial/glacial transition could be consistent with the assumption that it is about a natural phenomenon, characteristic for transitional stages. Taking into consideration that currently observed ‘‘human-induced’’ global warming coincides with the natural trend to cooling, the study of such transitional stages is important for understanding the underlying processes of the climate changes.”

Hearty and Neumann (Quaternary Science Reviews 20 [2001] 1881–1895) abstracting their work in the Bahamas state:

“The geology of the Last Interglaciation (sensu stricto, marine isotope substage (MIS) 5e) in the Bahamas records the nature of sea level and climate change. After a period of quasi-stability for most of the interglaciation, during which reefs grew to +2.5 m, sea level rose rapidly at the end of the period, incising notches in older limestone. After brief stillstands at +6 and perhaps +8.5 m, sea level fell with apparent speed to the MIS 5d lowstand and much cooler climatic conditions. It was during this regression from the MIS 5e highstand that the North Atlantic suffered an oceanographic ‘‘reorganization’’ about 11873 ka ago. During this same interval, massive dune-building greatly enlarged the Bahama Islands. Giant waves reshaped exposed lowlands into chevron-shaped beach ridges, ran up on older coastal ridges, and also broke off and threw megaboulders onto and over 20 m-high cliffs. The oolitic rocks recording these features yield concordant whole-rock amino acid ratios across the archipelago. Whether or not the Last Interglaciation serves as an appropriate analog for our ‘‘greenhouse’’ world, it nonetheless reveals the intricate details of climatic transitions between warm interglaciations and near glacial conditions.”

The picture which emerges is that the post-MPT end interglacials appear to be populated with dramatic, abrupt global climate disruptions which appear to have occurred on decadal to centennial time scales. Given that the Holocene, one of at least 3 post-MPT “extreme” interglacials, may not be immune to this repetitive phenomena, and as it is half a precession cycle old now, and perhaps unlikely to grow that much older, this could very well be the natural climate “noise” from which we must discern our anthropogenic “signal” from.

If we take a stroll between this interglacial and the last one back, the Eemian, we find in the Greenland ice cores that there were 24 Dansgaard-Oeschger oscillations, or abrupt warmings that occurred from just a few years to mere decades that average between 8-10C rises (D-O 19 scored 16C). The nominal difference between earth’s cold (glacial) and warm (interglacial) states being on the order of 20C. D-O events average 1470 years, the range being 1-4kyrs.

Sole, Turiel and Llebot writing in Physics Letters A (366 [2007] 184–189) identified three classes of D-O oscillations in the Greenland GISP2 ice cores A (brief), B (medium) and C (long), reflecting the speed at which the warming relaxes back to the cold glacial state:

“In this work ice-core CO2 time evolution in the period going from 20 to 60 kyr BP [15] has been qualitatively compared to our temperature cycles, according to the class they belong to. It can be observed in Fig. 6 that class A cycles are completely unrelated to changes in CO2 concentration. We have observed some correlation between B and C cycles and CO2 concentration, but of the opposite sign to the one expected: maxima in atmospheric CO2 concentration tend to correspond to the middle part or the end the cooling period. The role of CO2 in the oscillation phenomena seems to be more related to extend the duration of the cooling phase than to trigger warming. This could explain why cycles not coincident in time with maxima of CO2 (A cycles) rapidly decay back to the cold state.”

“Nor CO2 concentration either the astronomical cycle change the way in which the warming phase takes place. The coincidence in this phase is strong among all the characterized cycles; also, we have been able to recognize the presence of a similar warming phase in the early stages of the transition from glacial to interglacial age. Our analysis of the warming phase seems to indicate a universal triggering mechanism, what has been related with the possible existence of stochastic resonance [1,13, 21]. It has also been argued that a possible cause for the repetitive sequence of D/O events could be found in the change in the thermohaline Atlantic circulation [2,8,22,25]. However, a cause for this regular arrangement of cycles, together with a justification on the abruptness of the warming phase, is still absent in the scientific literature.”

In their work, at least 13 of the 24 D-O oscillations (indeed other workers suggest the same for them all), CO2 was not the agent provocateur of the warmings but served to ameliorate the relaxation back to the cold glacial state, something which might have import whenever we finally do reach the end Holocene. Instead of triggering the abrupt warmings it appears to function as somewhat of a climate “security blanket”, if you will.

Therefore in constructing the antithesis, and taking into consideration the precautionary principle, we are left to ponder if reducing CO2’s concentration in the late Holocene atmosphere might actually be the wrong thing to do.

[ The preceding guest editorial was written by William F. McClenney. We welcome submission of guest articles, as long as they are cogently written, civil in tone and pertain to the general subjects presented on this website (i.e. climate change, science and energy policy). Submissions should be set via the site “Contact” form. — admin ]


that was an interesting article that lead me down the path of many other articles today, at first to understand some of the phrases, then on to more background information.

much appreciated.