Doubling the Carbon Cycle

In the last post we had set out to model geological isotope excursions and found that our conception of the current Carbon cycle is so messed up that any venture into deep time hopeless. Specifically, when d13C values are integrated into the fluxes the atmosphere goes negative d13C way faster than the observed rate.

To correct this irregularity either light Carbon atmospheric inputs must be reduced or heavy Carbon increased. We chose to try to balance the books by increasing heavy Carbon input from the ocean mixed layer.

Carbon Cycle Balanced

Not only was the original model based on consensus values out of tune isotopically, it was out of mass balance as well, growing at over 60 GtC per year. We have chosen to modify the scarlet values to harmonize the atmospheric isotopic trend with the observed rate and to limit atmospheric growth to a bit over the human contribution.

Hunky dory, but we now have a 450 Gt Carbon cycle compared with the 210 Gt consensus cycle we began with. We have doubled the Carbon cycle.

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Cycling the Isotopes

We have long been interested in Carbon isotope “excursions” and took a notion to integrate isotope ratios into a simple box model of the Carbon cycle with an eye to replicating these excursions. The initial result was surprising and it became apparent we will need to adjust our conception of the Carbon cycle to match measured values of atmospheric isotopic change before we venture into geological time.

Carbon Model

Each box has its name, the supposed reservoir size, and the observed 13C variance from the PDB standard. Fluxes are shown as appendages of the boxes with an indication of the direction and the supposed rate in Gt/year. The atmosphere is unique in that it communicates with all the other reservoirs. The input from the mantle to the atmosphere by way of volcanism is ignored as it currently seems very small.


We then set up calculations for the relationship of each reservoir with the atmosphere to derive the isotopic change in one year. The result was very surprising. It showed the atmosphere going -3.8 PDB, a very substantial excursion, in one year. We have measurements atmospheric 13C since 1978 and ice core data before that which generally agree that the atmosphere is actually moving more like -.02 per year, two orders of magnitude less.

The isotopes are telling us that our notion of the Carbon cycle is wrong.

When you step back and think about this all the reservoirs are much more negative than the atmosphere except the ocean. Either we are grossly overestimating the inputs from negative sources or we are grossly underestimating the input from the ocean.

We examine here the possibility that we are underestimating the ocean.

We have two boxes for the ocean, the mixed layer and the deep ocean. At +.5  it would take an enormous flux from the deep ocean to get the atmosphere back to -.02 per year. The deep ocean is isolated from the atmosphere by the mixed layer except for small areas of upwelling and deep water formation that amount to maybe 10% of the ocean surface. The mixed layer is in direct contact with the atmosphere over 60% of the planet even after subtracting the areas of deep water communication. At +2 it seems a much better bet for balancing the books.

We confess to adding a box “Swamp” to the model to explicitly deal with biogenic methane which has been measured as low as -100 PDB. This stuff is glub glubbing up from wetlands and much is released from coal mining and oil production. The consensus might be that it amounts to little more than half a Gt/year, but with its staggering negative PDB values we feel it must be included when isotopes are integrated into the cycle.

We initially had it at 10 Gt and realizing that would be controversial reduced it to 2 Gt at a PDB value of -50. We feel this is defensible.

The bottom line it that after reducing Swamp and holding everything else the same it takes 262 Gt/yr input from the mixed layer to get the atmosphere to -.02/yr. The response is very sensitive. For example 265 Gt knocks the atmospheric response down to -.0005. The 262 Gt is about five times the reputed rate, but not an impossible number.

It should be mentioned that evaporation filters isotopes in the same direction as biological filtration. See:

The only way evaporative enrichment can occur is if light (-PDB) Carbon is exported to the atmosphere along with the vapor. This may be a force supporting the measured 7 uatm pressure disequilibrium in favor of the atmosphere over the ocean surface. According to Kevin Trenberth some 4000 Gt of water evaporates from the ocean surface each year. This evaporation factor works against our efforts to balance the isotope ratios, even as it supports the notion of a greater flux.


Realistically, our understanding of the Carbon cycle is very poor and all of the fluxes and reservoir sizes should have error bars the size if the values themselves. Integrating isotope ratios offers a new way to constrain the possibilities.

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The Plankton and The Nebulae


Deep space from the Hubble by NOAA

Credit Alanna Mitchell

Credit Alanna Mitchell


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History on Ice


maybe this works

This graphic of Greenland ice core temperature based on data by Alley has been making the rounds. I took a notion to plot human history against it and don’t know who to credit for the base graphic, but grateful acknowledge it as not my own work. Unfortunately the WordPress picture lice chewed mercilessly on the image.

One can interpret it many ways. There does seem to be some correlation between warmer periods and cultural flourishing, but nothing very convincing. What does stick out is the large number of cultural collapses around the “Minoan” spike. Minoan civilization collapsed on the upswing, and the Hittite, Mycenaean, Egyptian, and Shan empires on the down swing of this spike.

The following graphic by Robert Rhode has been around a while, but it is a great piece of work.

Holocene digitized

A typical response is to throw up one’s hands as OMG, look at the spread in these unreliable proxies, how can we know anything from these? I will argue that the proxies are perfectly good and the variation is regional. The proxies hark from regions as varied as the tropical western Pacific, Antarctica, and Greenland. An interesting aspect is the seeming convergence of all these disparate proxies to something approaching consensus about 6000 BP.

I digitized them per the screenshot in order to deconstruct the regional variation and see what else may have been going on during the Minoan spike.

Collapse, Golden Age


Here is a less dramatic smoothed version of Alley’s GISP 2 smoothed as digitized from the graphic above. It is substantially similar, but now we can compare all the proxies with history. The only interesting features I see are the multiple civilization collapses around the “Minoan” spike and the “golden age” of Eurasian civilizations; Roman, Parthian, Kushan and Han around the more broad shouldered and half a degree lower “Roman” warm period.

You must realize that the Greenland ice cores are by far the most flamboyant proxy.  The other proxies show far subtler response to the Minoan spike.

Gisp vs N. Atlantic Annotated


The comparison to the North Atlantic sediment core is very interesting because the ocean warming clearly led the continental ice warming. This lead progressively diminished before going anti phase with the ice during the “6kya convergence”, and then lagging the ice through a much subtler response to the Minoan and Roman warm periods.

This will not be an argument that climate determines history,  seemingly nothing is ever that simple. Many historians have cited Iron weapons as a cause for the multiple collapses beginning about 3300 kya, but the Hittites, who many would equate to Indo-Europeans bearing Iron and the hegemons of this trend, also collapsed during this period.

When several proxies show significant spikes and multiple civilizations collapse, it is at least worth exploring.

Tropical Pacific vs Tropical Atlantic Annotated


One of the more amazing results of this exercise is this which shows the western tropical Pacific was cruising along well above normal and was actually cooling as the tropical Atlantic was beginning a sharp rise out of the last glaciation.

We tend to think of the oceans as vast stabilizing heat sinks, but this data belies the notion. The north Atlantic warmed like a rocket for 500 years and both tropical oceans show surprising spikey behavior. Note the one degree 5 kya spike in the Pacific.

GISP vs Vostok Annotated


This comparison of Greenland and Antarctica is telling as the rocket ship rise out of the last glaciation began 1200 years earlier in Antarctica. Vostok is generally less animated than Greenland but there is a prominent 1.5 degree spike 4.5 kya.

Central Antarctic Cores Annotated

There is little reason to expect Eurasian subtropical civilizations to be affected by Antarctica, but this is included to show that the EPICA Dome C core about 500 km less central in Antarctica did not show the 4.5 kya spike.

Three Spikes Annotated

This graphic shows the three spikes, the first is in the western tropical Pacific about 5000 years ago, the second is in Vostok 4500 years ago, and the third is the Minoan. I remain convinced that all these proxies are good representations of regional differences. It is quite likely that regional spikes occasionally telegraph through time and space. While there are several impressive Greenland spikes, the 5 kya Pacific spike and the 4.5 kya Vostok spike are definitely out of character. It may be that we need to understand signals moving as waves through the geosphere before we can truly put history on ice.

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Hydrocarbon Combustion Water Vapor and it’s Greenhouse Effect on Surface Thermometers


Nobody ever thinks about this, but when you drive your car down the street, when David Crosby drives his Tesla into a pedestrian, when solar cells wrought with energy from fossil fuels produce energy for the grid; twice as many molecules of di Hydrogen oxide (water) as Carbon dioxide result from the combustion that produced the energy.

Everyone says, ” So what, it’s just water”. True enough, we drink the stuff, or die, but nevertheless water is the kahuna of Greenhouse gasses on this planet, even by the befuddled standards of the evangelists who would relegate it to “feedback only” status. Carbon dioxide amounts to less than 10% of the greenhouse gasses.

Everyone is SO confused lately why surface thermometers in boxes at airports and cities have been reading so much hotter that the satellite observations of the lower atmosphere.


Really? Honestly, Carbon dioxide does contribute in some trivial way, but the airport/urban temperature record is so ridiculously biased by the LOCAL contributions of both gasses, it should be no marvel to even evangelists that the surface temperature reads hot.

Your basic 747 uses about a fifty gallon drum per minute during liftoff. Let’s just say 25 gallons of aviation kerosene greenhouse gasses plus direct enthalpy contributed to the immediate vicinity of the weather station PER PANE…

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IMG_0227My son, having graduated from UCLA in Math/Econ and worked for a year at a bank, took a notion to try his hand at long haul trucking. We parents were not particularly thrilled with this move, but having personally abandoned my family’s long academic tradition in favor of a career in construction, there was little I could say.

He was a very good trucker, I’m proud to say, and won awards and bonuses for safety and fuel economy, acquiring the handle Taydawg the hippy trucker. You see, the trucker mentality is git on down the road as fast as you don’t get caught, and they don’t take kindly to being slowed down by someone driving safely and saving fuel.

I wanted to experience this bit of Americana and as his trucking career was winding down I had the good fortune to share a good portion of his last run.

Trucking is basically our system for resolving the problem of stuff in the wrong place. Possibly analogous to the body’s lymphatic system, it is often unsavory. Our first stop was industrial East Oakland, basically in the center of the Maize. We swapped our 54′ trailer for a 48 footer preloaded with near the legal weight limit of crushed aluminum recycled door and window frames.

east Oakland

This was it. Around the corner a parade of pickup trucks similar to the one shown stretched around three sides of the block bringing a seemingly endless supply of urban ore.

Yet it was in the wrong place. According to the laws of supply and demand this particular 38 tons of condensed fenestration needed to be in Spokane. Oh well, it was our fate, and we hooked it up, took it to the scales where we drove back and forth to be sure no individual axle was overloaded, tarped it, and headed out.

It was 1:30PM, just in time to surf the afternoon traffic swell out of the bay area. Not that we were hanging ten. Urban trucking is an exercise in caution and anticipating the clueless potential road kill to whom 38 tons of supply and demand are merely annoyance.

While our trip began in the industrial underbelly, most of my stint was as close to a stage coach run as modern trucking gets.

Yet there is this downbeat of industry with every pickup and drop-off point. We get to Kaiser Aluminum in Spokane and it is totally mill town, lunch box, dumbass corporate, “Your appointment isn’t until noon” mentality. The Silicon Valley ethic really is an important lesson for the world. Suck it up, figure it out, work late, work harder, make it happen. Sadly missing in Spokane.


A vignette of our smooshed fenestration as we languished half a day at Kaiser Spokane contemplating their forklift friendly Aluminum “”ingots”.

They almost wasted our entire day, but thanks to a hardworking driver manager in Tulsa we were able to get a new load at 5:30 PM Tulsa time. It was 2×4 lumber in Troy , Montana, a few hours away, to be hauled to Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Some quick Google vectoring revealed that the best route was across U.S. 2, the most northerly highway through Montana and North Dakota and down through Minneapolis which would be my best flight home.

This would be my last load, and it was only 29 tons, even after a last minute addition. We “camped” in their driveway after arriving in the dark. It was 18 degrees when we arose at first light and pretty understandable why our appointment was at 9:00. Pretty chilly for milling outside. The place was a mess with maybe three acres of mill ends and bark they may have found some insufficient market for in the form of mulch, which they were actively shredding and bagging.


In a sense the antithesis of Kaiser, they were frank, allowing that they had not yet finished the addition to the order, and helpful in every way they could be. Small town, local, family owned. I walked to town for hot coffee passing the good ladies of Troy hiking society, and found the good ol’ boys shootin’ it over substantial breakfasts at the local eatery.



Jeffersonian America.

Our route took us through Glacier National Park.



Then across the plains to Williston, North Dakota. If Detroit is the modern ghost town, Williston is the modern boomtown. Lots of Carbon coming out of the ground, lots of trucks hauling it.


Williston truck stop sunrise.


Plenty of grimy work to be had supplying the demand. And here we were, carrying lumber from Montana to Wisconsin. The demand is increasing. Thanks to my friend Patty, the maps below show the differences in the most common occupation in each state.





Taylor actually carried an awkward load of Golden Arches, but we have not become a nation of hamburger flippers. We have become a nation of truck drivers. Like ants, carrying far more than their weight, the drivers scurry our stuff from where it is to where we want it.

Most of us have no idea that just outside our cities hundreds of trucks circle the wagons on acres of tarmac every night. They sleep in bunks in the cabs, automatic motors cycling on and off all night. They drop their loads in the morning and try to get loaded and out before the traffic and find refuge in another truck stop the next night.

The road goes on forever.



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Oil and the Devil


The concept of the devil in the Judeo-Christian/Muslim tradition seems to have its roots in an older Persian and possibly Indo-European notion of opposing forces of good and evil. The Christian conception developed into the elaborate scheme described by  Dante which was integrated into Ptolemaic geoocentrism and the music of the spheres.


In Dante’s elegant construction the earth’s core and the devil’s lair was actually frozen but the higher levels are unbearably hot. In the music of the spheres impressive postulations of epicycles were required to reconcile the observed motions of the planets with the preconception.

Music of Spheres

It is easy  to imagine how humans would be extremely impressed with volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, hot springs., and crude oil exuding from the earth. All of this fit very nicely with notions of Hell and the devil. Even during the scientific revolution the likes of Isaac Newton believed in Mephistopheles as a universal force of evil who launched legions of devils to carry witches to evil convocations in the woods.


Oil is naturally repugnant to humans. We did not invent it. A million tones of it a year oozes naturally in seeps like the above. Photo credit

We still think of evil empires and evil forces, slavery, genocide, even alienation if human rights as a global plasma of evil in essentially the original Persian or Indo-European sense. With allegations that human combustion is endangering the planet, oil has easily been tarred as a force of evil, perhaps an excretion of the devil.

With our conceptions framed in this polarized way, between forces of good and evil, it is very difficult to reach a nuanced understanding of reality. We have made great progress unwinding misconceptions about the earth’s place in the solar system, but we hang desperately to the notion that we are still somehow special.

We look deep into the earth now using waves generated by earthquakes.


We approximately find Dante’s rings but we find no “Unbaptized and Virtuous Pagans” down there. The oil we vilify very likely is produced by deep bacteria eating mineral methane gas. We must learn that we are simply insignificant and that forces of good and evil are entirely our own constructions.




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