Carbon Dioxide Known Only Since 1930

Thousands of children skipped school last week to march in the streets and demand government action about the hypothetical threat that human industrial activity will change the Earth's climate.  It would have been better if the students had stayed in school and learned something about real science.  

Scientists working under government grants tell us that we have to take action by 1999 or runaway global warming will be irreversible.   See:  Peter James Spielmann, "U.N. Predicts Disaster if Global Warming Not Checked," Associated Press, June 29, 1989.  Oh, wait.  That  didn't happen.  We must stop CO2 emissions act by 2006 or it will be too late.  Oh, wait.  We have to act by 2013 or it will be too late.  By 2013 there will be no more snow and all the ice packs will be gone.  In any other area of life, would we keep listening to these people?

We do not know how much carbon dioxide was in Earth's atmosphere prior to the 1930s.  Devices to measure carbon dioxide went through a difficult, slow, irregular development.  Reliable devices to measure carbon dioxide were available around 1930.  

"The measurement of carbon dioxide (CO2) was first developed in the early 1900s; however, it was complex and of limited clinical use. "  See:  Thomas Nowicki; Shawn London, "Carbon Dioxide Detector," National Center for Biotechnology Information.  The technology was slowly developed and produced a useable machine only around the year 1930.

Guy Stewart Callendar -- who dreamed up the global warming scare -- rejected nearly all CO2 measurements before 1870 because of “relatively crude instrumentation” and recognized only twelve suitable data sets in the 20th century.   Callendar, G.P. “On the Amount of Carbon Dioxide in the Atmosphere,” Tellus 10: 243-48. (1958).

"In 1939, August Herman Pfund (1879–1949) developed a respiratory gas analyzer that was used at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore to measure carbon monoxide and CO2. " Pfund AH, Gemmill CL. "An infrared absorption method for the quantitative analysis of respiratory and other gases," Bull Johns Hopkins Hosp, 1940;67:61–5.

The existence of carbon dioxide was not confirmed until 1777 when chemist Antoine Lavoisier thought the gas was a compound of coal and discovered that it was produced by respiration (breathing) as well as by burning coal.  See:    Techniques for the Measurement and Monitoring of Carbon Dioxide in the Blood, ATS Journals

We cannot measure carbon dioxide content of the Earth's past from air pockets in ice core samples.  First, gases can diffuse through solid walls.   Buy a helium balloon.  A week later the balloon will no longer be floating but on the ground.  The helium gas diffuses out through the walls.  We know that gas does not stay unchanged even in a closed container.

Second, over thousands of years, gases in the ice core will be changed by non-organic chemical reactions or by microscopic plant life like algae or microbes.  As the weight of accumulating layers presses from above, gases will be forced into the ice core.

"Bacteria form in the ice releasing gases even in 500,000-year-old ice at great depth. Brent C. Christner, “Detection, Recovery, Isolation and Characterization  of Bacteria in Glacial Ice and Lake Vostok Accretion Ice,” Dissertation. Ohio State University, 2002.

Testimony before the U.S. Senate made this clear in 2004:

Determinations of CO2 in polar ice cores are commonly used for estimations of the pre-industrial CO2 atmospheric levels. Perusal of these determinations convinced me that glaciological studies are not able to provide a reliable reconstruction of CO2 concentrations in the ancient atmosphere. This is because the ice cores do not fulfill the essential closed system criteria.  * * * More than 20 physico-chemical processes, mostly related to the presence of liquid water, contribute to the alteration of the original chemical composition of the air inclusions in polar ice[3].

One of these processes is formation of gas hydrates or clathrates. In the highly compressed deep ice all air bubbles disappear, as under the influence of pressure the gases change into the solid clathrates, which are tiny crystals formed by interaction of gas with water molecules. Drilling decompresses cores excavated from deep ice, and contaminates them with the drilling fluid filling the borehole.  * * *  After decompression of the ice cores, the solid clathrates decompose into a gas form, exploding in the process as if they were microscopic grenades. In the bubble-free ice the explosions form a new gas cavities and new cracks[4]. Through these cracks, and cracks formed by sheeting, a part of gas escapes first into the drilling liquid which fills the borehole, and then at the surface to the atmospheric air.

Particular gases, CO2, O2 and N2 trapped in the deep cold ice start to form clathrates, and leave the air bubbles, at different pressures and depth. At the ice temperature of –15oC dissociation pressure for N2 is about 100 bars, for O2 75 bars, and for CO2 5 bars. Formation of CO2 clathrates starts in the ice sheets at about 200 meter depth, and that of O2 and N2 at 600 to 1000 meters.

This leads to depletion of CO2 in the gas trapped in the ice sheets. This is why the records of CO2 concentration in the gas inclusions from deep polar ice show the values lower than in the contemporary atmosphere, even for the epochs when the global surface temperature was higher than now.  -- Prof. Zbigniew Jaworowski. Chairman, Scientific Council of Central Laboratory for Radiological Protection, Warsaw, Poland, Statement before the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, March 19, 2004

Third, real science requires careful protocols.  A measuring instrument must be validated, calibrated, using a meaningful scale, and manufactured with consistency.  That's why the U.S. Government from its earliest days including various agencies to establish "weights and measures."

So, to use trapped gases from ice core samples, we would -- if we were doing real science -- have to put a known composition of gas into an ice air pocket, then come back thousands of years later, and re-test the gas composition.  That would be the kind of real science that the protesting students could have learned had they stayed in school.

Graphic credit: Vimeo screen grab (cropped)

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