Huge NYT article on Charles David Keeling, the scientist who first measured the increased carbon in the atmosphere. The Keeling curve, as its now known, shows a steady increase in CO2 concentrations in our air over the past century. Keeling also discovered the seasonal variations of CO2 in the atmosphere.

I thought the biography of the man was quite fascinating. He was a stickler for getting the measurements and the process precisely correct, and his golden rule was “no hanky-panky.

Keeling’s widow said her husband would have been dismayed about how the factual issues had been politicized. “He was a registered Republican,” she said. “He just didn’t think of it as a political issue at all.”


Science . . . It works, Bitches.


Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, lack of scientific knowledge, ability to repeat discredited memes, and lack of respect for empirical data. Also, be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor even implied. Any irrelevancies you can mention will also be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are anonymous after all.

A Scientist, His Work and a Climate Reckoning
NYT, December 21, 2010

Category: Data Analysis, Quantitative, Science

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

133 Responses to “History of Atmospheric Carbon Changes”

  1. DeDude says:

    The facts are that:

    1. Global temperatures are increasing
    2. CO2 levels are increasing
    3. CO2 is a green house gas.

    This means that we not only have a correlation but a plausible model to explain the correlation. But since a lot other factors than CO2 levels will affect global temperatures you have to use multivariate analysis and modeling to figure out if this green house gas has any meaningful influence on our climate. This gets so complex that probably only 100 people in the world are able to do this and maybe another 1000 have the ability to look at the results and give a professionally valid critique and opinion about how good the modeling is.

    In recent years none of the climate scientists who do this type of work for a living have presented models that could explain observed temperature changes without assuming antrophogenic warming. As a result only a few % of those capable of modeling or judging models say that they don’t think anthropogenic warming is proven (and even that is NOT the same as saying they think it is proven not to exist).

    If you want scientific proof of anthropogenic warming you first need to spend about 6-12 years getting a Ph.D. in climatology (depending on your current educational level), then another 3-5 years of postdoctoral training. At this point you will be able to listen and understand the conversations amongst those who actually know what they are talking about. It will be another 10 years of work as a climate scientist before you are actually qualified to give a credible analysis and opinion of the weaknesses and strengths of current climate models.

    Obviously those who are demanding proof are full of sh!t; they can’t handle the proof!! – and never intend to put the work into becoming able to. What they are really saying is that they will never believe in anything that is too complicated for their dumb a$$ little brains to comprehend.

    That is probably where it gets so emotional on both sides. One group saying: “I can reject data and science based reality, simply based on not liking the conclusion or being to ignorant to comprehend its basis”. The other group saying: “best actions can be reached via a scientific process after it has reached a certain threshold of agreement among experts such that it is much more likely to be true than false”.

  2. Blunt Instrument says:

    Global Warming = QEII. Like the earth and CO2, there’s no evidence that Ben and Timmy can mop up the excess “stimulus” before we get in a runaway feedback loop.

    Either way, it’s going to get a lot hotter in here…

  3. gordonq says:

    @DeDude sez:
    “Obviously those who are demanding proof are full of sh!t; they can’t handle the proof!! – and never intend to put the work into becoming able to. What they are really saying is that they will never believe in anything that is too complicated for their dumb a$$ little brains to comprehend. ”

    And what does that have to do with evolution? I suppose PHD’s got us where we are?

  4. river says:

    A quick response to DeDude . . .
    1) Where do the entirely self reinforcing feedback loops come in the three facts you listed? Are those facts, or are those all computer generated? If we don’t have feedback loops, is global warming “extremely dangerous”?

    2) I seen a post by Paul Krugman in the last month or two on his blog basically saying how all people who are serious about looking at inflation properly (and spend a lot of time thinking about it) take out effects of the highly volitile food and energy components. Yet Barry just today and yesterday in his Inflationistas’ are three years late basically disagreed with Krugman by saying that he doesn’t think you should discount things just because they are highly volatile. The nerve of Barry disagreeing with a Nobel Prize winner like that!!!

  5. DeDude says:

    Gordonq; I was not talking about evolution so it has nothing to do with evolution.

    1) I was only talking about the real basic facts that made it worth building a model. Positive and negative feed-back loops are details in the model.
    2) I do not suggest that you should blindly trust experts. Just that whatever conclusion comes from someone who has done 30 years of intense scientific work on a subject is a lot more trustworthy than what Rush pulls out of his big dumb a$$. When you question and disagree with experts you should NOT do it based on gut feeling or hating their conclusions, you should do it like Barry (base it on a different and plausible interpretation of facts).

  6. eightnineEmous says:

    1) If one interprets your caution to “be even more skeptical of the narratives of business” reduced to the tried and proved “follow the money” discovery process, you will find that the dollars going to grants and careers supported by MMGW far outweigh what the nascent MMGW used to accuse business of spending against it.

    This is one of the most transparent and self-serving charges leveled by the corporatist shills.

    If researchers were driven by money as opposed to the data, Exxon would have no problem swamping the research community with cash to secure studies sympathetic to their cause. It’s precisely because the research community is resistant to financial manipulation that business has been forced into marketing the misrepresentation of current research.

    As far as levels of financing, you’re forgetting the importance of publicity in the public discourse and the ‘in-kind’ contributions of air time that Fox News, the WSJ, etc. gives to the cranks.

    It’s a heads-I-win/tails-you-lose world with conservatives; even if the data proves them wrong, they’ll just fire up the wurlitzer and fill people’s head full of crap.

    See: evolution, laffer curve, cancer/smoking, wmd, financial collapse, etc.

    The right excels at propagating disinformation; it’s their only true core competency.

  7. eightnineEmous says:

    Scientists are subject to group-think because it makes their jobs easier and the masses will just believe what they say anyway if they stick together.

    This describes right-wing politicians and their media hacks much more than researchers.

    Einstein didn’t establish his credentials through group-think and Maxwell wasn’t a luminary because he mouthed the common wisdom of his day.

    But Sarah Palin is a luminary in right-wing circles precisely because she mindlessly parrots their talking points.

  8. Bokolis says:

    Alls I know is that we didn’t have a single >50 degree day last winter* here in the Apple. While we didn’t exactly freeze our nuts off last winter, that hasn’t happened in forever…and, so far, so bad for this winter. Where’s your warming now, see?

    *winter> ~early/mid-December >>> March 1…along with about ten >50s, we’re usually good for a 60 or two sprinkled in.

    Somewhat more seriously, I don’t trust the compilers to effectively crunch the data. From the cheap seats, it looks like they’re chasing their tails and/or they’re looking in the wrong direction. MY spidey-sense is telling me that mis-/overuse of the Earth is going to impact us far more than CO2 levels in the atmosphere…though I do believe a methane bump would cause a TARFUN shitstorm.

    How’s that for ignorance and a lack of respect for empirical data? OK, ok, there were four >50 days last year…I looked.


    BR: I feel bad for people who cannot understand the difference between weather and climate.

    Maybe we would be better off calling Global Weather Volatility (mentioned here circa 2005)

  9. That snow outside is what global warming looks like

    Unusually cold winters may make you think scientists have got it all wrong. But the data reveal a chilling truth

    There is now strong evidence to suggest that the unusually cold winters of the last two years in the UK are the result of heating elsewhere. With the help of the severe weather analyst John Mason and the Climate Science Rapid Response Team, I’ve been through as much of the scientific literature as I can lay hands on (see my website for the references). Here’s what seems to be happening.

    The global temperature maps published by Nasa present a striking picture. Last month’s shows a deep blue splodge over Iceland, Spitsbergen, Scandanavia and the UK, and another over the western US and eastern Pacific. Temperatures in these regions were between 0.5C and 4C colder than the November average from 1951 and 1980. But on either side of these cool blue pools are raging fires of orange, red and maroon: the temperatures in western Greenland, northern Canada and Siberia were between 2C and 10C higher than usual. Nasa’s Arctic oscillations map for 3-10 December shows that parts of Baffin Island and central Greenland were 15C warmer than the average for 2002-9. There was a similar pattern last winter. These anomalies appear to be connected.

    The weather we get in UK winters, for example, is strongly linked to the contrasting pressure between the Icelandic low and the Azores high. When there’s a big pressure difference the winds come in from the south-west, bringing mild damp weather from the Atlantic. When there’s a smaller gradient, air is often able to flow down from the Arctic. High pressure in the icy north last winter, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, blocked the usual pattern and “allowed cold air from the Arctic to penetrate all the way into Europe, eastern China, and Washington DC”. Nasa reports that the same thing is happening this winter.

    Sea ice in the Arctic has two main effects on the weather. Because it’s white, it bounces back heat from the sun, preventing it from entering the sea. It also creates a barrier between the water and the atmosphere, reducing the amount of heat that escapes from the sea into the air. In the autumns of 2009 and 2010 the coverage of Arctic sea ice was much lower than the long-term average: the second smallest, last month, of any recorded November. The open sea, being darker, absorbed more heat from the sun in the warmer, light months. As it remained clear for longer than usual it also bled more heat into the Arctic atmosphere. This caused higher air pressures, reducing the gradient between the Iceland low and the Azores high.

  10. eightnineEmous says:

    Where’s your warming now, see?

    You know that cold air that comes down our way?

    While the cold air is moving south, the warm air is moving north toward the arctic.

    So the temps can be warmer than average worldwide even though it’s cold where you are.

    In similar fashion, just because your town is dark at night it doesn’t mean the whole world is dark.

  11. gordonq says:

    eightnineEmous sed:
    “If researchers were driven by money as opposed to the data, Exxon would have no problem swamping the research community with cash to secure studies sympathetic to their cause. It’s precisely because the research community is resistant to financial manipulation that business has been forced into marketing the misrepresentation of current research.”

    You should recall/review about how the “placebo/double blind” test came to be. Researchers or subjects would unconsciously tweak their data or responses to support their biases or hopes. With no similar methodology for climate data we need to be especially on guard. You present a saintly view of “researchers” and money. How about their resistance to awards, status, and funding?

  12. gordonq says:

    DeDude sed:
    “Gordonq; I was not talking about evolution so it has nothing to do with evolution.”

    It was a non sequitur meant to cast the thought that things have progressed historically very nicely without any intellectual manipulation to a fairly recent point of “baseline perfection”. It was also hoped to cast another thought that if, as you seem to imply, intellectual manipulation is indeed required for life to continue to thrive/progress from this point, it was made necessary to patch up many previously poor intellectual manipulations (read “the machine age”). The vast majority of PhD’s out there now are creating things like nuclear contamination devices and many other high tech junk that will consume energy and end up in land fills. Since the saviors seem to be the Climatology PhD’s, perhaps we need to make a priesthood and put them in special robes and hats and act accordingly.

  13. DeDude says:

    Gordonq @ 2:46;

    What you are missing is that we actually moved from a majority of scientists thinking we were heading towards global cooling (based mostly on the ice sheet hydrogen isotope data shown above), to all but a few convinced that we are heading for continued global warming. That U-turn was driven by data and happening up against the “placebo” effect (if such a phenomena even exist with hard data). Furthermore, you are missing the fact that career advancement during the last Bush was hugely against those favoring anthropogenic climate change. Furthermore, whereas individual scientist certainly have been found to fail under pressure from ego, awards, status and funding, what you are suggesting would require a whole community of scientists, all failing, and without a single whistle blower to point out that failure. Again easy to pull a hypothesis out of your a$$ but would be nice with some data/facts in support of the idea that “personal” failures among climate scientists have created a problem in current climate models.

    Gordonq @ 3:14;

    Trying to follow your anti-intellectual thoughts I end up with absurd ideas such as that if we fail to find a cure for cancer we should stop trying, or if a pesticide invented by man turns out to be carcinogenic we should stop all attempts at inventing new and better pesticides. But maybe your line of thought would mean that we should stop civilization and move back to the caves, that certainly would solve the problem of additional anthropogenic climate change. Yes the scientific process is not a 100% failsafe way to Nirvana, but it is a heck of a lot better than simply pulling ideas out of your a$$.

  14. gordonq says:

    Climatology in a nutshell: global temperature fluctuations primarily follow water vapor levels. Water vapor is at least 25 – 100 times more prevalent than CO2 in the atmosphere and has much more potency for greenhouse effects than CO2. Plant life follows water vapor: more water vapor, more abundant plant life. CO2 follows the decay of plant life debris. There are your connections. Find the causes of water vapor fluctuations and you will get the prize. Hint, agricultural and residential irrigation do play a part. Researchers will be able to tell us other fascinating facts, if they don’t go off on tangents.

  15. gordonq says:


    We may have found a cure for cancer in vitamin D3 (replaces the sunlight we avoid by working indoors). We also know many things in modern life that do cause cancer and how to avoid them. Thanks for not mentioning Sarah Palin like that eightnineEmous and thanks for the compliment on my talented a$$.

  16. Ltdata says:

    BR: Wordiness: You Could replace your entire last paragraph with these words: “Use a specious argument.”

    ~ the Efficiency expert

  17. eightnineEmous says:

    You present a saintly view of “researchers” and money. How about their resistance to awards, status, and funding?

    Big Tobacco was able to buy off very few scientists, but they were quite successful in finding businessmen to spout their nonsense. Were those researchers saints? Compared to the average tobacco company CEO I guess they were.

    Don’t you find it odd that out of all the hard sciences it’s only the climatologists and evolutionary biologists who garner any criticism whatsoever? Why is it that I never hear Fox or the WSJ criticize the research or impugn the motivations of chemical engineers, quantum physicists, or computer scientists? Surely these areas also have disagreements and conflicting points of view?

    Scientific methodology seems credible enough when it’s used to design computers and formulate housepaint, but when that very same methodology produces research that impinges on someone’s ability to make a buck it comes under attack.

    It’s mystifying, isn’t it?

  18. DeDude says:

    gordonQ; Having found both an explanation for global warming and a cure for cancer I guess we will have to submit your a$$ to the Nobel price committee ;-)

    PS: Better chance there than with a peer reviewed journal.
    PPS: Hope they don’t need scientific proof.

  19. Bill W says:

    The environment is the conservative free lunch. Quasi-Keynesian economic policies, where we borrow our way to prosperity, are the liberal free lunch. Conservatives aren’t supposed to believe in free lunches.

    Pollution isn’t free. It never has been. While I’m not sure that global warming is real, I am sure that we will screw up our climate system up somehow if we keep pumping gases into it.

    Everything in this world comes with a cost.

  20. The Bach says:

    [...] Context was CO2 emission discussion. [...]

  21. gordonq says:

    And I do this pro bono. Here’s a link to vitamin D3 that may be interesting:

  22. V says:

    I take your point about CDO’s being difficult to model due to human behavioural factors.

    However I think you miss my point, that if the current mathematical modelling was so exact, we would be able to forecast weather phenomenon much more accurately than we do, after all it should be the result of given physcial inputs.
    Modelling the weather, as it is for climate requires a huge complexity of interactions and feedbacks, many of which we do not understand or know about.

  23. DiggidyDan says:

    To not follow in any of the posting rules or the previous theories, I will proffer a new scenario, most likely from my misanthropic tendencies and experiences in systemic behavior in life:

    Human interference in the ecosystem is real, and most likely manifesting in an imbalance in the atmosphere as well as habitat and climate change to a certain degree. However, the system as a whole is greater than our influence and will correct itself at some point. (with our without us humans here still is up to speculation) We are merely a blip upon the history of this universe and to think otherwise is pure ego at its worst, monkeys!

    I would not be surprised to see a scenario in which the infallible hubristic nature of humanity destroys itself by trying to “Fix” global warming. We would in all our arrogant collective ignorance come up with some retarded scheme to rebalance nature when nature is quite capable of rebalancing itself at our detriment.

    Take for instance, some scientists come up with an algae that explosively feeds on CO2 to convert it back to Oxygen, but we do not realize the consequences of introducing such a new influence on the harmony of the system… soon, the atmosphere overcorrects, the algae eats up too much CO2 and there isn’t enough to sustain the previous native trees and foodcrops that sustained the ecosystem as it previously was. Then famine, drought, and infestations a la the apacolypse occur as the oceans are overtaken by mutant algae killing off essential oceanic species paramount to the food chain. . .

    Bad Sci Fi Script, maybe . . . a possibility, yes!

    Nature. . . Don’t Fuck with it, Bitches!

  24. genevakiwi says:

    Maybe, just maybe you should stop being such a hypocrite? I’m not sure if you comment below would qualify as your own ignorance, lack of scientific knowledge, ability to repeat discredited memes, or lack of respect for empirical data.

    If you actually bothered to look at the data you are referencing (giving you the benefit of the doubt that you have simply neglected this data point rather than deliberatley ignored it to try tio create a point) you will see that your “12 million climate scientists/physicists/chemists” is actually the number of people in the US with a higher degree in agricultural, computer, engineering, health, mathematical and natural sciences. It does not imply that all 12 million are part of your “climate consensus”, indeed it does not imply that they are in anyway remotely linked to climate study.

    For the record, I’m pretty much agnostic on the whole climate change issue because there is so much shit science on both sides of the arguement.

    BR: Out of 12 million climate scientists/physicists/chemists, you found 31,486 dissenting scientists — 0.0026% — willing to sign a document questioning the consensus?


    By many, you mean “A tiny percentage”
    Statistics: Scientific Consensus on Climate Change?


  25. genevakiwi:

    The 31,486 comes from the that same pool of 12 million. (They also have a degrees in those sciences, but it does not imply that they have an experise in climatology).

    The statistical point I was making is to contextualize what looks like a big impressive number — oooh, 31,486 signatures! — into actual context relative to the broader membership. Is 31k big or not? In our day-to-day lives, it seems like a vert large number. When you realize the actual pool that 31k is out of — over 12 million — it puts perspective on the number, and you realize its avtually quite small.

    Indeed, for the record, anyone who gives a single datapoint out of context is most likely trying to mislead their reader/listener/audience. Unless you are speaking to a group of professionals who understand the context — is 9.6% unemployment good or bad? — you have to give at least 2 numbers — the sample, and the full set. (And if its a data series, you best give a whole lot more than 1 or 2 numbers).

  26. DeDude says:


    OK let me give you a link back:
    Not that I am trying to suggest that the active components of Vitamin D doesn’t have benefits for those that are deficient in them, just trying to temper the overblown optimism with a little scientific study and facts.

    Great database to get information on other health issues []

  27. PhotoMax says:

    Let’s expand the time scale a bit to get a REALLY BIG PICTURE.

    Lets’s go back about 3 billion years, before the Earth’s atmosphere was oxygenated by photosynthesis.
    The atmosphere was mainly nitrogen, CO2, and methane, and was warm and moist.
    This was the environment under which bacterial life occurred.
    At that time, bacteria were 100% of the biota of the biosphere.

    The blue algae spoiled the paradise by polluting the environment by pumping toxic oxygen into the air, and the conspicuous plants that later evolved trapped almost all of the carbon from the atmosphere in deposits (coal, oil) buried so deep under the biosphere that they were completely out of reach of the bacteria.

    The bacteria were reduced to about 90% of the biosphere.

    The bacteria responded by developing elaborate machines (the bodies of conspicuous animals) that have the advantages of
    1. preserving the original luscious 3 billion year old atmosphere within the colons of the machines
    2. providing vehicular mobility.

    The culmination that we now see in global warming is the elaborate machine’s affecting the retrieval and combustion of all of the unused, idle, carbon deposits. This restores the atmosphere toward that original warm, moist, methanous, Edenic state.

    This is the BIG PICTURE.
    Aren’t you glad to be along for the ride?

  28. bman says:

    and for the last word, People will be extinct, and the meek shall inherit the earth.

  29. jaysan says:

    Evidence for Henrik Svensmark’s alternative climate theory, which posits that galactic cosmic rays influence cloud formation and therefore drive global temperatures.

    A new paper by B. A. Laken , D. R. Kniveton, and M. R. Frogley published in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics suggests that the relationship has been established. As the authors write in the abstract: “These results provide perhaps the most compelling evidence presented thus far of a GCR-climate relationship.”…

    Their full paper is at

  30. FrancoisT says:

    To those who can’t accept the existence of climate disruption and the role we, humans, play in it:

    Don’t take my word for it.
    Don’t take Barry’s word for it.
    You can even deny the SCIENTISTS word for it if you so please.

    I truly don’t care what your belief system allows you to see.

    But do not deny the word of those whose wealth (as in mucho billions) depend on it. These people have their money on the line…big time.

    They own the biggest database of natural catastrophes in the world. Let’s say they really don’t like what they see right now…not one bit. Let’s see what they say:

    For instance, globally there has been a more than threefold increase in loss-related floods since 1980 and more than double the number of windstorm natural catastrophes, with particularly heavy losses as a result of Atlantic hurricanes.

    The rise in natural catastrophe losses is primarily due to socio-economic factors. In many countries, populations are rising, and more and more people moving into exposed areas. At the same time, greater prosperity is leading to higher property values. Nevertheless, it would seem that the only plausible explanation for the rise in weather-related catastrophes is climate change. The view that weather extremes are more frequent and intense due to global warming coincides with the current state of scientific knowledge as set out in the Fourth IPCC Assessment Report.

    Who are these people to “endorse” this poon tang dickwad hairy-brainy Al-Gore-driven BS, huh? Is this yet another far left pinko Commie-job killing, America-hating conspiracy??

    Nope…it’s nothing of the sort.

    It’s a sample from a corporate press release, published the 27th of September 2010. The corporation in question is Munich Re, one of those huge reinsurance companies. Check it out for yourselves:

    Of course, Munich Re didn’t pull this stuff from their personal dark star. they saw the evidence, and following the example of the good traders, they accepted what the charts and data said.

    BTW, that is why there are so many bad traders ; they can’t accept what they’re starring at to begin with. *evil grin*

  31. jaysan says:

    I’ve lost a lot of respect for Barry after reading his comments on this topic.

    He’s only succeeded in getting us to waste our time arguing uselessly.

  32. gordonq says:

    DeDude: The vitamin D cancer study you cite uses a blood level value that is at an old, low end of “normal” (50 nmol/l). Newer recommendations for an optimal level are over twice that. Even so, the synopsis showed that they still noticed a positive effect for all types of cancer, they just regarded it as statistically insignificant. Unfortunately, you have to pay to read the study’s full source material.

    PhotoMax: ha, ha, entertaining!

    FrancoisT: You don’t suppose Munich Re might be able to finagle higher premiums/profit margins out of their research do you? Hmmm

    And finally, global warming/climate change is a fascinating topic. Without any greenhouse effect the earth’s average surface temperature would be -2.0°F instead of the 57°F it is. The upper end estimate of water vapor’s role in the greenhouse effect is 98% (CO2 2%). The lower end is about 66% (CO2 33%). You don’t get a sense of its role because it is purposefully not talked about in climate change discussion as it’s not considered a forcing agent (something that upsets what’s considered as “normal”. Neglected too is all the water vapor that is a normal (large) product of combustion as, again, it’s considered “normal”. Also, the effect of localized anthropomorphically induced water vapor on land based temperature sensors is not taken into account (remember, it’s normal). CO2′s cycle is much longer lived in the atmosphere than water vapor (100 years vs. 14 days), so its importance as a greenhouse gas is enhanced, but these cycle numbers have large range estimates and are the topics of lots of debate. Climate change studies and methodologies are very profound and interesting and hotly debated and when you throw in the large political context, well, as they say, the plot thickens. I’m thankful for the debate as it’s bound to shed light on the subject and help uncover the biases that lead to errors. I’ll be spending a lot of time reading more on this subject.

    For more information about climate change I’ve found this useful:

  33. gordonq says:

    Barry you sed:

    BR: Out of 12 million climate scientists/physicists/chemists, you found 31,486 dissenting scientists — 0.0026% — willing to sign a document questioning the consensus?

    Slight “rounding error” there. That is 0.26%. Were all the of the 12 million scientists/physicists/chemists contacted for their opinion? If the 31K dissenters were drawn from just a 1% sample then the total percentage of dissenters would be much higher. Were any of the contactees unwilling to be included in either camp because of specific doubts, or job worries? 31K dissenters is probably much more significant than it seems.