Climate Change…Millions of Years Ago?

In 1850, scientists began recording semi-detailed, quasi-global temperature data. While earlier records exist, they are less reliable, and more localized. Of course, 161 years isn’t much data, especially considering that the earth is believed to be about four and a half billion years old. In order to get earlier temperature data, we have to turn to a field of science known as paleoclimatology.

Why is Paleoclimatology Important?

Paleoclimatology is the study of earth’s ancient climate. Since scientists often examine the past in order to better understand the present, paleoclimatology has huge ramifications on the wider climate change debate that rages today.

As mentioned earlier, fairly reliable temperature data exists back to 1850. For earlier periods, scientists rely heavily on proxy measurements. In other words, ancient temperatures are inferred via preserved physical objects. Dendroclimatology, or the study of changes in tree growth via tree rings, is one source of proxy data. Others include coral rings, ice core samples, differences in sedimentary rock levels, and borehole temperatures. Using these proxies, as well as observations recorded in ancient texts, scientists have been able to reconstruct temperature data as far back as 2,000 years for some areas in the northern hemisphere.

The field of paleoclimatology attempts to go back even further. It uses similar proxy sources as the ones mentioned above. Unfortunately, there are some limitations to this practice. Currently, the oldest ice cores are just 800,000 years old while the oldest marine sediments are only 200 million years old. Adding to the difficulty, these sediments have been influenced over time by chemical and physical changes. The biggest problem is that our confidence of proxy sources deteriorates the further back in time we go.

Despite these challenges, paleoclimatology scientists have constructed a timeline of historical temperatures on Earth going back about 500 million years. The chart above provides an overall perspective on what temperatures might have looked like over the course of that time period (please note that it uses a logarithmic scale).

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Assuming that the data is fairly accurate, the chart represents about 11% of Earth’s 4.5 billion year history. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to go back any further due to a lack of reliable proxy sources.

So, what conclusions can we draw from this paleoclimatology data? Well, for one we can see that there are about four cycles of ice ages and non ice ages, with about 140 million years separating each one. Second, temperatures have fluctuated fairly wildly throughout these cycles. Third, we are in an ice age as we speak. The Quaternary glaciation began about 2.58 million years ago. Surprised? Well, the reason it doesn’t feel more like an “an ice age” is that we are in a warmer, interglacial period.

Fears over a coming glacial period have existed for decades. Back in 1972, a group of paleoclimatology scientists suggested that “it is likely that the present-day warm epoch will terminate relatively soon if man does not intervene.” Thanks to scientific advances, most scientists no longer worry about so-called global cooling. In fact, most paleoclimatology scholars expect the current interglacial period to last another 15,000-50,000 years.

It should be noted that the present interglacial period, which encompasses the last 10,000-15,000 years, has been quite stable and warm compared to the previous one. This period of climate stability may be more important than it first appears. Some even think that it has been a decisive factor in allowing humanity to blossom into the present civilization we enjoy today.

The Most Toxic Place on Earth?

Lake Karachay is a small body of water located in Russia’s scenic Ural Mountains. Once upon a time, it was an idyllic spot. Now, it is the most toxic place on earth. But how toxic is it? And how did it get that way?

The Soviet Union’s Secret City?

In 1945, the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japan, jumpstarting the atomic age. Following World War II, the Soviet Union was eager to close the weapons gap. They began constructing a secret city in the Ural Mountains, known as Chelyabinsk-40.

In 1948, Chelyabinsk-40 began producing plutonium. In the first of what was to become many short-sighted decisions, the nuclear waste was diluted with water and discharged into the Techa River. This waste contained a few long-lived isotopes, namely Caesium-137 and Strontium-90. By 1951, the river, which also served as the city’s drinking water, was highly radioactive.

Lake Karachay & Nuclear Disaster!

The Soviet Union took steps to improve the situation. Endangered civilians were moved and the Techa River was dammed. Nuclear waste disposal practices were also changed. Rather than being dumped in Techa, waste was stored in tanks for months at a time. After the radioactivity had diminished, the waste was pumped into a different sort of storage facility…Lake Karachay.

It didn’t help. Workers began to experience signs of acute radiation syndrome. Even worse, pipes started to fail, leading to radiation leakage. But the worst was yet to come. In September 1957, the cooling system in one of the storage tanks failed. 70-80 tons of radioactive waste started to evaporate. On September 29, the tank exploded with a force of about 70-100 tons of TNT.

The Kyshtym Disaster was the third worst nuclear accident in history behind only Chernobyl and the recent Fukushima Daiichi disaster. It released somewhere between 2 to 50 MCi of radioactivity and contaminated hundreds of square miles.

Mysterious Diseases?

Since the facility was top-secret, the Soviet Union coldly chose not to warn surrounding villages. But they couldn’t stop the radiation. Soon, strange skin-shedding “diseases” appeared throughout the region. A mass evacuation was eventually put in place but the damage was already done.

Meanwhile, engineers decontaminated Chelyabinsk-40 and unbelievably, resumed production. As such, radioactive waste was once again flowing into Lake Karachay. During the 1960s, Lake Karachay began to dry out leaving a layer of radioactive sediment. Winds carried this dust in all directions, exposing half a million additional civilians to dangerous levels of radiation. Engineers attempted to prevent further erosion by filling Lake Karachay with about 10,000 hollow concrete blocks.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

By 1990, Lake Karachay was the most toxic place on earth. It contained 3.6 EBq of Caesium-137 and 0.74 EBq of Strontium-90. The radiation level near the lake was measured at 600 röntgens per hour. In other words, a mere hour of exposure to the lake was lethal. Areas that surround Lake Karachay have experienced elevated levels of various cancers and large declines in lifespans.

The story of Lake Karachay is a cautionary one. Even though its no longer used as a waste dump, it still poses big risks. Research indicates that the lake is contaminating nearby rivers and groundwater. Its conceivable that the radioactive chemicals may even leak into the ocean. Unfortunately, the final chapter on Lake Karachay remains to be written.

The Yellowstone Conspiracy?

Yellowstone National Park is one of the most famous parks in the world. It covers almost 3,500 miles of lakes, canyons, rivers, and mountains. But underneath the idyllic scenery lies a cold, hard truth. Yellowstone has been in danger since its establishment…from the very people designated to protect it.

The (Mis)management of Yellowstone?

Yellowstone is the world’s oldest national park. It was created on March 1, 1872 when Ulysses S. Grant signed its existence into law. Early visitors such as John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt praised the Park’s management of the wild land. But by 1934, a sinister truth began to emerge. Yellowstone had not been preserved at all. In fact, the very people managing it had driven it straight into the ground.

“It is probable that white-tailed deer, cougar, lynx, wolf, and possibly wolverine and fisher are gone from the Yellowstone fauna. Add the grizzly to this list, and you have the carnivore situation at Rocky Mountain.” – Fauna of the National Parks of the United States, 1934

How did something that seemed so right go so wrong? The whole sordid tale was told by the brilliant author Michael Crichton in a speech entitled: Fear and Complexity and Environmental Management in the 21st Century.

What went wrong at Yellowstone?

The basics go something like this. During the 1890s, Park rangers believed that elk were close to extinction. They began quietly feeding the elk and encouraging population growth. By 1915, officials began to notice that other animal populations, such as antelope and deer, were in decline. Convinced that predators were to blame, rangers began to illegally hunt the wolf, cougar, and coyote. They succeeded in eliminating the wolf and cougar populations and were well on their way to doing the same thing with the coyote population when the truth of their activities came out.

Soon after, studies showed that the problem wasn’t an abundance of predators. Rather, it was an explosion in the elk population. The elk ate heavily. With less food to eat, animals such as the antelope and deer died or fled their homes. Overgrazing also reduced Yellowstone’s trees, nearly wiping out aspens and willows. Unable to make dams, beavers disappeared. Without the dams, the meadows dried, causing even more animals to disappear.

The oversized elk population was a massive problem with far-reaching side effects no one had ever envisioned. So, how did the National Park Service respond?

“Pretty soon the park service initiated a PR campaign to prove that excessive numbers of elk were not responsible for the park’s problems, even though they were. This campaign went on for a decade, during which time the bighorn sheep virtually disappeared.” ~ Michael Crichton

“Simplistic, Cause-and-Effect Thinking”

The National Park Service’s attempts to engineer Yellowstone didn’t end with the elk. For example, in the 1970’s, rangers began to move grizzly bears away from publicly-accessible areas in order to reduce lawsuit risk. Quickly, grizzlies became an endangered species. These sorts of manipulations continue today, with officials treating Yellowstone like some kind of giant experiment in scientific management.

While the National Park Service acted illegally and in secrecy, it didn’t knowingly set out to cause irreparable damage. Still, its good intentions led it to commit nothing less than an environmental disaster. In his speech, Crichton argues that the Yellowstone problem developed due to a reliance on “simplistic, cause-and-effect thinking.”

“So, in conclusion: What happened at Yellowstone? I would say, somebody really believed the world operated like this schematic diagram. And they acted on that belief. Because the diagram implies that things are simple: Kill the wolves, and save the elk. Move the grizzlies, and avoid the lawyers. And on, and on. It’s this simplistic, cause-and-effect thinking that must go.” ~ Michael Crichton

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Yellowstone is a giant slice of land, filled with all kinds of life and all sorts of interlocking factors that escape even our current level of understanding. I would argue that it’s far too complex to ever be “managed” by any single person or group of people. Unfortunately, this isn’t always apparent since actions taken today may not yield unintended consequences for years, decades, or even centuries. Hopefully however, it is a lesson that the National Park Service will someday take to heart.


Guerrilla Explorer’s Man vs. Nature Coverage

Geoengineering during World War II?

On May 11, 1944, 363 U.S. Army Air Force B-24 Liberators and 536 other military planes launched into the air over southeast England.  After joining into a massive formation, they flew to Nazi-controlled France to bomb marshalling yards.  Their efforts impacted the outcome of the war.  But they may have impacted something else as well…the local weather via geoengineering.

Geoengineering during World War II?

Two days ago, Fox News reported that the May 11 Allied bombing raid may have inadvertently altered that day’s weather.  It is an early unintended example of something that scientists now call geoengineering, or climate engineering.

Essentially, the aircraft filled the sky with contrails, or condensation trails.  These trails “are produced when hot moist air from engine exhausts hits colder air in the atmosphere.”  They take the form of long thin clouds that trail after the plane.

After analyzing historical weather data from various stations, researchers from Lancaster University and the Environmental Agency in the United Kingdom discovered that areas under the contrails experienced slower temperature growth on May 11, 1944, to the tune of two degrees Fahrenheit.  They believe that this can be explained by the contrails creating an enormous cloud cover that reflected sunlight away from the ground.

Geoengineering & Global Warming?

Geoengineering advocates wish to do something similar in order to deal with the perceived threat from global warming.  Some scientists propose that a fleet of planes deposit sulfate aerosols into the stratosphere.  These particles would reflect sunlight and perhaps, lower global temperatures.  This most recent study indicates that small-scale geoengineering might have the desired effect on regional temperatures.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

However, geoengineering remains highly controversial and, in my opinion, with good reason.  It is an attempt to duplicate the effects of an enormous volcanic eruption.  The ultimate impact on the stratosphere, weather patterns, and ecosystems would be unpredictable…maybe even catastrophic.

The Great Flood: Fact or Fiction?

It’s one of the Bible’s most iconic stories.  Infuriated at the wickedness of mankind, God sent a giant flood to wipe out the earth’s population, saving only Noah, his family, and two of every animal.  Many people consider the story just that…a story.  But in fact, there is evidence to suggest that the Great Flood has a historical basis.

The Mysterious Black Sea?

On July 7, a Bulgarian expedition, led by underwater archaeologist Professor Petko Dimitrov, announced the discovery of the original shoreline of the Black Sea, buried deep beneath the water’s surface (the Black Sea is the smaller body of water in the above picture).  If correct, this evidence could help to support a longstanding theory that at some point in the past, the Black Sea experienced a sudden and tremendous influx of water which would later be recorded in history as the Great Flood.

The Black Sea is a peculiar body of water.  It is a saltwater lake.  Also, its deeper waters don’t mix with its surface waters, leading to a situation in which 90% of it contains very low levels of oxygen (bad for life, but terrific for underwater preservation).  Generally speaking, most scientists agree that it started as a smaller freshwater lake.  Thanks to a breach in the Bosporus Strait, the Mediterranean Sea flowed into the Black Sea, raising its water level and changing its salt content.

Did the Great Flood take place in the Black Sea?

However, the manner in which this happened is one of intense debate.  Did it take place gradually?  Or in one sudden moment of time?  The latter theory is known as the Ryan-Pitman Theory.  In essence, it postulates that the Black Sea experienced a massive deluge around 5600 BC due to glacier melting after the last Ice Age.  The latest findings from Dimitrov’s expedition appears to support this theory.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Direct evidence linking the Black Sea to the Genesis story of the Great Flood remains skimpy.  However, the gigantic deluge theorized by the Dimitrov expedition would’ve had enormous ramifications for the area and the people who once called it home.  Over time, those ramifications could have changed into the story that we now know from Genesis.  Regardless, this latest discovery seems to indicate that a large, sudden flood did indeed take place in the Black Sea area many centuries ago.  If nothing else, we are one step closer to finally learning the truth about the Great Flood.