Secrets Of The Keeling Curve

The Keeling Curve is a generally accepted reference to the observation that the world’s atmospheric CO2 has continued to increase on an annual basis. But there is much detail in the curve.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in its assessment reports, lays out where the CO2 in the atmosphere comes from and goes to, the sources and sinks of CO2, called the carbon cycle.

Amongst the sources are of course, CO2 from fossil fuel use, plant decay and bush fires from the land and CO2 from the oceans.

Amongst the sinks of CO2 are growth of forests on land and growth of biota in the oceans particularly phytoplankton. Phytoplankton are single cell organisms that take sunlight and CO2 in the ocean to make the sugars and starches needed for growth and multiplication. Phytoplankton are at the base of the food chain for ocean life.

A sudden change, a ”regime shift” was found in 1989 in the North Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea. There was clear evidence in the biological record of significant changes with reduction ranging from size of fish catches to biomass of zooplankton, near the base of the food chain.

So, a reduction in the food chain would start with the reduction of phytoplankton mass. This would lead to less CO2 being drawn into the ocean and thus the presence of an atmospheric CO2 bubble in 1989, see Figures 1 and 2 of the paper…

These observations have been ignored by the IPCC in the assessment reports.

The carbon cycle model needs to be extended to cover this observation as there are also changes to atmospheric CO2 over the Atlantic Ocean coincident with ocean surface temperature changes and changes in phytoplankton mass..

The oceans cover 70% of the earth’s surface and the complete interaction of the oceans and the atmosphere must be included in future modelling for temperature predictions. These interactions vary over periods of ten to twenty years. This points to the difficulties of temperature prediction with their associated uncertainties. 

Tom Quirk trained as a nuclear physicist at the University of Melbourne, has attended the Harvard Business School, and has been a fellow of three Oxford Colleges. During a long professional career Tom at various times worked for resources company, CRA (now known as Rio Tinto), in the United States at Fermilab, at the universities of Chicago and Harvard, and at CERN in Europe. He has held several positions in utilities associated with electricity generation, including a founding directorship of the Victorian Power Exchange.