New Study ‘demonstrates that CO2 is only a bit-player in the drama of world climate’

Full paper available here:

Excerpts below:

Research paper
Modulation of ice ages via precession and dust-albedo feedbacks

 Show more: doi:10.1016/j.gsf.2016.04.004 – Open Access funded by China University of Geosciences (Beijing)


The primary forcing agent regulating ice-age glaciation is precession.

The primary feedback system regulating ice-age glaciation is albedo.

Albedo modulation is controlled by desertification and dust contamination of ice sheets.

Desertification and dust productions are caused by low CO2 concentrations.


We present here a simple and novel proposal for the modulation and rhythm of ice-ages and interglacials during the late Pleistocene. While the standard Milankovitch-precession theory fails to explain the long intervals between interglacials, these can be accounted for by a novel forcing and feedback system involving CO2, dust and albedo. During the glacial period, the high albedo of the northern ice sheets drives down global temperatures and CO2 concentrations, despite subsequent precessional forcing maxima. Over the following millennia more CO2 is sequestered in the oceans and atmospheric concentrations eventually reach a critical minima of about 200 ppm, which combined with arid conditions, causes a die-back of temperate and boreal forests and grasslands, especially at high altitude. The ensuing soil erosion generates dust storms, resulting in increased dust deposition and lower albedo on the northern ice sheets. As northern hemisphere insolation increases during the next Milankovitch cycle, the dust-laden ice-sheets absorb considerably more insolation and undergo rapid melting, which forces the climate into an interglacial period. The proposed mechanism is simple, robust, and comprehensive in its scope, and its key elements are well supported by empirical evidence.

6. Summary and conclusions

The primary orbital cycle responsible for interglacial initiation is the precessional Great Summer, which can provide large increases in annual midsummer insolation in the northern hemisphere for several millennia. However, not all Great Summers produce a warming event, while full interglacials only occur every four or five cycles. The additional factor that can achieve this selective regulation is the high albedo of the northern ice sheets, which can reject and reduce the increased insolation of a Great Summer. In order for a Great Summer to generate a significant warming response the northern ice sheets need to be laden with dust, so that the increased insolation can get some leverage on the highly reflective ice. And the mechanism required to achieve this involves surface CO2concentrations reducing below 200 ppm, which results in a die-back of high altitude flora, widespread desertification, and dust deposition upon the ice sheets. Fig. 14 depicts all the key elements that play a part in these complex climatic interactions. Note that dust (purple) is only generated once CO2 (yellow) has reached critically low levels, and that interglacial warming (red) only occurs after dust deposition and when an eccentricity-enhanced Great Summer (dark blue peak) is reached.

A summary graph of all the factors that play a role in glacial modulation. Key: ...

Figure 14.

A summary graph of all the factors that play a role in glacial modulation. Key: Ice Volume (grey), Epica3 temperature (red), CO2 levels (yellow), Epica3 Dust (purple), Laskar Precessional Forcing (blue), Laskar Eccentricity (black). Diagrammatic only – scales adjusted to suit the diagram. Note that there are no strong Great Summers or Great winters for at least 50 kyr into the future, and so the world is unlikely to experience another ice-age for many millennia. Image courtesy of Prof Clive Best.

The apparent correlation between dust (purple) and eccentricity minima (black) on this graph is merely a function of the eccentricity-enhanced inception of interglacial periods (red peak). An interglacial is only initiated when eccentricity is rising and northern Great Summer Milankovitch insolation is enhanced. Following this temporary warm period, the rate of polar ice regrowth and its associated increase in albedo, controls the cooling-rate of the oceans and climate. These steadily reducing temperatures control the equally steady oceanic absorption and sequestration of atmospheric CO2, which in turn eventually controls the exponential increase in dust production, which then lowers ice-sheet albedo and primes the world for another interglacial warming. Thus one of the primary climatic regulators of interglacial periodicity is the steady rate of increase in polar ice extent. And since it takes about 70 kyr before the ice-sheets are large enough for temperatures and CO2 to reach a minima, this coincidentally places the increased dust production era close to the next eccentricity minima.

Thus the rate of ice-sheet regrowth plays a key role in determining the ∼100 kyr length of the glacial cycle. If temperatures and CO2 have not reached their critical minimum values before the onset of an eccentricity-enhanced Great Summer, there would be no dust-ice albedo feedbacks. And so the world would wait patiently until the next enhanced Great Summer, when hopefully all the participants in this stand-off between orbital forcing and climate feedbacks are ready to play their part. The glacial world’s dust-ice Achilles heel needs to be primed and ready to fire before an interglacial can be fully successful, otherwise the result is merely a ‘flash in the pan’ – one of the many minor warming events of no consequence in the paleoclimatic record. In which case, interglacial warming is eccentricity and polar ice regrowth regulated, Great Summer forced, and dust-ice albedo amplified. And the greenhouse-gas attributes of CO2 play little or no part in this complex feedback system.


15 Responses

  1. So low CO2 kills off plant life causing dust which covers ice blocking IR reflection causing the earth to warm. Hmmm, that sounds backwards to the purveyors of Global warming theory.
    Indeed, it destroys the whole global warming idea.
    Maybe we should be trying to increase CO2 to cool the planet.

    1. A lower albedo prevents both SW and LW reflection, almost equally, and so considerably increases the absorption of energy by the ice sheets. See my diagram extracted from Warren’s snow-albedo experiments.


  2. Interesting theory.

    Even more interesting when you consider the scientific credentials of the lead author Ralph Ellis. He is an “academic” from the University of Damned Hard Work (1), and based on his website (2), he has written extensively on the life of Jesus and on ancient civilizations. Some pretty interesting and wacky stuff. For example, did you know that “King Arthur was the alter ego for the biblical King Jesus of Judaea. The Templar Crusaders had discovered a manuscript in Syria detailing the true monarchal and martial life of King Jesus and his family. But this revised history was decidedly heretical and positively dangerous. Being unable to record and preserve this history directly, the Norman Templars crafted an alternate pseudo-history about a ‘British’ monarch called King Arthur.”

    The second author, Michael Palmerb, is an academic and scientist from the University of Waterloo (3) in Ontario, Canada. The focus of his research is on protein-lipid interactions in biological membranes and he has many peer-reviewed publications in this subject area. On his University web-page, his comments on this article are interesting – he notes that “this essay has been written by Ralph Ellis, with a little help from me. It presents Ralph’s fascinating hypothesis on the mechanism that controls the rhythm of the ice ages and interglacials. It has been accepted for publication in Geoscience Frontiers as of May 3rd 2016” (4). It is even more interesting that this appears on the miscellaneous page of his site and not on the publication page. I cannot quite figure out why a serious and seemingly accomplished scientist with a long list of publications in biochemistry and microbiology would associate with a knucklehead like Ralph Ellis.

    Hard to say anything about Geosciences Frontiers, since they have only published a half dozen issues or so, but they are one of Elsevier’s open access journals that requires a fee for publication from the author or institution. This sounds suspiciously like a predatory journal, but since it is so new and is sponsored by the China University of Geosciences, Beijing, it is hard to tell for sure.

    Marc Morano, a political scientist (not a climate scientist) and Climate Depot… a project of the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow and funded by ExxonMobil, Chevron, etc. Slightly biased – need I say more?

    Anyway, these are the facts – judge the validity of this theory for yourself.


      1. <.

      2. OK…. you caught me. I jumped on the “if it is on Climate Depot and endorsed by Morano it must be Koch brothers sponsored baloney” bandwagon and I did not read the paper before I trashed it. So, I just finished it and in spite of the fact that the primary author is a little eccentric and kooky (actually a lot), his theory is compelling and most likely worthy of further investigation and thought. However, a few comments:

        1. Scaling. It is difficult to determine cause and effect when working with data on the scale of many thousands of years (tale a peek at the x axis of his graphs) and particularly with single samples that represent intervals of hundreds or thousands of years. It takes a great deal of interpolation to connect the dots and the assumption that factors, other than those you are specifically looking at, do not ever influence the parameter your are focused on. Not a biggie… when looking ad complex systems you have to simplify and make assumptions (just like climate scientists have to do).

        2. Oversimplification. The paper is very well researched and written, and this next comment is not the fault of the author, but when analyzing data of the type he used, he needed to oversimplify his conceptual model regarding the modulation and rhythm of ice-ages and interglacials. This is required to determine cause and effect, and is exactly what climate scientists do when looking at the thing that shall not be named. Consequently, he makes frequent use of the terms such as “it appears that” and “it is likely that” which indicates he is making simplifying assumptions to to propose linkages between the things he calls “cause” and “effect.” Again, this approach is necessary when trying to study large complex systems… especially when he is proposing a new theory that is counter to established convention.

        There… that is it.

        My argument is with Climate Depot and Morano. Marc really, really, really should have read the paper. This study does not demonstrate “that CO2 is only a bit-player in the drama of world climate.” In contrast, the author’s analysis shows that CO2 plays a large role in climate change but his main conclusion is that dust, albedo, precession and other factors play a major role in the paleoclimatic record… but CO2 is involved in this process. He also mentions that in the absence of these factors, the effect of elevated CO2 will result in warming events of no consequence in the paleoclimatic record.

        Now…. I assume that you are yucking it up and trying to come up with another pathetic quip such as “oh yeah… Dumb-o-cRATS are stupid.” But keep in mind that the author was looking at substantial changes in climate over hundreds of thousands of years. Unfortunately for us… and if we are very, very lucky, we live in the span of maybe 100 years. The author stated that elevated CO2 and increased temperature are linked but the temperature is of no consequence in the hundreds of thousands of years he evaluated… but it can be darn significant in the lifetime of puny humans. Also, keep in mind that one of the factors he evaluated was albedo. Well, we filthy, dirty humans burn coal and other fossil fuels, and do other nasty things that release soot and particles into the air and change the albedo – do you think that is unimportant?

        Ya see clipe… there is not a hole in my bucket, but there is a hole in your head. BTW, what the heck is a clipe? Also, when you hide your activity so nobody can see what you stand for, it means you stand for nothing and are a big blow-hard coward. Do you still live in your Mom’s basement?

        1. >>Consequently, he makes frequent use of the terms
          >>such as “it appears that” and “it is likely that” which
          >>indicates he is making simplified assumptions.

          No, it means that the author is being honest. Now I know that honesty is not a comon or popular trait within climate ‘science’, but I happen to be an honest person. Anyone who makes definitive assertions about climate, or declares the ‘science is settled’ is a liar. Tell me Henry, would you prefer the opinions of liars and snake oil salesmen, to an honest appraisal?

          This paper was written in the great traditions of Greek Rhetoric, rather than the modern world of ‘tuned models’. A tuned model can say anything you damn well like, and can never be used as difinitive evidence or poof, while Rhetoric seeks to educate through persuasion. However, once the new oaradigm has been established, I have no doubt that others will take the concept further and attempt to derive more specific and accurate answers – through those every so trustworthy models….


        2. >> This study does not demonstrate “that CO2 is only a
          >>bit-player in the drama of world climate.

          The comment was mine, not Morano’s. And I think any sentinent being will understand the meaning.

          What this paper demonstrates, is that the primary feedback agent controlling ice ages and temperature was albedo. Ergo, CO2 is not very influential in ice age regulation (as Al Gore tried to make out in his ice age graph – see the video). And if Co2 was not influential over hundreds of thousands of years, why should it suddenly be influential now? It is reasonable to presume that CO2 is still a ‘bit player’ in climate regulation, and the primary regulator of temperature in the modern world is still albedo.


    1. Oh, here we go again – don’t play the ball, play the man. Never mind about the truth, let us keep the faith going.

      May I remind you that the President of the Royal Society had exactly the same interests in Egyptian and Biblical as myself. And he wrote a booklet entitled “Dissertation upon the Sacred Cubit of the Jews”, where he sought to find the sacred cubit in the Great Pyramid of Giza. Yes, Sir Isaac Newton. So are you going to throw out all of Newtonian physics, because Newton was not a suitable person to be exploring the laws of nature?

      Back in the rational world, where truth triumphs bigotry, what is wrong with the paper? What, exactly, do you disagree with? Are you even able to understand what it says and explains? Somehow, I doubt it.

      Ralph Ellis

      1. Ralph,
        You have your knickers all knotted up for nothing. I said that your theory was intriguing and worthy of further thought. My comments were insignificant relative to the big picture and were basically stylistic or aimed at the simplifying approach necessary to develop cause and effect in complex and dynamic systems. My criticism was aimed at Climate Depot and Morano’s use of any straw that seemingly supports his puppeteer’s point of view. Climate Depot is a front for the fossil fuel industry and not a place to debate science. Morano is a PR man (OK his background is political science) and spokeshill for the fossil fuel industry, the Heartland Institute and the likes of Senator Inholfe.

        If you claim to be a man of science, you should be ripping Morano and Climate Depot for using your work to support their bogus claims.

  3. It’s not the precession, it’s purely the eccentricity of the orbit. Notice how all the maximum ice extent occurs during the lowest levels of eccentricity. It’s not the summers in the Northern Hemisphere that matter, it’s the winters.

    From the point of view of the seasons in the Northern Hempisphere and the Artic especially, at maximum eccentricity, the Earth is much closer to the Sun during the winter and further away during summer. This means warmer six-month Artic “nights”. When the Earth is at minimum eccentricity, the planet is almost equi-distant from the Sun during all the seasons, therefore much farther away in the Northern Hempisphere winters. Colder Artic “nights”.

    All the interglacials occur near maximum eccentricity.

    1. Not true. If you look at the eccentricity insolation by Laskar 2004, the authority on these matters, the insolation provided by exxentricity alone barely changes at all.

      What eccentricity can do, however, is to enhance the strength of the precessional cylce (The strength if the NH Great Summer). This is why interglacials tend to happen during periods of high exxentricity.

      However, not all strongly enhanced Gret Summers produce an interglacial. This is the mystery that has plagued palaeoclimate research for a century or more, and this is what this paper finally explains.


      1. It’s not the NH summers we need to look at, it’s the NH winters. Every period of low eccentricity has a glacial, when the Artic spends winter furthest from the sun. That’s the real key to the cycle. A perfect storm of continental positions, ocean currents and orbital variations.

        The SH oceans would have warmer summer SST’s during high eccentricity and lower SST’s during low eccentricity. So at high eccentricity, warmer surface currents flowing towards the Artic winter and in low eccentricity, cooler surface currents flowing northwards towards the Artic winter.

        There’s also a probable gravitational/centrifugal force effect. When at or near highest eccentricity, gravitational/cf changes are high over the year. At low eccentricity, those forces are evenly applied. That must have some kind of tidal effect flux on the internal heating system.

        I, too, thought that to understand the Big Freeze we need to understand the Big Melt. But it’s the other way around.

        If you want to see a star, you look at an individual star, but if you want to see the Universe, you have to look at the Void between the stars. With climate change, instead of looking for heat, we need to look at the absence of heat. Then it all falls into place.

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