El Niño and Climate Change- Do Not Confuse the Two

Every winter in North America, when there is a period of above seasonal temperatures, conversation turns to a familiar subject, the weather. It generally starts with comments like the warmer temperatures are ‘a terrible consequence of global warming’ and then ‘every year the global temperature gets warmer and warmer’.  We hear these comments on the street, in the gym and even on news and weather broadcasts. These have become fashionable sound bites and conversation starters. And sadly, they have also become a rally cry to solicit support for political dogma.

In this blog post, I will explain why I believe these weather statements are false.

Over the past two years in North America our winters have been profoundly affected by the El Niño Southern Oscillation System, referred to as ENSO in climatic circles. The El Niño phenomenon is associated with a band of warm ocean water that develops in the central equatorial Pacific. It produces a very mild winter in North America and very wet conditions in South America. This warming also causes a shift in the atmospheric circulation with rainfall becoming reduced over Indonesia and Australia, while rainfall and tropical cyclone formation increases over the tropical Pacific Ocean.

El Niño is a cyclical, short lived event lasting from between 1 to 3 years. It is a coupled phenomenon whose subsequent counterpart is La Nina, resulting in cooler than average sea surface temperatures in the central Pacific Ocean. La Nina immediately follows, and has the opposite effect of El Niño: a colder winter in N America, drought in S America and heavy rains in Southeast Asia.

There have been at least 30 El Niño events since 1900 (Figure 1), with the 1982-83, 1997–98 and 2016-17 events among the strongest on record. Other El Niño events have been recorded in 1790–93, 1828, 1876–78, and 1891. It is also believed that El Niño affected the Inca Empire, who sacrificed humans in order to try to prevent the rains. Scientists have also found that chemical signatures in 13,000 year old coral samples indicate warmer sea surface temperatures and increased rainfall caused by El Niño. In other words, we have evidence of El Niño going back tens of thousands of years. This not a man-made phenomenon.

el nino fig1

In the last 30 years, the eastern hemisphere has been significantly effected by two El Niño events, in 1998 and in 2016. Both were exceptionally strong and both winters in North America were extremely mild.

Many attributed the effects of these two Los Niños to global warming. However, there are fundamental differences between the El Niño and Global Warmingthe former is a short duration event, coupled by a subsequent cooling event (i.e. La Niña) and a return to seasonal temperature; Global Warming from an activist perspective, is the continued warming of the planet.

In order to establish a global warming trend, one needs to look beyond cyclical weather patterns and see what’s happening between El Niño events.

First, let’s look at the temperature data measured from satellites. This is considered more reliable than land based temperature data, but unfortunately we only have 40 years of it. However, it does allow us to examine in detail, with data confidence, a critical period from 1998-present.

Since 1979, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have been recording global temperature from satellites and this is presented in Figure 2.

el nino- fig2

If you look closely at the last 20 years, from the large El Niño of 1998 to the very large 2016 El Niño event, the global temperatures have been essentially flat. Note how this differs to the rate of warming between 1979 and 1998. A change in warming rate has occurred. Continue reading “El Niño and Climate Change- Do Not Confuse the Two”

Our Climate, Volcanoes and ‘The Great Dying’

Scientists recognize that there are many factors that control our climate. Volcanic eruptions are one factors.  Although we have known this for a long time, how the volcanic-climatic process works is still not fully understood.

In late 1700s, Ben Franklin recognized that abnormally cold summer of 1783 in the northern hemisphere was related to the large scale basaltic eruption of the Laki fissure in Iceland. This volcanic event produced an ash cloud reaching into the upper stratosphere and dense haze from Europe to Siberia that dimmed the sun. It also lowered temperatures in the northern hemisphere by 1 C.

Initially, scientists believed that it was volcanic ash clouds that had the dominant effect on global temperatures. However, it was only in 1982, after eruption of El Chichn in Mexico, did this view change. Just two years earlier, the massive eruption of Mt. St. Helens in Washington had lowered global temperatures by about 0.1 degree C. The much smaller eruption of El Chichn, had three to five times the global cooling effect worldwide. The difference was El Chichn emitted more than 40 times the volume of sulfur-rich gases than Mt. St. Helens.

1980 Mt. St. Helens Eruption
1980 Mt. St. Helens Eruption

Of the two main types of volcanic eruptions, rhyolitic and basaltic, it is basaltic eruptions that release large amounts of sulfur into the atmosphere, mostly as SO2 and H2S, and can have extreme climatic and environment consequences.

Scientist have now linked flood basalt eruptions with major fauna and flora extinction events in the last 500 million years. There have been as many as 11 basaltic eruptions associated with various extinction events and five basaltic eruptions associated with major extinctions.

The largest of these basaltic eruptions occurred around 251 million years ago, at the boundary of Permian-Triassic geological periods. At this time, the massive eruption of the basaltic Siberian Traps in Russia produced the world’s largest extinction, killing almost all life on the planet. This mass extinction has also been referred to as ‘the Great Dying’.

During this eruption, basaltic lava flooded an area about 7 million square kilometers with up to 4 million cubic kilometers of basaltic magma. The series of eruptions lasted 1 million years and was responsible for the extinction of 96% of ALL marine species, 70% of all terrestrial vertebrate species and ALL insects becoming extinct.  

It was a devastating effect. Large expanses of land were scorched with acid rain, the atmosphere became clouded with dust, climate-altering greenhouse gases were released into the atmosphere causing global warming and caused acidification. The temperature rose by 8C, CO2 level increased to 2000 ppm.

Extreme environmental conditions persisted for around 5-10 million years after the eruptions stopped.

It was only after the environmental volatility subsided did more complex ecosystem emerged. New groups such as crab and lobsters, as well as reptiles, appeared. Despite all the negative consequences of the eruptions, the event had re-set evolution and new advanced life emerged. It was the catalyst of early modern life.

And now, researchers at Harvard believe larger volcanic eruptions occur in regular cycles. S Kutterol, et. al. (2013) have dated volcanic ash in Pleistocene rock along the Pacific ‘Ring of Fire’ and conclude large eruption have occurred in 40,000 and 100,000 year cycles. They believe these volcanic cycles also correspond to Milankovitch Cycles (Climate Change- A Geological Perspective), or the regular changes in the Earth’s elliptical orbit and also the axis of the earth rotation. They reasoned that change in orbital and rotational axis cause changes the areas of weakness in stress regime at the earth’s surface where eruptions occur.

Ring of Fire
Ring of Fire

There are more than 1500 active volcanoes on the Earth. We currently know of 80 or more volcanoes which are under our oceans. Underwater volcanoes effect the temperature of the ocean, which also effects the amount of CO2 and water vapor in the atmosphere. Both components lead to increased climatic warming. And oceans are the primary source of atmospheric CO2. Therefore, ocean temperature has a very important climatic effect.

We now know volcanism, the global carbon cycle and climate are certainly connected. However, our earth’s climate is a complex process that is a result of the interplay between many factors that are not fully understood. Volcanic activity is just one factor.

Solar output, interstellar dust, Milankovitch Cycles, plate tectonics, oceanic temperature, atmospheric chemistry and not least, volcanic activity ALL effect earth’s climate.

There is a famous weather forecaster, Ms. Evelyn Browning Garriss, who became known as the ‘Volcano Lady’ because of the high frequency of volcanic activity that affected her seasonal weather predictions. We have uploaded a video of her discussing volcanic influence on weather.

Evelyn Browning Garriss explains…

I believe our ability to predict our future climate is limited by the understanding of the interplay between ALL the climatic factors. We need far more research and more refined climatic modelling to develop meaningful climatic models. Until this happens it is hard to differentiate between man’s footprint and natural factors.


Climate Change- A Geological Perspective

If there was ever a subject to polarize a room, it’s this one. Just ask a group of people if they enjoyed the mild winter and many will attribute it to ‘global warming’.

This is incorrect. Our past winter was similar to the ‘super’ El Nino winter in 1998. And since 1998, temperature data indicates temperature is decreasing and not warming! The fact is, for the last 120 years we have been in an interglacial warming period and the global temperature is where a geologist would expect it to be.

There is much confusion about Global Warming. It has been a highly politicized subject, distorted by activists and special interest lobby groups (e.g. Tides Foundation). Politicians push hidden agendas past us on the basis of global warming or climate change. In President Obama’s Climate Change Action Plan (June 2015) he says ‘no challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change’ as a basis for investing billions of dollars in solar power. But is this a visionary investment or a political sound bite? Even the Pope has weighed in and wants ‘every living person to accept shared moral responsibility for climate change’.

However, the need is much more fundamental. There is a moral responsibility for all of us to understand ‘climate change’ issues and how these should shape energy policy.

I was in Calgary a few weeks ago to attend the Canadian Society of Petroleum Geologists annual convention. I had the pleasure of listening to a luncheon talk by Dr. Gary Smith called Climate Change- Fact or Fiction. This talk has been uploaded to our website, and we encourage all to take the time to listen to Dr. Smith. What I like about this presentation is that it is very well document and well referenced. And it is pure, unpolitical science. Much of this blog has been inspired by Dr. Smith’s research and the data he presented.

It’s hard to cover all the climate change issues in one short blog. What I have presented is based on my 35 years working as a professional geologist and is my geological perspective on climate change.  I am hoping this blog will serve as a primer for the Climate Change videos we have uploaded to our website from Dr. G. Smith and also Dr. P. Moore, co-founder of Greenpeace.

I will start by saying climate change is not only a natural phenomenon but it has been the fundamental catalyst in the evolution of man.

As geologists, we know the Earth’s natural climate has been changing since the earliest of time. There have been at least 5 major periods of glaciation in our planet’s last 500 million year history.

During the most recent glacial event, the Laurentian Ice Age from 120,000- 11,000 years ago, massive continental ice sheets covered most of Canada and North America.  In fact, 2km of ice covered the city of Toronto, where 6 million now live, and over 3km of ice covered Montreal.

Many animal species were driven to extinction by this ice age.  Humanity adapted by changing food sources from plant, which could not survive the cold temperatures, to animal. Humans became proficient at hunting, especially large animals that provided more calories.  This required developing more sophisticated hunting skills, as well as better weapons and butchering tools.

Around 11,000 years ago, temperatures rose over 5 Celsius (C) and the melting Laurentian ice sheets caused world sea levels to rise 35 m. This is referred to as the Holocene interglacial period and is informally called ‘the Age of Man’.

Changing climate was the catalyst for advancement of European agriculture and domestication of plants and animals. Humans began herding animals and gathering in communities.

There were four Holocene warm periods in the past 11,000 years: the Holocene Climate Optimum, the Roman Optimum, the Medieval Warm Period and our present day Post Industrial Period (Figure 1). The temperature only changed by ~1 C during this interglacial ‘warm’ period but this produced significant changes in human history.

Dansgaard et al. & Schonwiese

From around 8000 years ago (ie. Holocene Climate Optimum), increasing global temperature lead to the desertification of a wet, lush North Africa into the dry Sahara. This was the catalyst for the migration of North African tribes into wet, fertile Nile River Valley to form the early civilizations of Egypt.  Similarly, in the Roman Climate-Optimum period around two thousand years ago, the Roman Empire expanded through the conquest of Europe and Middle East. This was followed by the Medieval Warm period which marked the Viking era. Vikings established settlements on Newfoundland, Greenland and Iceland. However, the Vikings abandoned their settlements when the climate became ~1.5 C cooler in the Little Ice Age and the ability to farm and fish became challenged. Continue reading “Climate Change- A Geological Perspective”

Canada’s Eco-Colonial Battle: Indigenous Leaders and Green Activists

‘Eco-colonialism’: Rift grows between Indigenous leaders and green activists – Financial Post


“Mad Money” host Jim Cramer’s Top Energy Picks for 2018

Cramer shares his top energy stock picks as oil prices rise – CNBC


Byron Wien: Bracing for $80 Oil and other surprises in 2018?

$80 oil and 9 other surprises that Byron Wien is bracing for in 2018 – marketwatch



​Is Sun Spot Activity Indicating Start of Global Cooling?

The Sun is Cooling than Anyone Suspected – Armstrong Economics


MIT says the EIA ‘Vastly Overstates’ US Shale Growth

U.S. vastly overstates oil output forecasts, MIT study suggests – thestar.com


Activity in Alberta’s Duvernary Heats Up, Attracts Billions in Investment

Alberta’s oilpatch is heating up again – CBCNews


NOAA Land-Based Global Temp Readings Require Tinkering

Nick Stokes Busted : Part 5 – realclimatescientist.com


Tertzakian: Electric Vehicles Unlikely to Lead to End of Oil

‘End of oil’ narratives are misleading — in 20 years we’ll likely still be using a staggering 90 million barrels a day – Financial Post


PentaNova Farms in to YPF in Argentina for Joint Development

PentaNova Energy and YPF Sign Final Agreement to Jointly Develop One of Argentina’s Largest Heavy Oil Fields – Cision


Pipeline Project Cancellations; Ongoing Poverty for First Nations Bands

‘Sickening’: First Nations left empty-handed as environmentalist pressure kills B.C. energy projects – Financial Post