Geothermal Energy: Another Forgotten or Ignored Climate Factor

by Dr. Tim Ball on May 5, 2011

in Atmosphere,Data,Land,Oceans

Climate change research of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is woefully inadequate because of all the factors and mechanisms they ignore. They are not alone as all parts of climate science lack data, use estimated data, rely on computer model output based on no data, and ignore natural causes of weather and climate change. The problem is the sheer complexity of weather – and, therefore, climate.

Multitude of Specialties

For example, some people consider astrophysical factors such as changes of the Sun in its orbit around the Milky Way, some are considering the implications of magnetism, and others changes in the Length of Daylight (LOD). Figure 1 shows simple and tempting comparisons of some of these effects – in this case global temperature, LOD and Solar SSB (Single Side Band). They are correlations, but not necessarily cause and effect. It illustrates how many possible factors are involved in the complexity but also how much is not part of mainstream climate studies and certainly outside of public understanding. Claims that the science is settled border on criminal, and certainly illustrate complete lack of understanding of climate science or deliberate ignorance for political ends – or both.

Relationship between global temperature, LOD, and solar SSB motion Figure 1: Apparent correlations of factors with temperature, but not necessarily cause. (Source)

New Discoveries

Now we have claims that global warming is the cause of the volcanic eruptions in Iceland, and more eruptions are to come. Of course, there are more to come because Iceland is splitting apart and lava will continue to come to the surface in flows or eruptions. It’s another one to add to the remarkable list of false claims kept at the website Numberwatch. We also have the claim that the eruptions won’t stop global warming. Two problems with that: warming is not occurring, and they can’t determine the effect of the volcanic dust called aerosols.

However, there is a major reason why volcanic activity must be part of climate change, but it receives inadequate consideration by warming advocates and skeptics. Meteorology and climate textbooks assume the Sun is the sole source of energy for the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans. But most of its effects, such as orbital change and control of cosmic radiation, are ignored by the IPCC. This ignores energy in the form of heat (generally called geothermal) that emanates from within the Earth.

Two recent discoveries accentuate the issue of this heat affecting global energy and therefore climate. First is the identification of “Supervolcanoes” on the ocean floor that are linked to extensive extinctions, and this relationship to climate only discusses greenhouse gases. The second is the existence of very deep thermal vents. These are sites that cover the ocean floor from which heat and large volumes of sulfur spew.

Earth’s Structure

General cross-section through the Earth Figure 2: General cross-section through the Earth

The Earth is divided into three major spheres shown in Figure 2. At this scale, the crust is not shown to scale. It varies in thickness from 5 km under the oceans to 70 km under the Himalayas, but even at the thickest is only 1 percent of the radius of 6,378 km.

As one report notes about the water coming from the deep vents, “Superheated water was gushing out of their two-storey high mineral spires, more than three miles deep beneath the waves.” The heat of the water is significant. It is caused by water coming in contact with the molten material under the Earth’s crust called magma (it’s lava when it emerges). This varies in temperature from 700-1300°C. As a result water temperatures up to 400°C are recorded. Figure 3 shows a plot of 277 known and inferred of these hydrothermal sites. The discovery of the deep-sea vents means there are many more sites, but this is not the entire story. Most of the vents are along the boundaries of the tectonic plates, although there are some hot spots in the middle of the plates such as under the Hawaiian Islands. The hot spots indicate how the thickness of the crust varies.

Map identifying 277 hydrothermal fields Figure 3: Map identifying 277 hydrothermal fields (Source)

They claim the crust is too thick for internal heat to reach the surface. However, this is questionable. The deepest mines in the world go down to 5 km, where temperatures are 70°C.

In many places, this heat comes much closer to the surface in the middle of the continents, such as under Yellowstone. In other places, the ‘hot spots’ burn into and even through the crust, such as under the Hawaiian Islands. On a much larger scale, the Mid-Atlantic Ridge is close to the ocean surface and is pumping heat into the water over thousands of miles. Some of this may affect surface waters but it has greater implications for deep ocean circulation.

There are two patterns of circulation in the oceans. Surface currents driven by global wind patterns extending down just a few hundred meters and deep ocean circulation can take thousands of years to go full circle. This means large volumes of energy can appear at the surface and be released to the atmosphere long after it was put into the system. The single day input of geothermal energy may be relatively small compared to other inputs; however, they are variable and going on continuously over very large areas. The discovery of the deep vents and Supervolcanoes underline how little we know and how few measures we have of a multitude of factors.

Inadequate Basis for Nation-Destroying Energy Policies

Climatology is a generalist discipline that requires knowledge, measurements, and understanding of thousands of factors. The IPCC only considers short-term factors, as their exclusion of the Milankovitch Effect in their analysis and computer models underscore. Mainstream climate research tends to exclude many factors as well, but not as many or deliberately as with the IPCC. Their problem is the sheer complexity complicated by the tunnel vision of specialization and the politics of climate science. A measure of the type of duplicity was the statement by CRU and IPCC participant Kevin Trenberth. The US National Research Council’s February 3 1999 Report on the inadequacy of climate data said,

Deficiencies in the accuracy, quality, and continuity of the records place serious limitations on the confidence that can be placed in the research results.

Trenberth commented at the time of the press release,

It’s very clear we do not have a climate observing system… This may be a shock to many people who assume that we do know adequately what is going on with the climate, but we don’t.

He then went on to participate in the IPCC Reports, which led people to assume there was adequate data, not to mention inclusion and understanding of all the elements. Not only that, but he allowed politicians to use the Reports as the basis for devastating and completely unnecessary energy and climate policies.