ITLApplied  Computational Mathematics Division
ACMD Seminar Series
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Carbon Dioxide, Global Warming, and Michael Crichton's State of Fear

Bert Rust
Information Technology Laboratory, Mathematical and Computational Sciences Division

Tuesday, September 13, 2005 15:00-16:00,
NIST North (820), Room 145
Tuesday, September 13, 2005 13:00-14:00,
Room 4511

Abstract: In his recent novel, State of Fear (HarperCollins, 2004), Michael Crichton questioned the reality of global warming and its connection to increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. He bolstered his arguments by including plots of historical temperature records and other environmental variables, together with footnotes and appendices that purport to document them. Although most of his arguments were flawed, he did introduce at least one legitimate question by pointing out that in the years 1940-1970, global temperatures were decreasing while atmospheric carbon dioxide was increasing. I resolve this apparent contradiction by constructing a suite of simple mathematical models for the temperature time series. Each model consists of an accelerating baseline plus a 64.7 year sinusoidal oscillation. This cycle, which was first reported by Schlesinger and Ramankutty [Nature, volume 367 (1994) pages 723-726], appears also, with its sign reversed, in the time series record of fossil fuel carbon dioxide emissions. This suggests a negative temperatue feedback in fossil fuel production. The acceleration in the temperature baseline is demanded by the data, but the temperature record is not yet long enough to precisely specify both the form and the rate of the acceleration. The most interesting model has a baseline derived from a power law relation between temperature changes and changes in the atmospheric carbon dioxide level. And the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide is easily modeled by the cumulative accretion of a fixed fraction of each year's fossil fuel emissions, so the power law model posits a direct connection between the emissions and the warming. For all of the temperature models, the cycle was decreasing more rapidly than the baseline was rising in the years 1940-1970 and in 1880-1910. We have recently entered another declining phase of the cycle, but the temperature hiatus this time will be far less dramatic because the accelerating baseline is rising more rapidly now.

Speaker Bio: Bert Woodard Rust was born in Crockett County, Tennessee, on August 30, 1940. He was raised on a farm in the last years of the Old South. From 1958 to 1968 he worked in the Computing Technology Center at the Oak Ridge Gaseous Diffusion Plant while attending the University of Tennessee where he received a BS in Engineering Physics and an MS in Mathematics. In 1963 he married Marilyn A. Miller who bore him four sons in the years 1967-1975. From 1968 to 1971 he worked for Tennecomp Systems, Inc., while attending the University of Illinois where he received a PhD in Astronomy in 1974. From 1972 to 1980 he was employed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory where he worked on environmental and ecological modeling problems. Since 1980 he has worked as a Mathematician for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (formerly the National Bureau of Standards). His research interests include ill-posed problems, time-series modeling, nonlinear regression, and observational cosmology. From 1989 to 2000, he was an Adjoint Professor for the Johns Hopkins University Part-Time Programs in Engineering and Applied Science where he taught graduate courses in numerical analysis and digital spectral analysis.

Presentation Slides: PDF

Contact: P. M. Ketcham

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