There are not many denier memes (it takes more than conspiracy ideation and stunted world view for a fertile imagination). One of them is the "it's happened before" meme.
This is a strange one for deniers to adopt for themselves when you think about it. The fact that events may have happened in the past under a given set of circumstances provides rich clues about what we can expect in the future under not dissimilar circumstances.
Today Anthony Watts has copied and pasted a press release about carbon buried under loess in soils in parts of the USA. Anthony wrote:
The next time somebody says wildfires in the USA are “unprecedented” show them this. Buried fossil soils found to be awash in carbonI'm yet to hear someone say that wildfires in the USA are unprecedented in the sense that they've only been known to occur in recent times. Are they becoming more common? Though it's likely, that's probably still an open question. Wildfires have multiple causes and analysis is confounded by changes to fire management as well as all the changes we've made to our environment, particularly these past several decades. Is the risk getting greater with global warming? Indubitably. Especially in fire-prone states as temperatures rise. Where I live we are likely to get more frequent catastrophic fire danger days as time goes on and that is the case these past few years.
Abrupt climate change and the consequences
The paper itself is by Erika Marin-Spiotta and colleagues and has been published in Nature Climate Change. It's about how deep soils contain bands of carbon-heavy layers. These have been attributed to wildfires burning in times past when there was rapid warming. Hence the irony of deniers pointing to the paper as if to say there's nothing to worry about. These carbon layers were often buried under huge amounts of loess, which is dust that got deposited, largely from ground up rocks etc after deglaciation. From the press release and the abstract, it looks as if there was a time when there were lots of awful dust storms plus massive wildfires all happening around the same time - over centuries or decades rather than over millenia. That wouldn't be something to look forward to at all.
This is from the abstract:
Buried soils contain large reservoirs of organic carbon at depths that are not typically included in regional and global soil carbon inventories1. One such palaeosol, the Brady soil of southwestern Nebraska, USA, is buried under six metres of loess. The Brady soil developed at the land surface on the late-Pleistocene-aged Peoria Loess in a period of warmth and wetness during which dunefields and dust sources across the region were stabilized. Abrupt climate change in the early Holocene led to increased loess deposition that buried the soil.
Here's an extract from sciencedaily.com about the paper:
"There is a lot of carbon at depths where nobody is measuring," says Erika Marin-Spiotta, a University of Wisconsin-Madison assistant professor of geography and the lead author of the new study. "It was assumed that there was little carbon in deeper soils. Most studies are done in only the top 30 centimeters. Our study is showing that we are potentially grossly underestimating carbon in soils."
The soil studied by Marin-Spiotta and her colleagues, known as the Brady soil, formed between 15,000 and 13,500 years ago in what is now Nebraska, Kansas and other parts of the Great Plains. It lies up to six-and-a- half meters below the present-day surface and was buried by a vast accumulation of windborne dust known as loess beginning about 10,000 years ago, when the glaciers that covered much of North America began to retreat.
The region where the Brady soil formed was not glaciated, but underwent radical change as the Northern Hemisphere's retreating glaciers sparked an abrupt shift in climate, including changes in vegetation and a regime of wildfire that contributed to carbon sequestration as the soil was rapidly buried by accumulating loess.
...The deeply buried soil studied by Marin-Spiotta, Mason and their colleagues, a one-meter-thick ribbon of dark soil far below the modern surface, is a time capsule of a past environment, the researchers explain. It provides a snapshot of an environment undergoing significant change due to a shifting climate. The retreat of the glaciers signaled a warming world, and likely contributed to a changing environment by setting the stage for an increased regime of wildfire.
"The world was getting warmer during the time the Brady soil formed," says Mason. "Warm-season prairie grasses were increasing and their expansion on the landscape was almost certainly related to rising temperatures."
The retreat of the glaciers also set in motion an era when loess began to cover large swaths of the ancient landscape. Essentially dust, loess deposits can be thick -- more than 50 meters deep in parts of the Midwestern United States and areas of China. It blankets large areas, covering hundreds of square kilometers in meters of sediment.
From the WUWT comments
Despite being primed by Anthony Watts to respond along the lines of "it's happened before", the WUWT-ers weren't all obedient and responded with various different denierisms.
cnxtim doesn't bother with the article at all and simply spouts denier drivel and says:
May 27, 2014 at 3:07 pm
This scientific research is the stuff that is expected of all Universes. And of course there is a cost associated with keeping these institutions open for business. However, the ridiculously excessive funding of CAGW scare mongers has to be stopped before it destroys the very society it is designed to improve.
MJPenny is maybe not aware of just how much carbon is in the biosphere and says:
May 27, 2014 at 3:51 pm
So if the Brady soil formed 13,500 to 15,000 years ago and this sequestered a significnt amount of carbon, what were the atmospheric CO2 concentrations before and after this period? If there was no significant drop in CO2 then the carbon sequestered is insignificant and this study is just for additional CAGW hype.
Scarface is a denier of the fearful paranoid conspiracy theorising kind and says:
May 27, 2014 at 4:07 pm
Could or couldn’t, that’s the question! Could or will, might or should, may or doesn’t, who knows! Settled science, yet no answers, only questions and suggestions. Meanwhile nothing happens, maybe it’s time to move on to some real problems, like hunger, malaria, childlabour, poverty.
But who am I kidding, this whole scam is about fear and control. Let’s burn the food, let’s ruin the economies, let’s make everybodies life as miserable as possible, while people believe it’s for their own good. What a world.
Philip Bradley decides that the scientists got things topsy turvy and it looks as if he thinks that more fires started all by themselves in the absence of climate change, but at least he's thinking about the complexity of interactions and feedbacks when he says:
May 27, 2014 at 4:15 pm
The retreat of the glaciers signaled a warming world, and likely contributed to a changing environment by setting the stage for an increased regime of wildfire.
“The world was getting warmer during the time the Brady soil formed,” says Mason. “Warm-season prairie grasses were increasing and their expansion on the landscape was almost certainly related to rising temperatures.”
I think the cause and effect were the other way around. Increasing fires (particularly peat fires which can burn for years) deposited black carbon on the glaciers, reducing albedo and triggering net melt. Falling sea levels from ice accumulation dried out coastal swamps sufficiently that fires could take hold.
Louis decides to extrapolate way beyond what any of the researchers said or implied. He is attempting reductio ad absurdum but instead builds a strawman:
May 27, 2014 at 4:56 pm
Oh no! Fossil organic carbon could be a potential contributor to climate change “as humans increasingly disturb landscapes through a variety of activities…”
In other words humans, you must stop all activities that might disturb landscapes – no farming, no mining, no drilling, no new housing developments, and certainly no underground atomic bomb testing. I assume they will want us all to crowd into existing urban areas and leave all other landscapes untouched. But if the countryside is not being farmed, how will the urban areas get food, by eating their dead? Perhaps, that’s also part of the plan. If most of us starve to death, all the better because there will be less stress on mother Gaia.
Gary Pearse is another signed up member of the scientific illiterati, preferring to mock rather than learn and says:
May 27, 2014 at 6:01 pm
So changing climate was a feature of 13 millennia ago. Let’s see, what is the real take home here? Ah yes, wildfires sequester carbon for thousands of years and we get double the bang for the buck because new greenery has to grow using up more carbon. Let ‘er burn baby burn and then grow baby grow. Gee we got to get those Nebraska farmers to stop planting grain down 50 meters. It could disturb the sequestered carbon.
Joel O'Bryan confuses coal seams from a hundred million years ago or more, with much younger carbon layers from 13,000 or so years ago. and says:
May 27, 2014 at 7:05 pm
Rich sources of carbon deeply buried… who knew?
Tell that to a coal miner, the laughter might temporarily make him forget about the unemployment line Obama wants to put him in.
pyromancer76 is another avowed member of the illiterati and says:
May 27, 2014 at 7:06 pm
Anthony, I don’t know if I want to continue reading. These ridiculous studies that put forth such little science — is it worth it? I don’t know. This is the first time I quit and said to myself this article is not worth my time. Is it worth yours? Of course, I can’t answer that and I know that holding these ridiculous studies (using my/yours/our tax-payer dollars to do so) up to ridicule is probably important…..but…..I’ve had it. I want science, or the hard work to follow a hypothesis, or, I don’t know. I DON’T WANT THIS. I will quit reading. Thanks. Just letting you know.
Let's finish with Anthony Watts himself declaring his membership of the scientific illiterati. I figure he's disappointed that more people didn't toe the line with his "it's happened before" meme and instead branched of in different denier directions. Anthony Watts says:
May 27, 2014 at 7:18 pm
Yes I know, its like reading “science for dolts”. OTOH, if I (and readers like you) don’t point out how absurd some of these things are, who will?
I published this one because it actually showed that large wildfires are not uncommon. In the age of fire suppression, we’ve built a cocoon of inexperience. – Anthony
I wrote the main article before reading this comment of Anthony's. He has confirmed what I wrote. He was writing it as a denier meme "it's happened before". The bonus is that his comment shows that he is himself a fully paid up member of the scientific illiterati. It's sometimes hard to know if he's just plain dumb or if he's pandering to the stupid in his readers. From what I've seen over the past year or so it's a bit of both.
Erika Marin-Spiotta, Nina T. Chaopricha, Alain F. Plante, Aaron F. Diefendorf, Carsten W. Mueller, A. Stuart Grandy, Joseph A. Mason. "Long-term stabilization of deep soil carbon by fire and burial during early Holocene climate change". Nature Geoscience, 2014; DOI: 10.1038/ngeo2169
Bushfire weather in Southeast Australia: recent trends and projected climate change impacts. Melbourne, Australia: Bushfire CRC, 2007.