On January 10, 2016, amid a flurry of worldwide media fanfare, a team of 44 scientists from Australia’s Antarctic Division set sail from Hobart Australia headed for the Kerguelen Plateau (figure 1) located off the coast of Antarctica on what was billed as a Global Warming / Climate Change Research Project (Antarctic Scientists head to Biological Hotspot studying climate change in Southern Ocean).
This Plateau is approximately 600 miles north of Antarctica. The research premise was that man-made global warming was heating the ocean regions in the Kerguelen Plateau region and hurting seals, whales, birds, and worst of all, melting sea ice. They wrote that this series of environmental catastrophes was “destabilizing the region’s delicate ecosystem” and was the by-product of man-made ocean warming.
The Kerguelen Plateau is a giant and volcanically active sub-oceanic platform, and other coastal regions of Antarctica have recently been found to contain active sub-ocean volcanoes (see Figure 2). More importantly, geologically induced heat flow from a major fault zone is responsible for basal melting of selective West Antarctica Glaciers.
When the vessel and scientists arrived at the Kerguelen Plateau area, the volcano (Big Ben) on Heart Island, which is in the immediate area, was erupting. The scientists started lowering probes into the ocean in the Heart Island area only to discover 50 active hydrothermal vents in the first few days.
Most geologists know that the Kerguelen Plateau is a very active and large volcanic platform. What they ended up proving was that naturally occurring geological events were causing any so-called ocean warming and not global warming. Worse still, upon reaching their destination, researchers came face to face with two very powerful and currently active geological events: an eruption of the Big Ben volcano on Heard Island, and significant fluid flow of super-heated seawater from the active seafloor hydrothermal vents.
Realization that heat energy emitted from these geological events play a major role in the warming ocean waters across the Kerguelen Plateau would ultimately force researchers to amend their primary mission objectives. Unfortunately, there’s little money in studying naturally occurring events.
These factors are indicative that geological forces play a significant, if not primary, role in driving many climate and climate-related events in the greater Antarctica area such as: variations in ocean temperature and chemistry, variations in sea ice distribution, basal glacial melting, generation of a huge interconnected sub-glacial freshwater system, and as per the original research objective…alteration of the supposedly delicate Kerguelen Plateau ecosystem.
Characterizing the Kerguelen Plateau ecosystem as “delicate“ is also not correct. In addition to being an ancient volcanic platform, modern volcanic eruptions in this region are very common; 1881, 1910, 1950, 1953, 1954, 1986, 1992, 1993, 2001, 2007, 2012, 2014, and 2016. This is not a delicate ecosystem, rather one that has learned how to adapt to millions of years of geologically induced and intense variations in ocean temperatures, currents, and chemistry.
Geologist Charles Darwin understood quite well how non-delicate ecosystems in oceanic volcano plateaus adapted. He dedicated his life to understanding how an ecosystem on one of Earth’s other giant oceanic volcanic platforms, the Galapagos Islands, functioned. Darwin even wrote a book on the ability of land plants, land animals, and ocean animals who adapt to an ever-changing and harsh environmental conditions: The Theory of Natural Selection.
While the primary objective of the Kerguelen research project is at the very least ill formulated, other more focused portions of the research project’s objectives are well thought out and worthy, specifically the possible cause and effect relationship between geological forces and plankton blooms.
Plankton blooms need minerals such as iron and phosphate to flourish. Hydro-thermal vents emit these minerals in abundance, thereby infusing the surrounding ocean waters with plankton essentials. The idea that plankton blooms, which are Earth’s major oxygen generator, may be driven in large part either directly or indirectly by geological forces was one of the original tenets (October 7, 2014) of Plate Climatology Theory. Unfortunately, this portion of the Kerguelen research does not figure prominently in the pre-research media hype.
All of this adds to the ever-growing mountain of evidence that many of the natural variations in climate and climate-related events occurring within the greater Antarctica area are driven by geological forces, and not man-made atmospheric global warming.
In a more general sense, this new information helps advance the idea that all of Earth’s supposedly delicate ecosystems are in fact very robust and quite capable of adapting to a wide range of environmental changes including those that are geologically induced.
Clearly it’s time to alter our perception of what drives our climate to change by including a little more geology into the global warming crock pot. Demonizing the trace gas carbon dioxide because interest groups have run out of environmental issues to capitalize on is probably the worst kind of science the media could have embraced.
From the Author: Media press releases concerning climate research projects are intentionally crafted by major news outlets to catch the public’s attention. On the web, it’s known as “click bait.” They are in the business of selling ads attached to news stories in order to make a profit, not to accurately inform us of all the nerdy details concerning research project objectives. Realizing this, it is certainly true that scientists working the aforementioned Kerguelen Plateau research project are dedicated, very qualified, and well-intentioned. No fault lies with these folks concerning the misleading and ill-formed condensed pre-mission research objectives.
James Edward Kamis is a working professional Geologist, AAPG member of 42 years who has a BS and MS in Geology. He has always been fascinated by the connection between Geology and Climate. Years of research / observation have convinced him that the Earth’s Heat Flow Engine, which drives the outer crustal plates, is also an important driver of the Earth’s climate.