Hydrothermal Vents=Global Warming

Unfortunately, this weekend I came across the complete stupidity of Paul Hollrah and Phillip Brennan.

In their own words…

…the “inconvenient truth” is that Gore’s hypothesis of global warming is exactly wrong… upside down…In the January 15 edition of NewsMax, writer Phil Brennan provides an excellent primer on global cooling that almost anyone – with the possible exception of liberals, Democrats, and radical environmentalists – can understand…It is not the impact of industrialization and fossil fuel combustion that is causing the seas and oceans to warm. To the contrary, it is the existence of a growing number of underwater volcanic eruptions and extremely high temperature magma seepages on the ocean floor. [emphasis mine]  The increasingly active underwater volcanoes and magma seepages cause the oceans and seas to grow warmer, sending increased amounts of moisture into the atmosphere. 

 Both articles continue on with complete foolishness.  The evidence is the continued reports of new hydrothermal vent finds with amazingly high temperatures.  The first problem, of many, is that they confound the discovery of a vent with the geological appearance of a vent.  The other problem is the basic chemistry and math.  I will show with simple math that these conjectures are outlandish.

  1. The water volume of the ocean is 1.30 x 109 km3 or 2.15 x 1024 grams (given a density of 1,025 km/m3). It is actually a little larger, but I use the more conservative estimate to bias it toward their proposal
  2. “Geophysical estimates…of the total hydrothermal flux (9×1012 W) are well established.” That is 9×1012 Joules per second or 2.15 x 1012 calories per second or 6.78 x 1019 calories per year.
  3. The specific heat of seawater is ~3.850 J (g C) or 0.92017 calories
  4. Thus it would take 1.98 x 1024 calories to raise the temperature of the ocean 1 degree (#3 x #1)
  5. It would take 29,200 years to raise the ocean 1 degree C (#4 / #2)
  6. In one year, hyrdothermal vents would raise the ocean temperature by 0.0000343 degrees C (inverse of #5)

It is clearly unreasonable to think this could actually be the cause of global warming.  I figured this on the ‘back of an envelope’ with less than 10 minutes of math and web research (please feel free to point out corrections).  Even if I made some horrendous math error, it would have have to be several of orders of magnitude wrong for this be any near the realm of reality.  Perhaps, Mr. Hollrah and Mr. Brennan should try some new ‘liberal-wacko’ conspiracy to fuel their republican/conservative paranoia.  

Dr. M (1605 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Assistant Director of Science for the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, created to facilitate research to address fundamental questions in evolutionary science. He has conducted deep-sea research for 11 years and published over 40 papers in the area. He has participated in dozens of expeditions taking him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses mainly on marine systems and particularly the biology of body size, biodiversity, and energy flow. He focuses often on deep-sea systems as a natural test of the consequences of energy limitation on biological systems. He is the author and chief editor of Deep-Sea News, a popular deep-sea themed blog, rated the number one ocean blog on the web and winner of numerous awards. Craig’s popular writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web.





18 comments on “Hydrothermal Vents=Global Warming
  1. I will develop a new appreciation for the insanity of the global warming pseudo-skeptics if this new “theory” actually gets legs.

  2. Just to be pedantic, you seem to have addressed only the (absurd) claim geothermal vents are a significant cause. In the bolded text, the loonies also mentioned “underwater volcanic eruptions”…

    Also, continuing with the pedantry for a moment, what is the calculation for solar radiation on the ocean’s surface? No, wait, back up a bit: What is the suspected cause(s?) of ocean warming (I presume that bit is basically correct?).

  3. Blf,
    Interesting points. I read the article and understood what they were talking about was vents. As evidenced by all of their examples. It should be easy enough to add or limit it to volcanic eruptions. But I think we can agree it would have to a phenomenal amount to come close to raising the ocean by 1 degree.

    I am not sure about the specifics of solar radiation. Increased ocean temperature reflect the increased global temperature due to the greenhouse effect.

    http://www.insurancejournal.com/news/international/2005/02/21/51777.htm

  4. Thanks for the pointer to the article on the greenhouse effect being a proximate cause of ocean warming. What I was (clumsily) asking is what is the actual mechanism (the root cause) of ocean warming, to the extent currently known.

    I aborted the solar radiation question because Sol does not seem to be a major factor in the current warming. Humans are. But just how does the warming warm up the (deep?) oceans–or it that my confusion, is the warming just nearer the surface (where it seems far understandable).

    Apologies if I’m making a hash of this, this isn’t my area of expertise…

    On the volcanic eruptions nonsense, I also cannot see the current level of activity making any difference per se. Plus, unlike the vents, the number of underwater eruptions should be reasonably well known: The magna movements etc ought to show up on seismographs. Even assuming all the so-counted eruptions are “large” (albeit not on the scale of the traps in India or Siberia, or the ancient supervolcanos), a similar calculation should show the original loony claim is batshite crazy. Throw in costal eruptions as well, since some of the lava flows into the sea.

  5. Well, the article is utter nonsense of course. As you mentioned, vents have been around for ages (literally!) while discovering more vents with time does not equal there being more physical vents since 1977. You already hit on the specific heat capacity of the ocean. But I seriously doubt the “deep” sea can warm at all. The average thermocline may be dropping but past 400-800 meters or so, its still 1.8-2C. And I would be very surprised if it ever got any warmer than that below 1000m, hydrothermal vents and underwater volcano vicinities excluded.

  6. Peter’s calculations are reasonable but lead entirely from the assumption that “geophysical estimates of total hydrothermal flux are well established…”. That statement is the same dogma that convinced post-classical Europeans that the sun revolved around the earth. Without accurate measurement from all sources (not estimates), and certainly not all sources have been taken into account (what’s happening on the floor of the Arctic ocean??), the question has not been “solved”. The contribution of hydrothermal flux to the debate is still a matter of debate itself and cannot be dismissed. Terrestrial and oceanic vulcanism are indeed well established, known proximate causes of short and long-term climate change in both human and geologic history.

  7. Actually the calculations are by me. The flux estimates are widely accepted. While I agree there may be some error associated with the term. It would have to be orders of magnitude off to lead to the desired “global warming”. Essentially every part of the seafloor would have to be covered with vent fluxing at a rate 100x greater than they currently do. We definitely know,as in fact, that hyrdothermal vents DO NOT cover the entire seafloor.

  8. My point is that the “widely accepted” contribution of core heat is a guesstimate, thus far presumed constant and therefore “negligible”. Vents were just discovered 30 years ago. Until all the flows are mapped and measured it’s still an unknown factor; massive fluxes should fluctuate, no? How can we insist that they are constant and remain credible?

  9. While we may not where every vent is, we do know know where 95% of all active spreading margins are. So if we assume that every inch of every mid-ocean ridge, back-arc spreading center and every underwater volcano (i.e. every possible place volcanism could be happening) was blowing at full capacity, it would be unconceivable that the combined would raise temperatures of the ocean any appreciable amount. Nothing from a bacteria to a coral reef will notice in the slightest. The fact of the matter is most of the seafloor is abyssal plain which doesn’t heat up surrounding water.

    Besides, the real argument pertained to the increase in the discovery of hydrothermal vents. It is absurd to think that because we have found more and more vents in the ast 30 years mean that venting as a whole is on the rise. Hydrothermal vents exist whether we know where they are or not and have been active for well more than 30-40 years. The whole debate is superfluous and akin to having a real scientific debate on whether modern humans had dinosaur pets (excluding birds of course…). I’m sorry but this conversation is over.

  10. Well, it may be inconceivable but where are the real numbers and measurements to prove or disprove the arguments? Science is all about measurement, not absurdist analogies.

  11. Note the above link provided by Harley has absolutely no commentary on the issue of this post. Please also note that there are no assumptions in the above calculations. I.e. the volume of water in the oceans, the specific heat of seawater, and geophysical thermal outputs, are measurements taken, and confirmed by multiple methods. Craig has left the building…

  12. Without being unecessarily argumentative, there is one critical assumption, the one that provoked my original post to try to stimulate some discussion:

    Geophysical thermal output is a complex dynamic state that has yet to be wholly measured, either by direct measurement or comprehensive estimate. It’s silly to dismiss it as a factor in our understanding of climate change.

    My whole point is the contribution of geohydrothermal output to ocean temperature, icemelt, and global warming/cooling is UNKNOWN; yet another “inconvenient truth”.

    Don’t be offended or angry; science advances by theory and proof, not endless speculative argument.

  13. Geothermal output is a complex dynamic but is well understood enough for well respected author in the field to state [from original post above]“Geophysical estimates…of the total hydrothermal flux (9×1012 W) are well established.”. So given all of this it is really silly not dismiss this whole argument. Your whole point is that this dynamic on global warming is unknown but it is known…IT IS NIL!

  14. Evaporation will cause refrigeration .Therefore should any geothermal and or hydrothermal activity exist then global cooling will occur relative to the resistance of that which is reflecting,absorbing and or transmitting any electromagnectic radiation caused by any thermal activity.Hence,buy “THERMO’S” you’ll need ‘em… for the day after tomorrow.

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