More alarmism: this time its dropping oxygen levels

Posted: October 28, 2012 by tallbloke in alarmism, atmosphere, Measurement, Natural Variation

Over on the Carbon Flame war (which I hope to be contributing to again as soon as Ryan fixes the software), Doom-laden Dan Mchale links to a post on a climate alarmist site calling itself ISIS – the Institute of Science in Society.  ISIS is actually the name of a history of science journal which has been in existence for a very long time.

Since its inception in 1912, Isis has featured scholarly articles, research notes and commentary on the history of science, medicine, and technology, and their cultural influences. Review essays and book reviews on new publications in the field are also included. An official publication of the History of Science Society, this is the oldest (and most widely circulating) English-language journal in the field.

But it seems the acronym has been hijacked by climate alarmists trying to give themselves credibility by using the name of this long established and venerable journal. Here’s a bit of the page Desperate Dan linked to:

O2 Dropping Faster than CO2 Rising

Implications for Climate Change Policies

New research shows oxygen depletion in the atmosphere accelerating since 2003, coinciding with the biofuels boom; climate policies that focus exclusively on carbon sequestration could be disastrous for all oxygen-breathing organisms including humans Dr. Mae-Wan Ho

And it goes on to say further down the article that:

Decrease in atmospheric Ohas been detected in stations around the world for the past decade, a consistent downward trend that has accelerated in recent years.

The largest fall in O2 was observed in the study of Swiss research team led by Francesco Valentino at University of Bern, for data collected at high altitude research stations in Switzerland and France. The Jungfraujoch (JFJ) station in Switzerland (3 580 m above sea level, 46o 33’N, 7o 50’E) is located on a mountain crest on the northern edge of the Swiss Alps. The Puy de Dôme station (1 480 m above sea level, 45o46’N, 2o 58’E) is situated west of the Alps at the summit of Puy de Dôme.

The research team confirmed the general upward trend for atmospheric CO2 and a downward trend in atmospheric O2. But since 2003 for JFJ, and mid 2002 for at Puy, there is a significant enhancement of Oand COtrends compared to previous years. At JFJ, the rate of CO2 increase shifted up from 1.08 ppm (parts per million) for the years 2001-2002 to 2.41 ppm/y for 2003-2006; while the increase in D(O2/N2)  and APO (measures of oxygen concentration, see Box 1) shifted downwards to greater extents from –2.4 ppm/y and -1.5 ppm/y to -9.5 ppm/y and -6.9 ppm/y respectively.


Which sounds worrying, if you’re not used to the way alarmists obfuscate understanding by separating relevant figures from the ones they want you to worry about. Here, they are trying to fool people into thinking a drop of 9.5ppm in oxygen levels is even more worrying than a rise in co2, hence their headline to the article.

But wait a minute, buried in the text several paragraphs preceding this one, they mention that:

Although there is much more O2 than CO2 in the atmosphere – 20.95 percent or 209 460 ppm of Ocompared with around 380 ppm of CO2 – humans, all mammals, birds, frogs, butterfly, bees, and other air-breathing life-forms depend on this high level of oxygen for their well being.

Notice they unusually separate the two elements of the figure for oxygen:” 209 460 ppm of O2“. That’s actually  209,460 ppm, or around 21% of the whole atmosphere as against CO2 which makes up 0.039% of the atmosphere, which is over 500 times less.

So now we can put the ‘alarming drop in oxygen levels’ and the ‘alarming’ increase in carbon dioxide into perspective.

Carbon dioxide, increasing at 1.6 ppm/yr, is gaining one part in 243.

Oxygen, being depleted at 9 ppm/year is losing one part in twenty three thousand.

Neither of these small variations matters much. They are certainly nothing to start spreading alarm about. It’s not the first time that this alarmist nonsense has been mentioned on ‘the Carbon Flame War’ either. Last time it was in connection with another favourite of the alarmists: ‘Ocean Acidification’ (Still alkaline last time I looked).  People like Doom-and-Gloom Dan get righteously worried when someone who (apparently) knows, starts quoting facts and figures and citations about worrying sounding changes in Earth’s atmosphere.

These shysters and charlatans need to be called on their bullshit.

  1. Brian H says:

    You’ll have to compensate for the oxygen reduction by holding each breath for 1.20342 milliseconds longer. More or less.

  2. Roger Andrews says:

    “Oxygen, being depleted at 9 ppm/year is losing one part in twenty three thousand thousand.”

    I think there’s one too many thousands in there.

  3. This may be of interest
    co2 and o2 compared as part of a questioning of what causes the annual co2 cycle

  4. tallbloke says:

    Thanks Roger. Looks like we’ve got one to many prefects here too. 🙂

    Interesting post there TFPP. has two different Y-axis scales on it of course, so people shouldn’t assume anything from the apparent symmetry of the co2 and o2 trends. The timings are of interest though, so thanks for the heads-up

  5. suricat says:


    My first interest in ‘climate’ was the ‘O2 hole’, which I couldn’t investigate at that time.

    My second interest in ‘climate’ was the IPCC’s conclusion that CO2 would be the climactic downfall of the ‘human condition’, which I ‘was’ able to investigate, and at that time I also investigated the decade, on decade, O2 depletion observation. This is one reason why I discourage the ‘lock up’ (sequestration) of any human CO2 emission.

    The data in thefordprefectperfect’s link suggests that O3 isn’t O2. Which is true, but O3 and O2 are, basically, the same element and are proportionately equivalent of each other!

    The ‘annual cycle’ (fig 1) at Barrow suggests proportionality between O2 and CO2 by way of an annual (UV insolation) forcing, whilst the longer cycle (fig 3 [that shows convergence and divergence between CO2 and O2 on a decadal scale]) reflects upon the ‘sunspot propensity’ forcing.

    Why do I say this? Because fig. 2 shows that there is no change at equatorial latitudes, spring/fall are opposingly forced for magnitude at mid latitudes and summer favours ‘Phytoplankton’ at the ‘poles’ more than at mid latitudes (the ‘mid latitude’ data suggests that much phytoplankton dies during the summer).

    This is nonsensical for the biosphere, but makes a little more sense for atmospheric chemical activity.

    Best regards, Ray.

  6. Michael Hart says:

    OMG, it’s worse than we thought. Perhaps the Carbon is burning to CO5.6 instead of CO2

  7. Michael Hart says:

    Actually it’s even funnier than that.

    A quote from the 2nd link at the top, runs thus:
    “In humans, failure of oxygen energy metabolism is the single most important risk factor for chronic diseases including cancer and death. ‘Oxygen deficiency’ is currently set at 19.5 percent in enclosed spaces for health and safety [6], below that, fainting and death may result.”

    A reasonable person might ask “So at what altitude above sea-level does the Oxygen level fall from 20.95% to these dangerously low levels where the partial-pressure is now the equivalent of the19.5 percent claimed to cause ‘fainting and death’ ?”

    I might reply that I hope my two years post doctoral training in Cardiology has not been entirely wasted, nor my limited studies of mitochondrial metabolism, but if true, it would mean that the people making those measurements at the Jungfrau-joch and Puy-de-Dome are almost certainly clinically dead.

    Even worse than I first thought. It could mean that I am probably dead too, because I have been up Puy-de-Dome myself. Now I am becoming worried. I am either dead, or losing my mental faculties faster than I realised.

  8. Michael Hart says:

    Strictly in the interests of science, in case TB wants to post a picture of someone experiencing sea-level oxygen-depletion in the Raw, I’ve found one. 🙂

  9. tallbloke says:

    It looks serious Michael. See how much Vanessa has shrunk compared to her Macbook Airtm


  10. Sleepalot says:

    @ Michael Hart. Humph. I thought you said she was “in the raw”.

  11. carol says:

    I stumbled on this web site a few weeks back. It seems to have an anti-GM crops focus. Mai-wan has apparently written ten books and hundreds of articles. Don’t know what the subject matter is but probably anti-GM or subjects such as that

  12. Mae-Wan may have got it wrong this time, but don’t write her off! Overall, she is intelligent, hard-hitting, and very imaginative. Given how isolated she is from the mainstream (her papers aren’t cited in Nature even when they’re correct), it’s not surprising if she goes over the top occasionally.

  13. Zeke says:

    In this study, apparently she is counting oxygen molecules and ruling out the possibility that carbon dioxide sequestration would do anything but harm the planet. I do not know what she intends this “information” to be used for, but it is likely to be a confirmation on her part that emissions must be reduced and that sequestration would not be an option.

    Notice the methods: counting molecules in the Swiss Alps for a few years, and making outrageous claims of precision and insight into nature, with huge implications for the economies of nations, and the lives of millions. This is all her idea of “using science” for the “public good” in “global initiatives.”

    In GM studies, she objects to the molecules in the crops that feed the people of the world.

    A better idea is that if you are zealous about your diet, and do not wish to eat GM crops, use the internet to research where you can buy the organic, low yield grains you would like to eat.

  14. Zeke says:

    Two can play. Here’s another study for you.

    Munch on This

  15. Berényi Péter says:

    If O₂ content of the atmosphere would decrease by 9.5 ppm in a year, that would be equivalent to an elevation increase of 8 cm at sea level. It is an alarming rate indeed, on geological timescales. In human history, not so much.

  16. Michael Hart says:

    Of couse, if the oxygen ratio is falling, then that suggests that the nitrogen ratio might be rising.

    Upon returning to the surface, divers experiencing the excessively release of nitrogen pressure sometimes display the condition known as “The Bends”.

  17. Zeke says:

    Mae Wan Ho is, however, “mainstream” enough to have testified before Congress about applying the Precautionary Principle to our agriculture here in the US.

    Dr. Ravetz, if you are behind this little Post-Normal Science gift to the Electric Universe, you may be surprised. Some scientists are not in it for the perks and glories of advocacy and will not be bought in the end.

  18. Zeke says:

    And speaking of the Precautionary Principle, what does happen when the government uses science to suddenly alter agriculture and the economy? The Great Leap Forward did not have particularly good results.

    So I would think that anyone wishing to apply the Precautionary Principle to agriculture must also include episodes like 1. the Great Leap Forward;
    2. Lysenko’s destruction of the food supply – “using science for the public good,”
    3. along with the environmentalists’ opposition to extending Norman Borlaug’s crops and agronomy to African countries.

    Evenly applied, the Precautionary Principle is meaningless.