Re: [asa] Breathtaking Ignorance

From: Don Winterstein <>
Date: Mon Apr 27 2009 - 18:14:29 EDT

To answer Barton's question adequately would be a major challenge to almost anyone but a specialist. What Barton was actually after, of course, was to get Chu to acknowledge that at one time arctic temperatures were warm enough to support abundant life.

I think Chu should know about this. Nobel prize winner or not, few physicists are likely to have much understanding of geologic history; but Chu needs to bone up lest he promote policies that turn out to be naive.

Since most oil comes from marine life anyway, Barton's question was really inappropriate and couldn't possibly be answered in a few minutes. Barton should have come right out and ask the question he wanted to have answered. (But what politician has ever been straightforward?)

A quick Web search indicates that, by Cretaceous time, the arrangement of land masses in the arctic was roughly what we have today. The Palaeos website has the following comment (<>):

"...Two climate trends which began in the Jurassic became quite pronounced in the Cretaceous. The mechanism for these events is not fully understood. First, the temperature gradient from North to South became almost flat -- much more so than would be predicted from ocean circulation models. In other words, average temperatures were about the same everywhere on Earth, from the poles to the equator. Second, average temperatures were much higher than today, probably by about 10C. Higher CO2 (carbon dioxide) levels certainly played a part, but the paleoclimate data do not match theoretical predictions."

In other words, there were times when Earth was uniformly warm, so oil could and likely did form in place in the arctic. My understanding is that these uniformly warm times persisted well into the paleogene, so they'd have lasted over a significant segment of Earth history.

Another website states: "In northern Alaska, rocks prospective for petroleum (oil and gas) are mostly Mississippian to Tertiary in age and overlie folded and truncated pre-Mississippian rocks."

In other words, at least some of the arctic hydrocarbons formed in the arctic. Arctic rocks of paleozoic age, however, were not in the arctic during the paleozoic, so any oil in them would not have been generated from arctic life.

Not a simple question, not a simple answer.


  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Rich Blinne<>
  To: John Burgeson (ASA member)<> ; asa<> ; Randy Isaac<>
  Sent: Sunday, April 26, 2009 8:57 AM
  Subject: [asa] Breathtaking Ignorance

  Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX)--the ranking member on the House Energy & Commerce Committee sent out the following Twitter message (<>) : "I seemed [sic] to have baffled the Energy Sec with basic question - Where does oil come from?"

  That's quite an accomplishment since Secretary Chu is a Nobel-prize-winning physicist. Let's see the exchange:<>

  *sigh* *pause* *sigh*

  Rich Blinne
  Member ASA

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Received on Mon Apr 27 17:15:37 2009

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