The Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG) goes full AGU… – Watts Up With That?

Guest “Should I stay or should I go now?” by David Middleton

I have been a member of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG) since the summer of 1981… I haven’t renewed my membership this year, largely because of the last issue of The Leading Edge I received…

SEG The Leading Edge

The full text of this article is available to the public. It’s about “mapping geophysics” to these goals…

Capello et al., 2021

WTF does any of this have to do with geophysics? The best way geophysicists can continue to support SDG’s 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 11 would be to keep finding lots of economically recoverable oil & gas.

While I found this article very annoying, it didn’t push me to the brink of ending my membership. Since my membership is currently lapsed, I haven’t been keeping up with SEG activities lately. The other day, a friend of mine texted me a link to the SEG’s new climate change statement. One passage enraged me (to the extent I ever get enraged) that I am considering leaving the SEG.

Since the climate change statement appears to be publicly accessible, I’ll quote it in its entirety.

Begin Quote:

SEG Position on Climate Change

The Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG) is the premier global professional society representing the science of applied geophysics and, therefore, has an important role to play in the exploration, site characterization, and time-lapse monitoring of the Earth in order to better understand and mitigate climate change.

The Earth is continuously undergoing climate change, but the current rate of increase of both temperature (Diffenbaugh and Field, 2016) and atmospheric CO2 levels (Zeebe et al., 2016) may be unprecedented in the past 66 million years, per currently available data. Since the mid-1800s, it has been understood that small changes in atmospheric gases, including CO2, can alter the Earth’s climate. (For a good historical summary, see Ortiz and Jackson, 2020; for two of the seminal papers, see Foote, 1856, and Arrhenius, 1896). Currently, we rely on global climate models, modern data collection, and research advances to predict future changes and to understand the details of the rapid changes that have been observed over the past 150 years. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has concluded that anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are extremely likely to be the dominant cause of observed climate warming since 1950 (IPCC, 2014). The IPCC goes on to conclude that impacts on natural and human systems will be significant and include risks to “health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security, and economic growth” (IPCC, 2018).

SEG joins nearly 200 other scientific societies worldwide and the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in agreement with the IPCC that significant action should be taken as soon as possible to begin reducing GHG emissions. SEG supports our stakeholders in academia, government, and industry who seek to achieve net zero CO2 emissions through efforts such as the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, and the Towards Sustainable Mining initiative. Further, among the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals are affordable and clean energy for all (SDG 7) and the need for climate action (SDG 13). These two goals are deeply intertwined, and solutions will require the contributions of applied geophysicists.

Achieving the goals for global climate action is a major challenge, and applied geophysicists can contribute in many consequential ways that include:

  1. The U.S. National Academy of Engineering has identified developing Carbon Sequestration Methods as one of the Grand Challenges for the 21st century, and the International Energy Agency recently noted that achieving net zero is not likely possible without carbon capture, utilization, and storage (IEA, 2020). Geophysical tools are crucial for effective exploration, site characterization, and monitoring of geologic reservoirs for CO2 sequestration.
  2. The Earth’s large ice masses are rapidly changing in response to the warming climate. Geophysical methods play a vital role in monitoring and understanding dynamics of the Earth’s cryosphere (glaciers, ice sheets, permafrost sea ice, and snow).
  3. It is well understood that a major shift to sources and storage of renewable energy (wind, solar, etc.) will result in a dramatic increase in demand for a broad suite of critical minerals and metals. Geophysics is essential for exploring, targeting, and characterizing the strategic ore deposits required to meet this growing demand.
  4. Geothermal energy is available in many parts of the world and will play an increasingly important role in meeting the growing demand. Geophysics is needed to identify and develop subsurface geothermal reservoirs.
  5. Continued warming of the climate coupled with an increasing global population is anticipated to adversely impact the availability of fresh water supplies over large regions. Hydrogeophysics is needed to identify new sources of groundwater and effectively manage existing water resources.

Given the anticipated impact on humanity and the associated disruption of the global energy economy, it is imperative that geophysicists rise to meet the challenges posed by climate change. SEG will support its members who are engaged in geophysical research, publication, and open dialog on climate change and its impacts.


Arrhenius, S., 1896, XXXI. On the influence of carbonic acid in the air upon the temperature of the ground: The London, Edinburgh, and Dublin Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science, 41, no. 251, 237–276, doi: 10.1080/14786449608620846.

Diffenbaugh, N. S. and C. B. Field, 2013, Changes in ecologically critical terrestrial climate conditions: Science, 341, no. 6145, 486–492, doi: 10.1126/science.1237123.

Foote, E., 1856, Circumstances affecting the heat of the sun’s rays: The American Journal of Science and Arts, 2nd Series, 22, no. 66, 382–383,, accessed 3 February 2021.

IEA, 2020: Energy Technology Perspectives 2020. Special Report on Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage: CCUS in clean energy transitions,, accessed 3 February 2021.

IPCC, 2018: Summary for Policymakers. In: Global Warming of 1.5°C. An IPCC Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty,, accessed 3 February 2021.

IPCC, 2014: IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, Summary for Policymakers,, accessed 3 February 2021.

Ortiz, J. D. and R. Jackson, 2020, Understanding Eunice Foote’s 1856 experiments: Heat absorption by atmospheric gases: The Royal Society Journal of the History of Science, doi: 10.1098/rsnr.2020.0031.

Zeebe, R. E., A. Ridgwell, and J. C. Zachos, 2016, Anthropogenic carbon release rate unprecedented during the past 66 million years: Nature Geoscience, 9, 325–329, doi: 10.1038/ngeo2681.

End Quote

My Reaction to the SEG Statement

The statement is mostly innocuous. However, this passage is flat out wrong and has no place in an SEG publication:

The Earth is continuously undergoing climate change, but the current rate of increase of both temperature (Diffenbaugh and Field, 2016) and atmospheric CO2 levels (Zeebe et al., 2016) may be unprecedented in the past 66 million years, per currently available data. Since the mid-1800s, it has been understood that small changes in atmospheric gases, including CO2, can alter the Earth’s climate.

The current rate of increase temperature unprecedented in the past 66 million years


Figure 1. Modeled human plus natural climate forcing compared to three instrumental records (see Terando for specifics)

Figure 2. Modeled human climate forcing compared to three instrumental records (see Terando for specifics)

If the models are reasonably accurate, the early 20th century warming can be entirely explained by natural forcing mechanisms. Whereas, some or all of the warming since about 1975 cannot be explained by natural forcing mechanisms alone. That said, the models only incorporate known, reasonably well-understood, forcing mechanisms. Judith Curry illustrated this concept quite well…

Figure 3. You only find what you’re looking for. (JC at the National Press Club)

Setting aside the unknown and/or poorly understood natural forcing mechanisms, not incorporated in the model, we have two very similar warming episodes, one explained by natural factors and one requiring human input.

Figure 4. HadCRUT4 1904-Present.

  • 1904-1945 Slope = 0.013 °C per year… 1.3 °C per century
  • 1975-2020 Slope = 0.018 °C per year… 1.8 °C per century

A slightly steeper slope than the only other significant warming trend in the instrumental record is hardly unprecedented in the past 166 years, much less 66 million years. Geological proxies lack the temporal resolution for direct comparison to modern instrumental records… The SEG should be aware of it. Most of what I know about integrating data sets of differing resolution, I learned from SEG and AAPG publications.

Let’s assume arguendo that all of the warming since 1975 is due to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. What would this mean?

It would mean that the rise in atmospheric CO2 from ~280 to ~400 ppm caused 0.8 °C of warming. Recent instrumental observation-derived climate sensitivity estimates indicate an equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS) of about 2.3 °C per doubling of atmospheric CO2, equating to a transient climate response (TCR) of about 1.6 °C per doubling of atmospheric CO2. Oddly enough, with a TCR of 1.6 °C, we would expect to see 0.8 °C of warming at 400 ppm CO2.

Figure 5. Expected warming with a TCR of 1.6 °C.

It’s also important to note that the 0.8 °C of allegedly anthropogenic warming started here:

Figure 6. Context.

Atmospheric CO2 levels unprecedented in the past 66 million years

One of the key principles in applied geophysics is the concept of resolution. While it is true that the rate of of increase atmospheric CO2 *may* be unprecedented in the Cenozoic Era. This is only due to the low resolution of past CO2 estimates. The only pre-instrumental era record with sufficient resolution is from the ice cores of Law Dome, Antarctica, and these only get us back to 2,000 years ago.

The Mauna Loa CO2 record doesn’t even break out of the Cenozoic “noise level” (a concept the SEG should be familiar with)…

Figure 7a. Marine pCO2 (foram boron δ11B, alkenone δ13C), atmospheric CO2 from plant stomata (green and yellow diamonds with red outlines), Mauna Loa instrumental CO2 (thick red line) and Cenozoic temperature change from benthic foram δ18O (light gray line).

Figure 7b. Legend for Figure 1a.

For a more detailed discussion of resolution and geological context, see: May/Middleton: Rebuttal to Geological Society of London Scientific Statement on Climate Change.

Since the mid-1800s, it has been understood that small changes in atmospheric gases, including CO2, can alter the Earth’s climate.

Utter nonsense. The notion that even large “changes in atmospheric gases, including CO2, can alter the Earth’s climate” was controversial (at best) before the late 1980’s.

This passage from Evolution of the Earth (1976) is just as true today as when I was a geology student way back in the Pleistocene…

Suggestion that changing carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere could be a major factor in climate change dates from 1861, when it was proposed by British physicist John Tyndall.


Unfortunately we cannot estimate accurately changes of past CO2 content of either atmosphere or oceans, nor is there any firm quantitative basis for estimating the magnitude of drop in carbon dioxide content necessary to trigger glaciation. Moreover the entire concept of an atmospheric greenhouse effect is controversial, for the rate of ocean-atmosphere equalization is uncertain.

Dott & Batten, 1976

While methods of estimating past atmospheric CO2 concentrations have improved since the 1970’s, we can’t even be certain that the atmospheric concentration of CO2 during the much warmer Mid-Miocene Climatic Optimum (MMCO) was significantly elevated relative to the extremely low values of the Quaternary Period. We can see that estimates for MMCO range from 250 to 500 ppm, rendering any efforts to draw conclusions about the Columbia River Basalt Group (CRBG), CO2, and MMCO totally pointless.

Figure 8. Neogene-Quaternary temperature and carbon dioxide (older is toward the left). (WUWT)

According to Pagani et al, 1999:

There is no evidence for either high pCO2 during the late early Miocene climatic optimum or a sharp pCO2 decreases associated with EAIS growth.

Pagani et al., 1999

EAIS = East Antarctic Ice Sheet. Pagani et al., suggest that changes in oceanic circulation driven by plate tectonics (opening of the Drake Passage) and the presence (or lack thereof) of a large polar ice sheet were the primary drivers of Miocene climate change. And this takes us to another of my 1970’s textbooks:

The atmosphere’s blanketing effect over the earth’s surface has been compared to the functioning of a greenhouse.  Short-wave sunlight passes as easily through the glass of the greenhouse as through the atmosphere.  Because glass is opaque to the long-wave radiation from the warm interior of the greenhouse, it hinders the escape of energy.

As a planet, the earth is not warming or cooling appreciably on the average, because it loses as much radiant energy as it gains.

Kolenkow et al., 1974

We’ve known since the mid-1800’s that CO2 was a so-called greenhouse gas… However, as of the late 1970’s there wasn’t much evidence that small, or even large, changes in atmospheric CO2 could alter the Earth’s climate in any significant fashion. Efforts to link CO2 to the Eocene and Miocene climate optima have pretty well fallen flat on their faces. Even with the allegedly unprecedented rise in atmospheric CO2 since the mid-1800’s, there has been “no fundamental change in the late Cenozoic climate trend”…

FORECASTING THE FUTURE. We can now try to decide if we are now in an interglacial stage, with other glacials to follow, or if the world has finally emerged from the Cenozoic Ice Age. According to the Milankovitch theory, fluctuations of radiation of the type shown in Fig. 16-18 must continue and therefore future glacial stages will continue. According to the theory just described, as long as the North and South Poles retain their present thermally isolated locations, the polar latitudes will be frigid; and as the Arctic Ocean keeps oscillating between ice-free and ice-covered states, glacial-interglacial climates will continue.

Finally, regardless of which theory one subscribes to, as long as we see no fundamental change in the late Cenozoic climate trend, and the presence of ice on Greenland and Antarctica indicates that no change has occurred, we can expect that the fluctuations of the past million years will continue.

Donn, William L. Meteorology. 4th Edition. McGraw-Hill 1975. pp 463-464

Same as it ever was… (H/T David Byrne and The Talking Heads).

“Should I stay, or should I go now?”

While I do think that humans have had some effect on climate change over the past 150 years, CO2 has never been demonstrated to be more than an ancillary driver. Characterizations of this as a “crisis” or “emergency” are nonsense… as are claims of this being unprecedented in the past 66 million years.

However, fossil fuel emissions do have a cumulative effect on the atmosphere, so I don’t object to economically viable efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and I do believe that geoscientists can play key roles in these efforts. The SEG statement goes on to list the areas in which geophysicists can contribute to the mitigation of and adaptation to climate change:

  1. Carbon capture utilization & storage (CCS/CCUS).
  2. Monitoring the state of the cryosphere.
  3. Exploration for strategic ores and minerals.
  4. Exploitation of geothermal resources.
  5. Near surface geophysics related to hydrogeology.

All of these are worthwhile areas of expertise and I agree with SEG’s goal to “support its members who are engaged in geophysical research, publication, and open dialog on climate change and its impacts”… But they need to realize that its members involved in oil & gas exploration probably pay most of the dues.

As I conclude this post, I am still unsure if I should stay or go…

Should I stay or should I go now?

Should I stay or should I go now?

If I go there will be trouble

And if I stay it will be double

So come on and let me know

The Clash, 1981


Watts Up With That? Posts

Middleton, David H. “Middle Miocene Volcanism, Carbon Dioxide and Climate Change”. WUWT. 3 June 2019.

Middleton, David H. “A Clean Kill of the Carbon Dioxide-Driven Climate Change Hypothesis?” WUWT. 25 September 2019.

Middleton, David H. “Eocene Climatic Optima: Another Clean Kill of Carbon Dioxide-Driven Climate Change Hypothesis?”. WUWT. 30 September 2019.

Middleton, David H. and Andy May. “May/Middleton: Rebuttal to Geological Society of London Scientific Statement on Climate Change”. WUWT. 13 January 2021.

Other References

Capello, Maria A., Anna Shaughnessy, and Emer Caslin. The Geophysical Sustainability Atlas: Mapping geophysics to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The Leading Edge 2021. 40:1, 10-24

Donn, William L. Meteorology. 4th Edition. McGraw-Hill 1975. pp 463-464

Dott, Robert H. & Roger L. Batten.  Evolution of the Earth.  McGraw-Hill, Inc.  Second Edition 1976.  p. 441.

Kolenkow, Robert J., Reid A. Bryson, Douglas B. Carter, R. Keith Julian, Robert A. Muller, Theodore M. Oberlander, Robert P. Sharp & M. Gordon Wolman. Physical geography today : a portrait of a planet. Del Mar, Calif. : CRM Books, [1974]. p. 64.

Pagani, Mark, Michael Arthur & Katherine Freeman. (1999). “Miocene evolution of atmospheric carbon dioxide”. Paleoceanography. 14. 273-292. 10.1029/1999PA900006.

Royer, et al., 2001. Paleobotanical Evidence for Near Present-Day Levels of Atmospheric CO2 During Part of the Tertiary. Science 22 June 2001: 2310-2313. DOI:10.112

Steinthorsdottir, M., Vajda, V., Pole, M., and Holdgate, G., 2019, “Moderate levels of Eocene pCO2 indicated by Southern Hemisphere fossil plant stomata”: Geology, v. 47, p. 914–918,

Terando, A., Reidmiller, D., Hostetler, S.W., Littell, J.S., Beard, T.D., Jr., Weiskopf, S.R., Belnap, J., and Plumlee, G.S., 2020, Using information from global climate models to inform policymaking—The role of the U.S. Geological Survey: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2020–1058, 25 p.,

Tripati, A.K., C.D. Roberts, and R.A. Eagle. 2009.  “Coupling of CO2 and Ice Sheet Stability Over Major Climate Transitions of the Last 20 Million Years”.  Science, Vol. 326, pp. 1394 1397, 4 December 2009.  DOI: 10.1126/science.1178296


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