Category: Daily News

The Curious Case of the Southern Ocean and the Peer-Reviewed Journal

By Mike Jonas

The Paper

What seems like a very long time ago, I downloaded surface temperature data for the Southern Oceans to see if I could find, and learn anything useful from, the patterns of the AAO (AntArctic Oscillation). I fairly quickly got diverted from that exercise when I noticed a remarkable temperature pattern in the data which showed that the IPCC and the climate modelers had got the entire Southern Ocean stunningly and diametrically wrong.

Others had already found that large parts of the Southern Ocean had cooled, but no-one as far as I knew had found this precise temperature pattern.

So I wrote a paper, and submitted it to a peer-reviewed journal – Sage Publications’ Journal of Ocean and Climate: Science, Technology and Impacts. Now I freely admit that I thought the chances of the paper being published were low – not because it wasn’t good enough (I was confident that it was) but because it demonstrated a failure of the IPCC and the climate models. What I didn’t expect was that (a) the process would take nearly a year, (b) the journal would handle it so dishonestly, and (c) the editor would end up stating explicitly that he wouldn’t publish a paper that was critical of the climate models, after having promised the exact opposite. There’s more on that below – see The Review Process.

At the end of the process, with the paper having finally been rejected, I wanted to at least get the paper’s content into the public domain so that the work couldn’t be hijacked, and Jo Nova very kindly put it up on her excellent blog. See: Far Southern Ocean cools. Kiss Goodbye to polar amplification around Antarctica. In that article, there were also links to the covering letter sent to the journal with the original submission, explaining why the paper was less complicated than perhaps they were used to, and to the Supplementary Information that accompanied the paper.

The temperature pattern that I found was shown in this graph:

(The paper’s Figure 2): Linear trends in sea surface temperature around the Antarctic, by Latitude. (The four lists are described in the paper). High latitudes (further south) are on the left, low latitudes (further north) on the right. The up-tick towards latitude -72 is explained in the paper.

The IPCC report said “Feedbacks associated with changes in sea ice and snow amplify surface warming near the poles” and gave several supporting references. But the Southern Oceans temperature pattern above shows the exact opposite: the further south you get, the greater the rate of cooling. In fact, at almost the precise latitude where the IPCC expected the most amplified warming there was some of the fastest cooling on the planet! [Note where zero trend is on the Y axis].

OK, so the climate models are not expected to be accurate in every detail. But how wrong can they be before they are shown to be invalid? The paper argued that getting a complete ocean diametrically wrong over a period of more than 30 years is enough to show that the climate models are invalid:

  • The climate models predict “amplified warming” in the Southern Ocean and Antarctica from sea ice and snow “feedback”.
  • This amplified warming is expected to occur over a large area, and there is “high confidence” in it. (IPCC Report: “In summary, there is robust evidence over multiple generations of models and high confidence in these large-scale warming patterns.”).
  • Satellite sea surface temperatures show the exact opposite. The strongest cooling occurred at the latitudes where most warming was expected.
  • The cooling occurred over a period of 36 years. The modelers claimed that 14 years was enough for the feedback to manifest itself.
  • The modelers had excuses – “deep ocean mixing, strong ocean heat uptake and the persistence of the vast Antarctic ice sheet” – but these aren’t unknowns, they are features that the models are supposed to model! As the paper pointed out: “If that explanation is correct, then they have identified some important large-scale climate processes that are not reasonably represented in the models. Without such processes, it is questionable whether the models are fit for purpose.”.
  • The IPCC acknowledged that model projections did not match observations, but claimed that “[weather] station records are short and sparse” and that the models were more reliable than the data. The paper pointed out that comprehensive satellite coverage has destroyed that argument.
  • The models must have failed to apply the laws of physics correctly in the Southern Oceans. The laws of physics are the same everywhere on the planet. The models’ results for all regions, and hence globally, must therefore be unreliable.

As I said in the paper:

The fact that the IPCC recognizes that it has a problem does not mean that the problem can be ignored. It means that they really do have a problem.

The Review Process

What was truly bizarre about the review of this particular paper is that the editor was complimentary about the paper (“this valuable analytical work”) and acknowledged that it was correct (“you are right as current models have many serious problems because of their poor resolution and their crude parameterizations of key processes”), but then refused publication saying quite openly that papers critical of the climate models were not needed because the models “need to be taken seriously (as the IPCC does) even with a pinch of salt”!

Western governments have spent billions (trillions?) of dollars on climate boondoggles, thanks to the likes of the IPCC, and when have you ever seen them use a pinch of salt? And why on Earth would you take seriously a model with poor resolution and crude parameterizations?

The review process began normally (well I assume it was normal) apart from some delays with technical problems in the journal’s website. Two reviews were sent to me by the editor. They identified places where better explanations or more detail were needed, and I submitted a revised paper.

The reviewers of the revised paper found not one single fault with any of the paper’s data or logic, but they still recommended rejection. The sequence of events was as follows:

  • There were delays early in the process, which led me to ask the editor whether he was reluctant to publish the paper because it showed that the IPCC and the climate models were in error.
  • The editor assured me that the delay was not driven by political considerations. The editor then promised me that I would have right of reply to reviews.
  • The editor sent two reviews by “Reviewer #1” and “Reviewer #2” to me. I responded politely and comprehensively to every point in the reviews and submitted a revised paper with more detail as requested.
  • A month later, I was advised that Reviewers #1 and #2 had withdrawn saying they didn’t have time to review the revised paper.
  • Another 3 weeks later, I was advised that 12 more reviewers had been approached to review the paper, and had all declined.
  • Another 5 weeks later, the editor rejected the paper.

In the rejection email, Reviewer #2 (one of the reviewers who had withdrawn because they didn’t have time) re-appeared with a weak fact-free repetition of part of their original review, even though it had already been comprehensively dealt with. The most reasonable explanation seems to me that the editor contacted the two reviewers asking them to maintain their rejection recommendation, so that he (the editor) could justifiably reject the paper. The fact that one reviewer did not do so is perhaps encouraging.

But the editor had also found a third reviewer to write a rejection, and I was not given the promised right of reply. The review was of pathetically low quality (see the dialogue referred to below), but it gave the editor the excuse he needed to reject the paper. Maybe he didn’t honor his promise to give me the right of reply, because of the risk that the third reviewer could be “seen off” like Reviewer #1? I doubt I’ll ever know.

I complained to the journal that the editor had reneged on his promise to give me right of reply to reviews. They just sent my complaint to the editor, who didn’t reply in person but left it to a lesser editor to throw up a brick wall. After that, if anything it just got worse. The full dialogue with the journal is available here.

The thing that amused me most about the whole affair was the commentary which the editor included in his rejection letter, and which was stunning in its implications:

Models might produce excess/unrealistic climatic warming in the Southern Ocean because of an inadequate representation of the surface albedo (the albedos of sea ice and marine snow are very variable and difficult to model) or because of problems with many other aspects of the ocean and sea ice physics (e.g., lateral and vertical mixing, upwelling) or the atmospheric dynamics (winds, precipitation). These problems are all very well known.

He’s got everything covered – the surface, the ocean, the atmosphere. The problem is in one of those!!!

If ever you needed evidence that they simply have no idea at all about how the climate works, well, there it is.

If only it wasn’t so serious, it would be funny.

via Watts Up With That?

April 10, 2019 at 04:08PM

China’s Mammoth Coal Industry Gets Bigger, Crowding Out Imports

A year of plenty for China’s coal industry will probably mean a slump in imports, with miners in Australia likely to be the hardest hit.

The world’s biggest producer and consumer of the fuel is set to lift output by more than 100 million tons in 2019, Wang Hongqiao, vice president of the China National Coal Association, said at a conference in Shanghai on Tuesday. The nation dug up 3.55 billion tons in 2018. Another increase would be the third year in a row and could see output close in on 2015’s record of 3.68 billion tons. At the same time, Wang predicted that consumption would remain stable.

The implication is that imports will have to give way. Inbound shipments of thermal coal, the type used by power stations, will shrink this year by as much 12 million tons, or about 5 percent, Noble Group Ltd.’s Head of Hard Commodities Research, Rodrigo Echeverri, told the conference. He said the decline will mostly affect coal of mid-calorific value from Australia, which has already seen shipments beset by port delays in the early months of the year.

China’s management of its mammoth industry often includes adjusting import policies to boost demand for local coal or to keep prices in check. Still, the go-slow on Australian shipments in particular has stoked speculationthat Beijing is using trade to make a political point. Authorities have adopted stricter testing, including checks for radioactive content, Chen Bin, deputy chief engineer of China Datang Corp.’s fuel unit, said on the sidelines of the conference.

“Coal imports will still play a necessary role in ensuring supply on domestic market,” said Guo Xinyu, a director at China Huaneng Group’s fuel department. “We expect the coal import policy to remain open and stable.”

The quantity of Australian imports will depend on price, the coal association’s Wang said on the sidelines of the event, although he acknowledged that the “international political environment can also play a role,” without elaborating. Noble’s Echeverri said the broadest impact of China’s glut will be the first decline in global seaborne trade of thermal coal since 2015.

The surplus comes as China upgrades its coal industry, swapping out old and expensive mines for bigger and more efficient operations, even as it tries to reduce its reliance on the fuel in order to cut pollution and meet climate targets. Bloomberg Intelligence estimates that at least 200 million tons of coal capacity will be ready to start production in 2019, with another 409 million tons of government-approved capacity under construction.

China is also boosting the capability of its transportation links to move the expanding volumes of coal. Railway capacity will increase by 650 million tons, or 30 percent, to 2.82 billion by 2020, said Li Hua, a director at China Railway Economic and Planning Research Institute. The Daqin network, which connects the major producing region of Shanxi to Qinhuangdao port, will expand by 450 million tons by 2020.

Full story

The post China’s Mammoth Coal Industry Gets Bigger, Crowding Out Imports appeared first on The Global Warming Policy Forum (GWPF).

via The Global Warming Policy Forum (GWPF)

April 10, 2019 at 03:04PM

Climate and People in the Prehistoric Arctic

By Paul Homewood


I came across this old article from, I believe 2001, which traces the history of people in the Arctic.

It’s well worth a read, and ties in nicely with yesterday’s post:



Climate and People in the Prehistoric Arctic

Robert McGhee

Did past changes in climates have major effects on human history? The question has been argued for a century or more, with numerous specific cases used as examples: the end of the Harappan civilization in northern India about 2200 BC, the fall of Mycenaean Greece about 1200 BC, and the rise of the great highland empires of the Andes. At a more distant time, it was proposed that the "bracing" semi-arctic climates of Ice Age Europe produced human populations that were world leaders in both biological and cultural development.

The apparent European lead in development turned out to be merely a product of the large amount of archaeology carried out in Europe as compared with other areas. It is now apparent that the Ice Age inhabitants of most of the Old World were developing in much the same way at the same time. In each of the other cases examined, the evidence of a climatic effect on human history is not conclusive. Since the last Ice Age, climatic change has been relatively small changes of a few degrees in mean annual temperature, or of a few centimetres in mean annual precipitation. At the same time, human populations have developed complex methods of dealing with and adapting to changes in their environment: altenng agricultural habits, trading with neighbouring peoples to obtain necessary resources, and invading neighbouring lands for the same reason. In most cases, archaeology is simply not capable of detecting whether or not a specific instance of social or technological change in the past was a response to changes in the climate or the environment.

Arctic Canada may be a special case. This is, arguably, the most climatically marginal region ever occupied by humans. In prehistoric times, it was occupied by peoples who had relatively little social or technological "insulation" between themselves and their environment. When an unexpectedly warm or cold season produced changes in the availability of the animals on which they depended for food and clothing, they could not turn to stored reserves or obtain supplies from distant regions where conditions had not deteriorated. Consequently, it is an area in which a few "bad years" may be expected to have had a more disastrous effect on human populations than a similar period in regions where the climate was more moderate and resources more stable. The archaeology of the Arctic does, in fact, suggest that several events in the history of human occupation of the region were related to changes in past climates.

By about 7000 years ago the massive glaciers of the last Ice Age had retreated to the mountain peaks of the eastern Canadian Arctic. Tundra vegetation had become established, and was grazed by caribou, muskoxen, and, in some areas, by bison. The gulfs and channels between the arctic islands had long been at least seasonally ice-free, and provided a home to populations of seals, walrus, and whales. There is considerable evidence that for the next 3500 years the arctic climate was noticeably warmer than today, the tree-line was north of its present position, sea ice was less extensive, and animal populations were large and well established.

Although arctic Canada was habitable by human hunters throughout this period, only the southern fringes of the area were occupied. In the area known as the "barren grounds", between the Mackenzie River and Hudson Bay, we find the remnants of small campsites and scatters of broken or lost spear points and other tools chipped from hard stone. These tools resemble those used at the time by Indian hunters of the northern Plains, and we assume that the first occupation of the area was by Indians. Their way of life was probably similar to that of the Chipewyan who guided Samuel Hearne through the barren grounds in the 1770s: small wandering groups spending their summers on the tundra, hunting caribou southward to the shelter of the forests, where they wintered in skin tents heated with wood fires. The first occupants of the barren grounds, like the later Chipewyan, probably could not survive on the winter tundra. The far northern mainland and the arctic archipelago remained devoid of humans for the following 3000 years. It would be the last major region of the world to remain uninhabited, waiting for a people capable of living their entire lives in the country to the north of the forests.

The Palaeoeskimos

Such a people arrived in arctic North America about 200 BC. They are known to archaeologists as the Palaeoeskimos (Old Eskimos), although it is very unclear whether they were ancestral to recent Eskimo (Inuit) populations. They came out of Siberia, and this first truly arctic human adaptation was probably made possible by two items of Old World technology: the men carried the bow-and-arrow, a hunting weapon more efficient than New World spears and lances, and the women made tailored skin clothing which was much warmer than that used by northern Indians of the time. From the maritime hunters of the North Pacific and the Bering Sea they had learned how to harpoon sea mammals and use their fat and bones to fuel small fires. The meagreness of their archaeological remains suggests that they also brought with them an ethic of tolerance for a much higher degree of discomfort and insecurity than would be considered acceptable to most human populations.

The Palaeoeskimos spread rapidly across the Arctic, probably finding easy hunting among animals that had never before seen humans. Within what may have been only a few generations, a thin network of tiny bands stretched across all of arctic Canada save for the islands of the far northwestern archipelago. This occupation continued until approximately 1500 BC, when there seems to have been a marked southern shift in arctic occupations: the islands of the High Arctic, those north of Lancaster Sound, were abandoned by the Palaeoeskimos, while the barren grounds were apparently abandoned by Indians. This occurred at a time when the tree-line to the west of Hudson Bay retreated considerably to the South, and there is evidence of a cooling climate throughout the Arctic. The retreat of the tree-line was probably quite rapid, caused by the massive burning of forests already dead or dying from increased cold. Such an event must have caused great disruption in the annual migrations of the caribou. For the people who awaited the caribou at the crucial autumn killing-places, changes in migration patterns must have meant hardship and, in many cases, the starvation of local groups. For the next few centuries there are no traces of Indian hunters in the barren grounds, but their place was taken by Palaeoeskimos who moved southward from the arctic coast and occupied the interior tundra and forest as far south as Lake Athabasca and northern Manitoba. Clearly, these were people who had no trouble surviving in the southern Arctic, even during times of cold climates and scarce animal resources.

Expanded Populations

The next major event in arctic prehistory also occurred during a period of climatic change, but the change seems to have affected cultural development in an unexpected manner. After a few centuries of warmer conditions, during which Indians reclaimed the barren grounds and Palaeoeskimos reoccupied the islands of the High Arctic, the climate became colder once again in the centuries around 500 BC. Archaeological remains from this period of Palaeoeskimo occupation are numerous, and the sites suggest expanding populations, a more settled lifestyle, and a more secure economic base.

An explanation for this apparent paradox may lie in the fact that, although food resources probably did not increase in a period of cooling climate, they may have become more easily available to a people with the technology of the Palaeoeskimos. There is little evidence that the Palaeoeskimos of this period used kayaks, nor did they have the float-harpoon technology used by the later Inuit to hunt large sea mammals. Although they were expert hunters of seals, and could capture animals as large as walrus and beluga, their sea hunting must have been carried out from shore and, much more importantly, from the sea ice.

We know that in today’s Arctic cool summers produce a marked increase in the extent and seasonal duration of sea ice, and we can expect that cooler summers in the past would have had a similar effect. This, in turn, can be expected to have produced three major results. First, a decrease in evaporation could have caused colder and drier summer weather which, in the near-desert of the arctic islands, would have meant less vegetation and fewer caribou and muskoxen. Second, more extensive sea ice could have caused an increase in populations of ringed seals, animals that were the mainstay of most traditional Inuit diets, and which are dependent on stable sea ice for raising their young. Finally, the same sea ice could have provided a safe platform from which people could hunt seals and other marine mammals over much greater areas, and for a longer season than in warmer periods.

The Palaeoeskimos seem to have adapted well to such a situation. There is evidence suggesting that they became less dependent on land animals and, indeed, that they even stopped using the bow-and-arrow. The bones of seals dominate the refuse scattered about most archaeological sites of the period, and the large amounts of refuse indicate that their settlements were larger and more stable. This successful adaptation of the Palaeoeskimos to colder conditions should be a warning against making facile assumptions that a cooling climate automatically produces hardship for northern hunters.

Europeans and Inuit

The final scenes of arctic prehistory are played out against a background of climatic change well known from European history: the Medieval Warm Period, in the centuries around AD lOOO, and the Little Ice Age between approximately AD 1600 and AD 1850. The Medieval Warm Period brought two new groups to arctic North America, both of them maritime peoples who took advantage of the decreased sea ice of the period. From the east came the Norse, who colonized south-western Greenland and made at least occasional forays along the coasts of the eastern Canadian Arctic and sub-Arctic. From the west came the ancestors of the Inuit, who quickly displaced the Palaeoeskimos from most arctic regions.

The Inuit came from the north-western coasts of Alaska, where their ancestors had developed efficient techniques and equipment for open-water hunting. Animals as large as the bowhead whale were hunted from kayaks and umiaks, skin-covered boats 10 metres or more in length, using large harpoons attached to floats and drags similar to those used by later European whalers. The umiak could also be used to transport an entire camp with all of its equipment, the women rowing the boat while the hunters travelled by kayak. By boat in summer and by dogsled in winter, the early Inuit spread rapidly across the Arctic. The remains of their winter villages-groups of boulder-walled, semi-subterranean houses raftered with the mandibles of whales and surrounded by the discarded bones of whales and other animals- are the most impressive archaeological remains found in arctic Canada, and attest to an economy considerably richer and more secure than that of most Inuit of the historic period.

During the Medieval Warm Period, normal summer conditions were probably similar to those which occur in occasional warm and ice-free summers at the present time. Such pleasant summers began to occur less frequently after about AD 120O, and were extremely rare during the ensuing Little Ice Age. As the deteriorating climate decreased the viability of the already marginal Norse farming in Greenland and increased ice in the North Atlantic interfered with navigation to Europe, the Norse colonies declined, and finally died out some time around AD 1500. At about the same time, the Inuit abandoned the islands of the High Arctic; in other regions they made rapid changes in their lifestyle in an attempt to cope with the new conditions.

In most arctic regions, the Inuit stopped hunting large whales, probably because increased sea ice prevented the regular movement of whales into the area. Sea ice that was more extensive and lasted for much of the summer made open-water hunting less productive, and in some areas the Inuit began to spend summers in the interior, fishing and hunting caribou. Unable to store much food from such summer hunts, they began to abandon their winter villages of permanent houses. More often, winters were spent in temporary snow-house villages on the sea ice, and the people became increasingly dependent on the small ringed seals which winter beneath the ice. Some groups left the sea entirely, and, much like the Palaeoeskimos during a cold period 3000 years earlier, began spending the whole year hunting caribou in the barren grounds. The Inuit lifeways described by European explorers were, therefore, not the result of an ancient adaptation to the Arctic. Rather, they were the product of rapid and makeshift adaptation to the climatic conditions of the Little Ice Age, an adaptation which forced a marked reduction in what had previously been a relatively rich and secure way of life.

Adapting to Climate

The major episodes of arctic prehistory- the first visits by Indian hunters, their replacement by Palaeoeskimos who could survive year-round in arctic conditions, and the Inuit invasion which, in turn, displaced the Palaeoeskimos-cannot be explained by the influences of a changing climate. These episodes are clearly the result of human abilities to invent and adapt technologies. Yetwithin these episodes, it is also apparent that minor changes in climate had a distinct influence on the way in which human life developed in the arctic regions. Although the current occupants of the Arctic have much greater technological insulation between themselves and their environment, the differences between a "good year" and a "bad year" are still important. Climatic changes on the same scale as those that have occurred over the past few millennia can be expected to continue in the future, and will continue to shape the nature of human settlement in arctic Canada.

Robert McGhee is Head of Scientific Section, Archaeological Survey of Canada, Canadian Museum of Civilization, Ottawa.


April 10, 2019 at 01:45PM

Peak Ghawar: A Peak Oiler’s Nightmare

Alternate title:

Guest reservoir geology by David Middleton

Saudi Aramco’s recent bond prospectus has generated a lot of media buzz, particularly regarding the production from Ghawar, the largest oil field in the world. Reaction has ranged from “The biggest Saudi oil field is fading faster than anyone guessed,” (not even wrong) to more subdued reactions from Ellen Wald and Robert Rapier, that the prospectus doesn’t really tell us much Ghawar’s decline rate. One thing that the bond prospectus did do, is to paint a picture of the most profitable company in the world and one that is serious when it says it will produce the last barrel of oil ever produced on Earth.

How big is Ghawar? Has it peaked? Is it “fading faster than anyone guessed”? The answer to the first question is: FRACKING YUGE. The answer to the second question was not easily answerable before Saudi Aramco began the process of becoming a publicly traded company. The answer to the third question is: Of course not.

As Saudi Aramco proceeds towards a 2021 IPO, it has had to embrace transparency. This involved an audit of the proved reserves in their largest fields, comprising about 80% of the company’s value. The audit was conducted by the highly respected DeGolyer and MacNaughton firm (D&M). The audit actually determined that the proved reserves are slightly larger than Aramco’s internal estimate.

This is from D&M’s certification letter (Appendix-C in the bond prospectus):

Reserves estimated herein are expressed as net reserves. Gross reserves are defined as the total estimated petroleum remaining to be produced from these properties after December 31, 2017, but before December 31, 2077 (license limit). Net reserves are defined as that portion of the gross reserves attributable to the interests held by Saudi Arabian Oil Company after deducting interests held by others. Saudi Arabian Oil Company has represented that it holds 100 percent of the interests evaluated herein; therefore, net reserves are equivalent to gross reserves for the purposes of this report.

Saudi Arabian Oil Company has represented that it holds interests in certain properties onshore and offshore the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Proved reserves have been estimated for 77 reservoirs in 29 fields in this report.


Definition of Reserves
Estimates of proved reserves presented in this report have been prepared in accordance with the PRMS approved in March 2007 by the Society of Petroleum Engineers, the World Petroleum Council, the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, and the Society of Petroleum Evaluation Engineers. Only proved reserves have been evaluated for this report. The petroleum reserves are defined as follows:

Reserves are those quantities of petroleum anticipated to be commercially recoverable by application of development projects to known accumulations from a given date forward under defined conditions. Reserves must further satisfy four criteria: they must be discovered, recoverable, commercial, and remaining (as of the evaluation date) based on the development project(s) applied. Reserves are further categorized in accordance with the level of certainty associated with the estimates and may be sub-classified based on project maturity and/or characterized by development and production status.

Proved Reserves – Proved Reserves are those quantities of petroleum which, by analysis of geoscience and engineering data, can be estimated with reasonable certainty to be commercially recoverable, from a given date forward, from known reservoirs and under defined economic conditions, operating methods, and government regulations. If deterministic methods are used, the term reasonable certainty is intended to express a high degree of confidence that the quantities will be recovered. If probabilistic methods are used, there should be at least a 90-percent probability that the quantities actually recovered will equal or exceed the estimate.


Aramco bond prospectus, pages C-1 and C-3

A couple of important clues to Ghawar’s current production rate:

  • Gross reserves are defined as the total estimated petroleum remaining to be produced from these properties after December 31, 2017, but before December 31, 2077.
  • Proved Reserves are those quantities of petroleum which, by analysis of geoscience and engineering data, can be estimated with reasonable certainty to be commercially recoverable, from a given date forward… If probabilistic methods are used, there should be at least a 90-percent probability that the quantities actually recovered will equal or exceed the estimate.

D&M’s proved reserve number for Ghawar was 48,254 million barrels of liquids (crude oil, condensate and natural gas liquids). That’s just a shade under 50 billion barrels to be produced from 2018-2077.

Ghawar: “The King of Giant Fields”

Discovered in 1948 and located some 200 km east of Riyadh, Ghawar has produced about five million barrels of oil per day in the past three decades. Last year, output from Ghawar accounted for 62.5% of Saudi Arabia’s crude production (about 8 MMbopd) and 6.25% of the world’s total oil production (about 80 MMbopd).

Sorkhabi 2010, “Ghawar: The King of Giant Fields”

Ghawar is “big”…

Figure 1. Ghawar relative to the State of Louisiana (Afifi, 2005)

Dr. Abdulkader Afifi described the geologic setting in his 2004 AAPG Distinguished Lecture…

Aramco initially discovered oil in Ghawar in 1948, based on surface mapping and shallow structure drilling. Ghawar is a large north-trending anticlinal structure, some 250 kilometers long and 30 kilometers wide. It is a drape fold over a basement horst, which grew initially during the Carboniferous Hercynian deformation and was reactivated episodically, particularly during the Late Cretaceous. In detail, the deep structure consists of several en echelon horst blocks that probably formed in response to right-lateral transpression. The bounding faults have throws exceeding 3000 feet at the Silurian level but terminate within the Triassic section. The episodic structural growth influenced sedimentation of the Permo-Carboniferous sandstone reservoirs, which onlap the structure and the Jurassic and Permian carbonate reservoirs, which accumulated in shoals above structural culminations.

The main oil reservoir is the Upper Jurassic Arab-D limestone, which improves upward from mudstone to skeletal-oolitic grainstone, reflecting successive upward-shoaling cycles. The excellent reservoir quality is due to the preservation of the primary porosity, the enhancement of permeability, and the presence of fractures in the deeper and tighter parts. The oil was sourced exclusively from Jurassic organic-rich mudstones and is effectively sealed beneath massive anhydrite. The general absence of faults at the Arab-D level maintained seal integrity. Current production is almost 5 million barrels per day under peripheral water injection. The southernmost part of the field remains under development, with a final increment of 300,000 barrels per day on stream in 2006.

Afifi, 2005

The structural/stratigraphic setting couldn’t have been better if it was designed for the purpose of becoming a super-giant oil field. The presence of a positive paleo-structure, episodic reactivation of uplift and buried fault system provided for a high-energy depostional environment, critical to the formation and preservation of carbonate porosity and provided pathways from the underlying prolific Silurian source rocks. The Jurassic Arab-D formation is covered by a thick sequence of anhydrite, forming a very effective seal.

Figure 2a. Ghawar Jurassic stratigraphy. Sorkhabi (2010)
Figure 2b. Ghawar Paleozoic stratigraphy. Sorkhabi (2010)
Figure 2c. Ghawar E-W Cross Section. Afifi (2005)

The Arab-D carbonate is an incredible reservoir, particularly the skeletal-oolitic grainstone.

Figure 3a. Ghawar Arab-D litho-facies. Afifi (2005)
Figure 3b. Ghawar Arab-D litho-facies. Afifi (2005)

Ghawar is subdivided into five segments: Ain Dar, Shedgum, Uthmaniyah, Hawiyah and Haradh.

Figure 4a. Arab-D structure map originally published in Levorsen 1954. Greg Kroft, Inc.

The 1954 structure map holds up pretty well today.

Figure 4b. 3d representation of Ghawar structure. Afifi (2005).

In 1980, Aramco published all of the data anyone would ever need to calculate the original oil in place (OOIP) for Ghawar:

Figure 5. Arab-D reservoir properties. Sorkhabi (2010)

I planimetered the areas of the five segments and then calculated to OOIP using this equation:

Figure 6. Basic volumetric equation. AAPG

This is what I came up with:

Figure 7. Ghawar OOIP.

About 183 billion barrels of oil. I also estimated approximate recoverable volumes:

OOIP    182,773,625,918 bbl
Primary Water Drive 40%      73,109,450,367 bbl
Secondary Waterflood EOR 50%      91,386,812,959 bbl
Tertiary CO2 injection EOR 60%   109,664,175,551 bbl

In order to estimate Ghawar’s current production rate, I needed three numbers:

  1. Original oil in place.
  2. Current proved reserves.
  3. Cumulative production

We have estimates of OOIP and proved reserves, but the cumulative production is a bit “fuzzy”.

Beydoun in his book (The Middle East, 1988) reports that Ghawar had produced 19 Bbo by 1979. According to an article on Ghawar in the AAPG Explorer (January 2005), the cumulative production from the field was 55 Bbo. The International Energy Agency in its 2008 World Energy Outlook states that the oil production from Ghawar reached 66 Bbo in 2007 and that the remaining reserves are 74 Bbo.

Data on Ghawar reported in the past issues of Oil & Gas Journal indicate that when Ghawar came on stream in 1951 it produced 126,000 bopd but production steadily rose with a major boost soon after the 1973 oil shock so that the field’s 1975 output was 4.2 MMbopd; this reached a maximum production of 5.7 MMbopd in 1981. From 1982-1990, the Saudis lowered their oil production for market considerations (most notably the oil crash of 1985) and thus Ghawar’s production was 2.5 to 3 MMbopd during that decade. A senior geologist with Saudi Aramco, A. M. Afifi, in his 2004 AAPG Distinguished Lecture, reported production values of 4.6-5.2 MMbopd for Ghawar from 1993 through 2003. These data indicate that 50-65% of Saudi Aramco’s oil production has traditionally come from Ghawar. Apparently, one half of Ghawar’s production (2.0 to 2.7 MMbopd) comes from the Ain Dar and Shedgum areas, while Uthmaniyah provides 1 MMbopd, and another million barrels or so comes from Hawiyah and Haradh combined.

Sorkhabi (2010)

For my estimate, I used the AAPG number of 55 billion bbl as the cumulative production through 2004. I then used the production data cited in Afifi (2005) as a starting point for a decline curve.

Figure 8. Saudi Arabia and Ghawar oil production. Crude = Crude oil and natural gas condensate, NGL = Natural Gas Liquids other than wellhead condensate, MSC = Maximum Sustained Capacity, Rpt. Ghawar = Published reports of Ghawar’s production rate, DCA = Decline Curve Analysis

The Aramco bond prospectus noted that Ghawar’s MSC (maximum sustained capacity) was 3.8 million barrels per day (bbl/d) in 2018. Based on Aramco’s definition of MSC, it’s difficult to determine if that is a current value or an average value over the Saudi planning period (which appears to be 50 years). A 2% decline rate, typical of giant oil fields (Höök et al, 2009), fits a current MCS of 3.8 million bbl/d. A 1% decline rate fits a long-term average MCS of 3.8 million bbl/d. Based on the cumulative production and proved reserves, a 2% decline rate seems likely.

A 2% decline rate would lead to Ghawar producing just over 100% of its proved reserves (1p) from 2018-2077 (50.7 billion bbl). Recall that proved reserves (1p) is a >90% probability volume. Proved + probable reserves (2p) is the most likely volume (>50%). 2p is always a little (or a lot) bigger than 1p. As far as I know, Aramco has not published a 2p volume.

A 2% decline rate would lead to a recovery of approximately 65% of the OOIP from 1951-2077.

People have often asked, “How could Saudi Arabia ever replace Ghawar, the largest oil field in the world?” They already have replaced it… and Ghawar is not “fading faster than anyone guessed.” It’s declining as gracefully as befits the world’s super-giant oil field.  Aramco plans on being able to produce 12 million bbl/d as for more than 50 years and they have the capacity to do so.

Figure 9. With a relatively minor contribution from probable reserves and proved reserve replacement, Aramco can produce 12 million bbl/d until at least 2060. Abdulbaqi & Saleri (2004).

The Peak Oiler’s Nightmare

Almost all petroleum reservoirs exhibit exponential decline curves. They don’t fall off of a Seneca Cliff into the Olduvai Gorge. In aggregate, regional and global oil production has and/or will follow the same pattern, because it is just the sum of the individual reservoirs. Hubbert’s logistic function is an approximation of this basic principle of reservoir depletion.


Reality… I can do this for any field in the Gulf of Mexico because I have easy access to the production data. I could also do it for just about any oil reservoir on Earth; I just don’t have those data literally at my fingertips. EI 330 is just the biggest field on the shelf (<500′ water depth), almost 500 million bbl of oil and 1.9 TCF of gas from September 1972 through January 2019. The field averaged 820 bbl/d in 2018. A rate vs time plot would look very similar; however rate vs cumulative production is what matters. EI 330 has also been cited as an example of abiotic oil… ROTFLMFAO!!!

Peak Oiler Fantasy…


About the author

David Middleton has 38 years of experience as a geophysicist and geologist in the oil & gas industry, including a six-year exile into management. The vast majority of his career has been spent working the Gulf of Mexico. He has been a member of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists since 1981 and the American Association of Petroleum Geologists since 2004.

A note on comments: Abiotic oil aficionados are more than welcome to waste their time posting gibberish, but they won’t waste any of mine. Peak Oiler’s are also welcome to babble about Seneca Cliffs and Olduvai Gorges… And that might just merit wasting some of my time.


Abdulbaqi, Mahmoud, M. & Nansen G. Saleri. Fifty-Year Crude Oil Supply Scenarios: Saudi Aramco’s Perspective. CSIS, Washington D.C. February 24, 2004.

Afifi, Abdulkader. (2005). Ghawar: The Anatomy of the World’s Largest Oil Field. Search and Discovery Article #20026 (2005). Adapted from AAPG Distinguished Lecture, 2004.

Bardi, Ugo. “The Seneca Effect.” The Seneca Effect,

Blas, Javier. “The Biggest Saudi Oil Field Is Fading Faster Than Anyone Guessed.” Yahoo! Finance, 3 Apr. 2019,

Croft, Greg. The Ghawar Oil Field, Saudi Arabia. Greg Croft Inc.

DiChristopher, Tom. “Saudi Arabia’s Massive Oil Reserves Total 268.5 Billion Barrels, Even Bigger than Previously Known.” CNBC, 9 Jan. 2019,

Höök, Mikael & Hirsch, Robert & Aleklett, Kjell. (2009). Giant oil field decline rates and their influence on world oil production. Energy Policy. 37. 2262-2272. 10.1016/j.enpol.2009.02.020.

Hubbert, M. King. “Nuclear Energy and the Fossil Fuels. Presented before the Spring Meeting of the Southern District, Division of Production, American Petroleum Institute, San Antonio, Texas, March 7-8-9, 1956.” Nuclear Energy and the Fossil Fuels. Presented before the Spring Meeting of the Southern District, Division of Production, American Petroleum Institute, San Antonio, Texas, March 7-8-9, 1956, 1956.

Levorsen, A. I. Geology of Petroleum. Freeman, 1954.

Middleton, David H. “No… ‘The Biggest Saudi Oil Field Is [NOT] Fading Faster than Anyone Guessed’…” Watts Up With That?, 5 Apr. 2019,

Middleton, David H. “Demand for Aramco Bond Offering Breaks Records… Tops $85B.” Watts Up With That?, 9 Apr. 2019,

Paraskova, Tsvetana. “Saudi Arabia: We’ll Pump The World’s Very Last Barrel Of Oil.”, 23 Jan. 2019,

Peak Oil. “The Seneca Cliff of Oil Production”. Exploring Hydrocarbon Depletion. June 7, 2016.

Rapier, Robert. “The Permian Basin Is Now The World’s Top Oil Producer.” Forbes Magazine, 5 Apr. 2019,

Saudi Arabian Oil Company (Aramco). Global Medium Term Note Programme. Base Prospectus dated 1 April 2019.

Sorkhabi, Rasoul (2010) The King of Giant Fields. GeoExpro, vol. 7, no. 4 (January-February 2010), pp. 24-29). Published, 09/2010.

Wald, Ellen R. “What Saudi Aramco’s Bond Prospectus Reveals About Its Oil Reserves.”, 4 Apr. 2019,

via Watts Up With That?

April 10, 2019 at 12:07PM