Atmosphere and You

Contrails or Electro-Conductive Govenment Mind Control Sprays?Anyone seen Michael Crichton’s new “State of Fear”? The man who brought dinosaurs back to life now disputes the commonly held belief that global warming is a consequence of increased carbon dioxide emissions produced by the industrialized world.

I’ve never really looked at the evidence supporting the anthropocentric theory of global warming, so I took a look around and found what I hope are a few unbiased sources:

Exploratorium’s Climate Change Page
Environmental Protection Agency

And a couple of clearly biased sources:
Fact, Hypothesis, or Myth
National Defence Research Council

My take away?

1) There is a definite warming trend in global surface measurements observable

over the last 100 years with a pronounced increase in the last 2 decades. Unfortunately, these time periods coincide with refinements in measurement tools, making comparison of measurements difficult, especially with a precision of ~1 C. Satellite data mesuring troposhere temperature fails to recapitulate the warming trend indicated by surface temperature measurements. Which measurement do you think is more sensitive? Accurate? Prone to bias?

2) There appears to be a rough correlation between CO2 and Temperature readings over the last 250 thousand years, however the causative factor is not clearly established. Increased CO2 may cause increased temperature, but it seems equally plausible that increased temperature enhances bioactivity, which may in turn produce increased CO2.

3) If you read enough forum discussions regarding global warming, you’ll find the Truth: Your Life as a Human Test Subject. And here I thought contrails were the consequence of condensation of water vapor exhaust from jet engines. Who knew?

All in all, the data supporting anthropocentric global warming are not terribly compelling to me. Of course, I may be guilty of selectively acknlowedging data that supports my underlying biases. Discuss…

8 thoughts on “Atmosphere and You”

  1. Check out the BBC’s explanation of global warming. It is really quite good:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/spl/hi/sci_nat/04/climate_change/html/climate.stm

    If you want primary data check out NASA GISS:
    http://www.giss.nasa.gov/data/

    BP Australia:
    http://www.bp.com.au/globalchoice/climate_change.asp

    Look, if BP accepts climate change, I dont know more one could want for proof that its scientifically sound. CO2 absorbs energy. That energy stays around. This causes a rise in temperature. BP also notes that the Great Barrier Reef may be 95% smaller by midcentury.

    The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has predicted a 1.4-5.8 degree C rise in temperatures in the next century.

    Solutions:
    Carbon based:
    Zero Emission Coal
    http://www.zeca.org
    Carbon Sequestration:
    http://www.fe.doe.gov/programs/sequestration/index.html
    CO2 capture from the air and mineral sequestration
    http://www.ccm.columbia.edu/ (where I work)
    Geologic Sequestration:
    http://www.fe.doe.gov/programs/sequestration/geologic/

    Renewables:
    http://www.nrel.gov

    Or you can read through my way too long thoughts on the matter which I placed here instead of bombarding Thad’s blog with way too long of an entry.

  2. JSL183,

    Thanks for the response, you’re exactly the kind of resource I’m looking for. I’m very interested in learning more about this, and I’ve got a bunch of questions, most of which are probably simple an poorly considered. If you can help me navigate through my confusion, I’d appreciate it.

    I don’t buy the argument that BP’s nod to global warming is proof of its existence. BP is a politically aware and savvy group, and by representing environmental concern they seek to reassure customers and regulators that they are not a careless energy producer bent on profit without regard to global health. The BP page smells of an effort to proactively pacificy enviromentallist concerns.

    Thanks for the reference to the GISS site: that’s a solid source of data to chew on. The data regarding surface temperature seems to agree with assessments I’ve seen elsewhere, but are there satellite data from the last 30 years that confirm the warming trend? It would be a nice piece of confirmatory data.

    I found another summarry page that was pretty data heavy and nicely written, it may be worth a look: http://www.abelard.org/briefings/global_warming.htm#atmospheric_carbon

    The accelerated glacial melt and other phenomena in the artic regions are the most compelling obsevations to me. These functional effects certainly indicate that an anomaly is occuring in the arctic region. For the sake of argument, could events other than generalized warming account for the observed events? Increased intensity of polar ionizing radiation? Decreased snowfall? Marginal increase of ocean temp? Increased ground temperature due to volacanic activity? I’m not advocating any of these, just wondering if these factors have been considered and disproven.

    Is ocean pH expected to increase significantly with increased atmospheric CO2? The ocean is currently estimated to contain roughly 139,000 billion tons of CO2. Since the IR, an additional 400 billion tons are thought to have been added. A change of 0.3% over a century. Is this rate of change significant? With the additional volume of water added to the oceans by glacial melt, is this increase offset?

    Of course, most of the predictions we rely upon are based on the assumption that existing fossil fuel consumption rates are sustainable. Is there enough oil to sustain our existing rate of consumption for another century?

    Even if we accept that industrialized sources of CO2 are to blame for the possible warming trend, is reduction of industrialized CO2 output a practical approach to the reduction of atmospheric CO2? How much output would we need to cut by to achieve an effect? What the cost be to our society? Are approaches such as reforestation with Kudzu vine viable alternatives? Should we turn to geothermal and nuclear sources of power?

    In conclusion…San Dimas High School Football Rules!

  3. For the sake of argument, could events other than generalized warming account for the observed events?

    There are actually a combination of a bunch of anthropogenic events that we are seeing. Some of these cause cooling such as aerosols. It is the sum of these that is a net contribution of heat. CO2 and water as greenhouse gasses are quite well known and understood phenomena. Without them the earth would be something like -20 C (I forget exactly so dont quote me- the point being that it would be well below freezing.)

    Increased intensity of polar ionizing radiation?
    Why? From what? What cause? The Earth does change location in its orbit which affects various things. But not in the way we’re seeing. And not on such time periods. And its an easy calculation for astronomers. So scratch it.

    Decreased snowfall?
    This is called the albido affect. The albido is the reflectivity of the Earth. The more the Earth is white, the more it reflects. The less, the less. Snow is white as are glaciers. So the less of the two the more sun energy is absorbed to the ground and not reflected back to space. This is one of the feedback mechanisms for global warming/cooling. This is pretty reasonably understood. Read up on escaping a snowball planet earth for some cool info. It turns out that once past a certain amount of ice (I think ~50-60 latitude) the earth quickly turns into a giant slushball and is locked there until enough volcanos happen to reverse this. But this warming gets rid of all the ice, even at the poles. Which is exactly what the climate record shows has happened in the past!!

    Marginal increase of ocean temp?
    If you increase the temp of one thing its neighbor increases in temp also. What is warming the ocean? Its capable of holding massive amounts of heat. So something huge would have to be happening. You might even same something global. And then youre back where you started.

    Increased ground temperature due to volacanic activity?
    How many volcanos have you read about recently? We’ve had a quite normal amount of volcanic activity. And volcanos cool, not warm. The ash that they put in the atmoshpere acts to block sunlight. The big ones affect global agriculture. You can read up on krakatoa in the late 19th century and its affects on food output of the following couple years. Ground heat from inside the earth is already factored into the -20C that we ought to be at. The avriation is not significant enough to affect things globally.

    I’m not advocating any of these, just wondering if these factors have been considered and disproven.

    There are a host of other contributing factors and complications. But these are all pretty well known and understood.

    Is ocean pH expected to increase significantly with increased atmospheric CO2?
    Air and water equilibrate their contents according to henry’s law. Which is to say that a certain amount of something in air or water will mean a certain amount of it in the other according to a certain fixed ratio for that particular compound known as a henry’s constant. Chem 101. So an increase in CO2 in the air by 50% will mean an increase in CO2 in the ocean by 50% – with some time delay for mixing. Right now we’re still waiting for most of that mixing to happen as the ocean operates on a mixing cycle lasting a couple centuries (which was identified using CFCs oddly enough).

    The ocean is currently estimated to contain roughly 139,000 billion tons of CO2. Since the IR, an additional 400 billion tons are thought to have been added. A change of 0.3% over a century. Is this rate of change significant?

    Wrong question. You need to take the henry’s law constant for CO2 and the partial pressure of the CO2 in the air and calculate out what the CO2 in the water will be. But of course CO2 in water is as nontoxic as in the air. The problem is that as the increased CO2 enters the water it becomes CO3, bicarbonate, which then becomes HCO3, carbonate, and even H2CO3, carbonic acid. Skip the details but about 8% of increased CO2 ought to enter the ocean’s mixing layer. But it should be noted that the ocean has 55 times the dissolved carbon content of the atmosphere. And that much CO2 entering the ocean would start affecting pH.

    With the additional volume of water added to the oceans by glacial melt, is this increase offset?
    No, the water in the glaciers is something like 2% of the earth’s water while the oceans are the other 98%. (surface water being about .1%) Glacial melt is tiny vs. the ocean’s size.

    Of course, most of the predictions we rely upon are based on the assumption that existing fossil fuel consumption rates are sustainable. Is there enough oil to sustain our existing rate of consumption for another century?
    Excellent question. No. THere are only 50 years worth of oil left in the ground based on current consumption patterns. But we can make synthetic oil using coal for both the energy and source of C and H. So we can keep making gasoline or diesel or whatever we want as long as we want. Its called the fischer-tropes process. Germany and South Africa both did it extensively during their blockades. If oil prices stayed at $40+/barrel indefinitely it would enter the market place in force. But Saudi wouldnt let that happen. But thats a whole different issue. SunFuel from tar sands is that new hotness up in canada right now.

    Even if we accept that industrialized sources of CO2 are to blame for the possible warming trend, is reduction of industrialized CO2 output a practical approach to the reduction of atmospheric CO2?
    Yes. At least net output. This isnt one of those, it would be nice to do this kind of things. This is one of those, this threatens our entire species things. And ignore the dumbass tree huggers or mother earth types. Nature will be perfectly fine. Life on the planet would continue. Just without us. Assuming we fucked up enough that is. So before we do that we want to do something about it. If nothing at all had been done and no analysis made we would be looking at 900 ppm CO2 in a cenury. Which would most certainly mess with things.

    How much output would we need to cut by to achieve an effect?
    Zero net basically. We probably havent put out too much yet. But another 30 years at current rates of increases is another 100ppm (the sum anthropogenic output to date). Thats the problem. At current rates this would be 50-60 years.

    What the cost be to our society?
    Theres the real question. It will add 30-50% to the price of energy. And those are quite hard numbers. 50% now, 30% with efficiences that get developed when you scale an industry/industrial process up and let it run for a couple decades. And that assumes the costliest of the mitigating technologies- air extraction to mineral sequestration. (what my lab does) Zero emission coal (a lie- its a 90% reduction in emissions of CO2 but a dramatic reduction in other categories like SOX, NOX, (acid rain) and ash) is designed to be of a similar cost to modern coal power plants. Geologic sequestration doesnt add much. Renewable energies have potential. Using the earth for heating/cooling, wind, and some geothermal are probably all possible right now at competitive costs. District heating would be an instant saving. Other efficienies are possible through new systems, though the old ones cant have their efficiencies continue to be improved massively from where they are now. Finally the CO2 stream from air extraction or the ZECA plant could be used with fischer tropes to close the CO2 loop – CO2 from fossil fuels could be used to create oil, gas, etc, which could be burned and then extracted from the air to be burned again. And the energy penalty involved could be paid for by hydro, solar, and for the present coal.

    Are approaches such as reforestation with Kudzu vine viable alternatives?
    Mostly no. True reforestation locks some amount of CO2 away, but only enough for a few years worth of our output. Massive scaled reforestation could do something to reverse the current 380 down substantially. But in the long run it takes a certain fixed amount out while the forest is growing and then thats it nothing more can be taken out without putting the plant-based carbon somewhere. And thats just fancy sequestration. Besides- a world covered in one plant only would have its own ecological issues.

    Should we turn to geothermal and nuclear sources of power?
    Geothermal is limited because of location issues and a lack of it. Though the ground can be used for heating/cooling and district heating could be built in America like in Europe (though it would take a massive infrastructure refurbishing). Nuclear has proliferation issues. If you make nuclear plants ubiquitous you are making it that much more ubiquitous. Look to the debate on Iran for the explanation on that. Reactors have been proposed where nuclear fuel in = nuclear waste out in a completely controllable way where none could be used for bombs. But thats all talk at this point. Wind is already becoming quite large in Europe. It will catch up in the US over the next couple decades. Personally, I could see wind farms covering the great plains. Cattle already is only barely profitable, so why not energy farming instead? And solar is made of fancy silicon. If you think of what intel has done to silicon computer chips between 1980 and today and consider them doing the same for solar panels you could see solar dominating the energy market in a decade or two.

    BBC continues to cover much of this with good explanations. http://news.bbc.co.uk
    I’m told http://www.realclimate.org is supposed to have a point by point refutation of crichton’s book.
    The lamont earth observatory has a lot of primary data http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu

  4. My eyes were glazing over from all the sources.

    Common sense says that its easier to heat air than it is to heat water. The average air temps, by most accounts, are only a few degrees warmer. On the face of things, it would seem that human activity heating the air by only a few degrees would mean something else must be heating up the earth?s oceans! (Otherwise we would be seeing very large air temp increases to force the ocean?s temps to increase by as much as they are!)

  5. This is a link to a meta-study of published peer reviewed articles on climate change. It shows that there is an absolutely overwhelming consensus among scientists knowledgeable in the field; not science fiction writers, not republican politicians or the oil and coal companies who fund them, scientists.

    From Science magazine December 3, 2004

    The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change

    Policy-makers and the media, particularly in the United States, frequently assert that climate science is highly uncertain. Some have used this as an argument against adopting strong measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. For example, while discussing a major U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report on the risks of climate change, then-EPA administrator Christine Whitman argued, “As [the report] went through review, there was less consensus on the science and conclusions on climate change” (1). Some corporations whose revenues might be adversely affected by controls on carbon dioxide emissions have also alleged major uncertainties in the science (2). Such statements suggest that there might be substantive disagreement in the scientific community about the reality of anthropogenic climate change. This is not the case…

    http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/306/5702/1686?maxtoshow=&HITS=10&hits=10&RESULTFORMAT=&titleabstract=climate+change+meta+study&searchid=1122156458830_11905&stored_search=&FIRSTINDEX=0&fdate=10/1/2000&tdate=7/31/2005

  6. I’ve never quite understood the argument about “costs to society.” Yes, we’re certain that cutting emissions would cost us money, and we’re only mostly certain that our emissions contribute to global warming. But jeez– you’re saying “Oh, there’s a 100% chance I’ll have to live a little less extravagently and only a 90% chance that my great-grandchildren will all die young (or be nonexistent).” Without a society, what costs are you worried about, exactly?

    And as for not being certain about CO2 emissions being tied to global warming, it was 1894 when Arrhenius first proposed that increasing CO2 would mean increasing temperature, and this was based entirely on theory, not correlation. In other words, it’s not like someone noticed temperatures increasing along with CO2 and just blindly decided there was a cause/effect relationship. In any other field of science, if a Nobel Prize winner made a prediction based on theory and we saw the prediction borne out decades later, that theory would become generally accepted as fact (e.g. Einstein’s relativity demonstrated with time-keeping satellites). I guess if the theory means that the only way to stop the destruction of civilization means that your country might have to take steps that decrease its economic stature, the theory remains a hypothesis.

  7. I hate hippies! I mean, the way they always talk about “protectin’ the earth” and then drive around in cars that get poor gas mileage and wear those stupid bracelets – I hate ’em! I wanna kick ’em in the nuts! josh, john, that means you.

    http://www.southparkquotes.com

Comments are closed.