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Climate Change and Ice Core Data – Climate Deniers Are Terribly Confused

I find it amusing how all of the sudden everybody’s an expert climatologist. Whenever I post something on climate change I always get several e-mails from people telling me that the science is “bad.” None of these people have actually read a scientific paper that I know of. None of them have the ability to discern between “good science” and “bad science.” Conservative commentators, who also cannot evaluate scientific papers, have stated that many of these papers represent “bad science” and conservatives parrot this nonsense.

Just for a second, let’s forget all the craziness that surrounds climate change secondary to man’s burning of fossil fuels. Let’s forget the controversy of who said this or that and let’s just focus on a couple of things. Let’s focus on carbon dioxide and temperature. Let’s just focus on one group of studies which looked at ice core data. (Anybody who has a problem with this data, please let me know.)

I wrote the following several months ago, but I think it still applies today:

How can climatologists point to some of the events that are happening now as evidence of climate change secondary to man’s burning fossil fuels? Well, thankfully, I don’t have to come up with an experiment off the top of my head. Smart people, scientists, have done this for us. There are a few places in the world that don’t change all that much. As a matter fact, they haven’t changed for thousands of years. One place would be Antarctica the other would be Greenland. In these two places, it gets extremely cold. The ice in some places is several miles thick. NASA explains it like this:

Throughout each year, layers of snow fall over the ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica. Each layer of snow is different in chemistry and texture, summer snow differing from winter snow. Summer brings 24 hours of sunlight to the polar regions, and the top layer of the snow changes in texture—not melting exactly, but changing enough to be different from the snow it covers. The season turns cold and dark again, and more snow falls, forming the next layers of snow. Each layer gives scientists a treasure trove of information about the climate each year. Like marine sediment cores, an ice core provides a vertical timeline of past climates stored in ice sheets and mountain glaciers.

So, by drilling into the ice, we can go back in time and see what the environment was like. What was the composition of the ice 100 years ago… or a thousand years ago? How much methane or carbon dioxide was in the atmosphere? Whatever was in the atmosphere should be trapped in the ice. Scientists have been able to look back over 420,000 years. (Please click on the picture for a larger version.)
Notice how at the end of the graph (the right side) CO2 levels are higher than at any time during the measuring period. This seems to correlate very nicely with the industrial age, which started approximately 150 years ago. Below is another graph looking at temperature variation and carbon dioxide concentration. This graph covers only 18,000 years. Again, towards the end of the graph, on the right, you can see the abrupt increase in carbon dioxide.
This data makes a compelling argument that the accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere is a new phenomenon. CO2 has not accumulated at this high a level over the last 420,000 years. This is a compelling argument to support the fact that man is having a definite impact on the world around us and that climate change second to man’s burning fossils is really happening. Currently, the leading explanation for this accumulation is the beginning of the industrial age and the burning of carbon fuel at a much higher rate than ever before. The question is whether you are going to believe the scientists or the other guys who are making huge vats of money burning fossil fuels. Is oxygen real or not?

So, by drilling into the ice, we can go back in time and see what the environment was like. What was the composition of the ice 100 years ago… or a thousand years ago? How much methane or carbon dioxide was in the atmosphere? Whatever was in the atmosphere should be trapped in the ice. Scientists have been able to look back over 420,000 years. (Please click on the picture for a larger version.)

So, here’s my question – what’s the problem with this science? If there’s no problem with the science than it is clear that CO2 levels seem to correlate with rising temperatures. It is also clear that CO2 levels have risen to levels we haven’t seen in over 500,000 years. Now, we can argue over why CO2 levels have risen. We can pretend that this is some natural phenomenon that started approximately 150 years ago or, we can look at this data and realize that man’s burning of fossil fuels is throwing hundreds of thousands of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere and it may, just may, have some effect on our climate.

By |2012-11-28T01:42:26-04:00July 2nd, 2011|Environment|3 Comments

Climate Change: CO2 and methane could become even bigger problems

I’m going to try and do a better job and post more information on climate change. (I’m going to use the term climate change instead of global warming. For me, climate change will be shorthand for climate change secondary to human activity, specifically the burning of fossil fuels.) I have found a new blog called Climate Progress. This blog has done a wonderful job of finding scientific articles and explaining those articles and what they mean to our climate. I will be borrowing heavily from this eco-blog.

From Climate Progress:

One of the single greatest concerns of climate scientists is that human-caused warming will cause amplifying feedbacks in the carbon-cycle.  Such positive feedbacks, whereby an initial warming releases carbon into the air that causes more warming, would increase both the speed and scale of climate change, greatly complicating both mitigation and adaptation.

The most worrisome amplifying feedback is the defrosting of the tundra.  Another major, related feedback now appears to be soil respiration, whereby plants and microbes in the soil give off more carbon dioxide as the planet warms.

As Nature reports (article here, study here, subs. req’d), a review of 439 studies around the world — including 306 performed from 1989 to 2008 — found “soil respiration had increased by about 0.1% per year between 1989 and 2008, the span when soil measurement techniques had become standardized.”  Physorg.com interviewed the lead author, who said bluntly:

“There’s a big pulse of carbon dioxide coming off of the surface of the soil everywhere in the world,” said ecologist Ben Bond-Lamberty of the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. “We weren’t sure if we’d be able to measure it going into this analysis, but we did find a response to temperature.”

The increase in carbon dioxide given off by soils — about 0.1 petagram (100 million metric tons) per year since 1989 — won’t contribute to the greenhouse effect unless it comes from carbon that had been locked away out of the system for a long time, such as in Arctic tundra. This analysis could not distinguish whether the carbon was coming from old stores or from vegetation growing faster due to a warmer climate. But other lines of evidence suggest warming is unlocking old carbon, said Bond-Lamberty, so it will be important to determine the sources of extra carbon.

Indeed the study itself concludes:

The available data are, however, consistent with an acceleration of the terrestrial carbon cycle in response to global climate change.

One of the other gases, maybe not talked about quite as much as carbon dioxide, is methane. Methane, like carbon dioxide, will trap heat in our atmosphere. It appears that there are huge quantities of methane trapped in the Siberian tundra. As temperatures warm, that methane is released into the atmosphere.

From Climate Progress:

Scientists learned last year that the permafrost permamelt contains a staggering “1.5 trillion tons of frozen carbon, about twice as much carbon as contained in the atmosphere,” much of which would be released as methane.  Methane is  is 25 times as potent a heat-trapping gas as CO2 over a 100 year time horizon, but 72 times as potent over 20 years!

The carbon is locked in a freezer in the part of the planet warming up the fastest (see “Tundra 4: Permafrost loss linked to Arctic sea ice loss“).  Half the land-based permafrost would vanish by mid-century on our current emissions path (see “Tundra, Part 2: The point of no return” and below).  No climate model currently incorporates the amplifying feedback from methane released by a defrosting tundra.

The new Science study, led by University of Alaska’s International Arctic Research Centre and the Russian Academy of Sciences, is “Extensive Methane Venting to the Atmosphere from Sediments of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf” (subs. req’d).  The must-read National Science Foundation press release (click here), warns “Release of even a fraction of the methane stored in the shelf could trigger abrupt climate warming.”  The NSF is normally a very staid organization.  If they are worried, everybody should be.

It is increasingly clear that if the world strays significantly above 450 ppm atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide for any length of time, we will find it unimaginably difficult to stop short of 800 to 1000 ppm.

By |2011-02-19T11:34:13-04:00February 19th, 2011|Environment|Comments Off on Climate Change: CO2 and methane could become even bigger problems

Solar energy would help a lot

I don’t talk about alternative energy enough. I need to do a better job. I’ll start with this article about solar energy.

From Common Dreams:

Solar power technologies could generate 15 percent of America’s power in 10 years, but only if Washington levels the playing field on subsidies, a report by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) says.

That means either rolling back fossil fuel subsidies, as President Obama proposed earlier this year, or increasing subsidies for clean energy, the association says.

Fossil fuels received $72 billion in total federal subsidies from 2002 to 2008, keeping prices artificially low, according to figures from the Environmental Law Institute (ELI). About 98 percent of that went to conventional energy sources, namely coal and oil, leading to more emissions. The rest, $2.3 billion, was pumped into a new technology to trap and store carbon dioxide spewed by coal plants.

During that same period, solar got less than $1 billion, according to the SEIA, a trade group representing 1,100 solar companies across the nation.

I’m not sure that trading one industry who’s in on the public dime for another is a winning strategy.

By |2009-12-29T23:21:19-04:00December 29th, 2009|Energy|Comments Off on Solar energy would help a lot
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