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Wow - rise in CO2 attributable to natural causes

Discussion in 'Environmental Discussion' started by TimBikes, Aug 6, 2011.

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  1. TimBikes

    TimBikes New Member

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    As much as I doubt any rise in CO2 will have any catastrophic climate consequences, I had for some time understood that it was well established that the recent rise in atmospheric CO2 was pretty clearly attributable to humans. Maybe that's not the case...

    I haven't listened to the podcast referenced in the link yet, but apparently even Judith Curry is impressed. It will be interesting to see how the paper holds up once published.

    Andrew Bolt says in his Herald Sun blog:
    Salby’s argument is that the usual evidence given for the rise in CO2 being man-made is mistaken. It’s usually taken to be the fact that as carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere increase, the 1 per cent of CO2 that’s the heavier carbon isotope ratio c13 declines in proportion. Plants, which produced our coal and oil, prefer the lighter c12 isotope. Hence, it must be our gasses that caused this relative decline.
    But that conclusion holds true only if there are no other sources of c12 increases which are not human caused. Salby says there are – the huge increases in carbon dioxide concentrations caused by such things as spells of warming and El Ninos, which cause concentration levels to increase independently of human emissions. He suggests that its warmth which tends to produce more CO2, rather than vice versa – which, incidentally is the story of the past recoveries from ice ages.
    Dr. Judith Curry has some strong words of support, and of caution:
    "I just finished listening to Murry Salby’s podcast on Climate Change and Carbon. Wow."
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  2. chogan2

    chogan2 Senior Member

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    For the 6 degree C temperature rise at the end of the ice age, we got 100 PPM C02 increase in 10,000 years. That's the extent of feedback from temperature to atmospheric carbon. Been that way for at least the last 800,000 years.

    But, as it turns out, this new research, by looking at the tiny little annual fluctuations in the rate of increase of atmospheric carbon in the 20th century, versus tiny annual temperature fluctuations, and taking correlations between those two time series, says that the same mechanism generated 100 PPM C02 increase in the past 100 years from 0.8 C temperature rise.

    So this research, based on correlations, says that the true temperature feedback mechanism operates roughly 100x faster and is about 10x greater temperature sensitivity as the paleological data show.

    So, how likely is that? That a study of the correlations of the little tiny deviations in temperature over the last century are going to reveal this massive new truth?

    But it gets better. Wouldn't you know it, just by chance, that unique, unprecedented-in-the-last-800,000 year speedup in temperature feedback and jump in temperature sensitivity just happens to have occurred when we started burning fossil fuels. Not a moment sooner.

    Now how likely is that?

    I would ask that one read some informed criticism of the paper, please. Except that there is no paper. As I understand it, you can't even get a set of slides. It's just an audio.

    Try this on for size. You don't even need to know any science whatsoever to know that humans are the source of the increased atmospheric carbon. And that Mother Nature is a net carbon sink, not a net carbon source as this analysis says. None.

    All you need to do is be able to add numbers.

    From the statistics of trade, we know how much fossil fuel is burnt and flared each year. To that we can add small amounts for cement production, and somewhat larger amounts for net land clearing (converting the rain forest to C02, more or less).

    From the Keeling curve, we know how much carbon there is in the atmosphere.

    So, is Mother Nature a net source of atmospheric carbon, as this analysis suggests, or a net sink? All you need to answer that is the ability to do arithmetic.

    Year after year after year, the amount of carbon that we put into the atmosphere, based on the tonnages of fuels burned, exceeds the amount by which atmospheric carbon increases each year. Ergo, Nature is a net sink.

    Nature cannot possibly be a net atmospheric carbon source, as this analysis suggests. If it were, the numbers would not add up. It's that simple.

    And the fact that Nature is a sink is confirmed (to within the limits of uncertainty) by direct observation (e.g., of ocean surface water ph from new C02 absorption).

    I won't even get into the isotope issues.

    In sum:

    This analysis -- not even a paper, not even as I read it a set of slides, just an audio of a presentation -- is strongly at odds with several pieces of evidence.

    If it were true that 0.8C temperature rise could account for 100PPM atmospheric carbon increase, then ... atmospheric C02 would have been far below zero during the ice ages. The implied temperature sensitivity of this correlation analysis is off by a factor of ten or so.

    If it were true that Nature was a net source (not sink) of C02 in the 20th century, then the rise in C02 had to have been vastly more than what was observed. Because we know mankind's contribution based on the statistics of trade. That's just arithmetic. And the arithmetic says that the increase in atmospheric carbon is much less than the amount that we injected into the atmosphere.

    And there's the isotope ratio issues that are icing on the cake.

    I'll cheerfully bet $1000 that this will never get published in a peer-reviewed journal.
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  3. tochatihu

    tochatihu Senior Member

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    I wouldn't make that bet, chogan2 - Do you know how many peer-reviewed journals there are?

    I'll be the first to admit I have not listened to Salby's audio. But I did read the long discussion about it at Judith Curry's. I believe that makes me a (Holiday Inn Express) expert.

    A telling point was raised repeatedly in that discussion, and just as often batted aside. I shall restate it and try to say it more simply than chogan2 did (no offense):

    Half of the fossil-fuel CO2 released remains in the atmosphere, and half is absorbed by the biosphere. Has been that way since at least 1960 (the atmospheric CO2 is not precisely known earlier). The other half is sequestered by the biosphere; land and sea. Earth (except for FF burning now) is a net carbon sink. Thus it is not a net source. Can't do both at the same time you know.

    Now the batting aside, including by Dr. Curry, is that the FF CO2 emission is not exactly known. That is a true statement but not actually helpful in the discussion.

    The total amount of coal, oil and natural gas extracted since 1960 is known quite well. The batting aside is based on year-to year numbers, which are quite more variable. So, take 50 years of fossil fuel extracted, and compare it to the CO2 increase in the atmosphere over the same 50 years. You get the same 50%, so the year-to year variability is a red herring. Bam. Done.

    If you've a mind for stable carbon isotopes (and I sure do :) ) you've got to wonder why the atmospheric C ratio is sailing negatively now, from -8 per mille. This is something else that does not show up in the long ice-core records. A conspicuous lack of FF burning back then.

    But for the man on the street, one would reasonably think that the simple mass-balance above would clear this right up. But, I see that it does not.

    And to that I saw "WOW".
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  4. cyclopathic

    cyclopathic Senior Member

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    It is not as simple as fossil fuel = CO2. For one you have to count other human causes, like pit fires in Indonesia, deforestation, reduction of wild fires (thnx Smokey), landfills, increased crop production, etc. Impact of accelerated warming on permafrost, arctic melting, etc. Impact on CO2 sinks, increased geological sequencing due to human activities, etc.

    Not that I am disagreeing but yeah if fossil fuels * O2 = CO2 well correlates to global increase, yes you are pretty much holding a smoking gun.
  5. mojo

    mojo Senior Member

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    Apparently the way CO2is measured in ice cores,the highest amount is not possible to determine.The level 800 years approx after the highest temp was reached .The peaks are short, so isolating the exact small slice of the 3ft piece of the interglacial period isn't possible.So the reading of 280 ppm is actually an average not including the peak.
    The actual peaks could very well have been 380ppm.
    Also, why do we measure co2 levels at the site of an active volcano?
  6. tochatihu

    tochatihu Senior Member

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    All of the addtional flux categories matter, that cyclopathic mentions. Those that relate to CO2 all contribute to the current net increase observed in the atmosphere. Or decrease, if they are negative net fluxes. We might discuss methane somewhere else, although it is not unrelated.

    But that current net increase is about 2 parts per million annually. This is about 4 gigatons of carbon. Because we also know the mass of the atmosphere, and it is one of the simple conversion factors that come in mighty handy when thinking about the global carbon cycle.

    Atmospheric increase about 4 Gt C; fossil fuel burn about double that. So enverything else including the above represents a net sink of also about 4 Gt C.

    Mojo, I hope that your question signifies an interest in ongoing CO2 measurements. Because then you'll take a look at the Scripps CO2 page and you'll learn many things. Such as:

    Why Mauna Loa?
    Which data points are considered reliable, or not, and why?
    Where else are CO2 measurements made globally?
    To what extent do they agree?
    What can we learn from situations where they disagree?

    Nothing short of fascinating for those with an interest in the subject. Since I am hitting Scripps, and cyclo also mentioned O2 (the partner in any combustion). At the Scripps web site you can see about the measurements of atmospheric O2. Oxygen.

    Now, maybe you'd think that would be the easy one, but seeing small changes in a big number require some impressive analytical chemistry. The techniques have not been available for long. But the accumulating (shorter) record is that oxygen is decreasing in stoichiometric ratio to the net CO2 increase.

    Heckuva thing. It means that the Net CO2 increase in the atmosphere is a result of cobmustion. Not as a result of thermal outgassing from the oceans, or volcanic exhalations. or etc. etc. etc. red herrings of your choice.

    Science is pretty amazing stuff. If you choose to dig into it, you'll find yourself saying "Wow" as well.

    (I am making the effort to work a wow into each of my minor contributions to this thread)
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  7. cyclopathic

    cyclopathic Senior Member

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    first of all thnx for reference.. (Scripps CO2 Program - Home)

    2nd, a small correction "combustion" would not be technically correct; we should use "oxygenation". That would cover many other sources of CO2 s.a. decomposition of organic material, atmospheric methane oxygenation, etc.

    Also I've been wondering for a while how much of O2 is being removed from atmosphere due to metal oxygenation? all those iron/aluminum/copper things we use? Or how much of O2 is being put back in circulation when the ore is smelted?
  8. tochatihu

    tochatihu Senior Member

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    Combustion or oxygenation seem about the same to me. Perhaps that's because I can't imagine the former ocurring w/o the big O. We'd need to be more percise talking about oxidation, as the opposite of reduction. Chemists have been busy defining that for centuries. Now, those terms refer to the transfer of electrons in reactions and the 'oxi' no longer implies oxygen, and 'reduction' means more electrons! Ah, those pesky chemists...

    My thoughts about the role of human metals use in the oxygen cycle might be no better than anyone else's. As a guess, substantially less than the role of cement on the C and O cycles. I suppose that most people realize that cement is #2 after fossil fuels' #1.

    Oxygen as a major component of the Earth's atmosphere is the fundamental wow here (struggling to get that in). Thermodynamically, it's all wrong. Only via persistent photosynthesis is it possible, and with photosynthesis out-doing decomposition and other oxygen sinks. First time the marine microbes tried it, Fe 2+ fought back. Several such seesaws followed and the banded iron formations famously tell that story. Only got O2 up to a few% though, and there it stayed until land plants came along and got big. Several factors seem to have contributed to those trees not decomposing after dying. Instead, they got buried and became coal. During that unique time (about 350 to 320 million years ago), O2 went up and CO2 went down. A big thank you to King Coal for that one!

    For the first time, an atmosphere that people could actually breathe existed. If you have the chance to time travel, don't set the dial any earlier than -320 million! Helpful hint.

    All of this of course is just keeping the discussion going until Salby's book and/or publication come out. Then we can see if a new version of these global cycles makes better sense. It would, as Ricky Ricardo would say, have some 'splainin' to do.
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  9. cyclopathic

    cyclopathic Senior Member

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    well it isn't. For example rusting is the type of oxygenation which does not involve combustion. Also combustion requires oxidant, but it doesn't have to be the oxygen. Fluorine and even lesser halogens could do.

    And oxygenation of combustible organic material (wood for example) can happened with the help of anaerobic bacteria.

    with respect to anthropologically induced oxygenation, besides the obvious metal rusting and other metal oxygenation, there is also cement as you mentioned and all increased geological oxygenation (rocks are covered by thin oxidized film).. think open mines, construction projects, etc

    It is an important question to ask when you look at the oxygen depletion data.

    I realize it is not simple question to answer, and you and me may be not the right people; if you come across any publication, please share, thx
  10. mainerinexile

    mainerinexile No longer in exile!

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    It is well accepted in the scientific community that in the past, temperature rose first, which de-gassed C02 due to Beers Law and caused atm CO2 to increase. This time is it the reverse, which is why we have no analog and no ability to predict future climate.

    I' m not a climate modeller, but many of my faculty colleagues are, and they all say that the biggest issues in the climate discussion is that people (and policy makers) think that the output from climate models are predictions. They are not. They are SCENARIOS based on our very incomplete understanding and even worse ability to model the atmosphere and make inferences about climate.
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  11. cyclopathic

    cyclopathic Senior Member

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    ^^^ agree with nainerinexile, it is uncharted territory.

    Another issue with climate models that many aspects are based on rather statistical then physical approach; instead understanding and modeling actual physical processes they use static data and polynomial equations to approximate the curve. Later works well if you look at the predictions within the range, but not so well when it is out of range which all future prediction are.
  12. mojo

    mojo Senior Member

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    Another problem with climate models is they test them by having them replicate the past.
    But the past rebound from the little ice age is only temp and CO2 rising.
    My instinct guesses those models are tested on hockey sticks.
    Give me one that can replicate the past 10,000 years when temps were higher and CO2 was lower.
    That does not compute.
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