Global Warming Update

By October 13, 2006Global Warming

Two items of note in today’s WaPo on the topic of global warming:

Item #1:

“Huge peat bogs in Siberia and elsewhere may have helped spur global warming at the end of the last ice age about 12,000 years ago, scientists reported.”

This pre-dates the invention of the internal combustion engine by some 10,140 years, by our calculations.

Item #2:

If the globe is warming, it hasn’t yet hit Detroit.

Join the discussion 8 Comments

  • Ward Webber says:

    For those who seem able to off-handly dismiss
    the huge adverse impact humans are having in
    this issue, please go shut yourself into a
    confined space with a running automobile.
    While it may take some time for the fumes to
    overwelm you, they will do so. The same would seem to hold true for the planet, it may take a while, but…. I dont pretend to know the science however this seems an apt analogy only differing in scale. thanks for the time. W.W.

  • Randall says:

    I for one am happy to see the world warm up a few degrees. Iy has happened before, it will happen again. The rich, and political must have an agenda most of us don’t know about. Why do they not want the world to warm up? I think they(Kerry, Gore, Etc.) should shut up and stay out of the way. The world is warming with or without our help, and I am tired of stupid people telling me it is not a good thing. Randall

  • Andrew Worth says:

    Let me quote you some extracts from an article in The New Zealand Herald, Tuesday, May 2, 2006 titled ‘Global warming just ‘hysteria’
    Subtitled: ‘Augie Auer hits out at ‘scientifically illiterate’ journalists and poor-science. ”Augie Auer is irritated. The former MetService chief meteorologist is irked by the bad science that has gone into the dire predictions of the effects man-made global warming will have on the planet.’
    ‘…he said, if we didn’t have the greenhouse effect, the planet would be 33C colder.’
    ‘Professor Auer said three-quarters of the planet was ocean, and 95% of the greenhouse effect was governed by water vapour.’
    “Of the remaining 5%, only about 3.6% is governed by CO2 and when you break it down even further, studies have shown that the anthropogenic contribution to CO2 versus the natural is about 3.2%.
    “So if you multiply the total contribution3.6 by the man-made portion of it, 3.2, you find out that the anthropogenic contribution of CO2 to the global greenhouse effect is 0.115%… that’s like 12c in $100. It’s minuscule…it’s nothing.

    I read this article when it was published, I was irritated, it made me angry with the “scientifically illiterate” practicing “poor-science”, in short, it made me angry with Professor Auer
    I have managed to find the source of the 95% water vapour contribution to the greenhouse effect that you and Auer refer to, please check out comments 118, 144, 148-152 here:
    You can see from the DOA/EIA site under discussion the accepted values for the CO2 contribution to the greenhouse effect i.e. 12-26%.

    “NOAA estimates that 97% of the atmospheric CO2 created each year is from natural sources and around 3% is from human activities”
    These figures are correct but are being misused, this is the gross, not the net amount of CO2 produced each year, about 98.5% of the CO2 produced, is also consumed, the problem of CO2 buildup in the atmosphere is a result of the CO2 cycle being out of balance by that 1.5% excess being left in the atmosphere year after year. As a result it accumulates, that accumulation has pushed CO2 levels up by 35% over the last 150 years or so, at the present rate a 100% increase in atmospheric CO2 is expected by the end of the century.
    As far as historic CO2 levels are concerned, it’s not the absolute CO2 levels that are considered to be a problem, it’s the rate of change that is now occurring, In my view whether the change is anthropogenic or natural is irrelevant, it is the climatic changes that will occur as a result of this strengthened GH effect over such a relatively short space of time that we need to be concerned about and investigate.
    Best wishes, Andrew

  • C. Bruce Richardson Jr. says:

    My apologies Andrew. I have been busy and didn’t notice that you had addressed a comment to me.

    The rise in the CO2 levels over the last 150 years could be attributable to anthropogenic factors but I doubt that all of it is. It has been warming over the last 150 years. At least part of the increase in CO2 should be attributable to the warming itself. Certainly, the CO2 from our consumption of fossil fuels has to go somewhere. There are natural sinks that will probably regulate the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere over the long term. You mentioned the oceans. CO2 reacts with water to form carbonic acid. Animals in the sea create shells of calcium carbonate. There is a huge amount of carbon locked up in limestone (CaCO3) deposits around the world. Heat the limestone and you get back the CO2. There is a huge amount of carbon locked up as methane hydrates in the deeper waters of the oceans. The forests are a sink until the cellulose in the wood is finally converted back into CO2, water vapor, etc. I read one paper that suggested that with our increase in forested land in the United States, we are a net importer of CO2 i.e. our forests absorb more than we produce. I don’t assume that anything that I read on either side is true but I would be curious to know how much our CO2 is absorbed. When we make paper or build houses, the carbon is going to be tied up for a very long time because we normally bury our trash and used building materials. Without oxygen there would be little conversion of that waste into CO2. There are other sinks that we probably don’t even begin to understand.

    It appears that CO2 levels have been fluctuating without human involvement for at least 500 million years. It is my understanding that carbon dioxide levels are probably higher now than at any time during the last 20 million years but significantly lower if we look back longer than 50 million years. I have seen estimates as high as 2000 ppmv for 200 million years ago.

    NOAA estimates that 97% of the atmospheric CO2 created each year is from natural sources and around 3% is from human activities. But carbon dioxide is a minor greenhouse gas when compared to water vapor. In fact, it is estimated that water vapor is responsible for around 95% of the greenhouse effect. Carbon dioxide adds around 4% to the greenhouse effect. If you take our 3% of that 4%, you end up with a potential 0.12% of the greenhouse effect being attributable to human activity. If you add the Methane, Nitrous Oxide, and other gases that we probably contribute, that percentage of anthropogenic greenhouse effect “jumps” to a whopping 0.28%. Of course, I doubt that we can know to hundredths of a percent but we have a general idea.

    That 0.28% probably has some effect. Is it a significant effect? I don’t know but I doubt it. We might be able to spend a bunch of money and reduce that 0.28% somewhat. Would it be worth it? Probably not. Would it be politically possible to get all of the developing countries in the world to join us? Probably not. If Kyoto was fully implemented, would it have any significant effect on global temperatures? The temperature reduction would probably not even be perceptible.

    I don’t think that you are being pedantic about the way of measuring the increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. As long as we all know what the units are, it shouldn’t matter. However, most folks don’t know what ppmv means or that the CO2 concentration is less than five one hundredths of a percent. I prefer ppmv as the measure because it better illustrates that we are talking about a very small number. You can double a very small number and still have a very small number. I can understand that it would be easier to sell the idea that there is a crisis if you talk in terms of percent of increase. I guess we both have our agendas.

    I recently saw one “study” that said that the CO2 level is 27% higher than at any point in the last 650,000 years. They somehow failed to mention that our current CO2 levels are low when we look at the last 500 million years. Then it went on to talk about environmental refugees from rising oceans, catastrophic weather, and expanding deserts. They gave the impression that it would happen by 2050.

    Without the greenhouse effect that is mostly attributable to water vapor and mostly not influenced by humans, the earth might be 33 C colder. We can only speculate about the effect of doubling carbon dioxide because we don’t totally understand the interaction between water vapor and CO2. The CO2 is such a minor factor that it would be very difficult to judge its influence in the real world. That is why we see models rather than actual measurements.

    Comparing current temperatures to those of the last 400 years doesn’t really tell us whether the warming of the last 150 years is anomalous. We would really need to compare the recent warming to the warming that occurred during the Medieval Warm Period (Climate Optimum) to judge that. If the warming back then was similar, then we are probably experiencing a repeat of the same cycle. We don’t have reliable temperature measurements that go back that far unfortunately.

    I do agree that if there is a change, there must be a cause. And that something causes the cycles. I think that someday we will probably understand all of it. Maybe not in my lifetime.

    If the claim can’t be confirmed by observation, then it is an opinion rather than fact. The “crisis denialist” has no obligation to prove that doubling of CO2 will not cause a 2 degree centigrade rise in temperature. That would be contrary to the scientific method and a logical fallacy. The burden of proof is on the person making the claim. You cannot claim that there is a global warming crisis and then require skeptics to prove that there isn’t a crisis.

    Climate is always changing. I assume that the warming that ended the Little Ice Age will continue on average (with fits and spurts) until we reached the next cooling part of the cycle. Right now, I think that it is reasonable to assume that we might be having a slight influence on climate but that mostly we are along for the ride with nature at the wheel. Imagery alert!

    Andrew, your comments are well thought out and reasonable which doesn’t surprise me. I appreciate that you would take the time to comment.

    Best regards,


  • Andrew Worth says:

    Bruce, the point you raise about the ocean reservoir releasing CO2 as the Earth warmed at the end of the last ice age is an interesting one, I haven’t seen anything on how much CO2 would have been released from the oceans then, Logically atmospheric CO2 partial pressure should be in equilibrium with the CO2 dissolved in the oceans, this is why the oceans are acting as a CO2 sink now, CO2 levels have been fairly stable for the last 11,000 years at 250-280 ppm, the rise from 280 ppm to 380 ppm over the last 150 years is fully attributable to anthropogenic factors, in fact the oceans have actually absorbed about half the CO2 Man has released into the atmosphere through deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels over this period.

    You refer to the rate of CO2 rise as being “1ppm or 0.0001% per year”. Actually over recent years the rate of rise has increased to about 2.5 ppm/yr. The normal way to express this would be as 2.5/380=0.0066 i.e. a 0.66%/yr rate of rise in CO2 concentrations. To clarify that, if I have 1 teaspoon of sugar in my cup of tea and add another, that would be described as a 100% increase in the sugar concentration, even though the concentration of sugar in the cup may have only increased from 2% to 4%. Possibly I could be accused of being pedantic on this point.

    “Increased CO2 probably has some influence on climate”.
    Without the greenhouse effect that exists on Earth the planet would be 33 degrees C colder, that figure is derived through application of the Stefan-Boltzmann law and is accepted by those on both sides of the debate. The degree of warming that would occur as a result of a doubling of CO2, coupled with the water vapour feedback has been accepted as being at least 2C for about 100 years, Svante Arrhenius, Lord Kelvin, and others calculated this decades before the current controversy. I described the recent warming that the Earth has experienced as anomalous in our previous discussion, I should have clarified this as being anomalous with natural forcings, if a change occurs in a system something must cause that change, if a system experiences cyclical changes, something must cause that cycle, if AGW denialists can come up with a demonstrable theory as to why a doubling of CO2 will not cause a 2C increase in temperature, eg. Lindzen’s iris effect, they will have solved half of their problem in disproving AGW.

    It is actually only recently that AGW denialist’s have accepted the recent warming that has actually occurred, until about a year ago they were denying there had been any warming, the measured warming they attributed to the heat island effect, satellite temperature readings initially supported this until it was realized that the satellite readings were in error as a result of gravitational influences causing their orbital paths to shift slightly, the corrected satellite data is now in agreement with ground measurements. This has actually compounded the difficulties AGW denialists have in arguing their position, as now not only do they have to explain how increasing CO2 wouldn’t cause warming, they also have to come up with a way of explaining the warming that has occurred!

    My pointing out Pat’s error was a tease, as I’m sure most people realized. Hopefully referring to the global warming denialist’s as “AGW (Anthropogenic Global Warming) denialist’s” will allay your concerns about my use of the term “denialist’s”, When I started calling them global warming denialist’s, they were denying any recent (last ~100 years) global warming. Possibly you could be accused of being pedantic on this point.

    Cheers! Andrew.

  • C. Bruce Richardson Jr. says:

    Andrew, my understanding is that the carbon dioxide levels have been be rising over the last 11,000 years give or take. The warming that ended the last major glaciation period would have changed the equilibrium between carbon dioxide and the oceans. The amount of CO2 that water can hold is temperature dependent. Warming would cause the oceans to release CO2. Around 1800 the CO2 level in the atmosphere was around 280 ppm or 0.028%. Around 1960 it was 0.032%. Now it is about 0.038%. Since the 1900’s it has been increasing at a bit over 1 ppm or 0.0001% per year. It seems reasonable to assume that warming would cause a release of CO2 and CH4 by peat bogs. It also seems plausible to think that much of the increase in CO2 is a symptom of a warming climate rather than the primary cause of it.

    Perhaps Pat’s point was that CO2 levels have gone up without our help until relatively recent times. And that warming causes higher levels of CO2. We are obviously contributing to the total amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. I doubt that we are the major source.

    Increased CO2 probably has some influence on climate. I doubt that our influence is significant. So far I haven’t seen anything that convinces me that we or CO2 are the driving force behind climate change. I believe that there are cycles on top of cycles. I don’t believe that there is a full understanding of all of the cycles that influence climate–yet.

    Pat did make a minor error in his calculation. It should have been 11844 instead of 10140. I could have easily made the same error and have made plenty of others like that over the years. I’m sure not going to throw rocks at Pat about that. The correct number would have only strengthened his point and certainly wasn’t intended as a misrepresentation.

    Isn’t calling someone “global warming denialist” a little silly? It suggests that the person being called a “denialist” doesn’t think that there is such a thing as global warming. Obviously there has been global warming or a large part of North American would still be under ice. For me, probably the biggest question is whether CO2 levels are a major driving force in climate change. It doesn’t seem appropriate to call someone who doesn’t share your opinion a “denialist.” Of course, you already know how I feel about such name calling anyway.

    Bruce Richardson

  • Andrew Worth says:

    “This pre-dates the invention of the internal combustion engine by some 10,140 years, by our calculations.”
    So you calculate that the internal combustion was invented 1,860 years ago?

    with calculations like that I can tell that you’re a global warming denialist!!

  • Andrew Worth says:

    Pat, could you please enlighten me as to the point you are trying to make by mentioning item 1 above.
    The fact that increasing atmospheric CO2 and CH4 levels as a result of perma-frost thawing accelerate the Earths temperature rise as the planet moves from glacial to interglacial periods should surpise no one even slightly familiar with Earths climate history.
    It is generally accepted that the initial driver for the glacial-interglacial transition are changes in the Earths orbit and axil tilt, these changes are called the Milankovich cycles and are a result of fluences on the Earths movement by the moon, sun, and planets.
    Permafrost (peat bogs) thawing appears to act as a positive feedback thus accelerating this transition.
    The possible release of large quantities of CO2 and CH4 still trapped in the permafrost at high latitudes is one of the potential positive feedbacks that worry some scientists. Present climate models used by the IPCC do not take into account this potential release of greenhouse gases which could occur as a result of the warming caused by the 35% and rising increase in CO2 that has occured over the last 150 years.