Tag Archives: Carbon Dioxide

Melting Arctic needs new name to match reality

Change in the far north is happening so fast that soon the melting Arctic won’t be arctic any more.

LONDON, 16 September, 2020 − The word Arctic may be up for redefinition. The conditions within the melting Arctic Circle are changing so fast that what was once a frozen seascape could now be entering a new climate regime in which nothing is predictable.

Even in an unusually cold year, the sea ice may not return to the summer limits normal in the last century. For some months of autumn and even winter, rain will fall instead of snow, US scientists report in the journal Nature Climate Change.

“The rate of change is remarkable,” said Laura Landrum, of the US National Centre for Atmospheric Research, who led the study.

“It’s a period of such rapid change that observations of past weather patterns no longer show what you can expect next year. The Arctic is already entering a completely different climate than just a few decades ago.”

She and a colleague looked at four decades of satellite data and ground observations and hundreds of computer simulations to confirm that polar warming is happening at such a rate that any change year to year is no longer within the extremes of the past. Conditions that were once normally changeable are now abnormally so.

“The Arctic is already entering a completely different climate than just a few decades ago … We need to change our definition of what the Arctic is”

Climate in the northern hemisphere is moderated by temperature differences that vary with latitude: between them, a torrid equator and a frozen Arctic drive the prevailing winds and ocean currents and the mix of cloud, sunshine, rainfall, frost, windstorm, dry spells and seasonal flooding in which agriculture, industry and civilisation have evolved for the last 10,000 years.

But as carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere soar in response to rapidly-increasing use of fossil fuels, the melting Arctic has been warming far more swiftly than the planet as a whole.

The extent of summer sea ice in each of the last 13 years has been lower than any minimum observed since 1979, when systematic observation began. Winters have been warmer, winter sea ice has been reduced, rain has been falling on snow ever earlier.

The climate scientists posed themselves the simple question: “While these changes appear extreme compared with the recent past, are they climate extremes in a statistical sense, or do they represent expected events in a new Arctic climate?”

New climate develops

The answer seems to be: yes. The researchers tested their statistical techniques on five different climate simulations. Each of these showed the sea ice retreating so dramatically that a new climate had emerged some time in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

The finding fits a pattern of foreboding delivered by recent research. In the last two months, researchers have warned that ice loss in the Arctic regions has been so severe that the region’s most charismatic predator, the polar bear, may be gone by the century’s end.

Another group has warned that the Arctic ocean in late summer may be effectively ice-free within the next 15 years.

One group has concluded that ice loss from Greenland is now at such a rate as to be irreversible, and another has confirmed that the rate of ice melt from the northern hemisphere’s biggest reserve – enough to raise sea levels six or seven metres – last year reached new records.

And this month an international research team reported that the rate of change in the Arctic has exceeded the “worst-case” scenario proposed by climate researchers.

Unknown extremes ahead

Dr Landrum and her colleague report that − if greenhouse gas emissions continue at their present rate − some of their climate forecasts predict a mostly ice-free Arctic for between three and 10 months a year, every year, by the end of the century.

Air temperatures over the ocean in autumn and winter will become warmer before or by mid-century, and then start warming over land in the second half.

In a warmer world, more water will evaporate and fall again as rain. Over Alaska, northern Canada and northern Siberia there will be more rain rather than snow: by mid-century, perhaps an extra 20 to 60 days, and by 2100, perhaps from 60 to an extra 90 days. In some parts of the Arctic, by the century’s end, rain might fall in any month of the year.

“The Arctic is likely to experience extremes in sea ice, temperature and precipitation that are far outside anything we’ve experienced before,” Dr Landrum said. “We need to change our definition of what the Arctic is.” − Climate News Network

Change in the far north is happening so fast that soon the melting Arctic won’t be arctic any more.

LONDON, 16 September, 2020 − The word Arctic may be up for redefinition. The conditions within the melting Arctic Circle are changing so fast that what was once a frozen seascape could now be entering a new climate regime in which nothing is predictable.

Even in an unusually cold year, the sea ice may not return to the summer limits normal in the last century. For some months of autumn and even winter, rain will fall instead of snow, US scientists report in the journal Nature Climate Change.

“The rate of change is remarkable,” said Laura Landrum, of the US National Centre for Atmospheric Research, who led the study.

“It’s a period of such rapid change that observations of past weather patterns no longer show what you can expect next year. The Arctic is already entering a completely different climate than just a few decades ago.”

She and a colleague looked at four decades of satellite data and ground observations and hundreds of computer simulations to confirm that polar warming is happening at such a rate that any change year to year is no longer within the extremes of the past. Conditions that were once normally changeable are now abnormally so.

“The Arctic is already entering a completely different climate than just a few decades ago … We need to change our definition of what the Arctic is”

Climate in the northern hemisphere is moderated by temperature differences that vary with latitude: between them, a torrid equator and a frozen Arctic drive the prevailing winds and ocean currents and the mix of cloud, sunshine, rainfall, frost, windstorm, dry spells and seasonal flooding in which agriculture, industry and civilisation have evolved for the last 10,000 years.

But as carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere soar in response to rapidly-increasing use of fossil fuels, the melting Arctic has been warming far more swiftly than the planet as a whole.

The extent of summer sea ice in each of the last 13 years has been lower than any minimum observed since 1979, when systematic observation began. Winters have been warmer, winter sea ice has been reduced, rain has been falling on snow ever earlier.

The climate scientists posed themselves the simple question: “While these changes appear extreme compared with the recent past, are they climate extremes in a statistical sense, or do they represent expected events in a new Arctic climate?”

New climate develops

The answer seems to be: yes. The researchers tested their statistical techniques on five different climate simulations. Each of these showed the sea ice retreating so dramatically that a new climate had emerged some time in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

The finding fits a pattern of foreboding delivered by recent research. In the last two months, researchers have warned that ice loss in the Arctic regions has been so severe that the region’s most charismatic predator, the polar bear, may be gone by the century’s end.

Another group has warned that the Arctic ocean in late summer may be effectively ice-free within the next 15 years.

One group has concluded that ice loss from Greenland is now at such a rate as to be irreversible, and another has confirmed that the rate of ice melt from the northern hemisphere’s biggest reserve – enough to raise sea levels six or seven metres – last year reached new records.

And this month an international research team reported that the rate of change in the Arctic has exceeded the “worst-case” scenario proposed by climate researchers.

Unknown extremes ahead

Dr Landrum and her colleague report that − if greenhouse gas emissions continue at their present rate − some of their climate forecasts predict a mostly ice-free Arctic for between three and 10 months a year, every year, by the end of the century.

Air temperatures over the ocean in autumn and winter will become warmer before or by mid-century, and then start warming over land in the second half.

In a warmer world, more water will evaporate and fall again as rain. Over Alaska, northern Canada and northern Siberia there will be more rain rather than snow: by mid-century, perhaps an extra 20 to 60 days, and by 2100, perhaps from 60 to an extra 90 days. In some parts of the Arctic, by the century’s end, rain might fall in any month of the year.

“The Arctic is likely to experience extremes in sea ice, temperature and precipitation that are far outside anything we’ve experienced before,” Dr Landrum said. “We need to change our definition of what the Arctic is.” − Climate News Network

Arctic heating races ahead of worst case estimates

Arctic heating is happening far faster than anybody had anticipated. And the ice record suggests this has happened before.

LONDON, 2 September, 2020 – An international team of scientists brings bad news about Arctic heating: the polar ocean is warming not only faster than anybody predicted, it is getting hotter at a rate faster than even the worst case climate scenario predictions have so far foreseen.

Such dramatic rises in Arctic temperatures have been recorded before, but only during the last Ice Age. Evidence from the Greenland ice cores suggests that temperatures rose by 10°C or even 12°C, over a period of between 40 years and a century, between 120,000 years and 11,000 years ago.

“We have been clearly underestimating the rate of temperature increases in the atmosphere nearest to the sea level, which has ultimately caused sea ice to disappear faster than we had anticipated,” said Jens Hesselbjerg Christensen, a physicist at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, one of 16 scientists who report in the journal Nature Climate Change on a new analysis of 40 years of data from the Arctic region.

They found that, on average, the Arctic has been warming at the rate of 1°C per decade for the last four decades. Around Norway’s Svalbard archipelago, temperatures rose even faster, at 1.5°C every 10 years.

“We have been clearly underestimating the rate of temperature increases in the atmosphere nearest to the sea level, which has ultimately caused sea ice to disappear faster than we had anticipated”

During the last two centuries, as atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide climbed from an average of around 285 parts per million to more than 400ppm, so the global average temperature of the planet rose: by a fraction more than 1°C.

The latest study is a reminder that temperatures in the Arctic are rising far faster than that. And the news is hardly a shock: within the past few weeks, separate teams of researchers, reporting to other journals, have warned that Greenland – the biggest single reservoir of ice in the northern hemisphere – is melting faster than ever; more alarmingly, its icecap is losing mass at a rate that suggests the loss could become irreversible.

Researchers have also confirmed that the average planetary temperature  continues to rise inexorably, that the Arctic Ocean could be free of ice in  summer as early as 2035, and that the climate scientists’ “worst case” scenarios are no longer to be regarded as a warning of what could happen: the evidence is that what is happening now already matches the climate forecaster’s worst case. The latest finding implicitly and explicitly supports this flurry of ominous observation.

“We have looked at the climate models analysed and assessed by the UN Climate Panel,” said Professor Christensen. “Only those models based on the worst case scenario, with the highest carbon dioxide emissions, come close to what our temperature measurements show over the past 40 years, from 1979 to today.” – Climate News Network

Arctic heating is happening far faster than anybody had anticipated. And the ice record suggests this has happened before.

LONDON, 2 September, 2020 – An international team of scientists brings bad news about Arctic heating: the polar ocean is warming not only faster than anybody predicted, it is getting hotter at a rate faster than even the worst case climate scenario predictions have so far foreseen.

Such dramatic rises in Arctic temperatures have been recorded before, but only during the last Ice Age. Evidence from the Greenland ice cores suggests that temperatures rose by 10°C or even 12°C, over a period of between 40 years and a century, between 120,000 years and 11,000 years ago.

“We have been clearly underestimating the rate of temperature increases in the atmosphere nearest to the sea level, which has ultimately caused sea ice to disappear faster than we had anticipated,” said Jens Hesselbjerg Christensen, a physicist at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, one of 16 scientists who report in the journal Nature Climate Change on a new analysis of 40 years of data from the Arctic region.

They found that, on average, the Arctic has been warming at the rate of 1°C per decade for the last four decades. Around Norway’s Svalbard archipelago, temperatures rose even faster, at 1.5°C every 10 years.

“We have been clearly underestimating the rate of temperature increases in the atmosphere nearest to the sea level, which has ultimately caused sea ice to disappear faster than we had anticipated”

During the last two centuries, as atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide climbed from an average of around 285 parts per million to more than 400ppm, so the global average temperature of the planet rose: by a fraction more than 1°C.

The latest study is a reminder that temperatures in the Arctic are rising far faster than that. And the news is hardly a shock: within the past few weeks, separate teams of researchers, reporting to other journals, have warned that Greenland – the biggest single reservoir of ice in the northern hemisphere – is melting faster than ever; more alarmingly, its icecap is losing mass at a rate that suggests the loss could become irreversible.

Researchers have also confirmed that the average planetary temperature  continues to rise inexorably, that the Arctic Ocean could be free of ice in  summer as early as 2035, and that the climate scientists’ “worst case” scenarios are no longer to be regarded as a warning of what could happen: the evidence is that what is happening now already matches the climate forecaster’s worst case. The latest finding implicitly and explicitly supports this flurry of ominous observation.

“We have looked at the climate models analysed and assessed by the UN Climate Panel,” said Professor Christensen. “Only those models based on the worst case scenario, with the highest carbon dioxide emissions, come close to what our temperature measurements show over the past 40 years, from 1979 to today.” – Climate News Network

Restoring forests can reduce greenhouse gases

In a way, money does grow on trees. So it could pay to help nature restore forests and reduce greenhouse gases.

LONDON, 20 August, 2020 – There is one straightforward way to reduce greenhouse gases: by taking better care of the world’s natural forests.

European and US scientists think they may have settled a complex argument about how to restore a natural forest so that it absorbs more carbon. Don’t just leave nature to regenerate in the way she knows best. Get into the woodland and manage, and plant.

It will cost more money, but it will sequester more carbon: potentially enough to make economic good sense.

Researchers from 13 universities and research institutions report in the journal Science that they carefully mapped and then studied a stretch of tropical forest in Sabah, in Malaysian Borneo: a forest that had been heavily logged more than 30 years ago, and converted to plantation, and then finally protected from further damage. The mapping techniques recorded where, and how much, above-ground carbon was concentrated, across thousands of hectares.

Faster recovery

The researchers report that those reaches of forest left to regenerate without human help recovered by as much as 2.9 tonnes of above-ground carbon per hectare each year. But those areas of forest that were helped a little, by what the scientists call “active restoration”, did even better.

Humans entered the regenerating forests and cut back the lianas – the climbing plants that flourish in degraded forests and compete with saplings – to help seedlings flourish. They also weeded where appropriate and enriched the mix of new plants with native seedlings.

Where this happened, the forest recovered 50% faster and carbon storage above-ground per hectare was measured at between 2.9 tonnes per hectare and 4.4 tonnes.

The lesson to be drawn is that where a natural forest may be thought fully restored after 60 years, active restoration could make it happen in 40 years.

“Restoration helps previously over-used forests not only to recover carbon, but also to become ecologically sound and diverse again”

The research demonstrates two things. The first is that forests can and will restore themselves: opportunistic plants will colonise open space and provide cover for those species best adapted to long-term survival in that climate and habitat. Nature will decide what conservationists call “the climax vegetation” of any natural forest. The second is that nature can indeed benefit from selective human help.

“This active restoration encourages naturally diverse forest, and is therefore much more beneficial for biodiversity than monocultures or plantation forests,” said Christopher Philipson, of the Swiss Federal Technology Institute known as ETH Zurich.

“In this way restoration helps previously over-used forests not only to recover carbon, but also to become ecologically sound and diverse again.”

There will be arguments about the finding. One is that what might be a good solution in south-east Asia might not be the best answer for the Congo or parts of the Amazon: as humans degrade the forest, they may also affect the local climate in ways that favour some native species rather than others. That is, it might never be possible to restore a forest to what it had been before the forester’s axe arrived.

Restoration’s pricetag

There is a second argument: restoration work costs money. How much economic sense it makes depends on what value scientists, politicians and economists put on the carbon that is sequestered as a consequence, and what price humanity pays for that same carbon in the form of additional greenhouse gas that will raise global temperatures, alter rainfall patterns and trigger potentially catastrophic climate change.

What worth do forests have to local populations, and what is the value set on the world’s wildernesses as global natural capital?

“Not long ago we treated degraded tropical forests as lost causes,” said a co-author, Greg Asner of Arizona State University.

“Our new findings, combined with those of other researchers around the world, strongly suggest that restoring tropical forests is a viable and highly scalable solution to regaining lost carbon stocks on land.” – Climate News Network

In a way, money does grow on trees. So it could pay to help nature restore forests and reduce greenhouse gases.

LONDON, 20 August, 2020 – There is one straightforward way to reduce greenhouse gases: by taking better care of the world’s natural forests.

European and US scientists think they may have settled a complex argument about how to restore a natural forest so that it absorbs more carbon. Don’t just leave nature to regenerate in the way she knows best. Get into the woodland and manage, and plant.

It will cost more money, but it will sequester more carbon: potentially enough to make economic good sense.

Researchers from 13 universities and research institutions report in the journal Science that they carefully mapped and then studied a stretch of tropical forest in Sabah, in Malaysian Borneo: a forest that had been heavily logged more than 30 years ago, and converted to plantation, and then finally protected from further damage. The mapping techniques recorded where, and how much, above-ground carbon was concentrated, across thousands of hectares.

Faster recovery

The researchers report that those reaches of forest left to regenerate without human help recovered by as much as 2.9 tonnes of above-ground carbon per hectare each year. But those areas of forest that were helped a little, by what the scientists call “active restoration”, did even better.

Humans entered the regenerating forests and cut back the lianas – the climbing plants that flourish in degraded forests and compete with saplings – to help seedlings flourish. They also weeded where appropriate and enriched the mix of new plants with native seedlings.

Where this happened, the forest recovered 50% faster and carbon storage above-ground per hectare was measured at between 2.9 tonnes per hectare and 4.4 tonnes.

The lesson to be drawn is that where a natural forest may be thought fully restored after 60 years, active restoration could make it happen in 40 years.

“Restoration helps previously over-used forests not only to recover carbon, but also to become ecologically sound and diverse again”

The research demonstrates two things. The first is that forests can and will restore themselves: opportunistic plants will colonise open space and provide cover for those species best adapted to long-term survival in that climate and habitat. Nature will decide what conservationists call “the climax vegetation” of any natural forest. The second is that nature can indeed benefit from selective human help.

“This active restoration encourages naturally diverse forest, and is therefore much more beneficial for biodiversity than monocultures or plantation forests,” said Christopher Philipson, of the Swiss Federal Technology Institute known as ETH Zurich.

“In this way restoration helps previously over-used forests not only to recover carbon, but also to become ecologically sound and diverse again.”

There will be arguments about the finding. One is that what might be a good solution in south-east Asia might not be the best answer for the Congo or parts of the Amazon: as humans degrade the forest, they may also affect the local climate in ways that favour some native species rather than others. That is, it might never be possible to restore a forest to what it had been before the forester’s axe arrived.

Restoration’s pricetag

There is a second argument: restoration work costs money. How much economic sense it makes depends on what value scientists, politicians and economists put on the carbon that is sequestered as a consequence, and what price humanity pays for that same carbon in the form of additional greenhouse gas that will raise global temperatures, alter rainfall patterns and trigger potentially catastrophic climate change.

What worth do forests have to local populations, and what is the value set on the world’s wildernesses as global natural capital?

“Not long ago we treated degraded tropical forests as lost causes,” said a co-author, Greg Asner of Arizona State University.

“Our new findings, combined with those of other researchers around the world, strongly suggest that restoring tropical forests is a viable and highly scalable solution to regaining lost carbon stocks on land.” – Climate News Network

Climate science’s worst case is today’s reality

Climate science’s worst case scenario isn’t just an awful warning. It describes what is already happening right now.

LONDON, 10 August, 2020 – A trio of US researchers has grim news for people worried about climate science’s worst case outcome. Forget about the other options. The worst case is already happening.

Christopher Schwalm and colleagues at the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they took a closer look at the evidence for climate change in terms of carbon dioxide emissions and climate models.

This is the kind of research that assesses the future under a number of possible scenarios. These scenarios are based on mathematical models and global assumptions about economic growth, carbon budgets and land use changes, and they are couched in language arcane enough to make even committed followers of climate science reach for the aspirin.

The most optimistic of these is one in which the world makes a determined, drastic and concerted effort to contain global heating to well below 2°C above the average for most of human history. At the other end of the scale is one notoriously called “business as usual”, in which the nations of the world carry on burning ever more fossil fuels, while sea levels rise ever higher, and the thermometer readings get ever higher. It has been intended from the start as an awful warning rather than as a guide to what is most likely to happen.

“RCP8.5 has continued utility … if RCP8.5 did not exist, we’d have to create it”

Since 195 nations met in Paris in 2015 and vowed to take action to keep global heating if possible to well below 2°C, and ideally no higher than 1.5°C, there has been an assumption that the “worst case”, or “business as usual” scenario – known in climate science shorthand as Representative Concentration Pathway 8.5, or RCP8.5 – was no more than that: the worst case.

Under the terms of the Paris Agreement, nations accepted commitments to plans to reduce emissions. Researchers have repeatedly warned that such plans as have been announced were not ambitious enough, and not being implemented fast enough.

The US has announced that it will abandon the Paris promise. Other nations have maintained their willingness to act, but have gone on opening coal mines and prospecting for more oil.

Even so, after Paris, it became clear there would surely be change. The world had been alerted, the worst could indeed be averted. The RCP8.5 scenario was, some said, of no great help. It has even been described as “extreme, alarmist and ‘misleading’.”

Implications for 2100

Sadly, it may not be. Dr Schwalm and his colleagues looked at cumulative greenhouse gas emissions since 2005. By 2020, the emissions matched the “business as usual” or RCP8.5 predictions very closely.

They then extended the trends to 2030, and to 2050, with the same outcome. That means that – by the end of the century – the planet could be 3.3°C to 5.4°C warmer than it was at the launch of the Industrial Revolution and the worldwide switch to fossil fuels. In which case, the worst-case scenario would remain on the table as a useful risk assessment tool.

“The implied probability of occurrence similar to RCP8.5 even at the end of the century is large enough to merit its continued use,” the scientists write.

“RCP8.5 has continued utility, both as an instrument to explore mean outcomes as well as risk. Indeed, if RCP8.5 did not exist, we’d have to create it.” – Climate News Network

Climate science’s worst case scenario isn’t just an awful warning. It describes what is already happening right now.

LONDON, 10 August, 2020 – A trio of US researchers has grim news for people worried about climate science’s worst case outcome. Forget about the other options. The worst case is already happening.

Christopher Schwalm and colleagues at the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they took a closer look at the evidence for climate change in terms of carbon dioxide emissions and climate models.

This is the kind of research that assesses the future under a number of possible scenarios. These scenarios are based on mathematical models and global assumptions about economic growth, carbon budgets and land use changes, and they are couched in language arcane enough to make even committed followers of climate science reach for the aspirin.

The most optimistic of these is one in which the world makes a determined, drastic and concerted effort to contain global heating to well below 2°C above the average for most of human history. At the other end of the scale is one notoriously called “business as usual”, in which the nations of the world carry on burning ever more fossil fuels, while sea levels rise ever higher, and the thermometer readings get ever higher. It has been intended from the start as an awful warning rather than as a guide to what is most likely to happen.

“RCP8.5 has continued utility … if RCP8.5 did not exist, we’d have to create it”

Since 195 nations met in Paris in 2015 and vowed to take action to keep global heating if possible to well below 2°C, and ideally no higher than 1.5°C, there has been an assumption that the “worst case”, or “business as usual” scenario – known in climate science shorthand as Representative Concentration Pathway 8.5, or RCP8.5 – was no more than that: the worst case.

Under the terms of the Paris Agreement, nations accepted commitments to plans to reduce emissions. Researchers have repeatedly warned that such plans as have been announced were not ambitious enough, and not being implemented fast enough.

The US has announced that it will abandon the Paris promise. Other nations have maintained their willingness to act, but have gone on opening coal mines and prospecting for more oil.

Even so, after Paris, it became clear there would surely be change. The world had been alerted, the worst could indeed be averted. The RCP8.5 scenario was, some said, of no great help. It has even been described as “extreme, alarmist and ‘misleading’.”

Implications for 2100

Sadly, it may not be. Dr Schwalm and his colleagues looked at cumulative greenhouse gas emissions since 2005. By 2020, the emissions matched the “business as usual” or RCP8.5 predictions very closely.

They then extended the trends to 2030, and to 2050, with the same outcome. That means that – by the end of the century – the planet could be 3.3°C to 5.4°C warmer than it was at the launch of the Industrial Revolution and the worldwide switch to fossil fuels. In which case, the worst-case scenario would remain on the table as a useful risk assessment tool.

“The implied probability of occurrence similar to RCP8.5 even at the end of the century is large enough to merit its continued use,” the scientists write.

“RCP8.5 has continued utility, both as an instrument to explore mean outcomes as well as risk. Indeed, if RCP8.5 did not exist, we’d have to create it.” – Climate News Network

Ocean sensitivity may lower carbon emissions cuts

Ocean sensitivity to atmospheric change is well established. But just how sensitive the oceans are remains a surprise to science.

LONDON, 30 June, 2020 – As greenhouse gas emissions soar, ocean sensitivity has quietly helped humanity to slow global heating: the seas have responded by absorbing more and more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

But should humans come to grips with the challenge of looming climate catastrophe and start to reduce emissions, the oceans could respond again – by absorbing less and slightly slowing the fall of the mercury in the global thermometer.

And there is even an immediate chance to test this proposal: if so, then oceans that have been each year absorbing more and more carbon from the atmosphere as greenhouse gas ratios rise will go into brief reverse, because of the global economic shutdown and fall in emissions triggered by the global pandemic of Covid-19.

For the first time in decades, the oceans could take up less carbon dioxide in 2020, according to a new study by US scientists in the American Geophysical Union journal AGU Advances.

“We didn’t realise until we did this work that these external forcings, like changes in the growth of atmospheric carbon dioxide, dominate the variability in the global ocean on year-to-year timescales. That’s a real surprise,” said Galen McKinley, of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

Feedback in action

“As we reduce our emissions and the growth rate of atmospheric carbon dioxide slows down, it’s important to realise that the ocean carbon sink will respond by slowing down.”

The research should not be interpreted as an invitation to go on burning fossil fuels. It is another lesson in the intricacy of the traffic between atmosphere, rocks, oceans, and living things in an evolving world. And it is more immediately an exquisite example of what engineers call feedback.

In cases of negative feedback, the agency of change also triggers a way of slowing that change. Since 1750 – the birth of the Industrial Revolution – human economies have added 440 billion tonnes of carbon to the planetary atmosphere.

For most of human history carbon dioxide ratios in the atmosphere had hovered around 285 parts per million. They have now gone beyond 400 ppm, and global average temperatures have already risen by more than 1°C.

They’d be even higher but for the oceans, which have responded by absorbing around 39% of all that extra carbon from coal, oil and gas combustion. So the oceans are sensitive to atmospheric change, and respond.

“There will be a time when the ocean will limit the effectiveness of mitigation actions, and this should be accounted for in policymaking”

The latest study is a lesson in how sensitive: Professor McKinley and her colleagues used computer models to try to understand better why the ocean uptake of carbon varies.

In the early 1990s, the ocean absorption of carbon dioxide varied: dramatically at first, because a devastating volcanic eruption of Mt Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991 that darkened the stratosphere also accelerated ocean uptake.

And then the ocean uptake started to slow, as the skies cleared but also as the collapse of the Soviet Union and its satellite nations changed the global pattern of fuel use. It went on declining until 2001, when fossil fuel use started to accelerate. And then the ocean sink started once again to become more absorbent.

Such research is a reminder of how much scientists still don’t know about the machinery of the planet. That greenhouse gas from fossil fuel combustion drives global heating is not now in doubt. But the precise speed, and the drivers and brakes of positive and negative feedback, remain less certain.

Many feedbacks are positive: as the Arctic warms, carbon plant remains frozen in the permafrost will start to decay, release more methane and carbon dioxide, and accelerate warming.

Forest concern

As the sea ice retreats, and the ice reflects less sunlight, the exposed blue seas will absorb ever more radiation, to turn up the planetary temperatures. A warner world will be a wetter one, which may also mean a rise in the rate of warming.

But the ocean is not the only example of negative feedback. More carbon dioxide seems to mean more vigorous plant growth, and there is clear evidence that the world’s great forests are an important carbon sink: an example of negative feedback. That is why almost all governments recognise the importance of forest conservation.

Action however is uneven, forests are still being degraded, and there is alarming evidence that at some point, as temperatures get too high, the tropical forests could start surrendering the carbon they have for millennia absorbed, and become agents of positive feedback.

Professor McKinley warns that – as global emissions are cut – there will be a phase during which ocean uptake slows. If so, then planetary temperature rise will not slow as fast as hoped: extra carbon dioxide will linger, to contribute to warming.

“We need to discuss this coming feedback. We want people to understand that there will be a time when the ocean will limit the effectiveness of mitigation actions, and this should also be accounted for in policymaking.” – Climate News Network

Ocean sensitivity to atmospheric change is well established. But just how sensitive the oceans are remains a surprise to science.

LONDON, 30 June, 2020 – As greenhouse gas emissions soar, ocean sensitivity has quietly helped humanity to slow global heating: the seas have responded by absorbing more and more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

But should humans come to grips with the challenge of looming climate catastrophe and start to reduce emissions, the oceans could respond again – by absorbing less and slightly slowing the fall of the mercury in the global thermometer.

And there is even an immediate chance to test this proposal: if so, then oceans that have been each year absorbing more and more carbon from the atmosphere as greenhouse gas ratios rise will go into brief reverse, because of the global economic shutdown and fall in emissions triggered by the global pandemic of Covid-19.

For the first time in decades, the oceans could take up less carbon dioxide in 2020, according to a new study by US scientists in the American Geophysical Union journal AGU Advances.

“We didn’t realise until we did this work that these external forcings, like changes in the growth of atmospheric carbon dioxide, dominate the variability in the global ocean on year-to-year timescales. That’s a real surprise,” said Galen McKinley, of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

Feedback in action

“As we reduce our emissions and the growth rate of atmospheric carbon dioxide slows down, it’s important to realise that the ocean carbon sink will respond by slowing down.”

The research should not be interpreted as an invitation to go on burning fossil fuels. It is another lesson in the intricacy of the traffic between atmosphere, rocks, oceans, and living things in an evolving world. And it is more immediately an exquisite example of what engineers call feedback.

In cases of negative feedback, the agency of change also triggers a way of slowing that change. Since 1750 – the birth of the Industrial Revolution – human economies have added 440 billion tonnes of carbon to the planetary atmosphere.

For most of human history carbon dioxide ratios in the atmosphere had hovered around 285 parts per million. They have now gone beyond 400 ppm, and global average temperatures have already risen by more than 1°C.

They’d be even higher but for the oceans, which have responded by absorbing around 39% of all that extra carbon from coal, oil and gas combustion. So the oceans are sensitive to atmospheric change, and respond.

“There will be a time when the ocean will limit the effectiveness of mitigation actions, and this should be accounted for in policymaking”

The latest study is a lesson in how sensitive: Professor McKinley and her colleagues used computer models to try to understand better why the ocean uptake of carbon varies.

In the early 1990s, the ocean absorption of carbon dioxide varied: dramatically at first, because a devastating volcanic eruption of Mt Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991 that darkened the stratosphere also accelerated ocean uptake.

And then the ocean uptake started to slow, as the skies cleared but also as the collapse of the Soviet Union and its satellite nations changed the global pattern of fuel use. It went on declining until 2001, when fossil fuel use started to accelerate. And then the ocean sink started once again to become more absorbent.

Such research is a reminder of how much scientists still don’t know about the machinery of the planet. That greenhouse gas from fossil fuel combustion drives global heating is not now in doubt. But the precise speed, and the drivers and brakes of positive and negative feedback, remain less certain.

Many feedbacks are positive: as the Arctic warms, carbon plant remains frozen in the permafrost will start to decay, release more methane and carbon dioxide, and accelerate warming.

Forest concern

As the sea ice retreats, and the ice reflects less sunlight, the exposed blue seas will absorb ever more radiation, to turn up the planetary temperatures. A warner world will be a wetter one, which may also mean a rise in the rate of warming.

But the ocean is not the only example of negative feedback. More carbon dioxide seems to mean more vigorous plant growth, and there is clear evidence that the world’s great forests are an important carbon sink: an example of negative feedback. That is why almost all governments recognise the importance of forest conservation.

Action however is uneven, forests are still being degraded, and there is alarming evidence that at some point, as temperatures get too high, the tropical forests could start surrendering the carbon they have for millennia absorbed, and become agents of positive feedback.

Professor McKinley warns that – as global emissions are cut – there will be a phase during which ocean uptake slows. If so, then planetary temperature rise will not slow as fast as hoped: extra carbon dioxide will linger, to contribute to warming.

“We need to discuss this coming feedback. We want people to understand that there will be a time when the ocean will limit the effectiveness of mitigation actions, and this should also be accounted for in policymaking.” – Climate News Network

There is space for carbon storage underground

Capturing it remains a challenge. But there should be no lack of  permanent safe carbon storage underground.

LONDON, 27 May, 2020 – There is plenty of room for more of the main greenhouse gas on this planet – as long as it’s caught and trapped in carbon storage underground. New research confirms that when it comes to storage space, there should be no problem about carbon capture and sequestration, known to climate engineers as simply CCS.

Carbon capture is written into intergovernmental plans to combat climate change: the theory is that in addition to stepping up investment in renewable energy such as solar and wind power, existing power plants that run on coal, oil and gas could trap the waste carbon dioxide and literally take it out of atmospheric circulation.

How and on what scale this could be done is still a matter for global debate. But at least there is no problem about whether there is safe storage for the compressed and liquefied greenhouse gas.

New analysis from two scientists at Imperial College London in the journal Energy & Environmental Science suggests that if capture and storage accelerates now and continues at a growing rate, along with other recommended action, then no more than about 2,700 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide would need to be pumped back down abandoned oil shafts and other reservoirs, to keep global warming to less than 2°C above pre-industrial levels by 2100. This is an international target agreed in Paris in 2015.

Differences persist

Since most calculations conclude that there could be available subterranean storage space for around 10,000 billion tonnes of the gas, this suggests that storage itself is not the problem.

CCS sounds like a good idea: the prosecution of that idea has been contentious. Some climate scientists have worried that it is a distraction from the real challenge: to stop burning coal, oil and gas.

Others have been concerned with the lack of public investment; yet others have been troubled by the bigger question of whether a potentially volatile greenhouse gas can be kept in the ground safely for many thousands of years.

So CCS is at most only part of the answer to the problem: nations still have to make the switch to renewable sources, use all energy more efficiently, adjust global dietary demand and take steps to restore the world’s great forests to prevent climate catastrophe: one in which planetary average temperatures surpass 3°C, and sea levels rise by up to a metre before the end of the century.

“Our study shows that if climate change targets are not met by 2100, it won’t be for lack of carbon capture and storage space”

The first attempts to store industrial carbon dioxide exhaust began in Norway in 1996 and although progress has been faltering, over the past 20 years capacity has grown by 8.6% to about 40 million tonnes a year: the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) now incorporates CCS as part of the mix of actions needed to contain runaway climate change.

The gap is colossal: right now the world emits 37 billion tonnes, or 37 Gt, of the greenhouse gas every year into the atmosphere to drive ever-faster planetary warning. The technology has a long way to go.

“Nearly all IPCC pathways to limit warming to 2°C require tens of gigatonnes of CO2 stored per year by mid-century. However, until now we didn’t know if these targets were achievable, given historic data, or how these targets related to subsurface storage requirements,” said Christopher Zahasky, who did the study at Imperial College but who has now moved to the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“We found that even the most ambitious scenarios are unlikely to need more than 2700 Gt of CO2 storage resource globally, much less than the 10,000 Gt of storage resource that leading reports suggest is possible. Our study shows that if climate change targets are not met by 2100, it won’t be for lack of carbon capture and storage space.”

Who will pay?

The researchers considered not the space available but the pace of CCS advance: the faster carbon dioxide is safely stowed away, the less the overall need for subterranean hideaway space. But finally, the answer depends on all the other challenges presented by climate change.

“Our analysis shows good news for CCS if we keep up with this trajectory,” said Samuel Krevor of Imperial College, a co-author. “But there are many other factors in mitigating climate change and its catastrophic effects, like using cleaner energy and transport as well as significantly increasing the efficiency of energy use.”

Commenting on the study, Myles Allen, a geoscientist at the University of Oxford, said: “The good news, from this paper, is that there is a solution.

“The bad news is that CO2 capture and disposal is still completely dependent on public money, which will be in short supply over the coming decade. We have to work out other ways of scaling it up.” – Climate News Network

Capturing it remains a challenge. But there should be no lack of  permanent safe carbon storage underground.

LONDON, 27 May, 2020 – There is plenty of room for more of the main greenhouse gas on this planet – as long as it’s caught and trapped in carbon storage underground. New research confirms that when it comes to storage space, there should be no problem about carbon capture and sequestration, known to climate engineers as simply CCS.

Carbon capture is written into intergovernmental plans to combat climate change: the theory is that in addition to stepping up investment in renewable energy such as solar and wind power, existing power plants that run on coal, oil and gas could trap the waste carbon dioxide and literally take it out of atmospheric circulation.

How and on what scale this could be done is still a matter for global debate. But at least there is no problem about whether there is safe storage for the compressed and liquefied greenhouse gas.

New analysis from two scientists at Imperial College London in the journal Energy & Environmental Science suggests that if capture and storage accelerates now and continues at a growing rate, along with other recommended action, then no more than about 2,700 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide would need to be pumped back down abandoned oil shafts and other reservoirs, to keep global warming to less than 2°C above pre-industrial levels by 2100. This is an international target agreed in Paris in 2015.

Differences persist

Since most calculations conclude that there could be available subterranean storage space for around 10,000 billion tonnes of the gas, this suggests that storage itself is not the problem.

CCS sounds like a good idea: the prosecution of that idea has been contentious. Some climate scientists have worried that it is a distraction from the real challenge: to stop burning coal, oil and gas.

Others have been concerned with the lack of public investment; yet others have been troubled by the bigger question of whether a potentially volatile greenhouse gas can be kept in the ground safely for many thousands of years.

So CCS is at most only part of the answer to the problem: nations still have to make the switch to renewable sources, use all energy more efficiently, adjust global dietary demand and take steps to restore the world’s great forests to prevent climate catastrophe: one in which planetary average temperatures surpass 3°C, and sea levels rise by up to a metre before the end of the century.

“Our study shows that if climate change targets are not met by 2100, it won’t be for lack of carbon capture and storage space”

The first attempts to store industrial carbon dioxide exhaust began in Norway in 1996 and although progress has been faltering, over the past 20 years capacity has grown by 8.6% to about 40 million tonnes a year: the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) now incorporates CCS as part of the mix of actions needed to contain runaway climate change.

The gap is colossal: right now the world emits 37 billion tonnes, or 37 Gt, of the greenhouse gas every year into the atmosphere to drive ever-faster planetary warning. The technology has a long way to go.

“Nearly all IPCC pathways to limit warming to 2°C require tens of gigatonnes of CO2 stored per year by mid-century. However, until now we didn’t know if these targets were achievable, given historic data, or how these targets related to subsurface storage requirements,” said Christopher Zahasky, who did the study at Imperial College but who has now moved to the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“We found that even the most ambitious scenarios are unlikely to need more than 2700 Gt of CO2 storage resource globally, much less than the 10,000 Gt of storage resource that leading reports suggest is possible. Our study shows that if climate change targets are not met by 2100, it won’t be for lack of carbon capture and storage space.”

Who will pay?

The researchers considered not the space available but the pace of CCS advance: the faster carbon dioxide is safely stowed away, the less the overall need for subterranean hideaway space. But finally, the answer depends on all the other challenges presented by climate change.

“Our analysis shows good news for CCS if we keep up with this trajectory,” said Samuel Krevor of Imperial College, a co-author. “But there are many other factors in mitigating climate change and its catastrophic effects, like using cleaner energy and transport as well as significantly increasing the efficiency of energy use.”

Commenting on the study, Myles Allen, a geoscientist at the University of Oxford, said: “The good news, from this paper, is that there is a solution.

“The bad news is that CO2 capture and disposal is still completely dependent on public money, which will be in short supply over the coming decade. We have to work out other ways of scaling it up.” – Climate News Network

Carbon dioxide emissions fall – but by accident

The good news is that carbon dioxide emissions have fallen in line with global agreement. But we have chance to thank for that.

LONDON, 25 May, 2020 – Carbon dioxide emissions in 2020 will not reach record levels. The main greenhouse gas was released into the atmosphere to fuel global warming during April at a rate 17% lower than during the same month in 2019. That means a drop of 17 million tonnes of the gas every day.

The news is unlikely to be welcomed by climate scientists, environmental campaigners and governments interested in reducing the hazard of climate catastrophe. None of the fall in emissions was because of determined policies to reduce the rate of emissions and therefore the speed of climate change.

Emission levels have fallen to a level last observed in 2006. This is explained entirely by a series of simultaneous multinational lockdowns and economic slowdown as a consequence of an unexpected, and unprecedented, pandemic of a novel coronavirus that at the time of writing had worldwide claimed more than 330,000 lives.

The sudden slowdown in car journeys as businesses closed, workers were laid off and schoolchildren stayed at home accounted for almost half the decrease, according to a team of international scientists reporting in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Foreign travel fell, airports stayed silent, to account for a 10% fall. For the extent of a northern hemisphere spring, people had a chance to experience a world in which atmospheric pollution of every kind was reduced, fossil fuel consumption dropped, and people walked or cycled or simply stayed at home.

“We need systemic change through green energy and electric cars, not temporary reductions from enforced behaviour”

It is, however, unlikely to be a rehearsal for the sustained social and economic change required to contain climate change: the slowdown is almost certainly temporary. But it does provide breathing space and an opportunity to change direction.

“The extent to which world leaders consider climate change when planning their economic responses post-Covid-19 will influence global CO2 emissions paths for decades to come,” said Corinne le Quéré, of the University of East Anglia, UK, who led the study.

“Opportunities exist to make real, durable, changes and to be more resilient to future crises, by implementing economic stimulus packages that also help meet climate targets, especially for mobility, which accounts for half the decrease in emissions during confinement.”

The year began with high confidence that the world’s nations – almost all of which had in Paris in 2015 vowed to contain global warming to well below 2°C by 2100 – would go on burning ever more fossil fuel and clearing ever more forest, to take greenhouse gas emissions to ever higher levels.

The researchers analysed government policies for the 69 countries that account for 97% of carbon dioxide emissions. At the height of confinement, territories responsible for 89% of global emissions experienced some level of restriction.

Meagre drop

Armed with economic data that measured the slowdown, the researchers were able to make estimates of the CO2 emissions that never happened: by the end of April, these amounted to 1,048 million tonnes of the greenhouse gas, with the largest drops being in China, the US and Europe.

On present form, however, the annual total is likely to be down by only between 4% and 7% compared with 2019. The larger figure is roughly the annual drop required year on year to keep the promises made in Paris.

“The drop in emissions is substantial, but illustrates the challenge of reaching our Paris climate commitments,” said Rob Jackson, of Stanford University in California, another of the authors.

“We need systemic change through green energy and electric cars, not temporary reductions from enforced behaviour.” – Climate News Network

The good news is that carbon dioxide emissions have fallen in line with global agreement. But we have chance to thank for that.

LONDON, 25 May, 2020 – Carbon dioxide emissions in 2020 will not reach record levels. The main greenhouse gas was released into the atmosphere to fuel global warming during April at a rate 17% lower than during the same month in 2019. That means a drop of 17 million tonnes of the gas every day.

The news is unlikely to be welcomed by climate scientists, environmental campaigners and governments interested in reducing the hazard of climate catastrophe. None of the fall in emissions was because of determined policies to reduce the rate of emissions and therefore the speed of climate change.

Emission levels have fallen to a level last observed in 2006. This is explained entirely by a series of simultaneous multinational lockdowns and economic slowdown as a consequence of an unexpected, and unprecedented, pandemic of a novel coronavirus that at the time of writing had worldwide claimed more than 330,000 lives.

The sudden slowdown in car journeys as businesses closed, workers were laid off and schoolchildren stayed at home accounted for almost half the decrease, according to a team of international scientists reporting in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Foreign travel fell, airports stayed silent, to account for a 10% fall. For the extent of a northern hemisphere spring, people had a chance to experience a world in which atmospheric pollution of every kind was reduced, fossil fuel consumption dropped, and people walked or cycled or simply stayed at home.

“We need systemic change through green energy and electric cars, not temporary reductions from enforced behaviour”

It is, however, unlikely to be a rehearsal for the sustained social and economic change required to contain climate change: the slowdown is almost certainly temporary. But it does provide breathing space and an opportunity to change direction.

“The extent to which world leaders consider climate change when planning their economic responses post-Covid-19 will influence global CO2 emissions paths for decades to come,” said Corinne le Quéré, of the University of East Anglia, UK, who led the study.

“Opportunities exist to make real, durable, changes and to be more resilient to future crises, by implementing economic stimulus packages that also help meet climate targets, especially for mobility, which accounts for half the decrease in emissions during confinement.”

The year began with high confidence that the world’s nations – almost all of which had in Paris in 2015 vowed to contain global warming to well below 2°C by 2100 – would go on burning ever more fossil fuel and clearing ever more forest, to take greenhouse gas emissions to ever higher levels.

The researchers analysed government policies for the 69 countries that account for 97% of carbon dioxide emissions. At the height of confinement, territories responsible for 89% of global emissions experienced some level of restriction.

Meagre drop

Armed with economic data that measured the slowdown, the researchers were able to make estimates of the CO2 emissions that never happened: by the end of April, these amounted to 1,048 million tonnes of the greenhouse gas, with the largest drops being in China, the US and Europe.

On present form, however, the annual total is likely to be down by only between 4% and 7% compared with 2019. The larger figure is roughly the annual drop required year on year to keep the promises made in Paris.

“The drop in emissions is substantial, but illustrates the challenge of reaching our Paris climate commitments,” said Rob Jackson, of Stanford University in California, another of the authors.

“We need systemic change through green energy and electric cars, not temporary reductions from enforced behaviour.” – Climate News Network

Global heating means a wetter and warmer world

A wetter and even warmer world will result from faster global warming. The evidence is in the sands of time.

LONDON, 14 May, 2020 – A warmer world may not be just a wetter one. It may get even warmer as well. New studies suggest the heavier rain that will accompany ever-higher global average atmospheric temperatures is in itself likely to trigger ever more carbon dioxide release from tropical soils.

This is what engineers call positive feedback. The very symptoms of a warming world become part of the fuel for accelerating global temperature change.

And the warning is derived not just from models of climate change, but once again from evidence from the past.

Scientists from the US, Canada and Switzerland report in the journal Nature that for the past 18,000 years, the “time of residence” of carbon in the soils of the Ganges-Brahmaputra river basin has been controlled by India’s summer monsoon rainfall.

The lower the rainfall, the higher the length of stored carbon. But as levels of downpour go up, so does the activity of the microbes that turn vegetable matter back into carbon dioxide, and the levels of stored soil carbon go down.

“Climate change is likely to increase rainfall in tropical regions, further accelerating respiration of soil carbon, and adding even more CO2 to the atmosphere”

Right now, global atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide have risen from 285 parts per million – the average for most of human history – to 416 ppm as humans clear ever more forest and burn ever more fossil fuels. This 416ppm adds up to about 750 billion tonnes of carbon. The planet’s soils are home to an estimated 3,500 bn tonnes: more than four times as much.

“Our results suggest that future hydroclimate changes in tropical regions are likely to accelerate soil carbon destabilisation, further increasing carbon dioxide concentrations,” the scientists warn.

As temperatures rise, the atmosphere’s capacity to absorb moisture also increases. As temperatures rise, so does direct evaporation from oceans, lakes, rivers and soils. This water vapour will eventually fall as rain, but unevenly: those regions already rainy will become rainier, while drylands are likely to become increasingly arid.

The Ganges and Brahmaputra carry more than a billion tonnes of sediment – most of it eroded from the Himalayan mountain chain – into the Bay of Bengal each year, and cores of sediment taken from the sea floor provide a good record of climate conditions for the last 18,000 years, as the Ice Age began to wane, and the glaciers retreated to permit a hunter-gatherer species to cultivate cereals, domesticate animals, build permanent settlements and found human civilisation.

Radiocarbon readings mean that researchers can date the sediments, and preserved organic molecules from land plants provide an indicator of conditions at those dates.

Methane adds speed

Scientists have repeatedly warned that climate change in the Arctic – the fastest-warming zone of all – is likely to be matched by the release of soil carbon in the form of the greenhouse gas methane from the thawing permafrost, to accelerate yet more warming.

As the once-frozen ground warms up, and vegetation moves further and further north, an estimated 600 million tonnes of carbon is released into the atmosphere every year.

Now, and for different reasons, the same could be true of the tropics, and the evidence is in the sands of time, deposited by one of the world’s great river systems. As the Ice Age ended, monsoon rains began to increase and in 2,600 years soil respiration – and therefore carbon release – doubled. Since then, monsoon rainfall has increased threefold.

“We found that shifts toward a warmer and wetter climate in the drainage basin of the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers over the last 18,000 years enhanced rates of soil respiration and decreased stocks of soil carbon,” said Christopher Hein, of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, who led the study.

“This has direct implications for the Earth’s future, as climate change is likely to increase rainfall in tropical regions, further accelerating respiration of soil carbon, and adding even more CO2 to the atmosphere than that directly added by humans.” – Climate News Network

A wetter and even warmer world will result from faster global warming. The evidence is in the sands of time.

LONDON, 14 May, 2020 – A warmer world may not be just a wetter one. It may get even warmer as well. New studies suggest the heavier rain that will accompany ever-higher global average atmospheric temperatures is in itself likely to trigger ever more carbon dioxide release from tropical soils.

This is what engineers call positive feedback. The very symptoms of a warming world become part of the fuel for accelerating global temperature change.

And the warning is derived not just from models of climate change, but once again from evidence from the past.

Scientists from the US, Canada and Switzerland report in the journal Nature that for the past 18,000 years, the “time of residence” of carbon in the soils of the Ganges-Brahmaputra river basin has been controlled by India’s summer monsoon rainfall.

The lower the rainfall, the higher the length of stored carbon. But as levels of downpour go up, so does the activity of the microbes that turn vegetable matter back into carbon dioxide, and the levels of stored soil carbon go down.

“Climate change is likely to increase rainfall in tropical regions, further accelerating respiration of soil carbon, and adding even more CO2 to the atmosphere”

Right now, global atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide have risen from 285 parts per million – the average for most of human history – to 416 ppm as humans clear ever more forest and burn ever more fossil fuels. This 416ppm adds up to about 750 billion tonnes of carbon. The planet’s soils are home to an estimated 3,500 bn tonnes: more than four times as much.

“Our results suggest that future hydroclimate changes in tropical regions are likely to accelerate soil carbon destabilisation, further increasing carbon dioxide concentrations,” the scientists warn.

As temperatures rise, the atmosphere’s capacity to absorb moisture also increases. As temperatures rise, so does direct evaporation from oceans, lakes, rivers and soils. This water vapour will eventually fall as rain, but unevenly: those regions already rainy will become rainier, while drylands are likely to become increasingly arid.

The Ganges and Brahmaputra carry more than a billion tonnes of sediment – most of it eroded from the Himalayan mountain chain – into the Bay of Bengal each year, and cores of sediment taken from the sea floor provide a good record of climate conditions for the last 18,000 years, as the Ice Age began to wane, and the glaciers retreated to permit a hunter-gatherer species to cultivate cereals, domesticate animals, build permanent settlements and found human civilisation.

Radiocarbon readings mean that researchers can date the sediments, and preserved organic molecules from land plants provide an indicator of conditions at those dates.

Methane adds speed

Scientists have repeatedly warned that climate change in the Arctic – the fastest-warming zone of all – is likely to be matched by the release of soil carbon in the form of the greenhouse gas methane from the thawing permafrost, to accelerate yet more warming.

As the once-frozen ground warms up, and vegetation moves further and further north, an estimated 600 million tonnes of carbon is released into the atmosphere every year.

Now, and for different reasons, the same could be true of the tropics, and the evidence is in the sands of time, deposited by one of the world’s great river systems. As the Ice Age ended, monsoon rains began to increase and in 2,600 years soil respiration – and therefore carbon release – doubled. Since then, monsoon rainfall has increased threefold.

“We found that shifts toward a warmer and wetter climate in the drainage basin of the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers over the last 18,000 years enhanced rates of soil respiration and decreased stocks of soil carbon,” said Christopher Hein, of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, who led the study.

“This has direct implications for the Earth’s future, as climate change is likely to increase rainfall in tropical regions, further accelerating respiration of soil carbon, and adding even more CO2 to the atmosphere than that directly added by humans.” – Climate News Network

Carbon dioxide pollution dulls the brain

Carbon dioxide pollution slows our thinking. It could get bad enough to stop some of us thinking our way out of danger.

LONDON, 27 April, 2020 – If humans go on burning ever-greater quantities of fossil fuels, then tomorrow’s children in badly-ventilated classrooms or workers in crowded offices could find their wits dulled: the predicted concentrations of carbon dioxide pollution by 2100 could reduce the ability to make decisions by 25%, and cut the capacity for complex strategic thinking by as much as half.

That is, global warming driven by greenhouse gas emissions wouldn’t just be bad for the planet and its oceans: it would also make Homo sapiens measurably less sapient.

Although outdoor CO2 levels could more than triple – and at 930 parts per million (ppm), this would be far higher than humans have ever experienced – concentrations in enclosed spaces could rise much higher.

Research on seamen aboard submarines and in astronaut tests have confirmed that CO2 builds up in confined spaces, to limit the supply of oxygen to the brain. As this happens, people in such conditions have problems responding to any stimulus or even recognising a threat.

City atmospheres normally have higher carbon dioxide concentrations than in the countryside. And in poorly-ventilated city buildings, higher carbon dioxide levels could begin to limit human potential.

Direct effect

“It’s amazing how high CO2 levels get in enclosed spaces,” said Kris Karnauskas, of the University of Colorado, Boulder and the author of a new study in the journal Geohealth.

“It affects everybody – from little kids packed into classrooms to scientists, business people and decision makers, to regular folks in their houses and apartments.”

Other researchers have repeatedly warned that any steps to reduce emissions would more than pay off in terms of advancing human health and wealth, and that conversely expanding fossil fuel emissions could only increase damaging atmospheric pollution, along with potentially life-threatening extremes of summer heat.

But these are indirect effects of carbon dioxide concentration: Dr Karnauskas and his colleagues were more interested in a direct effect.

They report that they looked simply at climate scenarios, including the notorious business-as-usual prediction in which humans go on destroying forests, burning coal and oil, and making cement to build ever-expanding cities.

“It’s amazing how high CO2 levels get in enclosed spaces. It affects everybody – from little kids to scientists, business people and decision makers, to regular folks in their houses and apartments”

In this scenario, carbon dioxide concentrations – at around 280 ppm for most of human history, but already past the 400ppm mark – will rise to 930ppm by the end of the century.

If that happens, then indoor concentrations could quickly reach 1400ppm. And this could, on some research findings, begin to compromise what psychologists call high-level cognitive domains. So basic decision-making ability could falter by a quarter, and concentration on complex problems by 50%.

Quite literally, carbon dioxide build-up could reduce the capacity to think clearly. Such an outcome is far from certain, and the Geohealth researchers recognise this.

“This is a complex problem, and our study is at the beginning,” said Dr Karnauskas. “It’s not just a matter of predicting global outdoor CO2 levels. It’s going from global background emissions, to concentrations in the urban environment, to the indoor concentrations and finally the resulting human impact.

“We need even broader, interdisciplinary teams of researchers to explore this.” – Climate News Network

Carbon dioxide pollution slows our thinking. It could get bad enough to stop some of us thinking our way out of danger.

LONDON, 27 April, 2020 – If humans go on burning ever-greater quantities of fossil fuels, then tomorrow’s children in badly-ventilated classrooms or workers in crowded offices could find their wits dulled: the predicted concentrations of carbon dioxide pollution by 2100 could reduce the ability to make decisions by 25%, and cut the capacity for complex strategic thinking by as much as half.

That is, global warming driven by greenhouse gas emissions wouldn’t just be bad for the planet and its oceans: it would also make Homo sapiens measurably less sapient.

Although outdoor CO2 levels could more than triple – and at 930 parts per million (ppm), this would be far higher than humans have ever experienced – concentrations in enclosed spaces could rise much higher.

Research on seamen aboard submarines and in astronaut tests have confirmed that CO2 builds up in confined spaces, to limit the supply of oxygen to the brain. As this happens, people in such conditions have problems responding to any stimulus or even recognising a threat.

City atmospheres normally have higher carbon dioxide concentrations than in the countryside. And in poorly-ventilated city buildings, higher carbon dioxide levels could begin to limit human potential.

Direct effect

“It’s amazing how high CO2 levels get in enclosed spaces,” said Kris Karnauskas, of the University of Colorado, Boulder and the author of a new study in the journal Geohealth.

“It affects everybody – from little kids packed into classrooms to scientists, business people and decision makers, to regular folks in their houses and apartments.”

Other researchers have repeatedly warned that any steps to reduce emissions would more than pay off in terms of advancing human health and wealth, and that conversely expanding fossil fuel emissions could only increase damaging atmospheric pollution, along with potentially life-threatening extremes of summer heat.

But these are indirect effects of carbon dioxide concentration: Dr Karnauskas and his colleagues were more interested in a direct effect.

They report that they looked simply at climate scenarios, including the notorious business-as-usual prediction in which humans go on destroying forests, burning coal and oil, and making cement to build ever-expanding cities.

“It’s amazing how high CO2 levels get in enclosed spaces. It affects everybody – from little kids to scientists, business people and decision makers, to regular folks in their houses and apartments”

In this scenario, carbon dioxide concentrations – at around 280 ppm for most of human history, but already past the 400ppm mark – will rise to 930ppm by the end of the century.

If that happens, then indoor concentrations could quickly reach 1400ppm. And this could, on some research findings, begin to compromise what psychologists call high-level cognitive domains. So basic decision-making ability could falter by a quarter, and concentration on complex problems by 50%.

Quite literally, carbon dioxide build-up could reduce the capacity to think clearly. Such an outcome is far from certain, and the Geohealth researchers recognise this.

“This is a complex problem, and our study is at the beginning,” said Dr Karnauskas. “It’s not just a matter of predicting global outdoor CO2 levels. It’s going from global background emissions, to concentrations in the urban environment, to the indoor concentrations and finally the resulting human impact.

“We need even broader, interdisciplinary teams of researchers to explore this.” – Climate News Network

Efficient energy cuts UK electricity’s carbon output

The United Kingdom leads the way in cutting carbon output from electricity production, to the surprise of its political leaders.

LONDON, 24 March, 2020 – Carbon output from the power sector has been falling faster in the UK than anywhere else in the world – despite the British government’s belief that electricity consumption would rise.

Part of the explanation is the closing of coal-fired power stations and their replacement by renewable energy technologies such as wind turbines and solar panels.

But the main savings have been in energy efficiency from the wholesale introduction of LED lighting to improved industrial processes.

This remarkable transformation has been repeated across many advanced countries in Europe and beyond. Even with many economies growing, communities have managed to reduce electricity use.

Emissions exported

Environmentalists and some academics would argue that part of the reason for the reduction is that Europe has exported some of its dirty energy-intensive industries, like steel-making, to China – so that China’s emissions have gone up while Europe’s have gone down.

This is partly true, but the UK’s Department of Environment says that even taking into account imported goods the UK’s overall carbon footprint has shrunk, not simply the energy sector’s contribution. The total of the three main greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, peaked in 2007 and had dropped 21% by 2017.

Andrew Warren, chairman of the British Energy Efficiency Federation, is highly critical of the way this energy revolution is being reported, saying the emphasis on the adoption of solar and wind technologies is misleading:

“The biggest decarbonising driver of the lot has not been the switching of supply sources (from coal to renewables). It has happened entirely as a result of investments in more energy-efficient technology.”

Constant drop

Writing on the Energyzine website, Warren says that from the beginning of this century energy consumption in the UK has been “falling. And falling. And falling. It is now over 20% lower than it was in 2000.

“In the case of the main heating fuel, natural gas, the impact has been even more pronounced. Sales have dropped by approaching one-third, largely due to better insulation and more efficient boilers and heating systems.”

He says this is totally contrary to British government predictions. As recently as 2010 the incoming Conservative government was officially planning on the doubling or even tripling of electricity consumption by 2050. But by 2010 sales were already falling, and they have continued to do so.

The 2005 White Paper, which set out the government’s proposals for future legislation, reckoned that by 2020 electricity consumption would have risen by 15%. In fact it has fallen by 16%; an error of more than 30% in forecasting.

“That old ‘Real Men Build Power Stations’ mentality still survives”

The same White Paper was used to justify the building of a series of nuclear power stations to satisfy the new demand – a policy that remains in place even though it is clear there is no need for the stations.

One station is under construction in the UK, but plans for up to five more are currently in limbo awaiting a government decision on whether to underwrite their cost with an electricity tax on consumers.

Despite figures showing that electricity consumption is continuing to fall, the government is still predicting that the demand for electricity will increase from 2025, particularly because of the switch to electric cars.

But Warren points out that many experts in the field, including the people who run the UK’s National Grid, doubt that this will happen.

Critical but neglected

Given how critical energy efficiency is in reducing demand when adopted across housing and industry, Warren says it is remarkable how little political attention is devoted to it. Very little is published about how and where critical savings are being made, and how much unfulfilled potential for improving efficiency there still is.

While some other western European nations have finally understood the importance of energy efficiency, sometimes called “the first fuel”, Warren says, many of the former Communist countries, even if they have now joined the European Union, still see building large new power stations as the way forward.

He told the Climate News Network: “The broad picture is that, over the past decade, most western European countries are seeing energy consumption stabilise, in many cases fall (even as GDP grows).

“But sadly too many of the old Comecon countries still can’t get their collective minds around demand-side management as a concept. That old ‘Real Men Build Power Stations’ mentality still survives.” – Climate News Network

The United Kingdom leads the way in cutting carbon output from electricity production, to the surprise of its political leaders.

LONDON, 24 March, 2020 – Carbon output from the power sector has been falling faster in the UK than anywhere else in the world – despite the British government’s belief that electricity consumption would rise.

Part of the explanation is the closing of coal-fired power stations and their replacement by renewable energy technologies such as wind turbines and solar panels.

But the main savings have been in energy efficiency from the wholesale introduction of LED lighting to improved industrial processes.

This remarkable transformation has been repeated across many advanced countries in Europe and beyond. Even with many economies growing, communities have managed to reduce electricity use.

Emissions exported

Environmentalists and some academics would argue that part of the reason for the reduction is that Europe has exported some of its dirty energy-intensive industries, like steel-making, to China – so that China’s emissions have gone up while Europe’s have gone down.

This is partly true, but the UK’s Department of Environment says that even taking into account imported goods the UK’s overall carbon footprint has shrunk, not simply the energy sector’s contribution. The total of the three main greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, peaked in 2007 and had dropped 21% by 2017.

Andrew Warren, chairman of the British Energy Efficiency Federation, is highly critical of the way this energy revolution is being reported, saying the emphasis on the adoption of solar and wind technologies is misleading:

“The biggest decarbonising driver of the lot has not been the switching of supply sources (from coal to renewables). It has happened entirely as a result of investments in more energy-efficient technology.”

Constant drop

Writing on the Energyzine website, Warren says that from the beginning of this century energy consumption in the UK has been “falling. And falling. And falling. It is now over 20% lower than it was in 2000.

“In the case of the main heating fuel, natural gas, the impact has been even more pronounced. Sales have dropped by approaching one-third, largely due to better insulation and more efficient boilers and heating systems.”

He says this is totally contrary to British government predictions. As recently as 2010 the incoming Conservative government was officially planning on the doubling or even tripling of electricity consumption by 2050. But by 2010 sales were already falling, and they have continued to do so.

The 2005 White Paper, which set out the government’s proposals for future legislation, reckoned that by 2020 electricity consumption would have risen by 15%. In fact it has fallen by 16%; an error of more than 30% in forecasting.

“That old ‘Real Men Build Power Stations’ mentality still survives”

The same White Paper was used to justify the building of a series of nuclear power stations to satisfy the new demand – a policy that remains in place even though it is clear there is no need for the stations.

One station is under construction in the UK, but plans for up to five more are currently in limbo awaiting a government decision on whether to underwrite their cost with an electricity tax on consumers.

Despite figures showing that electricity consumption is continuing to fall, the government is still predicting that the demand for electricity will increase from 2025, particularly because of the switch to electric cars.

But Warren points out that many experts in the field, including the people who run the UK’s National Grid, doubt that this will happen.

Critical but neglected

Given how critical energy efficiency is in reducing demand when adopted across housing and industry, Warren says it is remarkable how little political attention is devoted to it. Very little is published about how and where critical savings are being made, and how much unfulfilled potential for improving efficiency there still is.

While some other western European nations have finally understood the importance of energy efficiency, sometimes called “the first fuel”, Warren says, many of the former Communist countries, even if they have now joined the European Union, still see building large new power stations as the way forward.

He told the Climate News Network: “The broad picture is that, over the past decade, most western European countries are seeing energy consumption stabilise, in many cases fall (even as GDP grows).

“But sadly too many of the old Comecon countries still can’t get their collective minds around demand-side management as a concept. That old ‘Real Men Build Power Stations’ mentality still survives.” – Climate News Network