Global Warming: The Science and Modeling of Climate Change is a free online adaptation of a college-level class for non-science majors at the University of Chicago (textbook, video lectures). The class includes 33 short exercises for playing with on-line models, 5 “number-cruncher” problems where you create simple models from scratch in a spreadsheet or programming language, and 8 “explainer” assignments where you explain some concept as you would to a smart 11-year old child (short, simple, clear), and exchange these with other students in the class for feedback. The discussion forums are very lively, as thousands of people from around the world make their way through the video lectures and exercises, lots to chat about. This is our third run of the class, so we’re getting the kinks out. We hope you find it useful. September 29 – December 31 2014.
Siberia has explosion holes in it that smell like methane, and there are newly found bubbles of methane in the Arctic Ocean. As a result, journalists are contacting me assuming that the Arctic Methane Apocalypse has begun. However, as a climate scientist I remain much more concerned about the fossil fuel industry than I am about Arctic methane. Short answer: It would take about 20,000,000 such eruptions within a few years to generate the standard Arctic Methane Apocalypse that people have been talking about. Hereâ€™s where that statement comes from:
XKCD, the brilliant and hilarious on-line comic, attempts to answer the question
The answer is, enough to cover the Earth with 10 layers of soda cans. However, the comic misses a factor of about two, which would arise from the ocean. The oceans have been taking up carbon throughout the industrial era, as have some parts of the land surface biosphere. The ocean contains about half of the carbon we’ve ever released from fossil fuels. We’ve also cut down a lot of trees, which has been more-or-less compensated for by uptake into other parts of the land biosphere. So as a fraction of our total carbon footprint (fuels + trees) the oceans contain about a third.
At any rate, the oceans are acting as a CO2 buffer, meaning that it’s absorbing CO2 as it tries to limit the change to the atmospheric concentration. If we suddenly pulled atmospheric CO2 back down to 280 ppm (by putting it all in cans of soda perhaps), the oceans would work in the opposite direction, to buffer our present-day higher concentration by giving up CO2. The land biosphere is kind of a loose cannon in the carbon cycle, hard to predict what it will do.
Ten layers of soda cans covering the whole earth sounds like a lot. But most of a soda can is soda, rather than CO2. Here’s another statistic: If the CO2 in the atmosphere were to freeze out as dry ice depositing on the ground, the dry ice layer would only be about 7 millimeters thick. I guess cans of soda pop might not be the most efficient or economical means of CO2 sequestration. For a better option, look to saline aquifers, which are porous geological formations containing salty water that no one would want to drink or irrigate with anyway. CO2 at high pressure forms a liquid, then ultimately reacts with igneous rocks to form CaCO3.
Tans, Pieter. An accounting of the observed increase in oceanic and atmospheric CO2 and
an outlook for the Future. Oceanography 22(4) 26-35, 2009
Carbon dioxide capture and storage IPCC Report, 2005
Lots of interesting methane papers this week. In Nature Geoscience, Shakhova et al (2013) have published a substantial new study of the methane cycle on the Siberian continental margin of the Arctic Ocean. This paper will get a lot of attention, because it follows by a few months a paper from last summer, Whiteman et al (2013), which claimed a strong (and expensive) potential impact from Arctic methane on near-term climate evolution. That economic modeling study was based on an Arctic methane release scenario proposed in an earlier paper by Shakhova (2010). In PNAS, Miller et al (2013) find that the United States may be emitting 50-70% more methane than we thought. So where does this leave us?
- N. Shakhova, I. Semiletov, I. Leifer, V. Sergienko, A. Salyuk, D. Kosmach, D. Chernykh, C. Stubbs, D. Nicolsky, V. Tumskoy, and Ă. Gustafsson, "Ebullition and storm-induced methane release from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf", Nature Geosci, vol. 7, pp. 64-70, 2013. http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/NGEO2007
- G. Whiteman, C. Hope, and P. Wadhams, "Climate science: Vast costs of Arctic change", Nature, vol. 499, pp. 401-403, 2013. http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/499401a
- N.E. Shakhova, V.A. Alekseev, and I.P. Semiletov, "Predicted methane emission on the East Siberian shelf", Dokl. Earth Sc., vol. 430, pp. 190-193, 2010. http://dx.doi.org/10.1134/S1028334X10020091
- S.M. Miller, S.C. Wofsy, A.M. Michalak, E.A. Kort, A.E. Andrews, S.C. Biraud, E.J. Dlugokencky, J. Eluszkiewicz, M.L. Fischer, G. Janssens-Maenhout, B.R. Miller, J.B. Miller, S.A. Montzka, T. Nehrkorn, and C. Sweeney, "Anthropogenic emissions of methane in the United States", Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 110, pp. 20018-20022, 2013. http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1314392110