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  1. Typo: “carbon molecules”
    Presumably “carbon dioxide molecules” or “carbon atoms”.

    [Response: Well the carbon comes in different forms, so I changed it to ‘carbon-containing molecules’ – which should cover everything. – gavin]

    Comment by Slioch — 1 Feb 2009 @ 10:30 AM

  2. Thank you for giving us hope, even though a small hope it is! But if we do not act upon the hope we still have, then there won’t be any reason for hope left to work with later. What I struggle tremendously with is how to best communicate the tremendous urgency in a way that it activates people, without seeming to be an alarmist or spreading stiffening fear.
    One way to better communicate what awaits us in case of inaction, and what is needed and possible to avoid passing tipping points, could be models that internet users can play with to see for themselves what will happen under which assumptions. One such model I just found on the Yale webpage (
    If you know of other webpages on which people can play with different climate or economic models, could you please post them here?
    Thank you very much!

    Comment by Maiken — 1 Feb 2009 @ 10:33 AM

  3. Well, all I can say is that you have excelled yourselves in this post. It is nothing but denialist rubbish.

    You state:

    It is not really news scientifically that atmospheric CO2 concentration stays higher than natural for thousands of years after emission of new CO2 to the carbon cycle from fossil fuels.

    So that is all right then. We don’t have to worry unless the levels of greenhouse gases increase. How are you going to prevent that. Stop burning all fossil fuels? That is the only way!

    The Arctic sea ice is retreating and the glaciers are melting worldwide. This will reduce global albedo and raise sea level temperatures, so the oceans will release more CO2 even if we stop adding fossil fuels now.

    When are you going to face up to the fact that the world is heading for disaster. Unless we take panic measures we are all doomed.

    Cheers, Alastair.

    [Response: – gavin]

    [Response: I agree, stopping burning fossil fuels is the only way. I’m not sure where you think we disagree. David]

    Comment by Alastair McDonald — 1 Feb 2009 @ 10:50 AM

  4. Wonderfully hopeful. Thank you.

    Humans have made resolute decisive actions in the past, so the required change is possible.

    Most perplexing is why we are not moving faster.

    Comment by Richard Pauli — 1 Feb 2009 @ 11:12 AM

  5. Without underestimating the challenge of going carbon-neutral globally: that’s not the limit! If after phasing out coal-fired power plants, we start using their Carbon Capture & Storage units to capture and store CO2 from biomass-fired power plants (bio-residues, algae etc.), we can effectively introduce negative CO2-emissions.

    [Response: In principle, yes. In practice: the German Advisory Council on Global Change made an estimate of the global potential for this in its recent report on bioenergy (page 136, so far only available in German). At best you can reduce the atmospheric CO2 concentration by 9 to 18 ppm over a century in this way. So, I wouldn’t count on it. It is far easier to avoid CO2 emissions than to get the CO2 back out of the air. -stefan]

    Comment by Ark — 1 Feb 2009 @ 11:19 AM

  6. Good post

    For further clarification on “unstoppable” Solomon et al. note “where irreversible is defined here as a time scale exceeding the end of the millennium in year 3000; note that we do not consider geo-engineering measures that might be able to remove gases already in the atmosphere or to introduce active cooling to counteract warming).”

    Matthew and Caldiera 2008 (in GRL) also speak of irreversible climate change on human timescales, and conclude that elevated temperatures may not decrease significantly for half a millennia even if emissions dropped to zero soon.

    Comment by Chris Colose — 1 Feb 2009 @ 12:21 PM

  7. David, thanks for this as a counter to the sort of “It’s hopeless, so I don’t have to do anything” idiocy that has greeted this story. It seems that the denialosphere is willing to embrace science only so long as they can use it as an excuse for inaction.

    One thing that has concerned me. If you look at the past 10000 years, the two most notable developments have been remarkable climatic stability and the emergence of human civilization. It seems that it could well be argued that the former may have been a prerequisite for the latter, since it shifted the balance so that people could grow more calories via agriculture than they could hunt and gather.

    If climate change brings an end to that stability, it could well mean that human population cannot be sustained at even a tenth of current levels. Moreover, even if we developed advanced geoengineering solutions that brought us back down to 280 ppmv CO2, it’s not clear to me that we would necessarily return to a pattern of climatic stability. Have any modeling efforts looked at this question?

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 1 Feb 2009 @ 12:29 PM

  8. First, thank you, Maiken, for the link to the Yale model. I look forward to exploring that later when time allows. Secondly, I’ll express thanks to all you guys at RealClimate for truly outstanding work. However, I have to take exception to a couple of points not necessarily reflected in your latest post.
    First, virtually everything I read, here and elsewhere, seems to a great extent based on the paleo-climatologic record deduced from ice and sediment cores among other sources. While I have no doubts about that data or the resultant deductions, I am extremely dismayed that no one seems to “realize” that those conditions took place without the anthropogenic “forcing” we are currently witnessing. Therefore, what is happening now is unprecedented and “relying” on past changes to model what is to come is, at best, weak and a gross underestimate. I think there is support for this view in the Arctic melting of the past couple years researchers have proclaimed “decades ahead of the worst case models.”
    Secondly, I am further concerned that I don’t hear or read anything regarding the role of thermodynamics in these events. Specifically, those “laws” indicate that the greater the differential between a “hot source” and a “cold sink” the greater the rate of heat-flow. Especially since it is “well known” that water is so much “better” than air at conducting heat. This appears to be supported by the reported thinning of the “permanent” ice in the Arctic as well as the declining volume. I anxiously look forward to the data and reports from the “yellow submarine project” at the southernmost continent.
    Lastly, while it is reported that sea-level is rising “slowly,” I find nothing regarding the subsequent effect on the “floating” ice shelves. Being a scuba diver and a “fan” of Archimedes I am keenly aware that for every 33 feet of depth a submerged object will experience an increase in pressure of 1 atmosphere (~14.7 psi). So, a straight forward calculation will show that for each inch of sea level rise, there is a corresponding increase of buoyant (upward) force in excess of 74,000 tons on every square mile of shelf. It seems to me that this should be of particular significance, especially when “coupled” with the thermodynamics.
    If anyone could offer any “clarification” or let me know how/where I may be flat-out wrong I will be most appreciative. Thanks.

    Comment by Colin — 1 Feb 2009 @ 12:49 PM

  9. The only long-term way to accelerate the CO2 drawdown in the long tail would be to actively remove CO2 from the air, which I personally believe will ultimately be necessary.

    — We can remove CO2

    As a result of the long tail, any climate impact from more CO2 in the air will be essentially irreversible.

    — We can’t.

    [Response: We can but it’s hard. David]

    Isn’t methane different? Cut emissions and the level in the atmosphere goes down because of the OH sink. My quick reading of the relevant section in AR4 ( “ Changes in lifetime”) seems to indicate this sink doesn’t vary much with the concentration of methane. Have I got this correct?

    [Response: The lifetime of methane is thought to go up with an increase in the emission flux, because of limitation by availability of OH. So the steady-state concentration goes up somewhat faster than a linear dependence on the emission flux. Not a huge effect, but not negligible either. David]

    This paragraph suggests that any extra methane does not directly increase the OH sink so the “queue of methane” waiting to be removed simply increases by this extra amount. Until slower effects kick-in, such as extra water vapour from global warming, this gives the “extra methane” (or “marginal methane” in the language of economists) an unlimited lifetime.

    P.S. An earlier attempt to ask this question got the answer “all methane is equal”. I hadn’t bothered with the mixing (or queue jumping) issue because I thought the physical climatic should be the same with or without mixing.

    Comment by Geoff Beacon — 1 Feb 2009 @ 12:50 PM

  10. Perhaps some of my last post was rather convoluted. Put more simply:

    If methane emissions exceed the capacity of the OH sink, we are in trouble. But is the sink independent of methane concentrations?

    Is all this well known?

    Comment by Geoff Beacon — 1 Feb 2009 @ 1:00 PM

  11. I’ve read something recently about the regrowth of tropical rain forests due to abandonment by farmers.

    I assume this is positive impact, but suspect it not much of one. Has anyone assessed how much of an impact this could be?

    Comment by Jim Cross — 1 Feb 2009 @ 1:13 PM

  12. I do have a question: has anyone looked at various trajectories of land use/deforestation, etc and any other secular changes in geochemical boundary conditions over the coming century to see at what kind of atmospheric concentrations CO2 would “re-equilibirate” to following sufficient time of zero anthropogenic emissions?

    In other words, there is nothing special about “280 ppmv” that should make it a default baseline to which we will inevitably return, but that seems to me to be a function of the current biospheric state and agriculture (or perhaps any long-term changes in ocean chemistry which stay affected longer than the CO2 residence time). To what extent would such changes such as land modification make “300 ppmv” or “320 ppmv” a new baseline (i.e., a new “natural background”) to which we would re-equilibriate given enough time for anthropogenic CO2 removal?

    Comment by Chris Colose — 1 Feb 2009 @ 1:24 PM

  13. Yes, and really, people should go read the book, and maybe even help out by adding another review or two… as it’s not just for RC readers, but a good “start here” recommendation.

    Comment by John Mashey — 1 Feb 2009 @ 1:31 PM

  14. David:

    You say: “The only long-term way to accelerate the CO2 drawdown in the long tail would be to actively remove CO2 from the air, which I personally believe will ultimately be necessary. But the buffering effect of the ocean would work against us here, releasing CO2 to compensate for our efforts.

    As a result of the long tail, any climate impact from more CO2 in the air will be essentially irreversible.”

    Your emphasis, as well as Solomon’s remains misleading and self-contradictory.

    Focus on terms like “essentially irreversible” and “unstoppable” will mislead policy makers and the public by leading them to believe that significant drawdown is for the future – or simply impossible!

    Your belief that NET removal, (“drawdown”) of CO2 from the atmosphere “will ULTIMATELY be necessary” is simply wrong!

    Drawdown is necessary NOW, and therefore should be at the center of discussions on mitigation. And drawdown now IS possible.

    As you noted, by acting now, we largely avoid the bulk of the buffering delay.

    In this connection, I have 2 papers in the pipeline a Climatic Change, that describe about 8 to 13 GtC/yr (8 to 13 wedges) of affordable ‘bio-sequestration’, that require only already mature technologies; one involves irrigated afforestation of sub-tropical deserts, and the other, sustainable eco-neutral conservation harvest of old-growth tropical forests.

    Comment by Leonard Ornstein — 1 Feb 2009 @ 1:41 PM

  15. Very informative post. Thanks for that.

    David does not mention his very relevant book in the context of his post, so I will:
    The Long Thaw: How Humans Are Changing the Next 100,000 Years of Earth’s Climate

    Anthropogenic climate change is discussed in the revealing framework of geologic time, and past and present time periods are considered–a relatively easy read as climate books go, and very apropos to the discussion due to the long time scales looking forward and backward.

    Issues of the residency of CO2 in the atmosphere and ocean are discussed (the long tail of emissions). The Dryas event, along with HO cycles are explored/explained too. Of course, references to the peer reviewed literature are included for anyone who wants to go further to build upon what they’ve learned.

    I still believe the big surprises are yet to come from the biogeochemical cycles of the ocean related to plankton lifecycle and acidification–not good ones at that–long before we get close to exhausting hydrocarbon fuel sources. Hope I am wrong.

    Comment by Jim Redden — 1 Feb 2009 @ 1:47 PM

  16. Interesting to see this paper and I’m gaining new perspective that a 20% figure for the carbon remaining in the oceans translates into double that (40%) for the enhanced atmospheric CO2 concentration. That really does make the warming effect stay at its present level of enhanced temperature (due to ocean heat storage), even if all emissions are cut.

    Now we will need to learn more about how much CO2 can be sequestered in the soil and vegetation.

    Comment by Steve Albers — 1 Feb 2009 @ 2:15 PM

  17. Hi – please note my previous post (I think #14) should read \20% figure for the emitted carbon remaining in the atmosphere\

    Comment by Steve Albers — 1 Feb 2009 @ 2:38 PM

  18. Hi. I post here at RealClimate a few times per year.This is a great post,as usual. Lots of good info.
    The Earth will not stabilise at 350ppm. Nor 450 ppm.Nor 550 ppm. My research indicates that co2 has an excellent chance,no, let me rephrase that, a formidable chance, of stabilising at 650 to 1000 ppm.Above 850 ppm the oceans become anoxic, and outgass methane. See Peter Ward’s work.There is no hope of stabilising below 650 ppm, unless worldwide, mammade, human co2 emissions were to fall 80% below 1990 levels, right now. End of story.
    Mark J. Fiore

    Comment by Mark J. Fiore — 1 Feb 2009 @ 2:39 PM

  19. A couple of secondary detail questions: (1) Isn’t rock the predominate CO2 absorber in the long run (over 1000 yrs. min; probably in the 10s and 100s of thousand yrs.) and in this scenario wouldn’t it be rock absorbing most of the decreasing tail? (2) Is the delayed absorption by the oceans what the “time constant” discussion a couple of threads back was about?

    [Response: Yes, ultimately CO2 returns to the solid earth by reaction with the CaO component of igneous rocks, a negative feedback system that stabilizes the climate of the earth with a time constant of hundreds of thousands of years. The time scale for equilibration with the ocean is a few hundred years. David]

    Comment by Rod B — 1 Feb 2009 @ 2:43 PM

  20. Perhaps some of my last post was a bit convoluted. Put more simply: If methane emissions exceed the capacity of the methane sink, we are in trouble. But is it fixed?

    Comment by Geoff Beacon — 1 Feb 2009 @ 2:46 PM

  21. Saying we

    “have to remember that the climate changes so far,
    both observed and committed to, are minor compared with the
    business-as-usual forecast for the end of the century” …

    downplays what we’ve already been set in motion, in my view, even with the comparsion.

    Comment by Pat Neuman — 1 Feb 2009 @ 3:02 PM

  22. In one form or another there probably will be a practical means of taking greenhouses gases out of the atmosphere available before the end of this century; and it will probably be difficult and damned expensive. It just might be cheap and easy; but the fat tail is that it won’t be there at all.

    Stopping making the problem worse remains the policy choice tha twe are least likely to regret.

    Comment by D iversity — 1 Feb 2009 @ 3:02 PM

  23. I fail to understand why somebody in science would use the word irreversible which has a very definite meaning in the real world as well as in science, to characterize a time scale of a millennium. Nobody working on this topic did it before, and I am sure there must be a reason for doing it now.

    Comment by Roberto — 1 Feb 2009 @ 3:16 PM

  24. Actually, the aggregate of studies indicate that we have already heated and polluted the earth well beyond unstoppable, and that the newer studies indicate that feedback effects are outpacing even the most recent predictions.

    [Response: Serious as this is, it is not all driven by climate change – indeed it is more serious because it is not linked to any one of the multitude of impacts humans are having on ecosystems. – gavin]

    Comment by Gail — 1 Feb 2009 @ 3:29 PM

  25. Great post! Solomon et al say:

    “Some recent studies suggest that ice sheet surface mass balance loss for peakCO2 concentrations of 400–800 ppmv may be even slower than the removal of manmade carbon dioxide following cessation of emissions, so that this loss could contribute less than a meter to irreversible sea level rise even after many thousands of years (44, 45). It is evident that the contribution from the ice sheets could be large in the future, but the dependence upon carbon dioxide levels is extremely uncertain not only over the coming century but also in the millennial time scale.”

    I’ve read the Abstracts of the papers referenced,

    44. Charbit S, Paillard D, Ramstein G (2008) Amount of CO2 emissions irreversibly leading to the total melting of Greenland. Geophys Res Lett 35:L12503, 10.1029/2008GL033472.

    45. Parizek BR, Alley RB (2004) Implications of increased Greenland surface melt

    Charbit et al note that: “The long-term response of Greenland to anthropogenic warming is of critical interest for the magnitude of the sea-level rise and for climate-related concerns. To explore its evolution over several millennia we use a climate-ice sheet model forced by a range of CO2 emission scenarios, accounting for the natural removal of anthropogenic CO2 from the atmosphere. Above 3000 GtC, the melting appears irreversible, while below 2500 GtC, Greenland only experiences a partial melting followed by a re-growth phase. Delaying emissions through sequestration slows significantly the melting, but has only a limited impact on the ultimate fate of Greenland. Its behavior is therefore mostly dependent on the cumulative CO2 emissions. This study demonstrates that the fossil fuel emissions of the next century will have dramatic consequences on sea-level rise for several millennia.”

    Wiki gives us that:
    …the atmospheric CO2 content is currently approximately 3 teratonnes.

    Which is saying that we are at or inevitably soon to be at the 3000GtC that Charbit et al found means the “…melting [of all Greenland] appears irreversible”.

    [Response: I think Charbit meant 3000 GtC of emissions, not the total mass in the atmosphere. We have already emitted about 300 GtC. David]

    In the abstract for
    Implications of increased Greenland surface melt under global-warming scenarios: ice-sheet simulations, Parizek BR, Alley RB (2004)

    they note that “The Greenland ice sheet is likely to make a faster contribution to sea-level rise in a warming world than previously believed, based on numerical modelling using a parameterization of recent results showing surface-meltwater lubrication of ice flow. Zwally et al. (Science 297(557) (2002) 218) documented correlation between increased ice velocity and increased surface melt (as parameterized by positive degree days). They argued that surface water is piped directly to the bed with little delay, causing increased basal-water pressures and basal-sliding velocities, an effect not included in recent Greenland ice-sheet models known to the authors.”

    So what do Solomon et al mean when they say: “…the contribution from the ice sheets could be large in the future, but the dependence upon carbon dioxide levels is extremely uncertain …”

    The dependence (and hence the likely contribution and timing) looks pretty clear to me – what am I missing? Why the hesitation?

    (Captcha: to improve tears!!!)

    Comment by Nigel Williams — 1 Feb 2009 @ 4:01 PM

  26. David wrote: “Perhaps the despair we heard in our interviewers’ questions arose from the observation in the paper that the temperature will continue to rise, even if CO2 emissions are stopped today. But you have to remember that the climate changes so far, both observed and committed to, are minor compared with the business-as-usual forecast for the end of the century. It’s further emissions we need to worry about.”

    As I understand this study, the take-home message is that whatever turns out to be the peak level of atmospheric CO2 by the time we stop increasing it, is the level we will be stuck with for a long time — and we’ll also be stuck with whatever amount of anthropogenic warming accompanies that level for a long time.

    Therefore it is very important that CO2 levels peak at the lowest level possible. Which in turn means that our CO2 emissions — which are currently accelerating — need to peak as soon as possible, and then decline as rapidly as possible.

    So, yes, of course we need to worry about future emissions and do everything possible to slow, stop, and reverse the currently accelerating increase in emissions.

    However, the other thing I take from this study is that at a minimum, the current levels of CO2 and the warming and climate change effects from those levels that we are currently experiencing, are with us for the long term — including, for example, melting ice caps and glaciers. There is no possibility of stopping these effects let alone reversing them, even if the warming levels off and stops at current temperatures — because current temperatures are sufficient to cause these effects, even without any additional warming.

    And given the nature of the effects we are already seeing — including evidence of self-reinforcing feedbacks already kicking in — that is certainly a reasonable basis for “despair”.

    I’d be very happy if someone can explain to me that I’ve got this all wrong.

    Comment by SecularAnimist — 1 Feb 2009 @ 4:11 PM

  27. Half wrong, Sec, look up Charney climate sensitivity.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 1 Feb 2009 @ 5:02 PM

  28. Gavin, thank you for your excellent point. Of course, there are many different ways humans have of driving species to extinction, not only emissions of greenhouse gasses. And I think the larger issue is that although indeed humans are despoiling our planet in many ways, the most dangerous is climate change because of the exponential impact from feedback loops, such as the melting of the polar ice and, my own particular favorite, deforestation which could easily lead, through even further warming and drying of the soils, to desertification. From my own personal observations on the US Eastern seaboard, this process is well underway and it is irreversible, in the sense that once trees show signs of senescence, which ALL of them do (thinning crowns, singed leaves, yellowing and dropping of needles, rotting limbs) it indicates that the roots of the tree are already so damaged that the tree cannot be saved.

    Although I am not a scientist I have been wading through as much technical research as I can locate, and I have yet to find the exact culprit. It could be blamed on warming, drying, soil nutrient depletion from acid rain, pollution, ozone levels, some other factor or a combination.

    In any event, the sudden and rapid demise of deciduous and coniferous trees is not an encouraging sign for other vegetation, such as food crops.

    I am not an advocate of giving up, although I’m quite gloomy. I think the emphasis must be on stopping emissions, green energy, developing technology to clean the atmosphere, and preserving as many life forms as we can for future propagation.

    Comment by Gail — 1 Feb 2009 @ 5:05 PM

  29. I think you’re close SecularAnimis. It’s that the current warming amount is locked in for a long time, along with 40% of the present CO2 concentration enhancement.

    Comment by Steve Albers — 1 Feb 2009 @ 5:31 PM

  30. David,

    Hansen et al (2008) estimated the cost of removing CO2 out of the air artificially at $10 tln per 50ppm of CO2 ($100 per one ton of carbon). You noted that when we attempt to do it, the oceans are likely to work against us by releasing more CO2 into the air.

    So, is this figure of $10 tln really the minimum cost of artificially drawing 50ppm of CO2 from the air and the real cost is likely to be higher, potentially much higher (i.e. if we are to try to remove carbon from the long “tail” of 30% of CO2 left after the oceans take up the initial 70%)?



    [Response: I don’t know the details of Hansen’s calculation. It’s an interesting question, the ocean will make a huge difference to the answer one would get. David]

    Comment by Igor Samoylenko — 1 Feb 2009 @ 5:43 PM

  31. Firstly I am not a scientist,but what is bothering me is the boiled egg syndrome. As the water heats up the white of the egg hardens and as it pentrates deeper the yolk solidifies. My conclusion is that there will come a point in time when the core of the earth begins to manifest in increased volcanic activity, seismic events etc. Without the polar Ice Cap reflecting the heat away. and greenhouse gasses traping the heat, and the methane release already happening, how long before we are plunged into another ice age due to multiple volcanic clouds covering the planet.

    We have recently had a disasterous tusunami in the indian ocean and also the quakes in pakistan, and the current volcanic activity in the north.

    I live in South Africa and I am now almost 62 years old, I have four grand children , the eldest is almost 3 and the future looks very bleak for them.

    I run a Christian Debating forum , which I also use to promote climate change conciousness, and our God given responsibility to manage the planet.

    In South Africa we have already experienced some loss of our coastline due to abnormal high tides. Also Last year we had almost 8 months of continuous rain , something I have not experienced in the past, also this year we have had flooding again. One of a news reports called it a killer storm.

    I have written to some of our many political parties, to create awareness, yet our semi state controlled media has no real meaningfull coverage on the climate debate.

    I think pandoras box is already open, and I dont think we can close it again.

    Yours in Christ


    [Response: The impact of climate change on seismic events/volcanoes/tsunamis etc. is not something one needs to worry about – the forces controlling those phenomena are vastly in excess of anything we will be able to do to the Earth’s crust. There is possibly an exception to this related to changes in isostatic loading associated with melting ice sheets, but even there we have a very long way to go. There are important stewardship issues raised by the CO2 problem, but this is not likely to be one them. – gavin]

    Comment by Dave Hume — 1 Feb 2009 @ 5:46 PM

  32. In one form or another there probably will be a practical means of taking greenhouses gases out of the atmosphere available before the end of this century; and it will probably be difficult and damned expensive. It just might be cheap and easy; but the fat tail is that it won’t be there at all.

    True if “fat tail” means impossibility. Permanent CO2 removal on an industrial scale has already been inadvertently demonstrated. Also see olivine-related comments in Air Capture.

    — G.R.L. Cowan, (How fire can be domesticated)

    Comment by G.R.L. Cowan, H2 energy fan until ~1996 — 1 Feb 2009 @ 6:05 PM

  33. ..and further to my last post (1 February 2009 at 4:01 PM), can you also elucidate on what Solomon actually says in the first part of the quote above:

    “Some recent studies suggest that ice sheet surface mass balance loss for peakCO2 concentrations of 400–800 ppmv may be even slower than the removal of manmade carbon dioxide following cessation of emissions, so that this loss could contribute less than a meter to irreversible sea level rise even after many thousands of years…

    The quoted studies seem to show the opposite.. ?

    This is a very important paper, and I’m keen to thoroughly comprehend it’s meaning. The other sections on temperature, precipitation and inevitability etc are quite clear – but the sea level rise section is (at least to me) harder to get to grips with.


    [Response: I think it’s an open question what the response of the ice sheets will be during the time period of the CO2 peak. The impacts of the tail are much easier to predict. David]

    Comment by Nigel Williams — 1 Feb 2009 @ 6:28 PM

  34. When we had 3000 ppm CO2 in the atmosphere was that irreversible?

    Hmmm let me think!


    [Response: Try reading too. The definition of ‘irreversible’ above is linked to a time scale of 1000 years or so. Since I’m pretty sure the last time 3000 ppm happened was much longer ago than that, it’s hardly relevant. Unless you happen to have some new source of CO2 data with better than 1000 year resolution back in the Cretaceous which show changes much faster than that? …. Didn’t think so. – gavin]

    Comment by Alan Millar — 1 Feb 2009 @ 7:10 PM

  35. There’s a full review of The Long Thaw here, part of an effort to assemble a reasonably complete set of reviews of current and future climate-relevant books (with thanks to Bryan Walker, who is doing most of the spadework).

    Comment by Gareth — 1 Feb 2009 @ 7:13 PM

  36. When we talk about climate change from burning fossil fuels we often forget to mention its ugly step-sister, ocean acidification.

    One consequence of the oceans acting as a sink for CO2 is that ocean acidification will last for similar timeframes as climate change:

    Comment by Chris McGrath — 1 Feb 2009 @ 7:46 PM

  37. If it was easy to reduce our use of carbon energy, we would have already done it. Now if any of you think that we will be able to generate the needed energy in the next 50 years without carbon fuels or even moderately reduce them, then I have a some water front property in Colorado that I would like to sell. We cannot even agree on a new power grid to bring solar electric power from the Mojave to LA. If what you believe is in respect to AGW is true, then we truly are on the road to perdition and this 1k year prediction may well come true but we are not going to do anything to stop it. I am just going to enjoy my ride out.

    Jim N

    Comment by Jim Norvell — 1 Feb 2009 @ 7:53 PM

  38. How can we learn about possible methods to withdraw CO2 from the atmosphere. Can someone refer me to a reliable post or website on methods to take out the CO2? Thanks!

    [Response: Look for papers by David Keith and Kurt House. David]

    Comment by Durbrow — 1 Feb 2009 @ 8:10 PM

  39. #24

    Most of what you said is correct, except that, by geo-engineering, we can alter the earth’s energy budget causing cooling to occur, especially over arctic regions.

    We are only encouraging warming in this area by our jet traffic during the winter months, which traps heat. Air traffic should be suspended at high latitudes (>45) through March. After this, it should be increased to create cirrus clouds which reflect the initial low-angle solar radiation back into space and delay the onset of the arctic spring. Sulfur could be added to the fuel to increase reflectivity of the clouds formed. During the summer, ships burning high-sulfur fuel could be added to the mix.

    Via deployment of the Atmospheric Vortex Engine ( on a large scale, we can eliminate 90% fossil fuel use for electricity generation within ten years, and thereby take care of the CO2 emissions problem, and possibly, increase the earth’s albedo at the same time.

    CO2 sequestration can be achieved via increasing crop production (, followed by char production from the biomass and burial of same.

    Comment by Jerry Toman — 1 Feb 2009 @ 8:43 PM

  40. Jesse Ausubell at Rockefeller University said it best in 1989, and I repeat his call in my Graduation Speech to the Class of 2099 here:

    “We must loosen the noose around coal.”

    Dr Ausubel said that, remember, in 1989, in a published paper. It is now 2009. The unstoppable is getting more and more unstoppable. At what point, do we act? By 2099 it might be too late. Stop all car and truck traffic now? Now? Or just go on with business as usual, screw the future of the human species…..

    Comment by Danny Bloom — 1 Feb 2009 @ 8:51 PM

  41. Jim Norvell says, “I am just going to enjoy my ride out.”

    Anything to justify selfishness and inaction, huh, Jim? Your children must be so proud.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 1 Feb 2009 @ 9:04 PM

  42. Alan Millar says “When we had 3000 ppm CO2 in the atmosphere was that irreversible?

    Hmmm let me think!”

    Not bloody likely.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 1 Feb 2009 @ 9:08 PM

  43. > We cannot even agree on a new power grid to bring solar
    > electric power from the Mojave to LA

    Sure you can: simply choose not to use it as an excuse to cut a big road swath through Joshua Tree. Put it along occupied corridors.
    Simple — place it so distributed small generation can tie into it, rather than placing it where _only_ the one big utility generator can connect at one end and the other, and the rest in Joshua Tree.

    That’s not what the new grid is supposed to be about, is it?

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 1 Feb 2009 @ 9:17 PM

  44. #9,10,20: Geoff Beacon: The absolute methane sink increases with increasing concentration, so no, we aren’t doomed by increasing methane emissions. Reasoning:

    If we could magically hold the OH level in the atmosphere constant, then methane lifetime would be constant, so the sink would be directly proportional to the concentration. d[CH4]/dt = [OH]*[CH4]

    Of course, OH isn’t a constant, and yes, with increasing methane emissions the OH level will likely drop, so methane lifetime will increase somewhat, but if we reduce emissions the OH level will come back up. If we were to cut all anthropogenic emissions of CH4, VOCs, NOx, etc. to zero, we’d probably return to near preindustrial OH levels fairly quickly – within a few years, would be my guess, mostly controlled by the time it takes for the longest lived OH sinks to return to preindustrial levels as well.

    Comment by Marcus — 1 Feb 2009 @ 9:45 PM

  45. Ray, Hanson gives us 4 years (

    The writer of this thread says that we are doomed for 1k years. What is your solution?

    Jim N

    Comment by Jim Norvell — 1 Feb 2009 @ 10:25 PM

  46. Every now and then people keep telling there’s been 3000 ppm CO2 in the atmosphere before, and that it hasn’t been a problem to the life on earth. I’d advise these people to take a look of the vegetation during the time, do you see many crops growing? Are we heading to the fern world of dinosaurs? I’d like to think redwoods and such large conifers should be promoted everywhere they can grow. The needles are more acidic than leaves, making the soil beneath those hard to cultivate, maybe there would be a place to put the olivine? Difficult issues for us AND the future generations.

    ReCaptcha Arrangements first, and I tend to agree.

    Comment by jyyh — 1 Feb 2009 @ 10:56 PM

  47. re #45 Jim Norvell

    Maybe you missed it, but this has been clarified here before. Hansen says that Obama has the four-year term he has been elected to serve. That’s not the same thing as giving “us” four years.

    Comment by Rick Brown — 2 Feb 2009 @ 12:40 AM

  48. This is how Susan Solomon’s words were reported in The Herald:

    Ms Solomon said: ‘Climate change is slow, but it is unstoppable – all the more reason to act quickly, so the long-term situation does not get even worse’.

    Comment by truth — 2 Feb 2009 @ 1:30 AM

  49. The good news is: Factory built small nuclear power plants are here to replace fossil fuel power plants.
    Downloaded from:
    For Immediate Release
    Press Contact: Claire Gimble

    Hyperion Power Generation Lands Initial Set of Customers for the HPM Small, Safe, Transportable Nuclear Power Reactor
    LOS ALAMOS, N.M., August 12, 2008 — Hyperion Power Generation’s CEO, John R. “Grizz” Deal, announced today that the company has received its first Letter of Intent to purchase the Hyperion Power Module ™ (HPM), a small, compact, transportable, nuclear power reactor.
    The intention to purchase up to six units for various projects, at approximately $25 million each, was placed by TES Group, an investment company focusing on the energy sector in Central Eastern Europe. If successful, they could potentially be in the market for up to 50 HPMs. Each power module provides 27 megawatts of electricity when connected to a steam turbine, enough to provide electricity for 20,000 average-size American-style homes or the industrial equivalent.
    “The Hyperion Power Module was originally conceived to provide clean, affordable power for remote industrial applications such as oil sands operations,” said Deal. “Yet, the initial enthusiasm has been from those needing reliable electricity for communities. The big question for the 21st century is, ‘how do we provide safe energy to those who need it, indeed those developing nations who demand it, without contributing to climate change?’ Today’s safer, proliferation-resistant nuclear power technology is the answer, but it’s not feasible for every community to be tied to a large nuclear power plant. Some communities, those that need power for just the most basic humanitarian infrastructure, such as clean water production for household use and irrigation, are too remote for conventional nuclear power. This is where the Hyperion Power Module, a safe, secure, transportable power generator can help.”
    Conceived at Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Hyperion Power Module intellectual property portfolio has been licensed to Hyperion Power Generation for commercialization under the laboratory’s technology transfer program. Inherently safe and proliferation-resistant, the HPM utilizes the energy of low-enriched uranium fuel in a technology unlike any other currently in use or in development. Approximately 4,000 units of the same design will be produced, sealed and shipped from company manufacturing sites.

    27 megawatts divided by $25 Million = $0.9259 per installed watt.
    I think that includes fuel for 5 or 10 years, which is inside the core. It is a good deal for a small power plant. Electricity from this mini-nuke costs 5 to 6 cents per kilowatt hour. It shouldn’t be expected to produce electricity a cheaply as a 1000 MWe power plant.

    Comment by Edward Greisch — 2 Feb 2009 @ 2:12 AM

  50. Interesting Article…

    But, I’m a bit confused about reading this article on CO2 and it’s
    warming effect noted in Antartic ice core samples.

    Can someone please explain …?

    [Response: What’s to explain? The climate affects the carbon cycle – over ice age timescales it seems to be mainly through ocean processes (solubility, production, stratification) which takes time to work through. CO2 is still a greenhouse gas, and so the combination is an amplification of the cycles which are driven by orbital wobbles. None of this is controversial. – gavin]

    Comment by Jonas — 2 Feb 2009 @ 3:06 AM

  51. Great that you highlight this subject. I think that especially the unstoppable decay of ice sheets and sea level rise is an area that makes people almost give up. Despair is not constructive.

    Comment by Aslak Grinsted — 2 Feb 2009 @ 5:42 AM

  52. RE 31

    Gavin said…

    [Response: The impact of climate change on seismic events/volcanoes/tsunamis etc. is not something one needs to worry about – the forces controlling those phenomena are vastly in excess of anything we will be able to do to the Earth’s crust. There is possibly an exception to this related to changes in isostatic loading associated with melting ice sheets, but even there we have a very long way to go. There are important stewardship issues raised by the CO2 problem, but this is not likely to be one them. – gavin]

    I posted about this issue approx a year a go and was pretty much told that this issue was not something you (lovely) guys were takin seriously, and clearly this is still the case.

    I didn’t really hear a proper rebuttal of Bill Mcguire’s evidence, but i realise that it isn’t helpful to talk about effects we are not sure about, when there are plenty of more well established problems we are certain to face. So i left it at that.

    But when i read Gavins response, i immediatly thought of McGuires work, particularly in relation to the statement ‘the forces controlling those phenomena are vastly in excess of anything we will be able to do to the Earth’s crust’.

    I’m not suggesting that we are sure to see these kind of problems, but i think it is worth hedging our bets when making light of these possibilities, and i think that Gavins final statment,’There are important stewardship issues raised by the CO2 problem, but this is not LIKELY (my capitals!) to be one them.’, is far more accurate than the ‘don’t worry about it’, at the start.

    Anyway, as i said last time i brought this up, Bill McGuire is a pretty well established and respected earth scientist, and is certainly worth a read, even if you are skeptical that humanity could influence volcanic activity.

    here are details of the article i posted last year, note the work on the Pavlof volcano in Alaska, i believe this was done by either McGuire or some of his associates…

    here is a round-up of other articles he has had published in the Guardian,

    and in fairness some of the things he has flagged up are not currently thought to be that likely (ie ocean current disruption). But please don’t try and tell me that he is making suggestions about fields he doesn’t know much about. It wasnt true last time, and it isnt true now…

    Maximum respect to all at RC anyway, even tho i’m gonna get pasted for this suggestion. :-)

    Mark S

    here is a short biog of McGuire…

    Comment by mark s — 2 Feb 2009 @ 6:15 AM

  53. We do not have to wait for nature to remove the exess carbon, as Solomon et al seem to assume. Olivine mining can help. Natural weathering of this mineral currently removes about 2 billon tons of CO2 from the atmosphere every year. We can speed up the process and remove as much CO2 as we want from the air and the oceans. At a cost, but it definitely is affordable, and the mineral is abundant. See

    Comment by Elmar Veerman — 2 Feb 2009 @ 6:49 AM

  54. Re: #25 Nigel Williams

    Just regarding the figures mentioned, the 3000 GtC discussed in Charbit (2008) refers to cumulative anthropogenic emissions, not the total quantity in the atmosphere. Also, the unit GtC indicates the mass of the carbon component of CO2 only, so 3000 GtC is about 11000 GtCO2. The ‘3000 GtC scenario’ of the paper corresponds to a peak atmospheric concentration of 1215 ppm according to figure 1.

    Comment by X — 2 Feb 2009 @ 7:33 AM

  55. I got a question about the estimated sea level rise. If the sea level rises, there will be definitely a lot of plants which die. All the forests, fields etc. with plants on it will not be able to survive.
    As far is my understanding goes, this will have two effects. The first effect is, there will be more nutrients in the sea. This will lead to a growth of algae. And the second effect is, that the dead biomass will cause an emission of CO2.

    Are there any models for this effects? Are this effects significant? Or will they be negligible? And what effect do they have on the life in the sea? If forests get inundated, with the nutrition rich soil this may lead to an increased growth of dead zones. Or is the timescale of the increasing sea level rise too big and the extra nutrients just are used by normal sea life?

    Comment by Captain Trips — 2 Feb 2009 @ 7:41 AM

  56. Marcus

    The absolute methane sink increases with increasing concentration


    with increasing methane emissions the OH level will likely drop

    If OH is the major methane sink, is there a contradiction here?

    How does the absolute methane sink increase with increasing
    concentration? Is the CH4/OH reaction limited mostly by methane

    If methane emissions increased by 100Tg per year, each year, how
    much would methane concentrations rise?

    A further question:

    What would the rise be if methane concentrations were twice the present level? (say 3600 ppb rather than 1800ppb)

    Comment by Geoff Beacon — 2 Feb 2009 @ 8:02 AM

  57. Jim, The first thing we need to do is buy time. Every watt of energy we don’t use is time. Put enough of those together, it’s a coal-fired power plant that doesn’t need to be built. Then we need to use that time push science and technology as hard as we can to come up with solutions, with better models to quantify the risk, with mitigations. We’ve wasted 15 years arguing with the scientists about the science. Now it’s time to see if they can save our tuckuses and what they need to do so.

    How would you rather answer your grand children’s query of what you did in the crisis:

    “I worked my butt off to preserve a future for you.”


    “I partied out, man.”

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 2 Feb 2009 @ 8:16 AM

  58. Marcus

    Looking at

    If we could magically hold the OH level in the atmosphere constant, then methane lifetime would be constant, so the sink would be directly proportional to the concentration. d[CH4]/dt = [OH]*[CH4]

    This helps me understand my question better. I understood that methane was the main exit route for OH from the atmosphere. I also understood that the reaction stops at night because all the dalight OH is consumed.

    This made me believe that OH not methane is the limiting factor in this reaction. Have I got this wrong?

    Anyway thanks for your help.

    Comment by Geoff Beacon — 2 Feb 2009 @ 8:27 AM

  59. But, I’m a bit confused about reading this article on CO2 and it’s
    warming effect noted in Antartic ice core samples.

    Jonas, the first step is to understand that Watts’ blog’s sole reason for existence is to confuse you. To convince you that climate scientists aren’t doing science, but rather are engaged in a fraudulent conspiracy to force society to adopt certain political policies.

    So you have a choice. You can learn about climate science from climatologists (like those running real climate), statistical analysis of climate time series data from statisticians (like tamino), etc or you can learn a distorted, dishonest, paranoid misrepresentation of science from people like Watts.

    If you read Watts to learn about climate science, you might as well spend the rest of your spare time reading Answers In Genesis to learn about modern biology.

    Comment by dhogaza — 2 Feb 2009 @ 8:53 AM

  60. #58: Geoff Beacon: OH is the main exit route for methane… however, there are a wide number of different exit routes for OH (reactions with VOC, CO, SO2, etc.): I’ve heard OH nicknamed “the vacuum cleaner of the atmosphere” breaking down 3.7 gigatonnes of reactive gases in the atmosphere every year.

    If you were to increase methane emissions by 100 Tg every year, methane concentrations would rise until they reached a new equilibrium level. If we presume we’re at equilibrium now, and total methane emission (natural + human) are about 600 Tg, then our sink is about 600 Tg, so 600 = k*1.8ppm.

    That means that, absent feedback effects, 100 Tg of extra emissions would eventually cause concentrations to rise from 1.8 ppm to 2.1 ppm. I’d have to actually do some modeling runs to tell you what the feedback would do, but my guess is it would about double or triple that change at equilibrium… (actually, in a couple weeks I’ll have an answer to this question, since I’m doing some calculations on what a 100 Tg reduction in methane emissions for 100 years would do: it does depend on baseline assumptions and NOx/VOC/etc. emissions though, which makes it more complicated)

    Also, there really isn’t a limiting factor, at least in the sense of running chemical reactions in a beaker where the reaction stops once one reagent is used up: the “consumed” OH goes to HO2, and if NOx is around, the HO2 gets catalytically recycled back to OH: also, sun + H2O produces OH, so while you can depress the amount of OH around, you won’t completely get rid of it, and its lifetime is measured in seconds anyway: conversely, methane does have a 10 year lifetime, so there’s always a decent amount of methane around.

    Comment by Marcus — 2 Feb 2009 @ 9:20 AM

  61. RE # 44

    Marcus, you said:

    [we’d probably return to near preindustrial OH levels fairly quickly]

    Have you considered the positive feedback of a warming Arctic region melting the permafrost, warming the tundra and peat bodgs; thereby releasing massive amounts of CH4? In which case, we’d NEVER return to near preindustrial OH levels.

    John McCormick

    Comment by John L. McCormick — 2 Feb 2009 @ 9:44 AM

  62. I was hoping someone would mention the “carbon farming” option for carbon capture and storage. Not as a silver bullet, but as one in a set of responses necessary to adaption and mitigation.

    Threads of the carbon farm did show up, including that someone asked if anyone has looked at interactions of land use and climate, and another asked about websites where people can learn about proposals to take CO2 back from the atmosphere.

    According to a University of Iowa website, “On a world-wide basis, from the time agriculture began, almost 80 million tons of carbon have been released from the soil (Rattan Lal, soil scientist, Ohio State University). Up until the late 1950s, tillage (plowing) released more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than all the burning of oil and coal in history. However, that’s all in the past and we can’t do anything about it. But what this does tell us is the potential for once again using the soil as a great storehouse of carbon. Theoretically, American soils could soak up more than 100 million tons of carbon annually. That’s enough to offset the emissions from half of the cars in the country.”

    Comment by Lance Olsen — 2 Feb 2009 @ 10:04 AM

  63. David, I was feeling better after reading this post, but then I saw a paper that the Tyndall Center has published which is sending me back down. See The authors concluded that “it is increasingly unlikely any global agreement will deliver the radical reversal in emission trends required for stabilization at 450 ppmv carbon dioxide equivalent. Similarly, the current framing of climate change cannot be reconciled with the ates of mitigation necessary to stabilize at 550 ppmv CO2e and even an optimistic interpretation suggests stabllization much below 650 ppmv CO2e is imporbable.”

    Then I see a report by McKinsey & Co. that lays out a scenario for a potential 30% reduction below 1990 levels by 2030, which makes me feel better again.

    I think I’m getting whiplash. Can these reports and what you and Solomon say all be consistent with each other? Please help me understand.

    [Response: What answer are you looking for? We can do it. Will we, I dunno. David]

    Comment by John Bolduc — 2 Feb 2009 @ 10:19 AM

  64. Marcus

    Gosh thanks. I may regain some sanity.

    Looking at

    I’ve heard OH nicknamed “the vacuum cleaner of the atmosphere” breaking down 3.7 gigatonnes of reactive gases in the atmosphere every year.

    So it does lots more than remove methane.

    But I do share the concerns of John #61, especially as the Earth Systems Models used in IPCC AR4 did not include these feedbacks, but your last post suggests you will address this. Please keep us informed.

    Does you work have implications for the “methane is 23 times CO2” statement we hear so often. I gather from Wikipedia this GWP for methane is measured over 100 years. Is this GWP measure a useful tool for measuring carbon footprints? Footprints are a very important tool for policy making.

    Is 100 years a sensible time-scale, given probable feedbacks?

    Comment by Geoff Beacon — 2 Feb 2009 @ 10:29 AM

  65. I agree with Mark J. Fiore. I also agree with Martin Rees, President of the Royal Society and author of “Our Final Century.”

    I hate being right and pray I am wrong.

    Comment by John A. Davison — 2 Feb 2009 @ 10:31 AM

  66. Michigan just experienced its 5th coldest recorded January
    (NOAA). This makes it difficult for the layman (even myself, despite all that I have read and studied) to maintain a level of concern about irreversible warming from CO2. When is a cold spike in temperatures notable? It seems like the last two years demonstrate some notable variance in the warming trend rather than just a weather change. (not a denier just an observer)

    [Response: Weather variations don’t disappear because of a long term trend. The variance in january temperatures in Michigan probably has a standard deviation of a couple of degrees. The global warming we expect from CO2 etc. right now is around 0.2 deg C/decade. Which is 0.02 deg C/yr. So in any one or two winters, the natural variability is likely to swamp any long term trend. So it does take a long time for climate change to be clearly noticeable at the local scale – that’s why integrators of weather (like mountain glaciers, ecosystems etc.) are so useful at showing how the baselines (on average) are shifting. – gavin]

    Comment by Brian Allen — 2 Feb 2009 @ 10:40 AM

  67. Australian weather’s a bit warmer:—but-worse-may-be-to-come.html

    Comment by Geoff Beacon — 2 Feb 2009 @ 11:15 AM

  68. Dave,

    As a fellow Christian I really appreciate what you’re doing. Taking care of the Earth God gave us to steward really should be a priority for believers. “The Earth is the LORD’s, and the fulness thereof” (Psalm 24:1). It’s his Earth, not ours, and we do not show him respect when we fill it with trash and play games with the climate.

    Comment by Barton Paul Levenson — 2 Feb 2009 @ 11:24 AM

  69. Strep throat is a natural process. Does Fred Singer go to a doctor when he has a strep infection? Or does he only go to a doctor when he’s hit himself with a hammer?

    Comment by Jeffrey Davis — 2 Feb 2009 @ 11:31 AM

  70. Michigan just experienced its 5th coldest recorded January
    (NOAA). This makes it difficult for the layman (even myself, despite all that I have read and studied) to maintain a level of concern about irreversible warming from CO2.

    Along with Gavin’s climate-vs.-weather elementary point, please keep in mind that
    Michigan and the rest of the midwest etc are not the world. Even if you toss in the east coast and Texas.

    The West Coast of the US has been having a warm january. Here in PDX, inversion conditions have caused the city to have cold (but not exceptionally cold) nights but the same inversion has contributed to a low snowpack that already has water managers worried about summer.

    And Australia’s in the midst of a heat wave.

    So if you’re going to cite local weather as evidence that “climate science is bunk”, you might be well-advised to check whether or not that local weather is representative of what’s happening around the world …

    Comment by dhogaza — 2 Feb 2009 @ 11:37 AM

  71. Re: #66 (Brian Allen)

    The standard deviation of January average temperature in Grand Rapids, Michigan from 1888 to 2008 is about 2.66 deg.C. That’s 4.8 deg.F. Two standard deviations (about the 95% confidence level) is nearly 10 deg.F. That’s how much variation you can expect for a single January. So, observing the 5th coldest ever recorded is nowhere near an indication of “notable variance in the warming trend rather than just a weather change.”

    And while Michigan experienced its 5th-coldest recorded January, South Australia is recovering from their worst heat wave ever recorded, “enduring six consecutive days of temperatures reaching 113F (45C).”

    Neither event is proof or disproof of global warming. It’s the long-term trends globally, not the short-term events locally, that global warming is all about.

    Comment by tamino — 2 Feb 2009 @ 11:44 AM

  72. re Jim Norvell’s reference in #45: I’m not familiar with AC News. Though it seems on my skeptic side, the article reads like a biased “agenda” piece. None-the-less are they accurate when the cite Hansen, “that carbon levels in the Earth’s atmosphere have become so high that a runaway greenhouse effect is all but inevitable unless drastic measures are taken. These include a ban on all coal fired plants and a carbon tax.

    Comment by Rod B — 2 Feb 2009 @ 11:49 AM

  73. The layman can get an understanding of weather variablity vs climate trends by viewing temperature data at climate stations having at least 100 years of record.

    For example, temperature records at Muskegon, Michigan show an increasing trend (2 Deg. F, from 46-48, linear) based on annual mean temperature data from 1897-2007.

    Unfortunately, NOAA NWS offices have done nothing to educuate the public about temperature trends at climate stations. Warming trends have been strongest at climate stations in MN, ND and MT.

    Comment by Pat Neuman — 2 Feb 2009 @ 11:54 AM

  74. Question: what is the CH4 + OH reaction (simple chemical formula)? Is this considered oxidation/burning of methane?

    [Response: It’s actually pretty complicated since there are many pathways involving multiple intermediate radicals. It all boils down to CH4 + 8OH –> CO2 + 6H2O in effect though. This is oxidation of CH4. Burning of methane uses O2, not OH. – gavin]

    Comment by Rod B — 2 Feb 2009 @ 12:13 PM

  75. dhogaza (59), saying the people who gave him the information are SOBs is not exactly answering his question about that information…

    Comment by Rod B — 2 Feb 2009 @ 12:22 PM

  76. Brian Allen Says (2 February 2009 at 10:40 AM):

    “Michigan just experienced its 5th coldest recorded January…”

    Yeah? Wish you could ship some of that to northern Nevada: this time of year, I should be out skiing, instead I spend time in the garden pulling weeds.

    Comment by James — 2 Feb 2009 @ 12:27 PM

  77. Jonas (50):

    The lag between CO2 and temperature increase is true (and known to climate scientists), but it’s wrongly interpreted in the source you’re referring to (and at many other places as well). I call those wrongly interpreted facts ‘half truths’

    I replied at WUWT as follows:

    This article correctly states that the temperature started to increase before the CO2 did at the end of an ice age. (This was apparently predicted by Hansen before it was observed in ice-cores, and is currently well known in climate science.) However, the interpretation that CO2 does not influence the temperature is wrong. Temperature and CO2 influence each other in both directions; it is a bit of a chicken-egg discussion. The IR absorbing qualities of CO2 and other greenhouse gases were measured in the laboratory over 100 years ago. This basic piece of physics doesn’t go away by pointing at ice cores. To the contrary, it makes the picture complete: The amplification of the initial warming by GHG and the ice albedo effect are important to include when trying to understand the total amount of warming.

    However, the current situation is clearly different from that at the end of the ice ages, since now we know that the extra CO2 is brought into the atmosphere by human activity. Currently, CO2 is not increasing in response to the warming, but rather due to human emissions, and as such it is now one of the driving forces of the warming. If you claim that the current increase in CO2 is due to the increasing temperature instead (not directly stated, but the reader is led to that conclusion, and rather successfully judged from the comments), then where did all the CO2 go that we’ve emitted so far? How come the isotopic signature of atmospheric CO2 has changed? (A reflection of a larger fraction of fossil carbon) And how could one reconcile the absence of warming from CO2 with the observed properties of this and other gases in the lab?

    Comment by Bart Verheggen — 2 Feb 2009 @ 12:32 PM

  78. Gavin (74), I guessed it was complex, which is why I asked for “simple” — just looking for the ballpark. Thanks. Is there any “slow burning” of methane in the atmosphere with O2? If so, is it significant?

    [Response: Not really. O2 is pretty stable, and only comes into this as a source for O3 through photolysis. This schematic might help visualise what is going on. – gavin]

    Comment by Rod B — 2 Feb 2009 @ 12:38 PM

  79. Re: 74: Gavin, I agree on the “pretty complicated”, but I’m not sure I like your choice of equation that you boil everything down to. An equally valid interpretation, assuming available NO, OH, and sunlight, would be:

    CH4 + 8O2 + hv -> CO2 + 4O3 + 2H2O

    Which frames OH as more of a catalytic role, and additionally nicely demonstrates the methane -> background ozone link (eg, West, Fiore et al. PNAS 2006). (one of the reactions in which the NO is used is to regenerate OH from HO2, and the NO2 then enters the ozone cycle)

    This webpage seems to summarize a bunch of hydroxyl radical chemistry:

    Comment by Marcus — 2 Feb 2009 @ 12:59 PM

  80. Oh. Nice schematic, Gavin. Yeah, that addressed my point.

    Comment by Marcus — 2 Feb 2009 @ 1:01 PM

  81. Hi,

    My first time posting here as I only discovered this blog a few days ago because people at WUWT keep bad-mouthing “real climate” so I googled real climate and well, here we are!

    First, let me say it is nice to see some Real Science in the blog-o-sphere. Those dopes at WUWT blow my mind when they present articles and try to pass them off as science because there are a couple of graphs and some acronyms.

    That blog is really pretty disheartening to read as it just turns into a “Warmists are trying to steal your SUV” in the comments. Unfortunately, we as scientist have the difficult task of trying to communicate science to the general public. With such a low scientific literacy rate in this country it is easier for folks to fall prey to the pseudoscience over at WUWT then for folks to understand the real science.

    I teach Geology at a community college and the first day of class I always talk about science, what science can do and the limitations there of. Part of that discussion has to do with the language of science. I like to tell my students that understanding geology is two-fold: Learning the language and thinking critically about data.

    What we need to do as scientists is remember that our language is different than the non-scientists and we have to do our best to “translate” our results for the general public. So far, I have every indication that this site is doing well in that endeavor. Keep up the good work!

    Also, WUWT had a post about their web traffic for january being their busiest month. Since I just started visiting their site in Janurary I decidedc to post what I have learned in the month of January by visiting their site.

    This is my post:

    Things I have learned with my contributions of page views to your busiest month ever.

    1. Anecdotal evidence trumps most everything
    2. Al Gore is a Douche
    3. That Hansen guy is too.
    4. Models suck
    5. Warmists are energy communists who want to take away your SUV
    6. There is a secret geo-political agenda, but that agenda is loosely defined (or not at all)
    7. Warmists are only in it for the money
    8. Its easy to lie with statistics
    9. Figure Captions (something I tell my students are the 2nd most important part of papers (the first being the abstract)) tend to be lackluster and non-informative.
    10. Description of methodology does not happen
    11. Conclusions are met with 100% certainty (even if it is just a qualitative assessment of some graphs)
    12. CO2 does nothing to climate
    13. Sun spot cycles, while poorly understood, are the only short-term climate driver
    14. Consensus is bad (something we can all agree on)

    Did I miss anything?

    oh right…

    15. Pseudoscience and science are indistinguishable.

    Comment by Benjamin P. — 2 Feb 2009 @ 1:18 PM

  82. #31 Gavin, I have a question. You state “The impact of climate change on …tsunamis… is not something one needs to worry about.”

    Hmmm, let’s see the chain. The warming air heats up the ocean. The ocean heats up the bottom-residing methane clathrates. The methane clathrates dissolve, create an underwater landslide and a tsunami can result.

    No one knows for sure, but the Arctic ocean is shallow, has lots of methane hydrates and perhaps is warming up much faster than anyone had previously thought due possibly to the warm river inputs.

    Perhaps in the foreseeable future, climate-change induced tsunamis are not a big threat…but how about ~50 years or more in the future?

    On a similar issue, two recent preliminary studies, one Brit and the other Russian on possible current sharp Arctic ocean-bed methane clathrate release increases, if proved, after ten more months of publishing, suggest possible sharp changes and so, if I understand, might increase the possibility of future Arctic-based tsunamis beyond current expectations.

    [Response: Interesting scenario, but that would involve an enormous and explosive disintegration of hydrates. I’m not saying it can’t happen, but there is no sign that it can. The methane seeps that people are seeing are pretty continuous streams – that might be affected by bottom water temperatures of course – but I wouldn’t extrapolate that to anything beyond speculation at this stage. – gavin]

    Comment by Richard Ordway — 2 Feb 2009 @ 1:34 PM

  83. Charcoal anybody?
    I.e.: Stone Age Tech Carbon Capture & Storage!
    Also known as agrichar or biochar: Make charcoal of otherwise quickly decaying biomass and bury in the fields (or, rather, in the composts first).
    To go beyond Stone Age, make use of the syngas. E.g. my dreamcar would be the wood gas hybrid, fuelled by e.g. Miscanthus Sinensis. Drive CO2 negative!

    Sounds so f’n easy! Perhaps not techy enough? Where’s the catch?

    Lovelock mentioned it recently. Hansen has been mentioning it for some time. Apparently Pachauri didn’t know about it last year.
    What do the realclimate experts think?

    Comment by Florifulgurator — 2 Feb 2009 @ 1:49 PM

  84. Re: #81

    Thanks for your post. My impression of that site largely matches your top 3. The site divides its time between selective reporting of local weather events, and persistent attempts to smear Dr. Hansen (and as they claim, “his buddy” Al Gore). They also include a good share of selective statistics and uncritically reporting any claim by any individual that falls in line with their goal of challenging the consensus view. There is a large media market for climate contrarianism and there are folks willing and eager to meet the demand. Some other themes, to add to yours:

    16. Grossly exaggerate every uncertainty and claim that we don’t know anything about global climate, yet fervently claim the human impact is non-existent or negligible, despite a giant body of evidence to the contrary.

    17. The scientific community falsifies their studies, in mass collaboration with their peers, to get grant money. Non-experts and non-published scientists know better. Real science is conducted within the blogosphere and from certain industry-funded organizations.

    18. The major scientific academies, the prestigious scientific journals and their statements on climate change, and the published studies are controlled by the elites. As the objective Senator Inhofe has shown via his press releases, many, if not most scientists, doubt the human impact.

    19. When global temperatures are cooler than the trend, ignore ENSO as a contributing factor.

    20. Global warming is a “religion” (explanation for any scientific consensus must be groupthink). Al Gore is the leader, which oddly implies that the scientific community follows him.

    Comment by MarkB — 2 Feb 2009 @ 2:17 PM

  85. 81–Benjiman P.

    I can add few more:

    16. We can’t trust research funded by scientists with grants, because they are only in it for the money. However, we also can’t trust scientist working for the government. (Perhaps we need to go back to the days when science was done by wealthy aristocrats who funded their own reseach as a hobby).

    17. Peer reviewed articles are only “opinion pieces” and can be dismissed as so much theory with no facts.

    18. One anecdotal observation by a blogger tops any number of replicated experiments in the scientific literature.

    19. The use of math and statistics detracts from the credibility of a scientific study.


    Comment by Bill DeMott — 2 Feb 2009 @ 2:20 PM

  86. Welcome, Benjamin P.

    Nice list! (Summarizing well is not as easy as one might think–particularly while simultaneously shaking one’s head and rolling one’s eyes.)

    Comment by Kevin McKinney — 2 Feb 2009 @ 2:20 PM

  87. The biosphere is one way to get some carbon out of the atmosphere in the short term. I like to say that if scientists and engineers were tasked with designing an efficient and inexpensive device for removing CO2 form the air, they could do no better than a tree. Trees are the ultimate “CCS” carbon capture and storage device.

    Here is a slide show clarifying many misconceptions about forests, logging, and carbon:
    (For full effect click “full” in the lower right.)

    Here is a more detailed foot-noted report on forests, carbon and climate change:

    Comment by Doug Heiken — 2 Feb 2009 @ 2:32 PM

  88. In the end, I don’t think that scientific illiteracy is much of an issue. Our lives are fundamentally affected in multiple ways by the technological offspring of science and most people haven’t a clue about but trust because it doesn’t undermine their world view and lifestyle.

    These things evolve culturally and generationally. Of course we don’t have time for generational change wrt this issue, but there are signs that the cultural change is in the offing – despite the lack of a clear climate-related “Pearl Harbor moment” that brought a cultural change in those days, and it is natural that denialists will have a reactionary response. It may well be a sign of their frustration at the cultural change they see coming. We can only hope so.

    Comment by Dean — 2 Feb 2009 @ 2:33 PM

  89. #83. I believe Lovelock recommens the biochar concept as the only viable solution. On the other hand, it would still require processing of huge amounts of materials, although the by-product syngas would be very valuable as a fuel.

    A derivative of this concept is to just dump masses of biomaterials to the oceans. Sunk below 1,5 km depth it would not decompose (so they say), but would be permanently stored. Minimum of processing: just collect, ship and dump. No technology development required, but some study on impacts. Could be an off-set for some indispensable uses of oil, maybe …

    “Dump before you pump” – permit conditions for oil wildcatters …

    Comment by Pekka Kostamo — 2 Feb 2009 @ 2:37 PM

  90. #66 Brian: NOAA has a nice world weather map showing the hot and cold spots, updated daily:

    Comment by Pekka Kostamo — 2 Feb 2009 @ 2:42 PM

  91. Sorry to post this to the wrong thread – but is there any reason why comments are closed on the Antarctica warming thread? There is a fascinating discussion on at Climate Audit on this very topic, which is casting serious doubt over the credibility of the Steig study. It would be nice to be able to ask a few questions.

    [Response: They were turned off last week since Eric is off to Antarctica. They are back on now. However, I wouldn’t get too excited about the current discussion (see figure S4 in the supplementary material). – gavin]

    Comment by Annabelle — 2 Feb 2009 @ 3:00 PM

  92. dhogaza (59), saying the people who gave him the information are SOBs is not exactly answering his question about that information

    I didn’t say they were SOBs, and yes, I did answer his question by pointing out that it is MISinformation, not information, and suggesting he ease his learning task by sticking to scientific sources of information. I would agree with you that those who try to intentionally confuse and mislead people by posting MISinformation are SOBs, but I didn’t say that.

    Same advice would apply to you, come to think of it …

    Comment by dhogaza — 2 Feb 2009 @ 3:18 PM

  93. re 89: problem is, plants aren’t pure carbon. So we need a proportionate amount of whatever else goes into lignin et al that isn’t brought back from the char process to be made artificially available.

    May be easier said than done.

    Is Lovelock a biologist?

    Comment by Mark — 2 Feb 2009 @ 3:35 PM

  94. I like to say that if scientists and engineers were tasked with designing an efficient and inexpensive device for removing CO2 form the air, they could do no better than a tree.

    Then you like being wrong. Mineral carbonation is much more permanent and does not require well-sunlit land. Abundant alkaline earth silicate minerals, not the sun, provide the CO2 capture energy.

    (How fire can be domesticated)

    Comment by G.R.L. Cowan, H2 energy fan until ~1996 — 2 Feb 2009 @ 3:36 PM

  95. Benjamin P (81),

    Nr 14 on your list caught my eye: “Consensus is bad (something we can all agree on)”

    Of course the presence of a consensus doesn’t prove anything, but I think there’s more nuance to it:

    The so-called consensus grew in response to the growing body of evidence and the application of scientific standards (see eg this presentation by Oreskes: As such, the existence of a strong consensus is entirely relevant. Moreover, a consensus of risk amongst experts (‘BAU ain’t good’) should not lightly be ignored.

    I liked your list though.

    Comment by Bart Verheggen — 2 Feb 2009 @ 3:56 PM

  96. Re #94 Cowan,
    Why do we have a problem if the “abundant” silicate minerals will capture CO2?

    While we have a chemist to talk to, aren’t sea shells calcium carbonate? They last a long time.

    Also Re #49 Greisch,
    I looked at the linked site and find this possibly very interesting, important, and dangerous. Maybe the danger is manageable. The site says the waste is low grade, potentially processable, and “about the size of a softball.”

    Good or bad I do not yet know, but surely there should be some serious attention given to this thing that seems to be happening.

    Comment by Jim Bullis, Miastrada Co. — 2 Feb 2009 @ 4:03 PM

  97. > trees
    > silicate
    > problem

    Biogeochemical cycling, q.v.
    Rate of change of rate of change.
    Calculus required.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 2 Feb 2009 @ 4:12 PM

  98. Basically, the problem with long-term carbon cycle and climate forecasts is that you don’t really know the biosphere-ecosystem response to higher temperatures, nor do you really know how ocean circulation patterns are going to change – and if you are going to talk about the carbon cycle, you really have to include the nitrogen cycle as well as the role of iron and other nutrients.

    The idea of dumping iron in oceans to fertilize them in order to increase phytoplankton growth and permanently draw down atmospheric CO2 is ludicrous – imagine if someone proposed doing that in lakes and rivers – which is what phosphate fertilizers did in the past (in conjunction with heavy metals, which killed off herbivores). If you wanted to do it on a global scale, you’d cause massive ocean hypoxia – in fact, we are already fertilizing the Gulf of Mexico with massive amounts of agricultural nutrients, leading to giant algal blooms, ocean hypoxia and the die-off of fisheries – yet some would have you believe that this is an effective method of removing carbon from the atmosphere.

    There is really only one way to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, and that is to convert it to a solid form of carbon and bury it. There’s mineral weathering, and there is burial of biomass. In fact, the most likely proposal so far for carbon removal is to bury biomass in oceanic trenches and anoxic basins where it is unlikely to ever get digested back to CO2.

    The basic notion is this:

    ScienceDaily (Jan. 29, 2009)”Making bales with 30 percent of global crop residues – the stalks and such left after harvesting – and then sinking the bales into the deep ocean could reduce the build up of global carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by up to 15 percent a year, according to just published calculations.”

    That assumes the complete elimination of fossil fuel combustion, however.
    Notice that the efficiency of burial is estimated around 90%, compared with about 25% for the next most efficient method, biochar-based soil amendments (which, however, are very good for depleted industrial soils).

    Eliminating fossil fuels is a much more challenging job, as replacement power sources must be devised. Along those lines, Nature just announced the formation of the International Renewable Energy Agency, which so far the U.S. and Britain have been refusing to support – now, why wouldn’t the U.S. or Britain be interested in renewable energy?

    Notably missing from the current list are the United States, the United Kingdom, China, India and Brazil. The administration of former US President George W. Bush did not support the proposal, but Barack Obama’s crew is thought to be more amenable to the idea. Whether and when these and other countries will join is an open question, but one thing is clear: the broader the support, the more potential there is for IRENA to accomplish its goals. [India has now agreed to support it]

    Comment by ike solem — 2 Feb 2009 @ 4:14 PM

  99. Bart Verheggen (91)

    My comment on consensus is totally tongue-in-cheek.

    They are always talking about consensus over at WUWT, and in a sense, there is a consensus that consensus is bad!

    So I was just having fun with that bit of irony.

    Comment by Benjamin P. — 2 Feb 2009 @ 4:38 PM

  100. Excellent post. Let’s hope this heats up the fire under some peoples pants to actually take action and reduce their impact!

    Comment by Peter McEvoy — 2 Feb 2009 @ 4:59 PM

  101. I found the section on policy implications in the Solomon er al. paper disappointing because it failed to reference Hansen et al.’s Phil Trans paper which had broached the subject of actively removing CO2 from the atmosphere.

    Here, David also raises this possibility and a necessary eventuality but makes the further point that absorption of CO2 into the ocean means desorption if we manage to reduce the atmospheric load. I think this is an important point, but I also think that we must consider how quickly the desorption would happen. It takes quite a while for the thermal expansion of the oceans to happen because the mixing time-scale must be completed to warm the ocean depths. Similarly, a portion of the CO2 that enters the oceans will be entrained in this mixing and thus will not be available for re-equilibrating with a, say, 280 ppm atmosphere for some time. The leak back time should be longer the uptake time we are experiencing now just because circulating currents make the CO2 so unavailable. Thus, we may be able to hold the atmospheric concentration at 280 ppm with little effort in any one century (other than this one) though we may need to focus on the effort for tens of centuries.

    The Monaco Declaration on Ocean Acidification:

    indicates that at 450 ppm atmospheric CO2 concentration, shells of polar dwelling shellfish will begin to dissolve. Thus the oceans set an independent limit on how high we can allow the pollution load to go.

    I would say that David’s necessary eventuality may actually be a current requirement: we may need to both cut emissions now and begin to draw carbon from the atmosphere now. Hansen’s idea of going a little too far and then drawing back might not work.

    It seems to me that it would be very good to quantify the time scales involved in ocean loads of carbon. Work similar to that of Solomon et al. which considers emissions and reduction scenarios that include attempting to peg the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere at 280 ppm after say 2060 should be undertaken so that all policy options can be considered.

    Comment by Chris Dudley — 2 Feb 2009 @ 5:19 PM

  102. excellent book david, thanks. i just finished it, and will be lending it to several non scientist friends, as it is jargon free and very accessible.

    [Response: Thanks, you make my day. David]

    Comment by gerda — 2 Feb 2009 @ 5:20 PM

  103. re: #102 gerda
    (and anyone else who’s read this or other good books)

    *Please*, think about sticking at least a short review on Amazon as well. Many people do actually read these before purchasing.

    “The Long Thaw” has 3 reviews (Amazon US).

    Svensmark’s “The Chilling Stars, 2nd Ed” has 4.

    Avery/Singer “Unstoppable Global Warming…” has 176.

    A/S has been out longer, but really, surely RC readers can do better.

    Comment by John Mashey — 2 Feb 2009 @ 6:08 PM

  104. Re Jonas @50, who is confused about CO2 and it’s warming effect noted in Antartic ice core samples.

    Jonas, to dispel the confusion that Lansner & Watts deliberately seek to sow in that link, all you need to do is understand that CO2 can be either an amplifying feedback or a direct forcing, depending on the circumstances.

    What the ice cores show is that at the end of a glaciation CO2 does not drive the initial warming. That would be the increase in solar insolation due to changes in the wobble of Earth’s axis and the shape of its orbit. (Look up Milankovic Cycles) As a result of that initial forcing, the warming ocean and thawing permafrost emit CO2 into the atmosphere, where, as a greenhouse gas it then amplifies the initial warming. This not news.

    If, however, you change the circumstance by skipping the initial increase in solar insolation and just add more CO2 directly to the atmosphere, the greenhouse warming that it will induce will be a direct forcing, as opposed to a follow-on feedback.

    Which is exactly what we are presently doing by burning fossil-carbon fuels and injecting huge amounts of CO2 directly into the atmosphere.

    Fortunately, CO2 and other greenhouse gases do not often act as a direct climate forcing naturally, but it has happened in Earth’s history. Look up the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), or the Permian-Triassic Extinction Event, and you will see that it has not been a good thing when it has.

    Now I have a question for you, Jonas:
    Why would anyone trust someone who deliberately tries to sow confusion about this relatively simple concept?

    Comment by Jim Eager — 2 Feb 2009 @ 6:45 PM

  105. > Is Lovelock a biologist?

    Ask any biologist. Lovelock does biology. E.g.

    JE Lovelock – Nature, 1961 –
    … Affinity of Organic Compounds for Free Electrons with Thermal Energy: Its Possible Significance in Biology. Cited by 41

    Life detection by atmospheric analysis
    DR Hitchcock, JE Lovelock – Icarus, 1967 – Elsevier
    … the ratio of atmospheric mass to surface area is 30 times less for Mars than for … Cited by 39

    Thermodynamics and the Recognition of Alien Biospheres [and Discussion]
    JE Lovelock, IR Kaplan – Proceedings Royal Society of London. Series B, 1975 –
    Cited by 40

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 2 Feb 2009 @ 6:52 PM

  106. Mankind is not doomed. A few of us can always eat cockroaches, drink rain water, and spend our evenings reciting poetry by the light of a campfire. However, AGW is likely to change sea levels fast enough to damage our industrial infrastructure. Given the inertia of human societies as evidenced by my SUV driving neighbors, with perfectly green lawns in a drought stricken California, we are not likely to act in time to save the Arctic sea ice (with its associated walrus, seals, polar bears, puffins, and Arctic cod).

    As Gavin has posted, even seasonal loss of Arctic sea ice results in large amounts of additional heat in the Arctic as a result of changes in albedo. If that heat is transferred to permafrost, we have sea level rise. If that heat is transferred to the Greenland Ice sheet, then sea level goes up. If that heat is transferred to terrestrial glaciers then sea level goes up. What limits transfer of heat from the surface of the Arctic Ocean to all this widely distributed ice? How long would it take a seasonally ice free Arctic Ocean (with less snow cover in Siberia, Alaska, & Canada) to absorb enough additional heat to melt ice equivalent to a total of 1 ft of sea level rise? I expect the process could be instantaneous in geologic terms and unpleasantly rapid in human terms.

    California lost a bridge to an earthquake in 1989, and set about to construct a new bridge. It is under construction now, but not complete. That is how long it takes to build infrastructure. That is one bridge. Twenty years to plan and build one bridge with our other entire infrastructure intact. Imagine how long it would take if subways, railroads, highways, refineries, cities, airports, and sewage treatment facilities were being flooded at the same time. Each project would want the limited capital, engineering resources, steel, concrete, and construction labor. Delay would feed back on scarcity.

    If we are going to save our civilization and technology, we need to have serious mitigation planned and constructed before there is significant sea level rise. We need a last date certain for when there will be less than a foot (???) of sea level rise, and we need to break ground on major sea level mitigation construction a decade earlier, that means we need to start planning and financing twenty years earlier. For such wide spread infrastructure rebuilding, 50 years of planning and financing is likely necessary. Consider how long it took for use just to move from analogue to digital TV transmission or moving people away from Three Gorges Dam. Fifty years is not an unreasonable planning and financing period for the dislocation of billions of people.

    Are we certain that 1 foot of sea level rise is more than 60 years (50 years of planning, 10 years of construction) in the future? If not, then we are already running late.

    The problem with all the geo-engineering concepts is that we do not have time. If we accept the IPCC projections of 2 feet of sea level rise by 2100, then we need to instantly: 1) stop emitting CO2; and, 2) start planning and preparing to protect/move/replace our infrastructure and cities from sea level rise. Unfortunately, mitigating effects on our cities and infrastructure is likely to emit a good deal of CO2. I do not see that we have the resources to mitigate cities and infrastructure and geo-engineer in the time we have until significant sea level rise given the enormous resources required for each activity.

    In the long run, I am not worried. Sea level rise will shut down our CO2 emitting industrial infrastructure and stop anthropogenic CO2 emissions long before peak coal, and likely before we run out of oil. One way or another we will abruptly stop emitting CO2.

    Comment by Aaron Lewis — 2 Feb 2009 @ 6:57 PM

  107. Brian Allen #66:

    I’ll see your you Mitchigen 6th lowest temperature on record and raise you a Melburnian record three days in a row above 43 degrees celcius.


    Weather – it’s messy.

    Comment by Craig Allen — 2 Feb 2009 @ 8:50 PM

  108. I do remember hearing a Science Friday piece on C02 removal. The scientist/entrepreneur asserted that he had designed a device which removed c02 as air passed through its limbs. He envisioned “farms” of them in windy places. The figure of $100 per ton of c02 removed sounds about right. The problem was: Who would pay him to do it? And there is the crux of the problem. The no tax is a good tax political parties are invested in stopping the discussion before the cost is added to the cost of c02 emitting fuels and devices.
    Keep up the good work. I may not be a scientist but I learned enough rigor from studying statistics for the social sciences that I can tell political blather from honest discussion and actual facts. I always appreciate both the post and the discussion.

    Comment by john sarette — 2 Feb 2009 @ 9:03 PM

  109. John Sarette (#108),

    You are probably thinking of this interview with Klaus Lackner:

    They have a small working prototype now.

    Comment by Chris Dudley — 2 Feb 2009 @ 9:35 PM

  110. Thanks Hank. though the last paper could be written by ANYONE, not just biologists.

    Comment by Mark — 3 Feb 2009 @ 3:34 AM

  111. Back to the irreversible vs. unstoppable point: surely something must be stopped before it can be reversed? And since the parameters governing feedback mechanisms are not known well enough to be modelled with certainty, is it not the case that irreversible climate change may be just a few ppm of carbon away – if not already upon us? According to Jim Hansen’s Goldilocks Earth theory, we would then be veering towards irreversible Venus-like conditions. I don’t think that portraying the very real risk of irreversible climate change will lead people to despondency, while there is still the possibility that slashing emissions and (better still) removing carbon from the system via geoengineering initiatives could delay the onset of a life-depleting apocalypse for generations to come.

    Comment by Gaia — 3 Feb 2009 @ 6:32 AM

  112. Craig Allen@107,
    No, that’s not in the US of A, so it doesn’t count ;-)

    Comment by Nick Gotts — 3 Feb 2009 @ 6:56 AM

  113. Re# 111, This thread exists sho it stops people from desparing and thinking that something can be done. Scientists can be terrible communicators and often say the wrong thing which is picked up by the media and as hype sells, so does doom.

    Everything has to be in extremes in the media and science should never communicate it as such either.

    It is all reversible but not for 1000 years which is essentially irreversible in the language of this paper. People seem to hang on peoples words. Maybe all scientists should learn something from the social sciences and learn some psychology or sociology in order to understand the media a little better.

    Journalists are like children in many ways, they love a story projected out of kilter with what the author is saying. They over state everything and try to dramatise things as much as possible thinking that the public can understand it. The media is the language of the common people and hence a minefield for science and often for musicans, politicians, actors and others too.

    Comment by pete best — 3 Feb 2009 @ 7:12 AM

  114. Re 98.:

    ScienceDaily (Jan. 29, 2009)
    Making bales with 30 percent of global crop residues – the stalks and such left after harvesting – and then sinking the bales into the deep ocean could reduce the build up of global carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by up to 15 percent a year, according to just published calculations.

    I’m sorry, this is an extremely stupid idea. A Homo S “Sapiens” classic. The crop resides not only contain carbon, but also nutrients. They need to be returned to the fields, pyrolized or not. So, that idea would exacerbate one of the most serious problems this century: Soil exhaustion. Industrial agriculture doesn’t yet care, for they still got artificial and mined fertilizer. The recent fertilizer price shocks were indicating the beginning of the end of that.

    With biochar you can build up good soil (demonstrated at least in the tropics, cf. “terra preta”). It’s not only a way to fixate carbon, but also to repair soil devastated by the fossilo-chemo “green revolution”. The next revolution in agriculture is black, it looks.

    Comment by Florifulgurator — 3 Feb 2009 @ 8:21 AM

  115. The points made are important, but the title is rhetorically clumsy. I don’t know what the right soundbite is, but this argument needs a clear and compelling one.

    Comment by anon — 3 Feb 2009 @ 11:42 AM

  116. Let me make the point explicit: There is no license or a degree or credential required to do biology. Good work gets published. That belies the “founder” notion so common outside science about how science works. Look at the work and what it leads to.

    Lovelock gets challenged because he’s another “founder” on whose work much later work is built. And (gasp) doesn’t fit in a narrow category. The category doesn’t suffice. No problem. See the work.

    RJ Charlson, JE Lovelock, MO Andreae, SG Warren – Nature, 1987 – NATURE VOL. 326 16 APRIL 1987
    REVIEW ARTICLE Oceanic phytoplankton, atmospheric sulphur, cloud albedo and climate
    Robert J. Charlson, James E. Lovelock, Meinrat О. Andreae & Stephen G. Warren … Cited by 1240

    Atmospheric dimethyl sulphide and the natural sulphur cycle
    JE Lovelock, RJ Maggs, RA Rasmussen – Nature, 1972 –
    ALL models of natural processes for the transfer of sulphur on a global scale require some volatile or gaseous sulphur compound to complete the cycle by providing a vehicle for the transfer of sulphur from the sea … Cited by 234

    Halogenated hydrocarbons in and over the Atlantic
    JE Lovelock, RJ Maggs, RJ Wade – Nature, 1973 –
    DURING the past few decades the production of the chlorofluorocarbons, the propellant solvents for aerosol dispensers, has grown exponentially…. Cited by 181

    Mark, when someone shouts that “ANYBODY” could have written a published paper — ask him why he’s shouting not publishing.

    Often you’ll hear a complaint that the author was coloring outside the lines. Point being, that’s allowed — for those good enough to do it in publishable work. Being cited is the measure of the work.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 3 Feb 2009 @ 11:47 AM

  117. … “absorption of CO2 into the ocean means desorption if we manage to reduce the atmospheric load” (#101) …

    and some wishful thinkers might say we could remove CO2 from the oceans and thus reduce the load to the atmospheric.

    Comment by Pat Neuman — 3 Feb 2009 @ 11:59 AM

  118. Re Ike solem 2 February 2009 at 4:14 PM and Florifulgurator 3 February 2009 at 8:21 AM

    Ocean crop residues carbon sequestration.

    It would seem to me you might get more bang for the buck by separating the nutrients from the cellulose fraction of crop residues, burning the cellulose fraction for power, and capturing the CO2 for sequestration. This would recycle the fixed nitrogen which would otherwise be lost in combustion, reduce the P & K content of the ash (a problem when using biomass in place of coal in a power plant) and offset fossil fuels. Unfortunately, CCS hasn’t been demonstrated yet. Plus, I don’t know what the cost of separating the cellulose from the other stuff would be, although this would be decreased by the value of the N, P, K, & etc fraction as nutrient/fertilizer.

    Comment by Brian Dodge — 3 Feb 2009 @ 12:21 PM

  119. Pat Neuman (#117),

    I linked to the Monaco Declaration in my post. This declaration states that fertilizing the oceans would have mixed results on acidification. Given that acidification is coming close now to causing great harm, possibly closer than increased temperatures, ocean fertilization schemes would seem to be risky.

    The US navy is interested in removing CO2 from the ocean directly to use in synthetic fuel production. This is unlikely to have any bulk effect but there are proposals for floating solar power islands in regions that do not suffer from tropical storms which might produce fuel from CO2 in the ocean. This might have larger application than just navy needs.

    It seems to me that learning much more about biochar as quickly as we can is our best bet.

    Comment by Chris Dudley — 3 Feb 2009 @ 12:23 PM

  120. The accumulated tonnage emitted from all our carbon fires to date can be removed from the atmosphere. Let’s do this slowly enough that the ocean doesn’t start to fizz in its rush to keep up.

    (How fire can be domesticated

    Comment by G.R.L. Cowan, H2 energy fan until ~1996 — 3 Feb 2009 @ 1:28 PM

  121. re 116.

    Still doesn’t make his biology apparent in the third paper you originally showed.

    The reason I ask is that there is a lot of “not carbon” in char.

    What is it and how much is needed.

    E.g. how much nitrogen, et al.

    Given how the dustbowl happened because people didn’t think to put back into the ground what they took out as corn, I think that figuring char to be “the saviour” is uncertain at best.

    Oh, and how much water would be needed for these trees to be burned? Are groundwater tables able to cope with the massive production-line growth of trees?

    It all smacks to me of David Bellamy’s biology expertise.

    But the above questions is why I asked if Lovelock was a biologist. One could assume he’d done those figurings (rather like the IPCC has to put up with the “Hockey stick” being originally a good question, though it was ultimately merely procedural nicety). So Lovelock may well have thought of it, but can he approach this query like climatologists did to the hockey stick.

    Comment by Mark — 3 Feb 2009 @ 1:31 PM

  122. Thanks to you guys for this wonderful site.

    I need to go off topic for a minute. As I was just reading this article :

    World’s Glaciers Shrink for 18th Year in Alps, Andes (Update2)

    they stated that the ice has “melted the snow, revealing darker ice underneath which heats up faster than whiter surfaces.”

    It seems likely that as the surface ice melts, each year’s layer reveals – or better said – adds to the particulates of the upper year’s layers, and so becomes another type of positive feedback.

    I have been reading everything I can find of on-the-ground research for four years now, and I haven’t seen this documented. But it is probably old news to you guys. Am I wrong?

    Comment by d. beck — 3 Feb 2009 @ 1:40 PM

  123. What are the latest estimates and projections on carbon release from peat-rich soils in the tundra(mainly Canada, Siberia and Alaska)? Some of my readings have suggested that melting of the permafrost could lead to a strong positive feedback to CO2 (and methane) release. If natural release becomes a signicant part of the earth’s carbon budget, this would seem to make the situation more “irreversible.”

    Comment by Bill DeMott — 3 Feb 2009 @ 1:59 PM

  124. Thanks for the Dad’s Army clip. I grew up watching them. Love it. Almost as entertaining as Alastair MacDonald.

    Comment by PHE — 3 Feb 2009 @ 3:54 PM

  125. > the above questions is why I asked
    > if Lovelock was a biologist.

    Not arguing tdefinitions. See the work. You decide.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 3 Feb 2009 @ 4:11 PM

  126. A quick session with Google givs the following mean residual times for atmospheric CO2.
    7 years
    100 Years
    6 Years
    6 Years
    Rather a wide spread, one thinks.
    [edit OT]

    [Response: Ahh… the wisdom of google. Except that your search is confusing two very different concepts. One is the residence time for a single molecule of CO2 in the atmosphere (a few years) with the perturbation timescale (which is how long concentrations stay elevated) and which is much longer. The reason why there is a difference is because the cycling of CO2 into the biosphere and upper ocean is very rapid and so those pools are effectively part of the atmospheric reservoir. If you were correct, CO2 would barely have risen in the last 100 years. – gavin]

    Comment by Adam Gallon — 3 Feb 2009 @ 5:56 PM

  127. Why is this true?

    [Response: In principle, yes. In practice: the German Advisory Council on Global Change made an estimate of the global potential for this in its recent report on bioenergy (page 136, so far only available in German). At best you can reduce the atmospheric CO2 concentration by 9 to 18 ppm over a century in this way. So, I wouldn’t count on it. It is far easier to avoid CO2 emissions than to get the CO2 back out of the air. -stefan]

    I’ve been wracking my brain for 2 days and I can’t figure out the mechanism by which this wouldn’t work, especially if a random molecule of CO2 only hangs around for 6 or 7 years.

    We have mechanisms for extracting CO2 from the air that are very efficient — plants. And we have mechanisms for converting that removed CO2 into a solid form for sequestration — heating in an oxygen-poor environment and converting to charcoal or “biochar”.

    I understand a lot of things that are said here, but this ain’t one of them.

    Comment by FurryCatHerder — 3 Feb 2009 @ 7:14 PM

  128. Brian Allen (#66),

    This map of January global weather (TLT measurements) might clear some things up. Select “Anomaly”.

    I can’t tell for certain, but it looks like an unusually cold area of purple is right around Michigan. Compare and contrast to the rest of the globe. January brought cold anomalies to most of the eastern U.S. and western Europe. It brought warm anomalies most other places, including very mild weather from the Rockies on west. The recent incredible southern Australia heat wave is reflected here as well.

    Be wary of various blogs and media outlets using cold local weather as evidence against global warming. The last month or two has certainly provided them with some key populated areas to select from, though.

    Comment by MarkB — 3 Feb 2009 @ 8:54 PM

  129. > if a random molecule of CO2 only hangs around for 6 or 7 years.
    Wrong. See Gavin’s inline note. Or search for “biogeochemical cycling” +”carbon dioxide” and read more. Or read earlier threads here, by searching in the box at the top of the page. This is explained frequently.

    E.g.: “atmospheric CO2 is rapidly cycled all the time through the biosphere and ocean surface waters. These fluxes are many times the secular rate, but they very nearly cancel long term. This is why you see short term variations in atmospheric CO2 (the seasonal “ripple” on the Keeling curve, e.g., and ENSO-related fluctuations), and also in the d13C. The long-term trend in both is robust.”

    Quote from:
    Comment by Martin Vermeer — 10 juin 2008 @ 1:15 AM

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 3 Feb 2009 @ 10:51 PM

  130. it looks like an unusually cold area of purple is right around Michigan. Compare and contrast to the rest of the globe. January brought cold anomalies to most of the eastern U.S. and western Europe. It brought warm anomalies most other places, including very mild weather from the Rockies on west.

    For part of this month, the jetstream was running north-south offshore of the west coast of the US, dragging warm air with it, then continuing far north and looping east then south, dragging arctic air with it over the midwest and eastern US. I’ve been ill and not paying too much attention, but it was quite stable in this configuration for several days or perhaps a week, maybe a bit more.

    It is this which has “disproved global warming!” and “proved global cooling”. Cold air being pushed almost due south by the jet stream which was aimed right at the midwest.

    Comment by dhogaza — 4 Feb 2009 @ 12:08 AM

  131. (#127),

    The carbon is caught, yes, but then it is released again. The
    seasonal cycling of carbon is about 5 times the amount of annual growth of carbon in the atmosphere, so there is a lot of cycling.

    The German report estimates 1 to 3 GtC of biomass available every year. One estimate for the US is 1 Gt of biomass available every year so in the whole world we might get at 6 Gt. Most of that mass is carbon.

    This would raise the high estimate in the German report to 36 ppm/century reduction assuming the carbon capture efficiency they have of about 50%. If we grab all the carbon then we are up to 70 ppm/century. That is a respectable clip especially since the concentration will be falling “on its own” in any case once emissions stop. But, this is also pretty intrusive on the biosphere, constantly cutting and cutting to harvest the biomass. Road-less and environmentally sensitive areas were excluded in the US study but still this is a lot of activity.

    There are more options. Restoring shellfish populations in estuaries can be a help. We could try seeding coral and protecting reef which should tend to grow with sea level rise if it is not harmed by other problems such as warming or acidification. Growing new forests could make some difference too. And, there is artificial capture of carbon from the atmosphere, though turning it to a solid may take some effort.

    Comment by Chris Dudley — 4 Feb 2009 @ 2:25 AM

  132. Ike Solem (#98) states that proposals to reduce atmospheric CO2 concentration by means of ocean iron fertilisation are ludicrous. Instead, he suggests that baling and sinking biomass in the oceans is a sensible approach (which Florifulgurator later – #114 – brands as absurd, giving compelling reasons).

    A problem for a lay reader to this site is to assess the expertise of those who comment on the threads. Ike Solem writes as if he is an authority but his didactic statements are rarely qualified. Had he suggested that ocean fertilisation could have potential downsides, few would have disagreed. Instead, his dismissal of the option is apparently absolute. It would be helpful if he could let us know why we should set great store on his views and dismiss those of others who have no doubt given equal thought to the subject and arrived at different conclusions.

    [Response: On ocean fertilization, I agree with Ike, it wouldn’t work. At least in models, where you can fertilize to your heart’s content with no logistic issues like darkness, sea ice, and deep surface mixing which makes the water column on average too dark for phytoplankton growth. Fertilize to the maximum extent possible, adding iron until the nitrate and phosphate are used up, and after 100 years the CO2 drawdown will be pretty unimpressive, 10 ppm or something like that. Do it for 500 years and maybe you’ll get somewhere. The topic is scary because it’s ripe for abuse, if people start selling carbon offsets for fertilizing the ocean. David]

    Comment by Douglas Wise — 4 Feb 2009 @ 4:49 AM

  133. I forget the post about power grids and the like — it was way up there.

    Sooner or later there has to be a BIG FAT piece of wire (they actually tend to come in threes) that is capable of moving large amounts of power over vast distances.

    Distributed generation works well, so long as there is a way to distribute that generation from places that are producing power to places which are not, and the only effective and efficient way to do that is with transmission lines that are capable of moving gigawatts, not just the megawatts (or kilowatts) that can come from distributed generation.

    The only way to avoid large transmission lines is to have just about everyone capable of being self-sustaining, and that is not a practical solution. Houston, TX, which has a 2,600MW reactor and who knows how many coal and natural gas generators, is currently importing about 1,400MW (real time loads — it changes during the day). That much additional distributed generation would have to come from somewhere in Harris County, and there isn’t enough Harris County for solar or wave power, and wind is straight out as they have lousey wind. So, even if the surrounding counties were able to send Houston power, they aren’t going to do it on 7,200V distribution lines from thousands of small-scale distributed generators (and I’m one — got my “Distributed Renewable Generation” interconnect agreement somewhere around the house).

    The biggest obstacle to renewable energy isn’t the cost or the technology — it’s the conspiracy theorists on the political front, and the rules that force utilities to buy the cheapest power, even if it’s just $0.001 cheaper, available. Austin, TX is building a 30MW solar farm and the price increase on the average $98 a month bill is $0.60 as a result. That’s less than one percent, or about two months worth of price increase due to fuel.

    Comment by FurryCatHerder — 4 Feb 2009 @ 8:16 AM

  134. 4 February 2009 at 8:16 AM FurryCatHerder,

    But it’s only 30MW. That’s a drip in the ocean. Try multiplying that by 100. Then you’re getting somewhere. That’s a $60 increase. Not so negligable anymore.

    Comment by Anne van der Bom — 4 Feb 2009 @ 9:41 AM

  135. FurryCatHerder wrote: “The only way to avoid large transmission lines is to have just about everyone capable of being self-sustaining, and that is not a practical solution.”

    Put another way, we can reduce the number of large transmission lines that are needed, to the extent that more people can become self-sustaining.

    For example, a November 2008 report (PDF) from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance found that “at least half of the fifty states could meet all their internal energy needs from renewable energy generated inside their borders, and the vast majority could meet a significant percentage.”

    ILSR has proposed a “five step program” towards a “democratic energy system”, wherein step 5 is to “upgrade the existing grid system rather than build a new network of extra high voltage transmission lines.”

    ILSR argues that “Sufficient capacity is available on existing subtransmission and distribution lines to interconnect potentially hundreds of thousands of additional MW of distributed renewable power. Building a new transmission network would enable new coal-fired power plants and undermine an effective working relationship with local and state governments by generating widespread popular opposition. Focus on upgrading the existing grid into a network that can integrate hundreds of thousands of new small power plants and create a more intimate relationship between energy consumers and producers.”

    Comment by SecularAnimist — 4 Feb 2009 @ 10:47 AM

  136. A little off the main topic, but concerned with the “irreversible” rubric, is a heating up of the ocean acidification issue due to the issuance of the Monaco Declaration.

    I’m already skirmishing on newsblogs about it, with one of our denialists saying (in effect) “Uh–it must be ammonia. Jeez, you guys always vilify CO2. Ammonia, yeah, that’s it!” Can Watts be far behind?

    Comment by Kevin McKinney — 4 Feb 2009 @ 11:01 AM

  137. Re MarkB in #128,

    Climate change disinformation is not only happening at blogs and media outlets but it’s also happening at NOAA NWS offices (link below).

    Even with Obama in the Whitehouse it’s likely that a U.S. climate change disinformation policy will continue – and won’t be helped with Obama’s newest pick to head DOC.

    Comment by Pat Neuman — 4 Feb 2009 @ 11:29 AM

  138. re: 137. I strongly disagree, especially with Stephen Chu as Energy Secretary (superb science credentials) and Lisa Jackson as head of EPA. And Gregg will not be a “no-man” for Obama re: climate change. As for the link, that discussion of January’s *weather* has nothing to do with global warming; it simply states the facts about what January was like in comparison to the normals. Some months are colder, some are warmer. A local, short term, monthly pattern is irrelevant.

    Comment by Dan — 4 Feb 2009 @ 12:08 PM

  139. Ike (#98),
    I fail to follow your logic of how the baling of biomass and sinking it to to bottom of the ocean is less ludicrous than growing the biomass on site and letting it sink (the premise of iron fertilization).

    First, lets be clear that anoxic dead zones are the result of large amounts of biomass being consumed by bacteria in a relatively concentrated area. Any biomass will work. It doesn’t have to be phytoplankton. Bales of terrestrial biomass will do the trick too.

    Also, open-ocean phytoplankton blooms and inshore blooms have very different ecological effects. In relatively shallow continental shelf waters like the GoM the dead phyto settles to the bottom fairly quickly before much decomposition can occur. You end up with high rates of decomp concentrated near the bottom. With deepwater blooms it takes literally weeks for the dead matter to settle to the bottom. Decomposition is spread out vertically over the mile or so of the water column and by the time the particles reach the bottom there is very little left to decompose. Even in deep water, sunken bales of biomass would be more like the former than the latter. They don’t simply disappear or become immune to bacterial action because they’re in deep water.

    In any event, iron fertilization experiments have been limited in size thus far, as we really don’t have the current ability to even come close to the scale of natural blooms. Even if we could, these natural blooms do not apparently cause oxygen issues so it’s unlikely that a similarly sized “man-made” bloom would either.

    While I’m not in favor of either method, at least without further research, with regard to concerns over anoxia, iron fertilization seems like the less ludicrous of the two options.

    Comment by Mike G — 4 Feb 2009 @ 12:24 PM

  140. A “no-man” for Obama to head DOC is a bad thing. NOAA and NOAA NWS are under the DOC umbrella. NWS has weather and Climate Prediction Centers (CPC) offices in the U.S. with responsibility in public education and prediction.

    As for the link, the NWS Grand Rapids MI office highlighted the cold weather in January 2009 without addressing the fact that warming trends exist in the records (mean temperatures, last 100 year or more). NWS continues to mislead the public on climate change, highlighting cold periods while downplaying warm periods.

    We know that winters in the upper Midwest have been trending to warmer, based on over 100 years of temperature records and extensive hydrologic (streamflow, snowmelt runoff), not merely a short term pattern.

    Comment by Pat Neuman — 4 Feb 2009 @ 12:29 PM

  141. Kevin (#136),

    Uuhhm. Did you let them know that ammonia is a base? Maybe I shouldn’t ask?

    Comment by Chris Dudley — 4 Feb 2009 @ 12:44 PM

  142. re: 140. Yes, a climate “no-man” to head DOC would be a bad thing. But that is not what I wrote. I wrote: “And Gregg will *not* be a “no-man” for Obama re: climate change.” (emphasis added this time). Please be careful. And my points re: Chu and Jackson remain valid.

    I fail to see what NWS Grand Rapids did as misleading at all in this case. They correctly reported the January averages with respect to the normals. Whether they were above or below normal is not the issue since one month at one location or region does not matter in the global spatial or temporal scale. Now if NWS Grand Rapids had said something foolishly and fundamentally wrong such as “This points to global cooling” or “This brings into question global warming” or some other such scientific nonsense, that would be noteworthy and definitely, inexcusably wrong. For that matter, is the NOAA/DOA’s jointly-issued “Weekly Weather and Crop Bulletin” also part of some misleading cover-up since they only show weekly, monthly, or seasonal temperature averages or departures from normal? Of course not.

    Comment by Dan — 4 Feb 2009 @ 1:55 PM

  143. Re: #137, #140

    At first glance, there seems to be a case here. Note the contrast between your climate report and the one for Denver. Grand Rapids, MI was about -5.6 degrees F below normal. The summary is:

    “The average temperature of 17.5 degrees ranks as the 13th coldest January on record, with records going back to 1894. The monthly snowfall of 29.9 inches ranks as the 16th snowiest January on record. The high temperature for the month was only 36 degrees and 28 out of the 31 days had high temperatures at or below freezing. There were seven days with low temperatures of zero or lower. The lowest temperature of the month was 8 below zero on both the 15th and 17th.”

    Contrast this to Denver, CO, which was 5.7 F above normal. This seems to be downplayed in the climate report in comparison to the similarly cold anomaly in the southwest Michigan report.

    WARM 40.3 DEGREES.”

    However, I still tend to agree with Dan in #138. There may be elements within the NOAA that spin a bit, but saying it’s reflective of the NOAA as a whole seems to be a stretch. Then again, I haven’t looked closely enough to ascertain a consistent pattern. Notifying the NOAA of perceived bias might help.

    Comment by MarkB — 4 Feb 2009 @ 2:02 PM

  144. I read RC occasionally but have not posted before. I’m a biologist and teach at a comprehensive university. This question came up in a recent discussion that relates to our ability to detect changes in climate. To paraphrase, the global economic downturn over the past year must be seen as a great boon to environmentalists and climate scientists because it slowed economic growth and presumably emissions faster and at a larger scale than any new policies could have. How will this period be reflected in the climate record (any predictions)? If it is too short to cause any demonstrable change, how many years of similar economic conditions would be needed to start having a significant effect on global climate change?

    [Response: There are a number of long timescales involved. Even though emission growth may slow this year, we are still putting near record amounts of CO2 (and particularly in Asia, other pollutants like aerosols) into the atmosphere. Thus CO2 concentrations will still grow (emissions would have to fall ~60-70% to prevent that). Thus radiative forcing will continue to rise (possibly at a slightly lower rate than otherwise). The planet takes time to respond to the forcings and so any dip now will take a while (decade or two) to show up. – gavin]

    Comment by Paul — 4 Feb 2009 @ 3:50 PM

  145. David; my pleasure. [curtsies, trips over beard]
    the book’s going over to my mechanic first, i tried him out on milankovitch cycles when he said ‘but its been much warmer in the past’ and he didn’t glaze over, so i reckon he is ready for it. then to my bessie mate, she will love that pic of you on the back cover ;-)

    John Mashey 103

    “*Please*, think about sticking at least a short review on Amazon as well. Many people do actually read these before purchasing.

    “The Long Thaw” has 3 reviews (Amazon US).

    Svensmark’s “The Chilling Stars, 2nd Ed” has 4.

    Avery/Singer “Unstoppable Global Warming…” has 176.

    A/S has been out longer, but really, surely RC readers can do better.”

    oh, ok! i’ll get on it tomorrow. i thought about doing that days ago but put it off. and off. no deadline :-)

    Comment by gerda — 4 Feb 2009 @ 4:02 PM

  146. SecularAnimist (135), ILSR’s assertion flies in the face of current power transmission limitations. Basically the current backbone transmission facilities can carry very litle (relatively) more electricity without facing the possibility of major disruptions. Though I see they use the terms “distribution” and “subtransmission” networks; that then might be correct, though it seems misleading since most people would not read the precise technical differences into the words.

    Comment by Rod B — 4 Feb 2009 @ 4:55 PM

  147. MarkB (143), et al: I’ll stick with Dan’s assessment. I don’t see anything in your post that would clearly point to some nefarious reporting. They’re simply reporting the weather facts and comparing today’s weather to previous weather – what most listeners to the weather are interested in.

    Comment by Rod B — 4 Feb 2009 @ 5:08 PM

  148. re: #130
    Yes, with the result that:

    a) There was the least snow I’ve seen in the Okanagan, B.C. area for years, and at Big White, the temperature was actually above freezing for many days in January. Amazing.

    b) Around here [SF Bay Area], there have been cyclists all over the place in shorts and short-sleeved shirts, not really typical for January. Awful … because:

    c) The snowpack issues already have officials warning people to prepare for water rationing [unless some truly incredible snow dumps hit in next month.]

    d) People here would love to have had some of the that mid-West precipitation and cooler temperatures here instead.

    Comment by John Mashey — 4 Feb 2009 @ 5:55 PM

  149. > SF Bay Area
    Here’s a nice clear day view; click the false color JPEG and you can see where the snow is and isn’t.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 4 Feb 2009 @ 6:35 PM

  150. Re 142, 143 (Dan and MarkB) – Is NWS educating the public on irreversible vs unstoppable climate change?

    Why does much of the general public continue to doubt that climate change is happening?

    Much of the failure lies in our federal agencies, especially those agencies responsible for weather and climate education (particularly NWS).

    It’s clear to me that NOAA NWS has been grossly negligent in climate change education to the public – for many years. Telling an incomplete story is misleading to the public. NWS has the data to do a much better job in informing the public about climate change trends in their data.

    For example, climate and hydrologic data indicate rising temperature trends at Upper Midwest NOAA NWS climate stations. February temperatures have showed the sharpest increases (5-10 Deg F). The reason that February temperatures are rising more rapidly than temperatures in other months is likely due to the earlier and earlier snowmelt runoff in the West, Midwest and southern Canada (see link). Why is this even news to much of the public? Because NOAA NWS has not been doing their job. It’s not enough for NWS to summarise monthly temperatures by making comparsions to historical data without telling the public that there’s warming trends evident in the data records.

    February temperature data and snowmelt runoff plots, showing climate warming trends in the Upper Midwest, are at:

    Comment by Pat Neuman — 4 Feb 2009 @ 8:09 PM

  151. When did the National Weather Service decide that the base reference for “normal” temperatures is the period from 1971 to 2000? Doesn’t having recent warmer years included in the average to which comparison is made skew the comparison towards making it seem cooler than it would be if the reference period were, say, 1960-1980?

    [Response: The NWS has many constituencies to serve. Many of them need statistics that are as up-to-date as possible, thus they move their ‘climate normal’ period up every ten years. This can confuse people looking at anomalies, so one should be careful what any baseline is, but looking at trends is independent of that. – gavin]

    Comment by Brian Dodge — 4 Feb 2009 @ 10:44 PM

  152. Re: 151

    The standard period for climatological normals is 30 years, so that’s a starting point. WMO procedure is to update every 30 years, so that they would use 1961-1990, until 2020.

    It’s my understanding that the US has chosen to use the last 30 years ending with a year ending in 0, so that the departures from normal represent something as close to current as possible. In large part, this is driven by a perceived need from users of things like the Climate Prediction Center’s seasonal forecasts. In a warming climate, almost the forecasts all become “warmer than normal”, which provides little information for users of the seasonal forecast.

    Comment by Harold Brooks — 4 Feb 2009 @ 11:06 PM

  153. Chris, actually no, I didn’t. I suggested he publish his “results,” making some oblique comment or other with “Nobel” in it. If only–!

    I hope the sarcasm was a harmless indulgence; I did post some links to actual science for readers with fewer loose screws.

    Comment by Kevin McKinney — 5 Feb 2009 @ 12:11 AM

  154. Re the responses to my #3


    Where we disagree is that you think we have plenty of time – 1,000 years (and Gavin seems to think we have 82 years. :-)
    My problem is the tone of your post was reassuring, as is evident from the other replies, but the situation is catastrophic.

    No doubt you have been brought up to believe that in the world of geology and climate any changes happen slowly over long periods of time. That is the paradigm of uniformitarianism” described by Charles Lyell and accepted by Charles Darwin. But now we know that catastrophes such as the Great Ice Age and the extinction of the dinosaurs do happen. But more importantly, climatic catastrophes of rapid warming can also happen such as the Dansgaard-Oeschger events. Because they cannot be explained, the scientists (some would say wisely), tend not to discuss those.

    It is obvious that the only thing that could cause these rapid warmings, without leaving any evidence, is the disappearance of a sea ice sheet. And we know that the Arctic sea ice is melting. We do not have time. The time for reassurance is over. We should press the panic button now!

    It is not just me who is saying that. Simon Chu is saying something similar. Obama’s energy secretary outlines dire climate change scenario. But it is you scientists who should be leading the calls for action, not wasting your time debating with a bunch of pseudo-scientists with their heads buried in the sand.

    Cheers, Alastair.

    [Response: With all due respect, you are completely totally misreading my meaning. I do not disagree with anything that you write here. I think that CO2 emissions should be cut immediately, it’s an emergency, I don’t believe or say that we have plenty of time. I’m with you on abrupt climate change, I warn in both my books about how IPCC projections are a best-case scenario because they show no surprises such as the abrupt climate changes we infer from climate records in the past. David]

    Comment by Alastair McDonald — 5 Feb 2009 @ 6:54 AM

  155. Re #150
    The Australian Bureau of Meteorology seems to be on the ball with this issue. They have issued a report dealing with the current heatwave in South and South Eastern Australia. It makes interesting reading, check it out:

    Comment by Lawrence McLean — 5 Feb 2009 @ 7:21 AM

  156. In re #134 (and how do I create links for posts?)

    In reality, no, it wouldn’t happen that way. The entire point of explaining that $0.60 is two months of fuel cost inflation is to demonstrate that solar will moderate fuel cost inflation effects. I don’t know the total demand within the Austin Energy region, but as something like solar became a larger portion of that production, the savings over time due to solar power remaining flat (except for increases in labor costs) would eventually dominate. I saw the proof of that last summer when fuel cost inflation smacked my neighbors good and hard and my bills were still quite reasonable.

    In re #135 —

    Sorry, but that’s the sort of political conspiracy thinking that is a major obstacle to getting more distributed generation on the ground. Increasing bulk power transmission is an absolute requirement to make up for the nature of renewable energy — different regions, including different regions in a stat, have different sources of renewable energy. The mountain passes of California have wind, parts have solar, and parts have wave. It’s the intermittent nature of these resources that require they be interconnected in some fashion, and those interconnections need to be able to either import all of the demands, or export all of the surplus capacity.

    There are also various laws, such as Kirchoff’s, which work against some spider web of low power distribution lines. The are technical problems that will need to be solved, and they require upgrading the “smarts” of the grid (dealing with positive voltage gradients is going to be a huge one), but the basic trunk-branches-twigs-leaves model of distribution cannot be abandoned for some “no more coal!”-based policy.

    Let’s prevent coal plants from being built by educating the public and passing legislation. Let’s don’t do what Austin did with it’s traffic policy and refuse to build highways hoping that no one would move here from California (and Austin is full-up again, so we don’t need any more people from California or Colorado moving here.)

    Comment by FurryCatHerder — 5 Feb 2009 @ 11:14 AM

  157. It’s OT but, FurryCH, Austin did build some major roads. But they (and TexDOT) had/have this curious habit of building only 90% of the arterial needed.

    Comment by Rod B — 5 Feb 2009 @ 3:03 PM

  158. Re 151

    Brian, I agree. NWS use of 1970-2000 average temperatures as “normal” tends to underestimate recent warming, in the mind of the public. Many people think normal is based on conditions further back in time when it was colder. Temperature records at all climate stations in the Upper Midwest show warming trends well in progress, especially recent decades. The people aren’t getting the message that warming trends exist in the temperature records because NWS is not providing that information to the public. I think that wrong, regardless of the “many constituencies to serve” which gavin referred to in his response.

    Comment by Pat Neuman — 5 Feb 2009 @ 3:26 PM

  159. Lawrence, thank you for providing the link on your heat wave (#155).

    Today, NOAA is alerting residents in the Red River Valley (separates North Dakota and Minnesota) on their assesment of a potential for significant flooding in their communities this spring. Their assessment is based on the amount of rain and snowfall in the Red River Basin over the past few months, … forecasting a 50 to 75 percent chance of major flooding there this spring.

    How can NOAA NWS forecast a 50 to 75 percent chance of major flooding for this spring … when their procedures fail to account for climate change trends in the data (temperatures, snowmelt rates and precipitation)?

    Is NOAA just now beginning to do research on climate change trends in hydrology?

    “NOAA Says Prepare for Major Spring Flooding on Red River”

    Related: “Earlier in the Year Snowmelt Runoff and Increasing Dewpoints for Rivers in Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota”

    Comment by Pat Neuman — 5 Feb 2009 @ 4:10 PM

  160. There is no Chinese link?

    [Response: yes – there is now! – gavin]

    Comment by Magnus Westerstrand — 6 Feb 2009 @ 6:27 AM

  161. Ultimately the airborne fraction of a CO2 release is determined largely by the buffer chemistry of the ocean, and you can get a pretty good answer with a simple calculation based on a well-mixed ocean, ignoring all the complicated stuff like temperature differences, circulation, and biology. The ocean decides that the airborne fraction of a CO2 release, after it spreads out into the other fast parts of the carbon cycle, will be in the neighborhood of 10-30%. The only long-term way to accelerate the CO2 drawdown in the long tail would be to actively remove CO2 from the air, which I personally believe will ultimately be necessary.

    Can you explain why you can ignore biology? Plants are a huge carbon sink, so why won’t biology suffice to absorb the oceanic buffering? Where can I look at the numbers on this to get a handle on how the biology will affect the CO2 levels under the no-emission scenario?

    [Response: Uptake of CO2 by the terrestrial biosphere is an important part of the carbon budget today, but ultimately the 500 Gton C terrestrial biosphere carbon reservoir will be swamped if we burn enough of the 5000 Gton C fossil fuel reserves. Also, there is a potential for a large decrease in the 1500 Gton C soil carbon reservoir with increasing temperatures. David]

    Comment by Alex Tolley — 6 Feb 2009 @ 9:41 AM

  162. Furry, to create links, start by clicking on the timestamp of the comment you want to link to, then copying the comment number from the address window of your browser (start with the #.)

    Then start your comment by typing a “less-than symbol” into the comment box. (I won’t type these symbols here because I don’t recall how to tag them as text rather than HTML instructions, but hopefully you know what I mean.) This will signal HTML code to follow. After that comes:

    a/ href=”

    Then paste in the comment ID, followed by the close quote.

    Next is:


    Type the text you want to show–“Furry”, “Rod B”, “Regarding solar vs. nuclear,” whatever–then signal the end of the link with:


    The whole thing should look like this (subbing out the less-thans & greater-thans, of course):

    [LT]a/href=”comment ID” rel=”nofollow”[GT] text [LT]/a[GT]

    Explained like this, it sounds cumbersome, but it’s not too bad to do–though I do mean to set up an automator for it sometime when I’ve nothing better to do.

    BTW, the HTML will be effective in preview mode–the link will even work, so you can verify that all the fiddly details are correct before you post. Hope this helps!

    Comment by Kevin McKinney — 6 Feb 2009 @ 9:44 AM

  163. To tag something as “text, not HTML”, you use the “<pre>” HTML tag.

    And for Rod B, yes, we did eventually build more roads, but we continue to suffer from the “don’t build roads or else people will move here from California” problem. Likewise, if we fail to build more bulk transmission lines, those people who couldn’t become fully self-sufficient will suffer as an undersized electric grid tries to transport power from parts of the control region which have current renewable generation to parts of the control region which don’t.

    A giant spider web of lower voltage lines simply cannot work because current takes all possible paths from “A” to “B”, not just the path of least resistance, and that will make a complete mess of electric transmission.

    (reCaptcha sez “with learning” …)

    Comment by FurryCatHerder — 7 Feb 2009 @ 1:01 AM

  164. OK, experiment time:

    “A giant spider web of lower voltage lines simply cannot work because current takes all possible paths from “A” to “B”, not just the path of least resistance…”

    Though of course there are ways to get the current to prefer certain paths over others, as is done with the high-voltage transmission grid now. However, it’s a complicated control problem even there: with the low-voltage spiderweb it’d get considerably more difficult to control.

    Comment by James — 7 Feb 2009 @ 5:11 PM

  165. Good starting point (read the citing articles published since) — it’s not just the grid, it’s the deregulation:

    What’s wrong with the electric grid? – The Industrial Physicist
    Aug 14, 2003 … Eric J. Lerner. IEEE Spectrum 1999, 36 (6), 34–39. National Transmission Grid Study Report

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 7 Feb 2009 @ 6:24 PM

  166. Thanks for the post, Hank. Very–dare I say–illuminating.

    Comment by Kevin McKinney — 7 Feb 2009 @ 8:40 PM

  167. @david: “but ultimately the 500 Gton C terrestrial biosphere carbon reservoir will be swamped if we burn enough of the 5000 Gton C fossil fuel reserves”

    Thank you for the response. However, the article assumes we stop burning fossil fuels today, which means that most of the 5000 Gton C in fossil fuels will not be burned. Therefore it is the biology response to CO2 levels and the relative response rates of biology vs oceanic-atmosphere gas exchange that counts, both in the short and long term. Do we have data for those rates, or can make educated guesses?

    Comment by Alex Tolley — 8 Feb 2009 @ 12:02 AM

  168. Hank wrote in 165:

    Good starting point (read the citing articles published since) — it’s not just the grid, it’s the deregulation:

    Well … if you want to blame deregulation, sure. Deregulation took away the utilities’ free money and that caused them to compete on cost. Do you really want to buy a parachute from the lowest bidder?

    The solution to a deregulated energy market is regulations that don’t prevent free-market competition, but which also don’t permit operating a generator at wide-open, full-throttle. N-1 redundancy is no good if the N-1th generator is at its limits.

    James writes in 164:

    Though of course there are ways to get the current to prefer certain paths over others, as is done with the high-voltage transmission grid now. However, it’s a complicated control problem even there: with the low-voltage spiderweb it’d get considerably more difficult to control.

    How do you get precisely the right amount of power to follow precisely the correct path? When you start breaking down grid, you break what makes the grid work — it’s all connected. The grid is able to function as a unit because one generator affects the other, no matter how far removed the other is. Start separating the generators and the system breaks down — one loses track of the other and when you go to put them back together again, they might not be in phase anymore.

    Comment by FurryCatHerder — 8 Feb 2009 @ 1:42 AM

  169. Alex 167, David was talking about burning all the fossil fuels. This means that your request is irrelevant. Ask someone else or check it yourself.

    Comment by Mark — 8 Feb 2009 @ 6:32 AM

  170. OK, Peter Ward’s presentation from a year ago at TED is finally available.

    As he says, this is fundamentally anti-Gaian.
    The bacteria are capable of taking their planet back, if we help them along by increasing CO2 as we’re doing, making the same result as has happened before.

    Thin dark lines in the strata each time.

    And well worth watching, reading up on and thinking about:

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 8 Feb 2009 @ 1:09 PM

  171. FCH, you’re way oversimplifying that IEEE article; read the articles that cite it. This has long been a big serious and well studied field and the physics was utterly ignored by the last administration.

    Look at it — the dereg. legislation assumed breaking the existing grid would cause the ‘free market’ to replace it with something magic: Fail. Gaming. Same what happened in finance happened a bit earlier in energy markets. We _know_ how people really behave.

    Now the magical thinkers are assuming we won’t have another solar cycle peak — so they can ignore the need to improve both hardware and regulation to anticipate the associated breakdowns with solar flares.

    It’s utter magical thinking. Let’s hope they’re out of office a while.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 8 Feb 2009 @ 2:29 PM

  172. Both the Solomon and Archer papers exclude the effects of biology on CO2 uptake. Assuming the oceans continue to emit carbon at historic recent rates, that is about 2GTon C/yr. However the Keeling curve clearly shows that mature boreal ecosystems can sink perhaps 5 GTon C /yr during summer before re-emitting that as respiration during the winter. This is about 1% of the standing mass of forests.

    It is not a great stretch to consider that managing forests on a global scale could sink enough carbon to more than compensate for ocean emissions, stabilizing or even reducing atmospheric carbon levels on the scale of 100 years, rather than 1000. What unmanaged ecosystems could do needs more work.

    This is not to decry the results of the two papers, but to point out that unless we stupidly release all fossil carbon and overwhelm the biosphere, biological processes might be more stabilizing of GW than the purely geochemical-physical models would indicate, and possibly that biological carbon sequestration might well be a viable “geo-engineering” approach to mitigation and even reversal.

    Comment by Alex Tolley — 8 Feb 2009 @ 3:10 PM

  173. FCH says:”The grid is able to function as a unit because one generator affects the other, no matter how far removed the other is.”

    Ever heard of a brown-out?

    And that reduces the mains frequency and, since the energy transfer across load is a harmonic system, the notional power needs go up.

    And this is a GOOD thing???

    Comment by Mark — 8 Feb 2009 @ 3:30 PM

  174. > assuming the oceans continue to emit carbon

    Cite please? (“” is not helpful, it’s behind your name)

    Why start with a counterfactual assumption to make your case?

    We know the oceans are absorbing some of the excess CO2; that’s what’s causing the very rapid pH change.

    Where are you getting your assumptions? Why do you rely on that source?

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 8 Feb 2009 @ 3:43 PM

  175. Alex, you asked where you can get the numbers on biogeochemical cycling. You can look them up; here are examples of coursework:

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 8 Feb 2009 @ 3:55 PM

  176. One more — reminded by the Peter Ward video from TED last year that there is serious and increasing concern about failure of the Antarctic ice; these are tidbits from an old thread at Prometheus from before the US Supreme Court ruled on the Massachusetts sea level rise issue, which is due to be revisited at some point there.

    —- quoting —-

    “… This unexpected result shows that the Rutford Ice stream (larger than Holland) varies its speed by as much as 20% every two weeks. Ice streams – and the speed at which they flow – influence global sea level. Understanding their behaviour has been a priority for some time. On average the Rutford Ice Stream moves forward by one metre every day….

    … British Antarctic Survey (BAS) glaciologist Hilmar Gudmundsson says,

    ‘We’ve never seen anything like this before. The discovery that the spring-neap tidal cycle exerts such a strong influence on an ice stream tens of kilometres away is a total surprise. For such a large mass of ice to respond to ocean tides like this illustrates how sensitively the Antarctic Ice Sheet reacts to environmental changes. Glaciologists need now to rethink how the Antarctic Ice Sheets reacts to external forces. ‘

    The variations in flow of the Rutford Ice Stream are related to the vertical motion of the ocean caused by the gravitational effects of the sun and moon. Every two weeks sees large tides, the so-called spring tides which are followed by small tides, the neap tides. Scientists expect movement of the floating ice shelves, but the Rutford Ice Stream is grounded in the shallow waters of the Antarctic continental shelf.
    —- end quote—-

    Fracture initiation, but not fracture propagation, is limited by the strength of the ice:

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 8 Feb 2009 @ 4:01 PM

  177. With regard to ocean acidification at higher CO2 concentrations, a couple of comments have mentioned bad effects on shells etc. But presumably these shellfish and corals (or relatives at least) were able to survive previous episodes of high CO2. How did that happen? And does that suggest there is some limit or counter-response to increasing acidification when CO2 increases further?

    Comment by William — 8 Feb 2009 @ 5:29 PM

  178. What is stoppable and what is reversable should be the question.

    Will the planet shift in its rotation to achieve a new position of dynamic balance when the polar Ice Caps melt,as a result of a redistribution of mass?

    Is this stoppable? Is this reversable?

    Dennis Baker
    PS the boxing day tsuami successfully shifted the planets rotation

    Comment by Dennis Baker — 8 Feb 2009 @ 6:03 PM

  179. #117. They had millions of years to find a way to solve that problem by natural selection.

    When it takes 100,000 generations to change to a high acidity ocean, having the change in 1,000 generations is bad news.

    How did you think they did it? Acid Repellent Bat-Spray???

    Comment by Mark — 8 Feb 2009 @ 6:33 PM

  180. Alex 172, how much land is needed to reduce carbon in the manner you stated?

    Now, remember that

    a) people gotta eat
    b) people gotta live
    c) warmer land means bigger desserts
    d) ocean sea level rises means less land

    where do we fit these trees?

    Comment by Mark — 8 Feb 2009 @ 6:35 PM

  181. Hank@174 “assuming the oceans continue to emit carbon”

    This is the point of the 2 papers. The accumulated reservoir of carbon in teh oceans due to CO2 absorption will provide a source to replenish the atmospheric CO2, thus maintaining a high CO2 level even if we stop using fossil fuels. No counterfactual assumption AFAIK.

    Thank you for the links – much appreciated.

    Comment by Alex Tolley — 8 Feb 2009 @ 7:54 PM

  182. Mark@180 I’m merely throwing out some numbers that exist. The boreal forests are assumed to be the source of the seasonal carbon dioxide sinks during the northern summers in papers noting this effect.

    The point is that these biological sinks, albeit temporary each year are large and appear to be of the magnitude needed to absorb the accumulated carbon reservoir in the ocean. This suggests that biological systems might be able to handle the CO2 in a shorter time than the 2 cited papers predict that geochemical models will require.

    Of course we would need to make each summer’s sink permanent each year, with suggests that we need to harvest the production of wood and sequester it. Since the 5 GTon C/yr sink is ~ 1% of the standing global biota, this suggests that given tree life cycles, that the numbers are of the correct order if we managed forests rather than destroyed them. Harvesting trees, sequestering their carbon permanently and replanting seedlings might be a possible strategy, if we don’t carry on with “business as usual”. At least we wouldn’t need exotic new technology to scrub the air.

    Comment by Alex Tolley — 8 Feb 2009 @ 8:08 PM

  183. Hank (171), et al: I’m pretty much with you on the deregulation of the power generation industry. It was a pipe dream from pols who had little concept of the workings — other than being able to spell competition. (Though I don’t think FCH is arguing for deregulation per se…)

    But, your (and countless others) Pavlov response to blast George W. for any and every ill that crosses your path is getting tiresome, at least to me. The deregulation was his fault because???

    Comment by Rod B — 8 Feb 2009 @ 9:49 PM

  184. FAQ from Bob Grumbine
    “2. Carbon fluxes and reservoirs

    First we look at natural carbon fluxes, next at fluxes of anthropogenic
    carbon, and finally at carbon reservoirs. Carbon enters and leaves the
    atmosphere largely as CO2. The remaining carbon fluxes involve various
    organic and inorganic carbon compounds…..”

    Copying more here would be pointless, likely losing formatting. See the original.
    See also
    Look through the existing topics, you’ll likely find a place to ask.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 8 Feb 2009 @ 9:55 PM

  185. By the way, I’ll wait for one of the scientists on this question — but I think the lag time for the ocean uptake of CO2 is barely started, and if we do stop increasing CO2 in the atmosphere, it will continue to go into the oceans for quite a while, slowly.

    We’re not facing a “can’t help the problem because the ocean will bubble out CO2 if we remove it from the air” situation.

    Transfer to and from the ocean is slow — that’s time available for increasing the rate of removal from the atmosphere into other sinks (whether algae or plankton or bales of plastic or biochar sunk into some longterm repository, or fracturing or opening up some of the mineral material that can take CO2 out of the air). I don’t think there’s a huge amount of CO2 already _in_ the ocean, simply because it takes so much longer to go from atmosphere to ocean than from coal mine to atmosphere. We’re pumping CO2 into the air far faster than anything has done in the past.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 8 Feb 2009 @ 10:58 PM

  186. Mark writes in 173:

    FCH says:”The grid is able to function as a unit because one generator affects the other, no matter how far removed the other is.”

    Ever heard of a brown-out?

    And that reduces the mains frequency and, since the energy transfer across load is a harmonic system, the notional power needs go up.

    And this is a GOOD thing???

    Yes, I’ve heard of brown-outs. They occur when system voltage is allowed to sag in order to prevent frequency from falling below the permissible value. Frequency cannot be allowed to deviate from nominal for reasons I suspect would bore most people to tears. For SOME loads this results in increases in current requirements, but for purely resistive loads, it results in reduced POWER.

    I’m not sure what this has to do with anything — fragmenting the grid results in an inability to regulate frequency, and without frequency regulation the entire system fails or cannot be defragmented easily. That’s the big risk to positive voltage gradients from distributed generation — resynchronizing large islands when it’s time to reconnect to the grid. What you’re proposing would lead to exactly that problem, and it’s a real doozy. The only solution to that problem I know is to isolate all the distributed generation, force a blackout in the isolated region, repower from the grid, then allow the distributed generation to resynchronize itself. With turbine power generation resynching is fairly easy — the frequency is first matched, then the phase angle slowly changed to match, and finally the turbine connected to the grid, where it should stay in synch fairly easily due to some pretty slick physics.

    Comment by FurryCatHerder — 9 Feb 2009 @ 12:04 AM

  187. William (177)
    The history of reef building, most of which doesn’t include corals at all, is a discontinuous one. It’s full of periods where the dominant reef building groups go extinct (including two whole previous orders of corals) as well as periods where there is no reef building to speak of for several million years. There’s also the case of the Corallimorpharians which are modern non-calcifying corals that seem to have evolved from calcifying ancestors.

    While it’s hard to say with certainty that the changes in ocean chemistry were the chief cause of extinction of any reef building groups, many of the reefless periods do coincide with periods of altered seawater chemistry as does the appearance of the Corallimorpharians.

    Among calcifiers we also see switches between deposition of aragonite and calcite as the dominant polymorphs of CaCO3 at various periods in the planet’s history. The protection afforded by this switch is fairly limited though and while some species can switch back and forth between the two polymorphs depending on prevailing chemistry, many (most?) animals don’t seem to be able to do so except on evolutionary timescales.

    Comment by Mike G — 9 Feb 2009 @ 1:22 AM

  188. 186: Not what the engineer in charge of an electricity generating power station said. It was when the load on the system was more than the power possible to generate. A higher load then caused a slowing of the generator flywheel by both extraction of rotational energy and from the EMF being reduced causing the rotation of the electromagnets to be retarded.

    Comment by Mark — 9 Feb 2009 @ 5:32 AM

  189. Mark writes in 188:

    186: Not what the engineer in charge of an electricity generating power station said. It was when the load on the system was more than the power possible to generate. A higher load then caused a slowing of the generator flywheel by both extraction of rotational energy and from the EMF being reduced causing the rotation of the electromagnets to be retarded.

    That’s a nice explanation for someone who doesn’t understand how the electric grid actually operates.

    What I can tell you is that if the grid frequency falls outside a very, very narrow permissible value, generators will either automatically trip off-line or destroy themselves. All AC generators must also remain in very near perfect sync, both as to frequency and phase angle, so it’s also not the case that “Generator A” gets to run a little slow and “Generator B” gets to keep on running. I’d be happy to bore you to tears, but a brownout isn’t as simple as “too much load, too little power.” Brownouts happen when voltage regulation is altered so that system voltage drops. That’s the $0.02 explanation. Frequency regulation — that rotational speed of the generator turbines and other parts — cannot be given up on, even if system voltage drops outside the -5% limit set by standards. At a -10% drop, which I think is about the limit of brownout voltages (108VAC in a 120VAC nominal system — higher voltages apply in distribution and transmission lines, or are reduced via tap selectors on transformers), frequency must still be +/- less than 0.1% of nominal throughout the entire interconnect.

    There’s also another way in which brownouts occur, and that’s when transmission congestion exceeds the capacity of those transmission lines, causing excess voltage drop along the way (our dear friend Ohm and his law), and that increases along the negative gradient from generator to consumer, as voltages are stepped down. A “spider web” of lower voltage distribution lines — what you’re suggesting — is going to have a devil of a time dealing with congestion, loop currents, and all the other problems with your suggestion.

    Comment by FurryCatHerder — 9 Feb 2009 @ 9:09 AM

  190. FurryCatHerder Says (8 February 2009 at 1:42 AM):

    “How do you get precisely the right amount of power to follow precisely the correct path?”

    If you want details, find an electric power systems engineer. It involves things like reactive power control and phase shifters, that I used to know something about 20 years ago. Then you run computer programs that calculate system powerflow & stability under sets of operating parameters, ’til you find a way to get the power to go where you want it to without breaking the sustem.

    Comment by James — 9 Feb 2009 @ 6:13 PM

  191. Look at that IEEE article and follow citing articles forward in time. Education awaits.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 9 Feb 2009 @ 7:16 PM

  192. See also:

    and use the ‘recent’ setting to cover the time span you want to look at.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 9 Feb 2009 @ 7:19 PM

  193. Can geoengineered technolgies that will reduce the sun’s light/heat energy by a few percent before it penetrates our atmosphere buy us the time to go green gradually? These technolgies include solar-shades, solar-reflecting, and solar-scattering devices both on the Earth’s surface and in space. These devices would have to be replaced periodically, but any adverse effects caused by these devices could be mitigated by shutting them down as necessary. In any event, no adverse effects would be as bad as the \irreversible\ disasters the above posts have predicted for us.

    Comment by Alan Kohn — 9 Feb 2009 @ 7:37 PM

  194. Re #94 Cowan,
    Why do we have a problem if the “abundant” silicate minerals will capture CO2?

    There is no doubt of their abundance. Peter B. Kelemen’s “The Origin of the Land under the Sea”, Scientific American February 2009, has on p. 56 these words: “The only way to fully appreciate the Oman ophiolite is from the air. This massive formation constitutes a nearly continuous band of rock 500 kilometers long and up to 100 kilometers wide.” And on p. 57 there is a photo.

    This rock, if pulverized, could take down all the CO2 man has ever emitted and tuck it inconspicuously into that terrain as magnesium carbonate and silica. Other outcroppings elsewhere are similarly ample; the Twin Peaks massif in, IIRC, Washington State is one. I linked some photos in the Air Capture thread. One shows how dunite terrain is desert even if well watered: a dunite massif in New Zealand adjoins another mountain, and at the joint, the other mountain is green, the dunite is orange.

    The problem, such as it is, is that the stuff isn’t pulverizing itself. The energy required to do so is small enough that dedicated coal-fired electric power plants set up on the massifs, although offensive in coal power’s usual non-atmosphere-related ways, would take down net CO2. Each would, in fact, take down enough to cancel its own emissions and those of at least seven similar plants elsewhere.

    Governments’ fossil fuel incomes are enough to pay for a large, possibly more than unit, fraction of the necessary garbage-collecting.

    (How fire can be domesticated)

    Comment by G.R.L. Cowan, H2 energy fan until ~1996 — 9 Feb 2009 @ 8:17 PM

  195. > reduce the sun’s light/heat energy

    Useless. The fast problem is ocean pH change, and stopping the increase of CO2 is the fix needed.

    See also Peter Ward.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 9 Feb 2009 @ 9:47 PM

  196. Re industrial-scale projects to pulverize olivine deposits (194), there’s also the Table Lands peridotite in Newfoundland, but since they are in Gros Morne National Park, I’d expect stiff, even insurmountable resistance to dismantling and pulverizing them.

    Comment by Jim Eager — 9 Feb 2009 @ 11:17 PM

  197. Re Alan Kohn @193, partially blocking sunlight will not force ocean acidification to proceed more slowly.

    And I suspect reducing incoming sunlight just might have negative repercussions on agricultural productivity, too.

    Comment by Jim Eager — 9 Feb 2009 @ 11:21 PM

  198. James writes:

    If you want details, find an electric power systems engineer. It involves things like reactive power control and phase shifters, that I used to know something about 20 years ago. Then you run computer programs that calculate system powerflow & stability under sets of operating parameters, ’til you find a way to get the power to go where you want it to without breaking the sustem.

    And you have to do that continually for every control point in a spider web of interconnections.

    Remember — this started with someones comments that what was needed wasn’t more high voltage transmission lines, but lots of lower voltage ones.

    Comment by FurryCatHerder — 10 Feb 2009 @ 1:09 AM

  199. I am grateful to David Archer for his response to my comment (#132) relating to ocean iron fertilisation. I regret that I am somewhat late in picking it up. David suggests that, if one models for the likely effects of such fertilisation, the CO2 drawdown effects are likely to be trivial. I have absolutely no reason to doubt this. However, I recently learned of the existence of salps, a swarm of which can purportedly consume sufficient phytoplankton to sequester 4000 tonnes of carbon per night. This amount does not appear to be trivial. While I can see that creating more phytoplankton blooms without an existing mechanism of “taking them down” is unlikely to be helpful, I wondered whether David’s model had considered the possible contribution of salps to sequestration. Obviously, the difficulties of widespread salp culture, in part by encouraging phytoplanton blooms with fertilisation, might well prove insuperable. I am merely seeking enlightenment, not advocating salp culture.

    David mentions offsets and his fear that they may be used with respect to ocean fertilisation. This tempts me into another question. Given that many, including James Hansen, believe that we must reduce atmospheric CO2 levels rather than stabilising them, what geoengineering sequestration methods would David advocate? Would, for example, he favour offsets for biochar or accelerated mineralisation? If we really need atmospheric CO2 drawdown, we should now be considering how to do it and how to pay for it. Could we have a follow up thread to the original one devoted to air capture?

    Comment by Douglas Wise — 10 Feb 2009 @ 5:31 AM

  200. > salps
    The idea’s been promoted a lot recently by a company called ‘Atmocean’ — here are a few stories.“climate+change”+CO2+atmocean

    My general comment on such is to quote this:

    “Biologically rational decisions
    may not be politically possible
    once investment has occurred.”
    Science 5 January 2007: Vol. 315. no. 5808, p. 45
    DOI: 10.1126/science.1135767

    SUSTAINABILITY: Anchovy Fishery Threat to Patagonian Ecosystem
    — Skewgar, Boersma, Harris, Caille

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 10 Feb 2009 @ 6:53 AM

  201. Here’s a small but cheerful straw in the wind–so to speak:

    “Ontario’s energy mix could be virtually 100 per cent coal-free by next year, especially if the government boosted conservation by residents and acted boldly with its upcoming green energy act, suggests a new report.”

    Of course, more of the replacement megawatts are coming from gas than wind, but still. . .

    Comment by Kevin McKinney — 10 Feb 2009 @ 10:41 AM

  202. On a related topic, here is a study on siting and generation consistency, based on Ontario’s wind capacity last year:

    (Ontario has the advantage of geographical extent in this regard, compared to most American states–1,076,395 km2, versus 696,241 km² for Texas.)

    Comment by Kevin McKinney — 10 Feb 2009 @ 11:54 AM

  203. The terms “irreversible” and “unstoppable” are two sides of the same coin. Taken within the context of climate change, they both mean the same thing, i.e. a process that is continually evolving independent of man-made influences. The climate is changing, and it will continue to change. It is a process that can not be stopped, and to tinker with it is to invite disaster. The answer to the anthropogenic component is to reduce or eliminate sources of pollution; persue the development of alternate energy sources and minimize all forms of wastage.

    Comment by James Cyr — 16 Feb 2009 @ 3:43 PM

  204. Are you the James Cyr from Canada who’s so active online opposing the militant soc-ia-lists there? thinks CO2 isn’t pollution? thinks burning fossil fuels isn’t tinkering with climate, but limiting use of them would be? Just curious if there’s any relation, or if you’re someone with similar misconceptions but interested in learning.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 16 Feb 2009 @ 4:11 PM

  205. I like the suggetion that climate models be provided over the internet for people to play with. My only thought is that that strategy is a good one for those of us who are suffuciently educated in Maths and science to be able to appreciate the implications of playing with the models and indeed with the concept of modelling in this way. The vast majority of people are not so well informed. These people are only going to learn their information from the TV News and maybe newspapers, particularly the lower quality ones. What can we do to help them?

    Comment by John Bartlett — 25 Feb 2009 @ 8:05 PM

  206. 205: there is one. One that can be run on a desktop PC.

    I can’t remember the linky, but someone here will do.

    And its existence hasn’t apparently helped (apparent may be more true than reality, since all that’s happened is that instead of wavering and not saying anything, they decided and aren’t saying anything).

    Comment by Mark — 26 Feb 2009 @ 4:59 AM

  207. I am amused by the above discussion. Nobody seems to have noticed that Fig 1. and Fig 2. in Solomon et al equate growth of CO2 emissions (over 3% pa until early 2008, already falling fast) with growth of the atmospheric concentration of CO2 at the same rate, although the actual growth of the latter has been only 0.4% p.a. over the whole period since 1958, and was slightly below that from Jan 08 to Jan 09. What has been happening since 1958 is that global biospheric absorption of CO2 emissions has grown roughly pro rata with emissions, resulting in the relatively slow growth of [CO2]. In physical terms, the absorption or uptake of emissions was 1.8 GtC in 1958-59, 5.29 GtC in 2006-07, and prelim est. 5.8-6.0 in 2007-2008. I do not know why Solomon et al chose to ignore this data (taken from the GCP which Schneider helped to set up). Any suggestions?

    [Response: Try reading the paper? If they had concentrations growing at 2% a year, then by 2100 they’d have 2300 ppmv. They don’t, therefore growth rates of concentrations are less, exactly as you would expect if you use the Bern CC model. Oh look! That’s what they say they did. Please note that we are singularly uninterested in your ‘amusing’ attempts to make stuff up. – gavin]

    Comment by Tim Curtin — 9 Mar 2009 @ 12:14 AM

  208. You want amusing, recollect this is the Tim Curtin who thinks that for CO2 to increase some other gas has to decrease by the same amount, because it’s “parts per million” — he’s never retracted that claim:

    Starting here:

    Digging himself deeper:

    The low point: where you’ll see:

    Posted by: Tim Curtin | June 24, 2006 9:00 AM. #48. Ian Gould: what do you understand by “parts per million”? Lesser earthlings like me think it means that …

    This is Curtin’s interpretation of Gresham’s Law as though it could be applied to atmospheres: bad molecules drive good molecules out of circulation. He’s said to be an economic adviser.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 9 Mar 2009 @ 10:39 AM

  209. Tim Curtin has more ‘alternative’ takes on science than even Hank’s links at #208 suggest. Amongst these notions are his claim that increased CO2 emissions are universally beneficial to the biosphere, and that if humans cease to emit carbon dioxide, the living world faces an imminent crisis of existence. He also believes that climatology and ecology are peopled by liars, frauds and incompetents.

    This thread on Deltoid is a long and painful case history of Curtin’s ideas, and his refusal to provide any scientific basis for his claims:

    Curtin has lately had an enormous bee in his bonnet about this paper of Solomon’s, about Chris Field, and about NAS and PNAS in general. In fact, he is so disturbed by these people, and by a number of other scientists (including Gavin) and by scientific journals, that he has been extremely free with what are surely libellous comments. If anyone is curious about the slander that he has produced, and doesn’t want to waste the time wading through the entire thread to find them, a sample is gathered at:

    According to Curtin, he stands by his disparagements, and is happy to confront lawyers. If it wasn’t for the fact that Curtin is an economics emeritus at the Australian National University, and that he fancies himself as a publishing author in ‘sceptical’ climatology and climatological economics, it would all just be tragically comic…

    Comment by Bernard J. — 11 Mar 2009 @ 9:50 AM

  210. Oh, come on, Gavin, if they can’t make stuff up then what would they have left to post?

    Comment by Jim Eager — 14 Mar 2009 @ 5:43 PM

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