RealClimate logo

Unforced Variations: Nov 2012

Filed under: — group @ 1 November 2012

I can’t think what people might want to talk about this month…

476 Responses to “Unforced Variations: Nov 2012”

  1. 51

    #29, Again to reinforce my statement claiming the effect of Excessive Open water over the Arctic Ocean:….jpg

    Play the animation and watch a newly forming blocking High influencing the Next N-Easter. It will be created by 2 Lows, one over Baffin Bay, the other over the Greenland, Barents and Kara seas (which is the likely culprit). Watch the normal over Greenland High be stretched Southwards into a ridge, then a blocking High.

    I was and will be dealing more with this on my blog site

    I praise the accuracy of the models, but one must look at the mechanics they display.

  2. 52
    Hank Roberts says:

    Steve, I’ve also asked Jim about calculating carbon numbers for wildland; also I’ve talked to these folks in Washington, who may be looking at Oregon and now California or know who is doing that:

    The details of their arithmetic are proprietary to their survey methods and last I knew focused on above-ground timber.

    I’ve been hoping they’ll come round to including assessment of underground live root mass, and the rest of the living biomass — basically considering forests for diversity rather than board feet.

    That would require looking at what’s been studied about how forests respond to disturbance, even when it’s something like horse-logging or highly selective intrusion.

    Lots _hasn’t_ been studied — somewhere in this audio file
    Bernie Krause talks about recording in a timber stand before it was carefully selectively logged and again afterward. He says that to the human eye, there was no important difference in the forest — they took out money trees with minimal disturbance — but that comparing the audio recordings before and after, and for a long while after, much that had lived there before the logging wasn’t heard afterward.

    That’s not something yet quantified by ecologists, as far as I know. It could be and should be.

    Heck, we should’ve gotten good audio recordings of the ocean before intensive whaling, shouldn’t we? I wonder if the world’s navies have an archive of old wire and tape recordings from the early military days that someone could get for that.

    Biodiversity _is_ carbon sequestration, in the best way — living carbon, keeping itself going.

    I recall that when a big tree falls in the forest — one with a large amount of heartwood, which is dead and just about sterile, all that mass very rapidly becomes living as fungus, and then insects, convert it. So a fallen tree changes from dead carbon to living carbon, if left in place.

    “The measure of a man’s wealth is what he can afford to leave alone.” — Thoreau.

    I’ve heard that same quote from folks who’ve been leaving their part of the world alone for decades. Good idea.

  3. 53
    Patrick 027 says:

    re 23 – David B. Benson – not yet. Thanks for the reminder!

  4. 54
    Eric Rowland says:

    @11, Let’s not dismiss Pielke, he’s a clever boy. It’s important to understand what he’s doing here. This WSJ opinion piece cloaked as a factual Hurricane Sandy in-the-light-of-history overview is just another vulgar hit piece on climate science and the scientists who work to expand our understanding of how the earth is adapting. Since it’s illustrative of the genre, the piece is worth deconstructing.

    Headline: Hurricanes and Human Choice. As he’ll point out, this is your fault.

    Paragraph 1: Acknowledge the obvious and follow up with a few non-controversial facts.

    Paragraph 2: Frame the opinion of your opponents with regard to this storm as the “new normal” and “unprecedented”. Then let your target audience know that through the magic of spreadsheet knowledge, you’ll prove that Sandy was only average in the world of awful outcomes. Bonus: Frame your opinion as reasonable and by comparison, your opponents as fanatics.

    Paragraph 3 & 4: Make your case regarding the hurricane. In the world of top 10 lists, Sandy was run-of-the-mill. In the world of killer weather, Sandy is a loser, (like those global warming fanatics).

    Paragraph 5: Save a juicy fact which may or may not matter to skewer “the media”. Bonus: The under-informed dislike “the media” and you’ve made the connection to those fanatics who see Hurricane Sandy as “unprecedented”.

    Paragraph 6, 7 & 8: Transition to a discussion of bad weather in general and point out how lucky we are today. Lay out some random tornado and drought stats and bring it home with a 1906 earthquake reference.

    Paragraph 9: Hey losers, did you see my headline, you live by water.

    Paragraph 10, 11 & 12: Humans “make their own luck” and experts should be congratulated. Bone chilling, your-on-your-own creepy. And of course, a warning with a wonkish reference.

    Paragraph 13: Finally, begin making your point…it’s a conspiracy. There is a “climate lobby” exploiting this weather event. Quote non-scientists making concerned points of view in the heat of a disaster.

    Paragraph 14: The red meat. Concede some ground to scientific consensus on climate change and make a hard right turn to introduce energy policy into the discussion as if this was relevant to the previous 13 paragraphs. Then hammer your only real point home, “…to connect energy policy and disasters makes little scientific or policy sense”. And pile on with a new centerpiece of climate denial,”…changes to energy policies wouldn’t have a discernible impact on future disasters for the better part of a century or more”.

    Paragraph 15: If you thought the set-up to this opinion piece was disturbing, here’s how to resolve our weather disaster issues: Look to the past for solutions.

    How far back, the Old Testament?

  5. 55
    Hank Roberts says:

    Hey, the free market provides hurricanes and people should be grateful. Did you ever hear of a hurricane in the USSR? Huh? Not a one. Pathetic failure of the managed economy.

    But the market provides. Once they got oligarchs, they started getting proper free market weather:

    Russia Today
    Tue, 17 Aug 2010
    “Strong winds and heavy rains are taking the place of the record heat which has been baking Central Russia since the middle of June. On Sunday, a hurricane hit north-western regions of the country….”

    You want creative destruction, you gotta do it right.

  6. 56
    Hank Roberts says:

    PS, when you hear about the shallow seabed north of Russia becoming a problem, or being explored — remember, there may be more there — known unknowns and unknown unknowns — besides sediment and methane clathrates:

  7. 57
    Ray Menard says:

    It seems, thus far the scientific community is going to miss it’s opportunity to educated the public while it has their attention. While we all realize it will take several years to figure out the exact degree of attribution for Sandy. Even a conclusion that it was 100% attributed, won’t mean much 3 years from now. It will get buried on page 5 of popular news outlets. Meanwhile Whatsupwithcrap will have cherry picked info from and fed misinformation to tens of millions of voters and their representatives by that point.

    Rather than delivering a nuanced message with a dozen caveats, scientist should be saying what they are sure of now:
    Average years we don’t even get to an “S” storm–but they are becoming more common;
    Major late season storms don’t happen very often in the historical records, look at the retired list for example (e.g. Camille, Andrew, Gilbert etc), but they seem to be happening and are projected to come more often.

    Perhaps most of all: Climate warming doesn’t express itself as some gradual change that removes a inch of coastline year by year–it comes as 20 foot storm surges from unprecedented events that wreck communities and turn those built on sand into new inlets and harbors.

    Trenberth’s comments were particularly disappointing; he seemed to completely miss the point that 1 C warming is an average made up as colder and warmer places–such as the extra 5 degrees that fueled this monster storm. Attribution should be looking at the tails not the means.

  8. 58
    Peter Backes says:

    @11 – Roger – Nice plug. Ever thought of changing your name to ‘Pangloss’?

  9. 59
    SecularAnimist says:

    Recommended reading:

    Why did Hurricane Sandy take such an unusual track into New Jersey?
    By Dr. Jeff Masters
    October 31, 2012

  10. 60
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re 55 Hank Roberts – “On Sunday, a hurricane hit north-western regions of the country” – meaning Russia? Northwestern Russia? Meaning somewhere near Scandinavia, but farther inland? A hurricane? Not an extratropical hurricane-strength storm but an actual hurricane? Not one of those polar lows that happens to be warm core (I can imagine something forming over the Baltic Sea), but an actual hurricane? Is that a trustworthy source?

    ReCAPTCHA says clickyH constantly. Okay. HHHHHH…

  11. 61
    Gerry Quinn says:

    Chris Dudley @28: “Roger has shifted from his prior metric of loss normalized to population to a new metric of loss normalized to a fraction of the overall economy”.

    And why not? As a metric it is not ideal but it is certainly better. What you really want for a metric of storm severity is, I guess, ‘Total damage’ divided by ‘Total storm-vulnerable stuff. If you are measuring the former in billions of dollars, then the overall economy is obviously a much better proxy for the latter than the total population.

    It’s not perfect, obviously: the stock of vulnerable stuff may not be proportional to the economy; the pattern of vulnerable stuff may have changed over the years; not all stuff is vulnerable to storm damage (e.g. intellectual property was probably largely unaffected).

    If you don’t like his analysis, feel free to propose a better metric.

  12. 62
    Patrick 027 says:

    (I can imagine something forming over the Baltic Sea) … in winter. I see that was August. All the more puzzling.

  13. 63
    Jim Larsen says:


    Yes, vapor barriers are critical, and their placement and perm ratings are the subject of ongoing debate. Doing things wrong leads to a rotting house.

    Wild VS managed forest? Personally, I think both are required. Continuing with my Vancouver Island experience, the difference between Cathedral Grove and my land was astounding. My land sequestered more carbon but Cathedral Grove had more rot, bugs, and bug-eaters. I disagree with you on the bio-sequestration issue. Primary producers absorb, but after that it’s carbon release all the way up the food chain. By taking primary producers and sequestering directly into log houses and berms, I avoided much of that release. Which produced more soil or groundwater? Dunno, but with my optimization of land contours and burying of slash, I’d bet mine did.

    Would I want provincial parks to follow my example? No way in ______. My little 5 acres was all about humanity’s use. Provincial parks are about, as you said, leaving it be. I think that’s a very good division, as wilderness does best in large chunks. I’d change the quote to:

    “The measure of a society’s wealth is what they can afford to leave alone.”

  14. 64
    David B. Benson says:

    Patrick 027 — Just a poor translation.

  15. 65
    Hank Roberts says:

    > What you really want for a metric of storm severity is

    Aw relax, it’ll dry out soon enough:

  16. 66
    Hank Roberts says:

    “… The Union of Concerned Scientists released a report on Friday analyzing how climate science was presented in two of News Corp’s biggest flagship properties, Fox News Channel and the Wall Street Journal, which sit atop the prime-time cable-television news viewership and national newspaper circulation lists, respectively.

    “Over a recent six-month period, Fox News misled prime-time viewers about climate science in 93 percent of the cases UCS examined — 37 of 40 instances. Meanwhile, in 39 of 48 instances in the Wall Street Journal opinion section, when climate science was addressed over a yearlong period, it was misrepresented or mocked, according to the report.

    “The only depictions of climate science in the Wall Street Journal’s opinion section that the group found legitimate were in letters from readers ….”

  17. 67
  18. 68
    Steve Fish says:

    Re- Comment by Hank Roberts — 3 Nov 2012 @ 11:41 AM:

    I just knew those damn Rooskies were causing global warming. Very sneaky- Melting the icecap with fission. We should stockpile ice.

  19. 69
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re 16 David B. Benson – finished reading Francis and Vavrus.

    parts of fig. 4 were a little hard to understand and it isn’t quite obvious that they are showing what they are intended to show, but maybe there’s good reason to process the data that way rather than in the ways I thought of. Anyway, focusing on the theoretical aspects (physics), they are saying:

    (see paragraph 5) summer sea ice loss leads to heating in fall and winter, this combines with larger poleward latent heat fluxes (Alexeev et al., 2005) to “contribute to AA” (arctic amplification).

    The 1000 to 500 mb thickness (proportional to temperature in that layer – the lower half of the atmosphere, approximately) increases with warming.

    from paragraph 5, describing thickness anomalies:

    During fall (Oct.–Dec.) statistically significant anomalies are
    apparent over much of the Arctic region, and during winter
    (Jan.–Mar.) a strong anomaly persists in the N. Atlantic and
    west of Greenland, along with positive areas at lower latitudes
    over Russia and the N. Pacific. Strong positive values during
    summer (Jun.–Sep.) occur mainly over high-latitude land
    areas, consistent with warmer, drier soils resulting from earlier
    snow melt [Brown et al., 2010]. Significant anomalies are
    absent in spring during recent years because heating that
    results from a reduced summer ice cover has dissipated and
    because high-latitude soils have not yet dried following snow

    Large (synoptic to planetary) horizontal scale flow away from the surface tends toward geostrophic balance (because the acceleration and especially the horizontal components of the other forces tend to be small relative to pressure gradient and coriolis forces in those conditions). Geostrophic winds align with isobars at a given geopotential height, thus with lines of constant geopotential on an isobaric surface (and also with the Montgomery Streamfunction on an isentropic surface, but that’s something for another day).

    Thus geostrophic vertical wind shear, in terms of the direction and rate at which geostrophic velocity changes with height, is proportional to thickness gradients (thus temperature gradients in the atmosphere) and directed along contours of thickness – hence a warm core cyclone decreases in strength with height; a vertically-limited cyclonic anomaly will be a region of (relative over quasi-horizontal distances) enhanced stratification (warm anomaly above, cool anomaly below), etc.

    The westerly flow generally increases with height through the troposphere in association with the general equatorward temperature gradient.

    From Francis and Vavrus again:

    arctic amplification (1000 to 500 mb) generally reduces the thickness gradient (1000 to 500 mb)

    This results in reduced westerly speed at 500 mb (**provided the surface pressure gradient does not increase too much in the equatorward direction – thus, that near-surface winds do not speed up too much in the (north-)westerly direction (north- because of friction))

    This also elongates waves (**if the east-west surface pressure variation is unchanged, then reducing the north-south pressure gradient will increase the north-south amplitude of waves in isobars (or geopotential contours on isobaric surfaces, or …etc.). One way to achieve a reduction in the 500 mb equatorward geopotential gradient is to keep that gradient the same at 1000 mb while decreasing the equatorward temperature gradient (see last paragraph). And one way to keep the east-west 500 mb geopotential variations (proprotional to pressure variations at the corresponding height) the same is to keep them the same at 1000 mb and keep the east-west temperature variation between 500 and 1000 mb the same as well.)

    A reduction in westerly speed will tend to slow the eastward motion of waves

    **(a displacement wave of a given shape and size will, provided some potential vorticity (PV) gradient, propagate at some speed through the fluid (phase propagation is westward when cyclonic PV increases poleward, which is typical; it increases with increasing wavelength; I think group velocity is in that case eastward relative to the wave phase lines, but can be westward relative to the fluid; it will also have a northward(southward) and/or upward(downward) component if phase planes tilt from NW to SE (NE-SW) and/or up-west to down-east (down-west to up-east) – group velocity is determined by the gradient of the frequency (following fluid motion) in wavevector space, but can be understood qualitatively by considering how strings of vortices of varying strength will act to create new vortices out of a PV gradient (draw a picture); fluid velocity must be added to find motion relative to a fixed surface (relative to the planet).)

    **(PV is proportional to (f + relative vorticity)/(fluid layer thickness or stratification (stability) given by the lapse rate in terms of potential density change over pressure); planetary vorticity = the coriolis parameter f, which varies over latitude (df/dy = beta, which is proprotional to cosine(latitude)); the poleward relative vorciticy gradient will peak in a westerly jet, especially a narrow jet; a gradient in stratification will also peak in such a jet if it is of limited vertical extent. A reduction of the thickness gradient below 500 mb combined with an increase above 500 mb would decrease the PV gradient via their implied effect on stratification; a slowing of the jet stream would also decrease the PV gradient via the effect on relative vorticity; the two are linked by geostrophic vertical shear. A poleward shift of the jet, if that were to occur, would reduce beta at the jet. All of these reductions would counteract the direct effect of fluid speed on Earth-relative wave propagation. However, one may give a first-approximation of some aspects of flow within the troposphere using a ‘shallow water’ model, where the 500 mb flow may be the only level … . Meanwhile, the jet maximum tends to be near the tropopause, which is typically above 500 mb although it has significant seasonal and weather-related variations (the tropopause generally slopes downward poleward, with downward steps occuring across jets, which can shift) (**don’t remember offhand how low it gets in winter) – the PV gradient is generally weak in the troposphere relative to the stratosphere; a freely-propagating wave-structure may not at any one level be freely propagating but some parts may force the propagation of other parts… Depending on how strongly the temperature gradient changes above 500 mb, the effective westerly speed of the whole troposphere may be reduced even if it increases at the tropopause – but how should this be weighted for waves propagation… And, wave propagation along a PV front (which can approximate a relatively narrow jet) has a different dispersion relationship than for a broad region of nearly-constant PV gradient, although it is qualitatively similar.)

    paragraph 8, citing Palmén and Newton, 1969: “and weaker flow is also associated with higher wave amplitudes” – it is implied this is independent of or additional to the effect of reduced thickness gradient on amplitude of waves in in isobars discussed above.

    paragraph 9: “ Higher amplitude waves also tend to progress more slowly.”

    This would not (at least given some simplifying approximations) be the case for PV waves of constant amplitude along phase lines within a region of constant PV gradient and flow, so far as I know. For waves weak enough to be described linearly, so far as I understand, if wavelength is unchanged, PV-anomaly-induced velocity is proportional to wave amplitude, and the rate of PV anomaly production is proportional to velocity, so a higher wave amplitude increases the rate of displacment just enough to keep wave propagation at the same speed.

    However, for waves on a sufficiently-narrow jet, approximated as a PV front, as wave amplitude (front displacement) grows, the marginal effect of each additional cyclonic or anticylonic anomaly is reduced via it’s greater distance from where the associated velocity fields must be acting on the PV front. I don’t know about PV fronts thoroughly but this is the most obvious way I can think of to explain slower wave propagation with increased amplitude.

    Also, for waves on a narrow jet rather than within a broad flow region, it can be helpful to distinguish between curvature (orbital) vorticity (cyclonic or anticyclonic in a trough or ridge, generally), shear vorticity (cyclonic or anticyclonic on the north or south edge of a westerly jet), and planetary vorticity (variations increase with wave amplitude). Curvature vorticity = angular frequency of circular motion = speed/turning radius = u/r = u*change in angle/distance, curvature vorticity is proportional to U*(Y/L)/L = U*Y/L^2 ; shear vorticity is proportional to U/width; planetary vorticity change along the jet is proportional to Y, where Y is amplitude as north-south distance. The sum of these vorticities must be constant or else balanced by horizontal divergence (required for geostrophic adjustment). Along a PV front, … I think divergence occurs going into a ridge, at least on the anticyclonic side, and … etc. … See Cushman-Roison

    Okay, that’s what I’ve got so far. Another important thing is troposphere-stratosphere interaction.

  20. 70
    Patrick 027 says:

    “The sum of these vorticities must be constant or else balanced” … the key thing about that is that you can vary shear vorticity by having trajectories cross from one side of the jet to the other going through the waves. This will tend to require some of the flow to enter or exit the jet in places.

  21. 71
    Chris Dudley says:

    I see more discussion of building standards set to handle risks with a 500 recurrence interval.

    The sea level rise studies that are best known look at the 100 year projections. It might be helpful if RC were to review what a 500 year standard might look like for coastal cities highlighting those publications which have given estimates for that far out. In some ways the problem gets easier the further out in time you go since there is a limit to the amount of ice that can melt.

  22. 72
    Hank Roberts says:

    > gets easier the further out in time you go
    > since there is a limit to the amount of ice that can melt.
    Contrariwise, the longer the time span,
    the higher the odds of a tsunami.

    E.g. “one tsunami reported about every fifteen to twenty years in Canada”

    It’s not the average level that does the damage.

  23. 73
    no_name_please says:

    Can someone please recommend a good book that discusses the economic side of the climate change issue?

  24. 74
    Chris Dudley says:

    Hank (#72),

    Not all coastal regions need to plan for tsunamis so that would seem to be a separate category though changing bathymetry might lead to different models for how they focus.

  25. 75
    Patrick 027 says:

    re my 2nd-to-last significant paragraph in 69:
    …”I don’t know about PV fronts thoroughly but this is the most obvious way I can think of to explain slower wave propagation with increased amplitude.

    Actually, it would, or at least would seem to, slow wave propagation *to the west* relative to the fluid flowing through a westerly (eastward) jet, which is the opposite of the effect being discussed. I think it would actually be due to the greater relative role of planetary vorticity variations as north-south displacment waves on a jet grow larger. This doesn’t affect a broad flow region because in that case, everything relevant tends to change in the same proportion with increasing amplitude, so far as I know.

  26. 76
    Steve Fish says:

    Re- Comment by Jim Larsen — 3 Nov 2012 @ 3:11 PM:

    You say- “My land sequestered more carbon but Cathedral Grove had more rot, bugs, and bug-eaters. I disagree with you on the bio-sequestration issue. Primary producers absorb, but after that it’s carbon release all the way up the food chain.”

    This statement is very far from what I thought was the case. I realize that it is vain for me to ask, but please provide some scientific justification for this and related statements.

    It is my understanding that a mature forest stores the most carbon in living wood. As soon as a forest is logged there is a short term (year or two) release of CO2 from about 1/3 of each tree in slash in the woods and from another sizable component of waste from manufacturing wood products. Boards, plywood, and other products have a life of between 5 and 100 years before they also break down and this is pretty short term relative to how long CO2 lasts in the atmosphere. There are a lot of studies that explore how to manage a commercial forest for maximum carbon storage, but if the goal is to use a forest as a permanent carbon sink it should be allowed to mature and remain untouched.

    [Response:As usual, lots of variation in those things, depending on species, climate, etc. Short rotation forestry can be made to work in sequestering C, depending on a number of factors, not the least of which is the time scale in question (because biomass does asymptote in any forest, hence net C flux approaches zero. That doesn’t happen in rotation forestry, and thus, time scale matters for total net flux). The more important arguments for leaving forests alone remain those related to hydrology, microclimate, and depending on forest type, biodiversity (among others).–Jim]


  27. 77
    David B. Benson says:

    Patrick 027 — Thank you.

  28. 78
    Jim Larsen says:

    76 Steve Fish said, ” I realize that it is vain for me to ask, but please provide some scientific justification for this and related statements. It is my understanding that a mature forest stores the most carbon in living wood. As soon as a forest is logged there is a short term (year or two) release of CO2 from about 1/3 of each tree in slash in the woods and from another sizable component of waste from manufacturing wood products.”

    I assume you’re talking about last month’s GE conversation. Did you read my final comment? In any case, the issue was that nobody prior to you asked me to cite diddly even though I begged whined and screamed, “Cite what?” You have no reason to expect that I won’t back up or adjust my statements. I think we’ll both learn from this conversation.

    First a quibble. Old growth trees are mostly dead wood, not live.

    “The outer 4 to 20 annual rings (referred to as sapwood) are usually alive and light-colored. Wood in the center of a large tree (referred to as heartwood) is composed of dark-colored, dead cells used for storage. ”

    [Response:If it’s part of a live tree, it’s considered alive, even if the heartwood is dead, for purposes of C accounting.]

    Cathedral Grove is aptly named. It is awesome. If you ever get to VI, visit it.

    I’ll base this comment on

    The paper repeatedly highlights that the science is variable and often unknown, so we’re stepping into a nebulous topic. Here’s a start:

    Trees follow an S-shaped growth curve. Old growth forests are more a carbon storage depot than a carbon sequestering system (though they’re both) By preventing old-growth, you increase productivity. My “sequestered more carbon [per year per acre]” was based on this fact.

    “Productivity for commercially usable wood generally follows an S-shaped curve, with the volume growing at an increasing rate for many years, to a point known to foresters as the culmination of mean annual increment (generally taking 20 to 100 years or more, depending on the fertility of the site and the tree species), and then growing at a decreasing rate for many more years. In theory, forests can eventually become “over-mature,” where the loss of commercial volume through tree mortality equals or exceeds the additional growth on the remaining trees. However, one study has shown that some old-growth (“over-mature”) forests continue to accumulate carbon in their soils.”

    Your comment about slash doesn’t apply to my case. I took care to try and preserve the slash. I don’t know how successful I was, and consider my efforts an experiment. My hope is that I sequestered the carbon for centuries, and hope the percentage that ends up dirt will be larger than in old-growth. By placing the slash underground, “stuff” can be taken up by the next generation of plants. The cite seems to agree with that last bit.

    [Response:Slash refers to branches and foliage. It decomposes fast, compared to the tree bole. It will only last a few decades at most, generally.]

    Sawmill losses aren’t relevant. They displace pulpwood, fossil fuels, and peat via paper, pellet stoves and gardening products. In any case, since I sent my logs to where they’d be used whole, the losses were minor.

    “Most (more than 95%) of the bark and sawdust are either used as pulp to make paper or burned to produce energy (thus substituting for timber used in papermaking or for fossil fuels); less than 5% of waste wood from sawmills ends up in landfills.”

    Whole logs covered by a roof only last 100 years?? Naw, that carbon is sequestered “forever”. The biggest risk is fire, and that risk applies to old-growth forests as well.

    [Response:Nope, it’s going to decay, at a roughly exponential rate with time.–Jim]

    My technique disturbed lots of soil. Digging ponds does that. I can’t tell you how much carbon I released doing that, but it surely is significant.

    Then there’s “leakage” (see cite). We use wood. It has to come from somewhere. Deciding to go old-growth is a decision to log elsewhere, not a decision to not log, though a system combining old growth and tree farms is also a reasonable solution.

    So, I released some carbon, buried some carbon, prevented runoff, increased the primary productivity of my land, reduced fossil fuel use (pellets), used fossil fuel, and provided material that prevented some clear-cutting (the most common forestry technique on VI is clear cutting while leaving seed-trees) and will sequester carbon “forever”. I also made money which went into further carbon savings (a big chunk of my 2004 Prius).

    Compared to your example, well, we both did quite well for the planet.

  29. 79
    Jim Larsen says:


    You surely know more than I do, so I’d appreciate your opinion.

    Burying slash aboveground provided tremendous personal value. Ponds kept my well well-fed. The noise abatement and privacy made walking onto my property like walking onto an uninhabited planet. The deer loved it too. Clover and rye and a view of potential threats ensured they dropped their fertilizer right on top of my berms.

    BUT, was I climatically foolish in a methane sort of way?

    [Response:Not at all, methane only forms under anaerobic conditions (i.e. permanent inundation). But at the same time, burying logs is not going to give you the permanent C storage you’re thinking either. It may slow down decay, depending on the specifics of how you did it, but not greatly (with the possible exception of western redcedar). There are advantages in terms of soil structure and fertility however.–Jim]

  30. 80
    Steve Fish says:

    Re- Jim Bouldin inline comment, 4 Nov 2012 @ 3:37 PM:

    Thanks again. One further clarification- My assertion was that in a mature forest with large trees, where CO2 absorption and release are pretty much balanced, the total amount of stored carbon is greater than in any managed timber production zone.

    [Response:Correct, assuming same forest type, climate, soils etc.]

    In other words, with even careful logging, stored carbon in live trees minus the immediate release of CO2 from waste and intermediate term release from forest products, on average, add up to a smaller carbon sink than the same forest left to mature.

    [Response:No, not necessarily, and that’s where the time factor that I mentioned before comes into play. The important point there is that biomass asymptotes, following a generally sigmoid curve. So the structural condition of the forest at time zero is important, as is the lifetime of the wood product produced before ending up in a landfill, both of which can be fairly big wild cards–Jim]

    This view may be biased by discussions with park rangers regarding redwood parks, like Hendy Woods and Prairie Creek, but the logic would seem to apply to any forest.

    [Response:Right, the biomass carrying capacity enters into the computations as well–extremely high for all the west coast conifer forests, especially redwood.]

    My cursory web search brought up studies, such as, Birdsey, 2006 and Winjum, 1998 that appear (with some digging) to support my assertion. I don’t plan to log my property, but this is certainly one of several factors for setting up my estate for my children and grandchildren. Obviously biodiversity is also a big personal factor. Steve

  31. 81
    Jim Larsen says:

    80 Steve Fish said, “in a mature forest with large trees, where CO2 absorption and release are pretty much balanced, the total amount of stored carbon is greater than in any managed timber production zone. In other words, with even careful logging, stored carbon in live trees minus the immediate release of CO2 from waste and intermediate term release from forest products, on average, add up to a smaller carbon sink than the same forest left to mature.”

    Quite a bold assertion. If you’re correct, then forests have a hard limit in climate change mitigation. We can use them up to, but no further than old-growth carbon storage. Beyond that is impossible. I surely hope you’re wrong.

    In any case, provide some documentation for your amazing claim. So far, we’ve only seen evidence you’re wrong. My example of semi-permanent sequestration of huge amounts of carbon every few decades flies in the face of your assertion that “any managed” just won’t do.

    Cite, please.

  32. 82
    Jim Larsen says:


    In your answer, be sure to include the CO2 emissions from metal studs and other construction materials required to replace wood. Unlike logs, they emit carbon but sequester none, and really, complete replacement is still impossible. Perhaps that’s the key component you’re missing. Utility removed = utility that MUST be replaced and accounted for carbon-wise.

    I’m learning here, and enjoying your honest discussion. Thanks.

  33. 83
    Jim Larsen says:

    Steve Fish,

    Thanks for the links. The first says the USA’s forests absorb 10% of our emissions and with intensive effort could absorb 20-30%. Big number. Do you know any details?

    I love what you’re doing with your land, and have been pondering about oasis VS large tract for wilderness. Just a thought, but perhaps you could get both by posthumously selling with a no-logging stipulation and buying a piece next to a wilderness to donate.

  34. 84
    Jim Larsen says:

    Going the other way from log homes are SIPs. OSB bonded to foam makes for great insulation, is airtight, has no vapor problems, and is extremely strong. OSB is often made from farmed trees. Tree farms are kinda spooky. Row after row after row….

  35. 85
    Alan Fox says:

    I recently came across a paper on ecology and economics, produced for the UK government, attempting to put a monetary value on the benefits of setting up Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). These are basically areas where damaging activities (principally commercial fishing) are limited or stopped completely. The headline conclusion was that by protecting about 10% of UK territorial and offshore waters (out to 200 miles), the financial benefits could be up to £23,529,359,297 over 20 years, or £2,000,576,146 annually. I started to get interested when I noticed that about 75% of that benefit was categorised as Gas/climate regulation.

    The paper can be found here I think basically the same work has been published in a proper peer-reviewed journal, Ecological Economics:
    Hussain, S.S., Winrow-Giffen, A., Moran, D., Robinson, L.A.., Fofana, A., Paramor, O.A.L. and Frid, C.L. (2010) An ex ante ecological economic assessment of the benefits arising from marine protected area designation in the UK. Ecological Economics 69, 828–838.

    The Gas/Climate Regulation calculation basically estimates annual carbon sequestration in UK seas, assigns a value based on a UK Government ‘Shadow Carbon Price’ of £117/tonne C (£32.10/tonne CO2), estimates how this might be increased by MPAs. This leads to a maximum annual benefit of £1,503,211,932 from extra carbon sequestration by assigning 10% of UK seas to MPAs (Table 30, I love their precision).

    You can of course step straight back to carbon sequestration forecasts by dividing by the assumed carbon price. This leads to the the estimate that making 10% of UK waters MPAs could absorb an extra 47 million tonnes of CO2 per year. This equates to about 8% of UK annual emission. Leading to the conclusion that if we made all UK seas MPAs we would meet our 80% reductions in net CO2 emissions overnight.

    The numbers get even better if you just look at Scotland (not in the paper but a further study not yet published). Scotland could get all its Carbon sequestered in the ocean by just assigning MPAs to 30% of its seas.

    Now either they have discovered the secret way to reduce atmospheric CO2, and possibly that climate change could be due to overfishing ;), or there is a serious flaw in the argument. I suspect it is the latter. I just posted this to see if someone with enough knowledge of the ocean carbon cycle could tell me where that flaw is.

    I suspect the estimation that primary production can be used as a proxy for carbon sequestration (particularly in shelf seas) is wrong. Possibly also the estimate that setting up MPAs could double primary production.

    This possibly needs a response to be published by Ecological Economics, as the financial numbers appear to have gained some credibility – particularly among people in the UK campaigning for MPAs to be set up. I have been in touch with the lead author expressing my doubts but can’t get much beyond the ‘it is peer reviewed, cited and accepted by UK Government’ stage.

    I hope someone can help.

  36. 86
    wili says:

    The first three sites that come up from googling “logging co2 emissions” speak against logging as an effective way of sequestering CO2. I have seen many other articles and posts that say the same thing. I am sure, as Jim (the mod) said above, that the details get complicated as you look at particular kinds of forests, extraction methods, end use of wood products…

    But at this point it looks to me as if it is in Jim Larsen’s court to prove (or support with studies…) that his logging activity leads to net carbon sequestration. One also wonders how much CO2 was emitted from chain saw(s), truck(s) moving timber, meat eaten by the logger(s)…

    [Response:Something of an apples and oranges thing going on here. Jim’s general point that forests can serve as an ongoing C sink is correct as I’ve explained above. We need to be specific about the situations being discussed–plantation forestry’s going to have a whole different dynamic than do non-managed forests, which in turn differ one from another based on all kinds of things. Avoid the temptation to over-generalize or come to any one single conclusion on C sequestration and forest management–Jim]

    Thanks to all for an interesting discussion.

  37. 87
    Hank Roberts says:

    > pondering about oasis VS large tract for wilderness….
    > … selling with a no-logging stipulation
    > and buying a piece next to a wilderness to donate.

    Or doing something completely different, like
    woody agriculture, e.g. to woody Ag.html
    which turned into

  38. 88
    flxible says:

    Model your forest instead of speculating. The lions share of forest carbon storage is in the soil.

    [Response:Sometimes. Depends on the forest type, soils, disturbance regime, climate and time.–Jim]

    The operational-scale Carbon Budget Model of the Canadian Forest Sector (CBM-CFS3) is an aspatial, stand- and landscape-level modeling framework that simulates the dynamics of all forest carbon stocks required under the Kyoto Protocol (aboveground biomass, belowground biomass, litter, dead wood and soil organic carbon).

  39. 89
    Hank Roberts says:

    Jim, are carbon models that could be used by individuals making personal choices, or by the carbon-trading programs like California’s just started, getting serious peer review anywhere? (Feel free to answer on your own blog, if pertinent)

    [Response:Really don’t know Hank. The lack of a C market has hindered the whole thing. A lot of those type of things are biometrically based, using tree dimensions–and there are large uncertainties in those. I think we need a much better network of flux towers measuring atmostpheric C flux directly, and then tie those to the biometric data, for validation thereof.–Jim]

    I’m thinking of some acres of old temperate forest wildlife habitat I’ve left alone for decades, that has a few good neighbors around it who’d like to work up a larger scale longterm biodiversity plan.

    Nobody’s got money to do it, and as the current owners get older, the market will grind it all up, unless someone can take responsibility for it.

    For anyone who’s owned and then sold a biologically diverse parcel — look at it a decade or two later and see what shape it’s in. Got pictures?

  40. 90
    Tom Adams says:

    #47 Chris Colose

    I think Hay is just talking about Artic/N. Canada/Greenland ice, >1 meter SLR this century, Greenland melting fast. But the open ended quote is a bit confusing.

    Anyways Hay presented at AGS yesterday I think, so maybe we will here more at Real Climate in the future.

    “You can lose most of the Greenland ice cap in a few hundred years, not thousands, just under natural conditions. There’s no telling how fast it can go with this spike of carbon dioxide we are adding to the atmosphere.”

    Natural record = a few hundred years, Human caused = not telling how fast

  41. 91
    Jim Larsen says:

    86 wili said, ” it looks to me as if it is in Jim Larsen’s court to prove (or support with studies…) that his logging activity leads to net carbon sequestration”

    Net carbon sequestration is easy. You’d have to do some serious violence to a young forest to miss that low bar. (Then again, humans are great at missing low bars – steep slope clear cutting to make disposable chopsticks or single-use plywood concrete forms?) Log homes and buried slash are pure sequestration. The only negative which counters that is soil disturbance. And do you count that against pond-digging or logging?

    No study is going to account for the issues in my personal experiment – and that’s some of the value, perhaps, of my work. Twenty years from now my berms can be inspected to see how they’re doing.

    When I first got to the east coast of VI, I was amazed at how little people worried about protecting wood products. Extra boards lay on the ground under the eves in back of garages. No rot. No bug damage. In winter it’s too cool, and it’s incredibly dry in summer. Wood lasts a long time, but leaving slash on the ground is beyond foolish. They often shut down logging operations because of the fire hazard. That personal experience gave rise to my technique of protecting the slash from both fire and water while improving the diversity of my land. The hope for centuries of sequestration is just a hope, probably vain, but it is based on reasonable analysis of personal experience.

    I’m certainly proud of my efforts, and am obviously potentially biased by that fact. I was very clear going in that this subject is nebulous and full of unknowns, so much so that proof is surely impossible, especially when a rare (unique?) technique is used. To me, this is a topic about learning and speculating, but hard conclusions aren’t in the cards. As Mod Jim said, it’s complicated and it depends. Heck, move to the west side of the island, which is a rain forest, and the results could be completely different. As I said, leaving it be and managing primarily for carbon and water conservation while providing humanity with critically needed products are both grand, and both are needed. Depending on how one cooks the books, one can surely “prove” one is superior to the other, and vice versa.

  42. 92
    Jim Larsen says:

    89 Hank,

    Just an opinion, but biological diversity is probably best enforced by no-logging clauses in sales contracts. Buyers generally don’t care about the value of timber (thousands of dollars per acre). They usually just love the woods. It’s only later, when The Bank demands payment, that they notice that their current monetary woes can be fixed with a logging spree.

    So, if you and your neighbors want to go old-growth, just stipulate it.

    Hmmm, why does this make me think of Bain Capital?

    And one if the reasons I pushed this topic was to learn about it. Quotes describe forests by their commercial lumber potential or their biodiversity. Such a spread in priorities surely leads to nonsensical conclusions. Even things like landfilling used lumber has orders of magnitude error bars. Some landfills are grand sequestration tools. Others are great methane seeps.

  43. 93
    Chris Korda says:

    Chris Dudley, Patrick: Regarding our previous topic of modeling RCP temperatures, there’s been an important development. In my travels I discovered that NOAA’s Geophysics Fluid Dynamics Laboratory has used their CM3 Coupled Physical Model to project temperatures for RCPs. They show a graph about halfway down the page that looks superficially similar to the graphs we were working on last month. They may be using an earlier version of AR5 data, because one of the pathways they show (RCP2.6) is unknown to me, but the other three (4.5, 6, 8.5) are familiar.

    It’s difficult to accurately compare to their results using their graph alone, because the time axis is so compressed, and also because their temperatures are relative to the year 2000 instead of pre-industrial. Nevertheless I attempted a rough comparison by superimposing my graphs onto theirs, and the results were unsettling to say the least. The best fit I got was to my “fast” response graph. In this first example the superimposition is such that both axes are correctly aligned in terms of scale, though the temperature axis is shifted by about a degree to account for CM3’s different origin of 0ºC in 2000. Notice that the fit is terrible, not even close! The CM3 graph shows temperatures accelerating much faster than any of my graphs do. My graphs for the other responses (intermediate and slow) are even worse because those climate responses accelerate even more slowly. All this made me curious, so I tried stretching the CM3 graph’s temperature axis, while leaving the time axis correctly aligned, and lo and behold, suddenly the fit is pretty good! Even the historical portion fits OK. This is totally unexpected, and makes me wonder if there could possibly be a problem with units somewhere.

    Of course it would better to have the actual data from which the CM3 graph was generated. I made an effort to obtain it but there are some obstacles. The CM3 data portal is a complicated javascript engine with many pages of parameters, and it’s not at all obvious how to set all the parameters correctly to obtain the exact same data they used to create their graph. In addition, the resulting download would be in the exotic NetCDF format. A NetCDF add-in is available for Excel 2007, but I haven’t tried it yet. I did email the CM3 contact asking for assistance (or better yet a CSV spreadsheet!), but I haven’t heard anything back yet.

    Anyway, if NOAA has it right (and let’s face it, they have way more practice!) my predicted 2035 temperatures for RCP8.5 (slow=1.2ºC, med=1.5ºC, fast=1.7ºC, relative to pre-industrial) are all too conservative. As you can see clearly enough in this <a annotated version of the CM3 graph, CM3’s 2035 projection for RCP8.5 is 1.7ºC relative to the year 2000, or ~1ºC worse than my “fast” response projection. Sobering news if true, but overall I must confess I’m sorely confused and would greatly appreciate any assistance!

  44. 94
    flxible says:

    Jim Larsen – You likely were in a different area of the Island than I, but locally “used” lumber and domestic “slash” isn’t landfilled, it’s ground up as carbon and bulking for controlled biosolids composting, a much better way to generate humus than simply burying. The pictures here are from our plant, where virtually no wood waste goes in the landfill.

  45. 95
    Hank Roberts says:

    >no logging
    That’s why I mentioned Bernie Krause.
    We don’t even know what we’ve lost, until someone quantifies and routinizes his work for example.

  46. 96
    David B. Benson says:

    Climate Modeler Identifies Trigger for Earth’s Last Big Freeze, i.e., Younger Dryas:
    This agrees with the field geology evidence that Proglacial Lake Agassiz drained down the Mackenzie River into the Arctic Ocean.

  47. 97
    Bob Loblaw says:

    Jim Larsen @ 91: “Net carbon sequestration is easy. You’d have to do some serious violence to a young forest to miss that low bar.

    You seem to be casting broad, sweeping generalizations again. In boreal forests, much of the carbon is in the soil. When old growth is removed, soils and surface detritus are exposed to more sunlight and higher temperatures, and much of the soil carbon will decompose rapidly – much more rapidly than any growth in the “young” forest (new tree growth). As the other Jim keeps pointing out, it depends on the particular ecosystem you’re talking about.

  48. 98
    Chris Korda says:

    Correction to #93: The last sentence should be, “CM3′s 2035 projection for RCP8.5 is 1.6ºC relative to the year 2000″ (not 1.7)

  49. 99
    Steve Fish says:

    Re- Comment by Jim Larsen — 5 Nov 2012 @ 6:16 PM:

    You say- “Net carbon sequestration is easy.”

    Yes, all you have to do is let the forest grow and leave it alone.

    You say- “Log homes and buried slash are pure sequestration.”

    No, see Jim Bouldin’s responses to you above. If you bury wood to sequester carbon it had better be in the desert (and be redwood or eastern black locust in addition to Bouldin’s red cedar). If it rains at all, and you didn’t provide a pretty tight and durable moisture barrier membrane around the wood, then the fungi are already in there and the wood will be decomposed very soon. You might as well just grind it up and compost it.

    Wood products in structures, even if kept dry, start decomposing almost immediately but slowly if kept dry. But their ultimate life is often not due as much to dry rot and termites, but because the structure is no longer wanted because of style, overall condition, or other building or land use reasons. The second link in my question for Jim Bouldin gives the average life of a wood structure as about 1%/year. Can you guarantee that the log home will be here in 50 years?

    [Response:I agree. The complete lack of ability to guarantee what happens to the wood products after they are purchased/used is a major limitation to the certainty that rotation forestry can serve as an ongoing C sink, and an argument for the case of leaving forests alone. It’s also questionable as to how much of a dent you could really put in the atmospheric C content, given the land base required.–Jim]

    Overall, the primary importance of forests as carbon sinks for reducing atmospheric CO2 has to do with the maximum carbon that they can practically store and this is potentially very large. Otherwise, it is worthwhile keeping in mind that trees don’t contain fossil carbon. If I allow a tree to grow, it has removed and sequestered CO2 from the atmosphere. If I chop it down and burn it for firewood, I would be releasing the same carbon that was sequestered previously= net zero. Steve

  50. 100

    That is so weird that you mention the Younger Dryas because Carlson’s latest comprehensive review of the literature comes to a very different conclusion.

    Who is a fun loving guy to believe? 30 percent, as opposed to 15 percent, when water was more or less hemorrhaging off the continents everywhere?