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Volcanic vs. Anthropogenic CO2

Filed under: — group @ 4 August 2011

Guest Commentary by Terry Gerlach*

TV screen images of erupting and exploding volcanoes spewing forth emissions are typically spectacular, awesome, and vividly suggestive of huge additions of gas to the atmosphere. By comparison, the smokestack and exhaust pipe venting of anthropogenic emissions is comparatively unexciting, unimpressive, and commonplace. Consequently, it easy to get traction with the general public for claims that volcanic CO2 emissions are far greater than those of human activities, or that the CO2 released in some recent or ongoing eruption exceeds anthropogenic releases in all of human history, or that the threat of a future super-eruption makes concerns about our carbon footprint laughable. The evidence from volcanology, however, does not support these claims.
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Lu: from ‘interesting but incorrect’ to just wrong

Filed under: — gavin @ 5 July 2011

Some readers might recall a story from a couple of years of ago relating polar ozone depletion to cosmic rays and the subsequent failure of predictions made using that theory. The idea came from from a Qian-B. Lu (U. Waterloo), and initially seemed interesting (at least to those of us who were not specialists). Perhaps cosmic ray induced chemistry was playing some part in releasing chlorine from CFCs as well as the more accepted idea of heterogeneous chemistry on polar stratospheric particles? Lu’s predictions for increased polar ozone loss in 2008/2009 as a function of the low solar activity (and therefore higher CR flux) did not come to pass. Worse (for this idea), new analyses demonstrated that the hypothesized CR-induced CFC loss wasn’t detectable at all.
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Fracking methane

Filed under: — gavin @ 16 April 2011

The Howarth et al paper estimating the climatic impact of shale gas extraction by hydraulic fracturing (fracking) has provoked a number of responses across the media. Since the issue of natural gas vs. coal or oil, and the specifics of fracking itself are established and growing public issues, most commentary has served to bolster any particular commenter’s prior position on some aspect of this. So far, so unsurprising. However, one aspect of the Howarth study uses work that I’ve been involved in to better estimate the indirect effects of short-lived emissions (including methane, the dominant component of shale gas). Seeing how this specific piece of science is being brought into a policy debate is rather interesting.
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From blog to Science

Filed under: — gavin @ 13 February 2011

There is a lot of talk around about why science isn’t being done on blogs. It can happen though, and sometimes blog posts can even end up as (part of) a real Science paper. However, the process is non-trivial and the relatively small number of examples of such a transition demonstrate clearly why blog science is not going to replace the peer-reviewed literature any time soon.
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Getting things right

Filed under: — gavin @ 20 January 2011

Last Monday, I was asked by a journalist whether a claim in a new report from a small NGO made any sense. The report was mostly focused on the impacts of climate change on food production – clearly an important topic, and one where public awareness of the scale of the risk is low. However, the study was based on a mistaken estimate of how large global warming would be in 2020. I replied to the journalist (and indirectly to the NGO itself, as did other scientists) that no, this did not make any sense, and that they should fix the errors before the report went public on Thursday. For various reasons, the NGO made no changes to their report. The press response to their study has therefore been almost totally dominated by the error at the beginning of the report, rather than the substance of their work on the impacts. This public relations debacle has lessons for NGOs, the press, and the public.
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