Almost 3000 non-science major undergraduates at the University of Chicago have taken PHSC13400, Global Warming: Understanding the Forecast, since Ray Pierrehumbert and I (David Archer) first developed it back in 1995. Since the publication of the textbook for the class in 2005 (and a much-cleaned-up 2nd edition now shipping), enrollment has gone through the roof, it’s all I’ve been able to teach the last few years, trying to keep up with demand. I hear it is the largest class on campus, with 4-500 students a year out of an annual class of only around 1400. Now the content of this class is being served to the internet world at large: Open Climate 101.
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I’ve put together an easy-to-play-with online model of methane in the atmosphere. I’m going to use it for teaching along with the rest of the Understanding the Forecast webmodels, but it was designed to be relevant to the issue of abrupt new methane burps as we’ve been ruminating about lately on Realclimate. More »
Let’s suppose that the Arctic started to degas methane 100 times faster than it is today. I just made that number up trying to come up with a blow-the-doors-off surprise, something like the ozone hole. We ran the numbers to get an idea of how the climate impact of an Arctic Methane Nasty Surprise would stack up to that from Business-as-Usual rising CO2
That’s the rate that people are releasing carbon to the atmosphere from fossil fuel combustion and deforestation today. I know, it’s apples and oranges; carbon in the form of oil is more immediately toxic to the environment than it is as CO2 (although CO2 may be more damaging on geologic time scales). But think of it — five thousand spills like in the Gulf of Mexico, all going at once, each releasing 40,000 barrels a day, every day for decades and centuries on end. We are burning a lot of carbon!