Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Explanation for End of Last Severe Global Warming Episode

The last time there was a severe global warming the episode, which was 55 million years ago, it may have been terminated by an increase in ocean plant life. The Discovery Channel news site reports that a team of scientists led by Adina Payton from the University of California at Santa Cruz arrived at this conclusion as a result of finding increased accumulations of barite (barium sulfate) in the ocean sediment. Barite forms when barium, which is in animal tissues, combines with sulfur. This reaction occurs when the barium saturates water, and therefore, when large amounts of dead plants have accumulated on the ocean bottom. The scientists published their findings in the journal Geology. The Discovery article quotes climate expert James Zachos, who was not a member of the research team, as saying that “this process is slow and thus lags the buildup of carbon in the atmosphere." Slow is right. According to Payton, the process of barium accumulation lasted for about 170,000 years. Nevertheless, the findings of this study might give a boost to proponents of schemes to sequester carbon dioxide by spurring the growth of algae or seaweed. Such schemes should even seem more attractive in the future if global efforts to reduce carbon emissions come up empty.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Positive Feedback Releasing Methane Drove Global Warming 55 Million Years Ago

When climate scientists say that global warming will become unstoppable if we fail to soon reduce greenhouse emissions what they mean is that positive feedback mechanisms will kick in which will make our future actions to limit emissions basically irrelevant. Science Daily reports that there is now evidence from a warming period 55 million years that warming was amplified by a release of methane from icy methane hydrates in sediments below the sea. A team of researchers reported in a letter published in Nature that evidence of such an event was found in sediments in the ocean floor off New Jersey. During this global warming period of the past global temperatures rose 6 C (almost 11 F). This research seems to provide yet more evidence that unless measures are quickly adopted to reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally we are headed for a catastrophic future.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

2007 on Course for Fifth Warmest Year

According to the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 2007 will wind up as the fifth warmest year since recordings of global temperatures began. If this prediction is accurate 2007 will edge out 2006 for a spot in the top five. The NCDC says that the temperatures so far this year rank it as the fourth warmest on record but La NiƱa conditions will prevent it from staying ahead of 2003. Seven of the eight warmest years, counting this year, have occurred since 2001 suggesting an ominous trend. The NCDC says that global temperatures are increasing by about 0.15 C (0.27 F) per decade which is three times as fast as the average increase in global temperature last century. It is projected that if greenhouse gases from human sources continue to increase that the the global temperature will keep increasing by about 0.15 C per decade throughout the rest of the century well into the range where predictions of catastrophic climate change would occur.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Sea Level Rise May Be Double Previous Predictions

The greater than predicted melting of ice from increasing temperatures that has been observed recently has made it very difficult for scientists to predict with confidence how high sea levels will rise during the rest of this century. According to an article in Reuters scientists on the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change have suggested that the increase in sea level would be about 32 inches at most. This figure has now been challenged by a report published in Nature Geoscience which predicts a potential rise of as high as 64 inches. The research team, led by Eelco Rohling of National Oceanography Centre in Britain, made the estimate based on studies of the interglacial of about 124,000 to 119,000 years ago. During this period sea level reached about 20 feet above the present level. The researchers, who found that each century during this period there was an average sea level rise of 64 inches, contend that their study is the first to provide really good documentation of how quickly sea level can rise.
This report seems to continue a trend of mostly bad scientific news. It was just reported a few days ago that the Arctic may be free of ice during the summer in as little as 5 years. This time frame has quickly shrunk from a 100 years to 35 years to about 60 months. It is logical that these types of reports would spur leaders to act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as possible but this does not appear to be the case.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Bali Summit Leaves Lots of Unanswered Questions in Its Wake

It appears that US did not succeed in completely wrecking the UN Summit in Bali on global warming that just ended. According to a report in The Guardian, after opposition to the refusal of the US to cooperate grew so intense it finally conceded a point and agreed to stop opposing technological and financial assistance to the poorer counties. But the US did succeed in removing from the final document all references to specific reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, which probably was its main objective. So while the process moves forward, perhaps concluding with a final agreement by the end of 2009, it remains unclear where the process is headed. The science says that at a minimum greenhouse gas emissions must be stabilized by 2015 and reductions of about 80% from 1990 levels must occur by 2050. There is nothing in the final Bali document to acknowledge these goals which are aimed at preventing catastrophic climate change.

Politically, it appears that to have any hope of avoiding this impending catastrophe three things have to happen in the US elections next November: the Democrats retain control of the House, the Democrats win the Senate by several seats, and a Democrat or John McCain is elected president. Unless those three things fall into place there doesn’t seem to be any reason to continue to hold out hope. Even if those three things happen there still is no reason for any optimism. At the moment, the problem of limiting climate change seems overwhelming.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

IPPC Leader Says Developing Countries Need Increase in Carbon Emissions

Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (ICPCC) recently said when the IPCC released its fourth report of the year that "If there's no action before 2012, that's too late. What we do in the next two to three years will determine our future. This is the defining moment." It is hard to but it better than that. However, it appears the “we” which Pachauri refers to includes only the developed countries because in a statement made at the world conference on climate change being held in Bali, Indonesia he said that to get millions people out of poverty developing nations need to boost carbon emissions. In an AFP article Pachauri is quoted as saying that “If you have the case of India, a half billion people who do not even have electricity, what mitigation (of carbon emissions) can you carry out?”

Pachauri’s view is opposite to the conclusion from a report by the Center for Global Development (CGD) which I described yesterday. That report said that an increase in carbon emissions by developing counties to get large populations out of poverty would result in catastrophic climate change regardless of what developed countries did. Perhaps the president of the CGD, Nancy Birdsall, has the answer to this dilemma when she says as reported in DailyIndia that “To avoid a shared global disaster, we in the rich countries need to cut our own emissions quickly and do much more to help developing countries shift to a low-carbon future while at the same time meeting the just aspirations of their people for a better life.” The latter task is likely to be a tough sell in the developed countries but it may be our best hope.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Report Says Developing Countries Need to Curtail Carbon Emissions

The idea that severe climate change can be prevented by developed countries sharply cutting back on carbon emissions while developing countries continue to increase emissions to lift their populations out of poverty has been dealt a blow by a report from the Center for Global Development which concluded that the developing countries too must back and soon. According to, the report, which has the long title of “Another Inconvenient Truth: A Carbon-Intensive South Faces Environmental Disaster, No Matter What the North Does,” found that even if emissions from the North suddenly dropped to zero emissions from the South alone would drive atmospheric carbon dioxide levels past 450 ppm by 2060, generally regarded as the point where climate change has catastrophic consequences. The lead author, David Wheeler, is quoted as saying that “Our results reveal the dangerous fallacy in the notion that the South can utilize carbon-intensive growth to dramatically increase incomes--a kind of last-minute, fossil-fueled development push--before the onset of catastrophic climate change.” To make matters worse, Wheeler claims that the conclusions of the report are on the conservative side because it only included carbon dioxide emissions, leaving out other greenhouse gases and the effects of positive feedbacks. All in all, it is a grim picture that emerges as the meeting about what do to after the Kyoto Protocol ends takes place in Bali, Indonesia.