An Inconvenient Truth

An Inconvenient Truth

John Reid

A new satellite, OCO-2, shows that most CO2 is coming from the rain forests and rice paddies of the Third World.

This is what was expected:

GEOS-5 predicted CO2 concentrations for 13 November 2006
GEOS-5 predicted CO2 concentrations for 13 November 2006

This is what was observed:

OCO-2 observed mean CO2 concentrations for the period 1 October to Nov 11 2014 (see previous post).
OCO-2 observed mean CO2 concentrations for the period 1 October to Nov 11 2014 (see previous post).

After three decades of breast beating, a single set of observations by NASA satellite OCO-2 has shown that the conventional wisdom about CO2 is fundamentally wrong. Prior to launching the satellite NASA developed a numerical model called GEOS-5 to predict where concentrations of CO2 were likely to occur and to help interpret the satellite data. A super-computer used the model to generate daily maps of the expected global distribution of CO2 . These were compiled into a 3 minute video which can be seen in full at
http://www.nasa.gov/press/goddard/2014/november/nasa-computer-model-provides-a-new-portrait-of-carbon-dioxide/ .

The diagrams shown here are screenshots from that video.

The above image is, admittedly, a worst case. A better fit occurred three weeks earlier in model time:

GEOS-5 predicted CO2 concentrations for 25 October 2006
GEOS-5 predicted CO2 concentrations for 25 October 2006

The comparison is better but still cannot be described as “good”. Obviously something is happening in the real world which is not accounted for by the model.

This good science. The GEOS-5 model is almost as important as the satellite observations themselves. The model tells us what to expect based on current knowledge of both CO2 production and atmospheric circulation and explains some of the features observed in the satellite map, e.g. the high levels of CO2 observed near the southern tip of Greenland resemble the plume from industry in Eastern USA and Canada seen in some of the GEOS-5 maps

But the important thing is that the model greatly underestimates CO2 production in South America and central southern Africa and none of the frames in the video indicate any significant production in Indonesia at all. NASA lamely attributes the Indonesian hot-spot to Australia. Australian industry is confined to the diagonally opposite corner of the continent and winds generally blow from Indonesia towards S.E. Australia.

We must conclude that CO2 production is closely associated with subtropical vegetation and that the magnitude of this source has hitherto been greatly underestimated.

Of course this does not in itself account for the rising trend in globally averaged CO2 observed observed over several decades at atmospheric baseline monitoring stations such as Mauna Kea and Cape Grim but it does imply that we may need to re-examine the glib assumption that this is entirely due to Northern Hemisphere industrialization. These observations suggest increasing CO2 could be just as readily attributed to vegetation changes associated with increasingly intensive rice cultivation in S.E. Asia.

The 2013 Climate Change Conference (COP) in Warsaw, Poland was a critical step in obtaining financial commitments from industrialized countries for the ‘loss and damage’ that global warming has already caused to poor nations (also known as ‘climate debt’ or ‘climate reparations’). This thrust is expected to continue at the Paris Climate Convention commencing November 30, 2015.

It will prove much harder to win this blame-and-liability argument if it becomes evident that Western industrial activity may not be the sole cause of elevated CO2 levels.