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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.

Mapping Carbon

NASA/JPL-Caltech. Click to enlarge.
NASA/JPL-Caltech. Click to enlarge.

Mapping Carbon

John Reid

 

After ten years in the planning and numerous technical setbacks and glitches (which included a rocket failure) NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory – 2 (OCO-2) is finally sending high quality data back to earth. The satellite makes continuous, precise measurements of atmospheric CO2 concentrations over most of the planet by means of absorption spectroscopy. The diagram is a compilation of mean atmospheric CO2 concentrations for the 6 week period period commencing 1st October 2014.

Hopefully this satellite is likely to be returning similar data for many years into the future so these results are only a tentative “sneak preview” of what is to come. They were obtained during northern fall and southern spring. Since CO2 concentrations are most likely influenced by biological processing in plants, animals and fungi, future measurements in other seasons will be of prime importance in understanding the earth’s carbon cycle.

World Vegetation Map
World Vegetation Map

Nevertheless there are already some real surprises, viz.:

  1. Over land, CO2 concentrations are dominated by vegetation type – the high concentrations over South America, Southern Africa and Indonesia correspond closely to tropical evergreen rainforest and tropical deciduous forest and scrub (click on global vegetation map above).
  2. There are unexpected but significant concentrations over the oceans. The concentrations in the South Atlantic and near Madagascar may well be due to an eastward drift from the nearby continental concentrations due to the general easterly trend in atmospheric circulation. However the concentrations east of Japan and north of New Zealand cannot be explained in this way, nor can the concentration near the southern tip of Greenland. Some of these have been attributed to tectonic acivity in an article by Prof. Martin Hovland of the University of Bergen.
  3. There is little evidence that CO2 from industry plays much part in the total scheme of things. Western Europe as a whole shows little evidence of excess CO2 production apart from the Eastern side of the Adriatic Sea where there is little industrial activity.  England appears to have been a net sink for CO2 in autumn.
  4. The high concentrations over China may well be due to industrial activity but it could also be attributed to excess emissions from subtropical broadleaf rainforest at this time of the year. We will have to wait another six months to get a clearer picture. A similar argument applies to the SE corner of the United States

It is already obvious that these observations are a serious embarrassment to NASA’s front office. NASA’s caption to this map reads as follows:

Global Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide

Global atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations from Oct. 1 through Nov. 11, as recorded by NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2. Carbon dioxide concentrations are highest above northern Australia, southern Africa and eastern Brazil. Preliminary analysis of the African data shows the high levels there are largely driven by the burning of savannas and forests. Elevated carbon dioxide can also be seen above industrialized Northern Hemisphere regions in China, Europe and North America.

This cannot go unchallenged:

above northern Australia,

er, that country is called Indonesia, I-n-d-o-n-e-s-i-a. Perhaps it is politically incorrect to name a third world country in this context.

high levels driven by burning of savannas and forests

Indeed? Levels that massively exceed the industrial emissions of Western Europe? I look forward to the peer-reviewed paper on this one. That certainly is a lot of grass.

Elevated carbon dioxide can also be seen above industrialized …Europe Where? I must be looking at a different map.

The situation may well change as more data becomes available – new ideas will certainly emerge and it may be decades before it is all understood.

The fact remains that in six weeks this satellite changed the face of climate science. NASA should be proud of the people who carried this through and not seek to obfuscate their findings.

ice sheet collapse

This is a repost from

http://news.sciencemag.org/climate/2014/12/antarctic-ice-shelf-being-eaten-away-sea#comment-1739567369

only the discussion between John Reid and cONTRARIAN are included.

Antarctic ice shelf being eaten away by sea

By
Carolyn Gramling
4 December 2014 4:15 pm

 

John Reid • 8 days ago
Why are subaqueous volcanism and/or subglacial volcanism being ignored in this dicussion? See:

http://www.livescience.com/46194-volcanoes-melt-antarctic-glaciers.html

cONTRARIAN John Reid • 6 days ago

So what are you saying? It’s not climate change, it’s volcanoes?
“Why are… volcanism being ignored?”
1. Ocean warming and surface ice loss are greatly more significant factors.
2. Do the math: Volcanic heating estimated at 200MILLI watts per m2. That’s enough to melt 7 inches of ice in one year, or a mere 1/4 cubic km of ice if the extra heating covers an area of 500 square miles. (except I forgot to subtract out the 65mW/m2 everywhere else in the world)
3. They’re not being ignored. You just posted an article about it.
4. The article which you linked acknowledges the “hemorraging of ice” due to anthropogenic global warming.
5. There’s nothing anyone can do about this volcanism.

John Reid cONTRARIAN • 6 days ago

So you are saying that 1 Watt per square metre at the top of the atmosphere (e.g Trenberth) plays a major role in heating the deep ocean whereas heat fluxes as large as 10,000 Watts per square meter through the ocean floor (e.g. as observed at the TAG Hydrothermal Vent Field) can be ignored in the interests of keeping climate models smooth, deterministic and manageable. See

http://www. blackjay.net/pause-for-thought/index.html

You also appear to be saying that scientists should ignore those forcings which we can do nothing about.

cONTRARIAN John Reid • 5 days ago

You didn’t answer the question.
TYPICAL!
And really, linking to your own blog-posted amateur article? NOT a credible source. Got some glaring errors in there. (You like the word “stochastic” a lot. What’s with that??)
“Ice age temperature of -18C”. First, “-18C” that’s Greenland only. Second, that’s -18C relative to the reference value – a “temperature anomaly”, not relative to zero C.
Global temperature in the depths of the ice age was only -9C temperature anomaly, with the reference level being the current interglacial. Global average temperature today is 14C (that’s degrees above freezing). Subtract 1C to get to the Holocene average maybe, so 13C minus 9C, still above zero. It is IMPOSSIBLE that global average temperature was anywhere near -18C.

This is very basic and you got it nails-on-chalkboard wrong. You are WAY out of your element!

John Reid cONTRARIAN • 5 days ago

I had hoped my blog reference would provide a better understanding of the point I was trying to make. It appears that I failed.

cONTRARIAN John Reid • 5 hours ago

You haven’t really produced any evidence showing that these hidden volcanic sources are in fact significant. This is such “low hanging fruit” that I suspect it was considered long ago and thrown aside as immaterial.
S/scientists estimated the average energy output of the volcanism you mention under the Antarctic ice and my calculations show it’s impact is trivial. Skepticism isn’t just saying “I don’t believe it”. If you think this volcanism is significant, then prove it. Show us YOUR calculations. Show us YOUR energy estimates. Convince us!

John Reid cONTRARIAN • 16 minutes ago
In my original question I only asked why it had not been considered in the present article or discussion? Not exactly “low hanging fruit”, though. See:

http://www.livescience.com/46194-volcanoes-melt-antarctic-glaciers.html

Scientists use computer models to try to predict the future of the ice sheet, but their lack of understanding of subglacial geothermal energy has been a glaring gap in these models. Measuring geothermal activity under the ice sheet is so difficult that researchers usually just enter one, uniform estimate for the contributions of geothermal heat to melting, Schroeder said.

Of course, volcanism isn’t uniform. Geothermal hotspots no doubt influence melting more in some areas than in others.

“It’s the most complex thermal environment you might imagine,” study co-author Don Blankenship, a geophysicist at UT Austin, said in a statement. “And then, you plop the most critical dynamically unstable ice sheet on planet Earth in the middle of this thing, and then you try to model it. It’s virtually impossible.”

It seems it is much easier to attribute ice-sheet melting to global warming and just leave it at that. Just about anything can be attributed to global warming it seems – heat waves, cold spells, droughts, floods, hurricanes. And now melting ice sheets.

  • The parentage of the “glaring gap” statement is unclear due to sloppy punctuation. I believe it is the author’s opinion, who is not qualified to make such a value judgement!

    To quote YOUR article “WEST ANTARCTICA IS ALSO HEMORRHAGING ICE DUE TO CLIMATE CHANGE”. Is this text invisible to you? YOUR OWN ARTICLE attributes ice-sheet melting to global warming YOU &$%@#, the very same article which you use to insinuate that it could really be volcanism.

    Skeptics are blind, they see only what they want to see.
    AGAIN, you fail to present any evidence that volcanism could possibly be accountable for more than a trivial amount of the 100s of cubic kilometers of ice being lost by global ice sheets every year.
    There are NO volcanoes in Greenland, NO geothermal hot spots that anyone is aware of and yet estimates of ice loss for Greenland are up to 375 cubic kilometers in 2014. That would require some MAJOR volcanic activity of which there is not a trace.

    You have doubts about Antarctica? Explain Greenland then!

    • The statement between <quote> and </quote> are statements by scientists quoted in the article in Live Science. In that article the “hemorrhaging ice due to climate change” statement was made by the journalist not by a scientist

      Regarding Greenland, just Google:

      “gakkel ridge volcanic activity”

      I should point out that such volcanoes do not necessarily melt any ice themselves. It could be more complex than that. They create deep ocean circulation so bringing warmer water to the surface. Water has maximum density at 4 degrees Celsius.

      Why are you so angry? Why do you write in capital letters as if you are shouting? Why do you use pejoratives like “insinuate”? All I did was suggest there might be another explanation and that the author of the article could have mentioned it. Rather than discuss this in the manner of a research scientist along the lines of – “that’s an interesting idea but what about … ” – you react as if your fundamental belief system is under attack. Are you trying to suppress heresy? You are not alone. Many people on blogs adopt a similar attitude. This is why I think to some people Science is more like a religion or an ideology.

Matt Ridley Comments

The Times recently ran an article by Matt Ridley:

(Published at 12:01AM, December 8 2014)

It began:

Environmental researchers are increasingly looking for evidence that fits their ideology, rather than seeking the truth

As somebody who has championed science all his career, carrying a lot of water for the profession against its critics on many issues, I am losing faith. Recent examples of bias and corruption in science are bad enough. What’s worse is the reluctance of scientific leaders to criticise the bad apples. Science as a philosophy is in good health; science as an institution increasingly stinks

Some of the comments ran as follows:

Mr D J Noble 1 day ago

Let us just review a few undisputed facts, not contested opinions, but verifiable facts.

1) Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. That means it absorbs heat more easily than the oxygen and nitrogen that forms most of our atmosphere.

2) If the concentration of carbon dioxide increases more heat will be absorbed and less reflected into space, so the earth will warm up.

3) There has been a considerable increase in carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere over the last 200 years and particularly over the last 50 years.

4) Whatever other effects may be going this increase in concentration will result in the earth being warmer than it otherwise would be.

5) Human beings have been adding vast quantities of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere over the last 200 years and particularly over the last 50 years.

6) Whatever other effects may be going this human activity will increase the concentration to more than it otherwise would be.

It follows from these 6 facts that human activity is raising the temperature of the earth. There is no possible alternative. There can be discussions and disagreement about “How much”, and “How fast” and, of course, some measurements and forecasts may be inaccurate for this or that reason. But you cannot get away from the simple truth that human activity is causing the earth to be warmer than it otherwise would be.
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John Reid 20 hours ago

@Mr D J Noble I would dispute some of your “undisputed facts”, as follows:
1) agreed.
2) No, because the primary mechanism for the transport of heat through the lower atmosphere is convection not radiation. Surface heat is transported by convection into the stratosphere where it is radiated into space in accordance with the Stefan-Boltzman law.
3) True.
4) Not necessarily, see #2 above,
5) Not “vast” quantities – the total human production of CO2 since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution is abut 320 Gigatonnes (James Hansen’s congressional testimony) whereas the total CO2 in the ocean-atmosphere system is estimated to be 32,000 Gigatonnes (IPCC TAR). Hence humans are responsible for about one percent, a negligible proportion. Furthermore there is a continuous interchange between the oceans and the atmosphere. The present relatively high levels of CO2 in the atmosphere have more to do with the vagaries of ocean currents and upwellings than with human activity.
6) Technically true but unimportant – our contribution is “lost in the noise”.

In addition I would also like to point out that there is nothing at all remarkable about the climate of the last century.

For further discussion see http://www.blackjay.net/pause-for-thought/index.html

ATNT 16 hours ago

@John Reid @Mr D J Noble Correct me if I am wrong but I would like to dispute your disputes to the points above:

Point 2. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas which means that infrared light from the sun can pass through it and heat up the earth’s surface however the heat that escapes the earth surface via convection is trapped in between the troposphere and the earths surface by greenhouse gasses – which in turn creates a positive feedback which gradually increases the temperature under the troposphere.

The majority of greenhouse gasses are made up of water vapour but as carbon dioxide is now at over 400 ppm (higher than anytime in measurable history (ice core measurements that are thousands of years old) there is a very strong argument that says that the addition of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere will contribute to changes in the earth’s climate.

I think this answers your retort to point 4 too. As to point 5, as briefly mentioned above, measurements from ice cores point to the fact that the highest historical (measurable) amounts of CO2 in the earths atmosphere prior to the 1870s was around 270 ppm. In 2013 there were 400 ppm up from 200 ppm in 1904. If this was to do with the vagaries of the ocean currents then we could have expected levels of up to 400 ppm in the past – that has not happened so we have to look elsewhere, and that leads us to burning fossil fuels and the man-made release of CO2 in to the atmosphere.

Point 6 – you say technically unimportant – this is where the argument rages, The question remains as to whether these changes will have any measurable effect to us and the earth is something that I am sure will be disputed for many many years.

My personal view is that there is a correlation between right wing political ideology and climate change doubt and left wing political ideology and Climate Change acceptance. In the past the right wing approach (which more often than not has worked and has been the correct approach) is to use market forces to lift a beleaguered nation out of debt, of save a company or what ever needs to be done to benefit society as a whole. It is an approach which is tenable, understandable and has a history of working, spend more, buy more, make more in order to get out of trouble. Up against the spectre of climate change where cut back is called for in almost every area there is a fairly typical and understandable push back from the established right wing politically minded. I am not saying that this small personal anecdote proves or disproves Climate Change I am just positing a hypothesis on why some people are apt to deny Climate Change and others are more willing to accept it.

John Reid
pending

@ATNT @John Reid @Mr D J Noble
Heat is not “trapped in between the tropopause and the earth’s surface”. The convective transport of heat from the surface to the stratosphere leads to the well known decrease of temperature with height known as the “adiabatic lapse rate” which is measured many times daily using radio-sond balloons. The lapse rate can be calculated theoretically from the thermodynamic properties of gases and the observed lapse rate fits rather well. If there were any trapping of heat as you suggest it would distort the lapse rate but this is not observed.

The 400 ppm of CO2 is a spot reading, an instantaneous value, whereas the proxy atmospheric concentrations of this and other gases in ice cores are effectively averaged over centuries due to the squeezing of ice under pressure. Averaging removes the highs and the lows. It is the dubious practice of plotting recent spot readings on the same graph as these much older averages which leads to the characteristic “hockey stick” curve. It is also possible that CO2 diffuses though ice. Other methods of estimating ancient CO2 concentrations, such as counting stomata density in fossil leaves, indicate that CO2 has indeed been as high in the past.

I certainly agree with you about the correlation between Left or Right vs Warmer or Sceptic but it does not apply in my case. I was a member of the Australian Labor Party for many years and once served on the State Executive. I also have a PhD in Upper Atmosphere Physics and a lifetime of research experience in various aspects of environmental physics. For me the physics of AGW just does not stack up for reasons I have outlined. I am saddened by the way in which this interesting branch of science has become corrupted by political ideology and by an “integrity deficit” within the scientific community as Matt Ridley points out.