GREENHOUSE GASES, THE CO2 DEBATE & SEA LEVEL RISE
The discussion and analysis here should be readily understood by most readers, but some of the theory and interpretation behind the discussion might require some understanding of more advanced level chemistry. This particularly relates to how greenhouse gases absorb heat from outgoing radiation. This is most simply explained in the following charts.
The thermal influence of increasing (or reducing) atmospheric CO2
The table and bar chart below show the temperature affect of progressively adding 20 ppm CO2
increments into the atmosphere. The temperature affect of each additional 20 ppm CO2 reduces exponentially, rapidly becoming fairly inconsequential from about 200 ppm onwards. The thermal affect becomes saturated. At present atmospheric CO2 levels of around 400 ppm additional CO2 contributions should have a negligible impact.
Another way of looking at CO2 and other greenhouse gas components is presented second diagram below and it explanation. Again the exponentially diminishing affect of additional CO2 reaching near saturation is displayed. Doubling the present CO2 from 400 ppm by present manmade CO2 production would take some 160 years and effectively increase the average temperature by approximately +0.3 degrees C. A negligible climate impact. This saturation effect helps explain why in the past substantially higher atmospheric levels of several thousand ppm failed to produce dangerously high temperatures. This needs to be more widely known and understood. It means that we do not have to do anything at all, at enormous effort and cost, to mitigate increasing manmade CO2 above present levels of 400 ppm. Mitigation at existing CO2 levels would achieve nothing. This also means that warmer temperatures we are experiencing cannot be due to increasing CO2, but most probably are due to natural warming following glacial cooling.
There is still some debate in the atmospheric sciences about CO2's role in driving temperature in some circles. The resolution of CO2's role and influence is absolutely crucial, as massive CO2 mitigation programs with dramatic economic, political and social consequences are being planned, that may well be unnecessary. The best and cheapest climate option with the least impact on the economy, society & the environment is to do nothing if CO2 is not the problem. The cost of inaction is zero, & damage done to the economy, society & the environment would also be zero. Spending huge multi-billion dollar sums of taxpayers money globally, on massive climate and social engineering, and renewable energy schemes would ruin global economies & cripple societies for no actual climate benefit.
The first illustration below illustrates how increasing atmospheric CO2 in increments of 20 ppm, increases atmospheric temperature, but by progressively decreasing amounts until by at about 200 ppm the effect becomes minimal.
The important point to note is that as atmospheric CO2 increases, the additional absorbed heat that is retained rapidly decreases, getting to the point that even a doubling (from 400 ppm to 800 ppm in the second graph below) will have minimal additional heating impact. Additional atmospheric CO2 at present levels of above 400 ppm (present atmospheric levels), will have minimal temperature or climate impact and should not be a concern. At these present CO2 levels, even substantial CO2 mitigation at enormous cost will also have minimal cooling impact & not worth even contemplating. These very important facts are little known in the wider community and the fear and panic being generated is completely unfounded.
The absorption affect and the detailed chemistry behind CO2 absorption spectra is currently still actively debated and disputed by atmospheric physicists. One version is well explained in the accompanying video clip by Emeritus Professor William Happer, (Physics Dept, Princeton University), in particular explaining the nonlinear (logarithmic) decreasing nature of the influence of CO2 concentration on the infra red absorption spectra, (see particularly the segment from around 23 - 29 minutes):
A web link to a 25 minute YouTube video clip, which is one of the best wide-ranging explanations of the role of CO2 in the atmosphere and climate I have seen is presented by Professor William Happer:
Conversations that matter with Professor William Happer (25 minutes). 2015 .
Web link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pHCCE-sw_Sc
What Albert Einstein said about CO2 radiative warming of the atmosphere in his 1917 paper
The hypothesis of global warming from man-made CO2 depends on a much-repeated narrative about CO2 trapping infrared (IR) photons leaving the earth. Although a beguilingly simple idea, a host of assumptions underlie it. One of these is that the radiative photonic absorption – emission interactions of the trace gas CO2 dominate heat movement in the atmosphere. And it turns out, this argument, a pillar of the global warming theory, is false – it was refuted in advance by none other than Albert Einstein in 1917.
In this 1917 paper:
Einstein says this about radiative heating of a gas: “During absorption and emission of radiation there is also present a transfer of momentum to the molecules. This means that just the interaction of radiation and molecules leads to a velocity distribution of the latter. This must surely be the same as the velocity distribution which molecules acquire as the result of their mutual interaction by collisions, that is, it must coincide with the Maxwell distribution. We must require that the mean kinetic energy which a molecule per degree of freedom acquires in a Plank radiation field of temperature T be
kT / 2 this must be valid regardless of the nature of the molecules and independent of frequencies which the molecules absorb and emit.”
Einstein understood like no other before or since the unity of mass, light and time. The equation e=mc^2 encapsulates this. Mass, it turns out, is a condensed form of energy not really profoundly different from photons; mass is simply anything with inertia resisting acceleration: anything that slows you down. This PBS Space-Time video illuminates this unity, beginning with a nice demonstration of how a hypothetical box of photons which should have no mass, oppose acceleration and exert inertia exactly like mass.
A nice insight from this presentation is that the “speed” c is not merely the speed of light – it is the speed of causality, the fastest speed that any cause-effect agency can transmit influence. It is fundamental to space-time and the universe’s architecture. This fundamental truth connects with Einstein’s assertion that the transfer of heat energy between photons and baryonic particles in a gas, is essentially no different from the Boltzmann transfer of heat energy from gas particle to gas particle.
The CO2 atmosphere warming story is a story that only recognizes radiative transfer of heat. It considers most of the atmosphere – all the N2 and O2 for instance – as thermally inert. This is not credible not only because of convection, which moves at least as much heat as radiation. It is because of Einstein’s insight that radiation transfer of heat to gas is a Boltzmann process just like heat transfer from one gas molecule to another. And the much-hyped issue of IR absorption frequency bands is of negligible importance – as Einstein put it, “Regardless if the nature of the molecules and independent of the frequencies at which molecules absorb and emit.”
CO2 back radiation atmospheric warming is an error that was refuted in advance by Einstein. As in other fields such as gravitation, space time and relativity, Einstein has not yet been proved wrong. He won’t be proved wrong here either.
To access a PDF version of the original paper, copy and paste the following link into your web browser:
CO2 - the greenhouse gas of major concern
The stable forms of carbon at the Earth’s surface are: carbon dioxide CO2, bicarbonate ions in solution HCO3-, carbonates (calcite, limestone etc). These three are the most oxidised and therefor the most stable forms of carbon at the Earth's well-oxygenated surface. Other forms of unstable carbon are more reduced and include methane (CH4), carbon monoxide (CO), elemental carbon itself, and living matter. All of these will ultimately oxidise to one of the more oxidised variants in the presence of an oxygenated atmosphere.
CO2 is the most oxidised form of carbon, forming a stable relatively inert gas in the atmosphere (currently just over 400 ppm). Bicarbonate (HCO3-), is the stable form dissolved in water, which contains 60 times more abundant CO2 than does the atmosphere. Carbonates are the stable solid form, mainly as calcite (CaCO3 or limestone) and dolomite (CaMg(CO3)2 another form of limestone). Limestones are 44% CO2 by weight and form a major rock type, often entire mountain ranges. More than 99% of all the CO2 component formerly in the Earth’s early atmosphere is now locked up in carbonate rock.
Atmosphere itself and certain trace gases in the atmosphere are thought to maintain the Earth’s temperature at a fairly constant level. These warming trace gases are called greenhouse gases & have the effect of preventing incoming visible radiation escaping as infrared radiation. The trapped radiation wave lengths heat up the atmosphere at the surface, but only to a limited extent, dropping off dramatically as their abundance increases (see previous section).
The mean global temperature of the Earth is a warm 15 degrees C . Without these greenhouse gases, all infrared radiation would be lost to space and the global Earth temperature would be considerably lower overall with hot days and very cold nights. Without the atmosphere the Earth’s mean surface temperature would be -18 degrees, rather than the present average of 15 degrees. Variations in greenhouse gases are thought to influence climate, & in the present climate debate CO2 is the greenhouse gas of principal concern.
The main greenhouse gases, their abundance, their thermal influences & the contribution by man are presented in the following table.
Ranking of greenhouse gases vs CO2 in terms of global heat generation capacity:
GREEN HOUSE GAS Heat retention potential (multiple)
Carbon Dioxide (CO2) 1
Chloroflourocarbons (CFC’s) 1,300 TO 9,300
Methane (CH4) 21
Nitrous oxide (N2O) 310
Water vapour (this does not include water droplets as in clouds) is a powerful greenhouse gas comprising about 95% of the greenhouse gas inventory & is by far the dominant influence, but does not contribute to what is called the enhanced greenhouse effect because it is not increasing in abundance.
A runaway greenhouse effect is said to occur when increasing greenhouse temperatures are enhanced by positive feedbacks in the environment that also generate more greenhouse components or other forms of atmospheric temperature increase, (eg increasing water vapour) thus accelerating and exacerbating the climatic effect. Positive feedbacks are generally more than compensated by buffering effects which act to minimise any change in systems at equilibrium by absorbing heat.
Pre industrial revolution levels 1750-1800 1990 levels
CO2 280 ppm 353 ppm
Methane 0.8 ppm 1.72 ppm
CO2 dissolved in the ocean is some 60 times that in the atmosphere with more than 85% as bicarbonate ions (HCO3-).
Human activity (fossil fuels & burning biomass), has caused much of the increase. Volcanic gases also produce large amounts of CO2. Burning all the fossil fuels in existence would produce an atmospheric CO2 level of around 2000 ppm. To halve the present levels would probably annihilate all terrestrial vegetation & animal life. Decreasing atmospheric CO2 would be far more disadvantageous than increasing it. Methane is sourced through rice cultivation, ruminating animals, coal mining, natural gas venting, & inefficient biomass oxidation.95% of warming due to greenhouse gases comes from water vapour in the atmosphere (not water droplets as in clouds), and only 0.28% from human additions. Human activity accounts for about 6% of the non-water vapour component.
Atmospheric CO2 levels over recent time, temperature cycle regularity and warming pulse rates
The chart below displays the cyclical variations in atmospheric CO2 determined from ice core samples over the last 400,000 years, showing the ”hockey stick effect”, & the remarkable regularity of CO2 increases & reductions following 100, 000 year cycles. If CO2 causes temperature increases, what caused these regular cycles of increasing CO2 lasting about 100,000 years? If however the temperatures where cyclical (due to Milankovitch-cycle style planetary orbit, tilt and wobble variations), and the CO2 variations followed temperature changes (not driving them), this would account for this phenomena.
A similar chart shows temperature data from Antarctic ice cores (EPICA C Dome) over the same time interval. The major warming peaks (indicated by the black arrows) are about 100,000 years apart and reflect about 8 degrees of warming. The present position on the larger zig-zag pattern suggests we are about to descend into a 100,000 year global cooling event, representing some 8-10 degrees of cooling.
The much smaller peaks are some 1000 years apart and reflect 1-2 degrees of warming. The smaller peaks from the Greenland Ice Core data chart ( refer to the 10,000 year Greenland ice core GISP2 chart below), show 1-2 degree, warming over 100-200 years indicating a warming rate of around 1 degree per hundred years in keeping with present warming estimates for the current warming pulse determined elsewhere by climate scientists. The consistent warming/cooling slopes on these shorter cyclical warming pulses suggest that the warming rate it fairly consistent in these 1000 year events, whose regularity suggests a very short-term (1,000-year) minor orbital cyclicity perhaps not previously recognized.
Some 10 major warming & cooling cycles in the GISP 2 Greenland ice core are scattered regularly about every 1000 years, over the last 10,000 year interglacial warming episode.
FACTS about CARBON DIOXIDE
Of the over 200 billion tons of CO2 that enter earth's atmosphere each year from all sources. Human activities—mostly burning of coal and other fossil fuels, but also cement production, deforestation and other landscape changes—emitted roughly 40 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2015. Approximately 90 billion tons come from biologic activity in earth's oceans and another 90 billion tons from such sources as volcanoes and decaying land plants. According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the world's volcanoes, both on land and undersea, generate about 200 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) annually, while our automotive and industrial activities cause some 24 billion tons of CO2 emissions every year worldwide:
www.scientificamerican.com › article › earthtalks-volca..
At 382 parts per million, CO2 is a minor constituent of earth's atmosphere—less than 4/100ths of 1% of all gases present. Compared to former geologic times, earth's current atmosphere is CO2 impoverished. During the Ordovician-Silurian glaciation (450-420 million years ago), atmospheric CO2 was more than 4000 ppm, but did not contribute to any warming. During the Jurassic-Cretaceous glaciation (151-132 million years ago), atmospheric CO2 was more than 2000 ppm and again did not contribute to any warming. If CO2 drives climate, why were there glaciations and not a runaway greenhouse effects during these events?
The effect of increasing levels of atmospheric CO2 on plant growth and animal health.
The photo below shows a comparison of plant growth achieved in atmospheres of differing CO2 levels. This readily displays the fertilizer effect of increased levels of atmospheric CO2. The numbers in the photo's indicate the amount of additional CO2 that has been introduced into the atmosphere, and the numbers below the total atmospheric CO2 content in parts per million.
The table and chart below display the dramatically decreasing greenhouse warming effect of increasing CO2 levels in an atmosphere, a point that is often lost when increasing CO2 levels are being discussed in the media. The data suggests that plants are seriously starved for adequate CO2 for healthy development and optimum growth in the present atmosphere and that significant agricultural productivity may be gained in this area if atmospheric CO2 levels can be substantially increased. Optimal levels of atmospheric CO2 may be around 1000 ppm for many plant species. At present plants find it difficult acquiring sufficient CO2 from the present very thin, CO2-depleted atmosphere.
Plants exposed to higher levels of CO2, not only grow more vigorously , they require less water (less evapo-transpiration from smaller stomata required to get adequate CO2). They can grow in drier climates and produce higher yields on smaller acreages. Limiting growth factors such as higher usage of nutrients such as nitrogen, zinc, iron etc (as exist for today''s plants) can be accommodated, as they are today, with fertilizers, supplements and management practices. There are likely to be pros and cons, with increased CO2 levels, but plants developed and thrived under these conditions in the past, they don't need to adapt to new conditions, and they manage on less water and in drier conditions. Even the small man-made CO2 contributions over the last 50 years or so have dramatically greened the earth (see CSIRO global map below).
The image below is derived from: Sherwood B Idso, President of the Centre for the study of carbon dioxide and global change. Research Physicist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service at the U.S. Water Conservation Laboratory in Phoenix, Arizona, where he worked since June 1967. His science citation record: as of July 2000, Dr. Idso’s research papers had been cited in the scientific literature in excess of 6,500 times, more than an order of magnitude above the norm for all scientists of that time period.
The influence of increased levels of atmospheric CO2 on global vegetation (the greening of the Earth), is displayed below from satellite images over 30 years. The percentage increases are dramatic. Doubling atmospheric CO2 to optimum level for plants of around 800 ppm is likely to almost double global vegetation and have a dramatic impact on agricultural production.
CO2 & Human Health.
CO2 is odorless, colorless, tasteless and slightly heavier than air. Plants absorb CO2 and emit oxygen as a waste product. Humans and animals breathe oxygen and emit CO2 as a waste product. Carbon dioxide is a nutrient, not a pollutant, and for all life, plants and animals alike it is an essential requirement. Atmospheric CO2 is an essential plant fertilizer not a toxin. All animals get their carbon from eating plants, or eating other animals that eat plants. The effect of increased atmospheric CO2 on humans appears minimal at any likely concentrations, even up to 1% (10,000 ppm). Human exhale CO2 at levels of around 38,000 ppm from their lungs, suggesting that even at these levels there is no serious toxicity as long as here is adequate oxygen available for normal respiration.
SOME ESSENTIAL CO2 EQUILIBRIUM REACTION CHEMISTRY
The essential chemistry and dissolution of atmospheric CO2 in water is presented in summary form below. There are two main equilibrium chemical reactions involved.
What follows is a very important consideration. The balance between the products and reactants in these equilibrium reactions overall is determined by the prevailing (global) temperature, with the balance moving to the left as the prevailing temperature warms and to the right if temperature decreases. During warm conditions on Earth in the past, atmospheric CO2 was higher, but during colder more glacial times there was less atmospheric CO2. At equilibrium the total amount atmospheric CO2 in the system is controlled by the prevailing (global) temperature, not by how much man-made CO2 is added through fossil fuels burning. Again we see that it is temperature controlling the system, not CO2. One important outcome of this understanding is that carbon dioxide mitigation programs are doomed to failure. Any man-made removal or reduction of atmospheric CO2 will trigger it being replaced from dissolved CO2 in the ocean. There is some 60 times more CO2 dissolved in the ocean than in the atmosphere, and oceanic dissolved CO2 moving into the atmosphere would in turn be replaced in the ocean by the dissolution of the appropriate amount of ocean limestone. Man-made atmospheric CO2 mitigation process would not be able to shift these equilibria.
From the above it can be seen that for each molecule of calcite (CaCO3) produced (or molecule of CO2 consumed), two hydrogen ions (H+, read acid) are produced, contributing to ocean acidification. Coral reefs themselves are responsible for much of the world's oceans acidification derived from carbon dioxide.
The great retirement home for most terrestrial carbon dioxide is in limestones (44% CO2 by weight), and they make up a considerable proportion of surface and subsurface rock sequences, including all the worlds coral reefs and entire mountain ranges in many parts of the world. Coral reefs are made of CO2 and would not exist without CO2. The coral organisms themselves derive all their cellular carbon from CO2 sourced from bicarbonate ions extracted from the oceans, but ultimately derived from the atmosphere.
Note that although these reactions are equilibrium reactions, at the moment the equilibrium strongly favours the reactions moving the the right in each case and downward in the sequence through 1), to 2), and the ultimate removal of all CO2 from the atmosphere, and all HCO3- from the seas, to from voluminous limestone. Eventually all the world's carbon and all the world's CO2 will end up in limestones, (see later section), and none will be available to maintain or form any life on Earth. If at some time in the future the mean global temperature of the Earth increases considerably, then the direction of these equilibrium reactions may reverse and increase atmospheric CO2.
In the Vostok ice core data, if gain and loss of CO2 is the cause of warming and cooling, it is difficult to understand where the CO2 is coming from, and going to, in this period in the past on such regular cycles unless the cooling and warming episode came first and are followed by CO2 changes.
It is well known that increasing ocean temperatures decreases bicarbonate levels in the ocean (closer to the equator), favouring more CO2 in the atmosphere and more limestone production, while at the same time lower temperature towards the poles favour increasing CO2 solubility in the oceans as bicarbonate ions (HCO3-). This means that there is an atmospheric flow of CO2 from the equator to the poles via the atmosphere, and a counter flow of bicarbonate ions in the ocean towards the equator. On approaching the equator, as the oceans warm, some bicarbonate converts to CO2 and escapes into the atmosphere to be recirculated, and some reacts with abundant soluble Ca2+ to be permanently removed from the system in the form of limestone, including coral reefs, according to the equilibrium chemical reactions listed earlier.
Global CO2 and Temperature Across the Geological Time Scale
The chart below displays the relationship of both temperature shown in red, and also atmospheric CO2 levels (in blue), across geological time. During the massive decrease in CO2 over time the mean global temperature has not changed significantly, largely remaining at about 20 degrees (a few degrees warmer than at present). This is yet another demonstration (if one was necessary) that atmospheric CO2 (man-made or otherwise) has not consistently influenced global temperature at any stage in Earth history despite a massive decrease (95% reduction) and did not pose any existential threat during that period.
The reason that CO2 is rising now is that atmospheric CO2 levels are now so low (having progressively naturally declined over 90% over earth history to the present starvation levels for vegetation), that the very low man-made CO2 contributions (of a few 10's of ppm/year), are now registering. This is an indication of how perilously low atmospheric CO2 actually is. Global vegetation is currently starved of adequate CO2 (around 1000 ppm), for optimum growth. We need to actively restore hugely beneficial CO2 levels. The most efficient way to achieve his would be by burning fossil fuels.
The second chart below displays the dramatic decline in atmospheric CO2 over the last 140 million years, down some 90% over that interval and perilously approaching the 150 ppm survival threshold for vegetation. The atmospheric CO2 decline is of the order to 2-3 ppm CO2 per million years. At this rate there may be only 100 million years of atmospheric CO2 remaining. This regular decline over geological time in atmospheric CO2 is due to the global temperature being too cold to maintain the present equilibrium balance with it's excess of CO2. The rate of CO2 decline is exceedingly slow, reflecting the slow kinetics involved in this reaction.
What is driving this dramatic linear decline in atmospheric CO2?
The overall equilibrium chemical reaction involved is:
CO2 + H2O <-----> HCO3- + H+
This equilibrium reaction is driving from left to right and has been since the earliest Earth's CO2-rich atmosphere developed and would have been responsible for depleting massive amounts of CO2 (over 90%), in the early earth atmosphere into the oceans to ultimately be removed with the formation of limestone. This reaction has not reached equilibrium and will continue uninterrupted until ultimately all atmospheric CO2 is eliminated. This reaction can only be slowed, stalled or reversed by increasing the prevailing global temperature. At the present average global temperature of around 15 degrees C, CO2 will ultimately disappear with all dependant life in around 100 million years. The reaction is slow and may be slowed further, eventually stop, and reverse with a hotter Earth. With an average global temperature of 15 degrees C, depletion will however continue unabated.
RECENT GLOBAL WARMING & RISING SEA LEVELS
Some misunderstanding exits on how global warming causes sea-level increases. Recent warming over the last 10,000 years has been cyclical (a warming pulse, followed by a cooling pulse). Sea levels rise during the warming cycle due to increased land-based ice melting, causing ocean water volumes to increase. Sea levels lower on subsequent cooling as land-based precipitation falls as snow, does not return to the ocean, and ocean volume decreases. Some 10 cycles are recorded in the 10,000-year chart below.
In the above Greenland Ice Sheet (GISP2) chart, sea levels rise slowly over the warming 100 years by about 1-2 metres, then slowly lower again during the following 100-year cooling cycle. The two halves of this cycle roughly cancel each other out with no net sea level rise overall. This has happened about a dozen times in the last 10, 000 years, with little overall change in net sea-level.
The very significant, very large sea level changes in the past (the Pleistocene Glaciation - see the Pleistocene-Holocene portion of the chart below), have been caused by single major cooling/warming events of several degrees, where the temperature has change (down followed by up) by up to 8 degrees or more ending about 10,000 years ago. The most recent Pleistocene event of this magnitude starting about 15,000 years ago.
The Post-glacial Sea Level Rise chart below shows sea level changes over the last 20,000 years, including the major warming event beginning about 18,000 years ago resulting in a sea level rise of about 120 metres, corresponding to a temperature increase of about 8 degrees (from -8 to 0 degrees). Since about 7,000 years ago sea level changes have been minimal (up and down by 1-2 metres), even though there have been several, warming/freezing pulse/fluctuations during that time, representing temperature fluctuations of 1-1.5 degrees). These sea level changes tended to cancel each other out and should continue to do so in future, if as seems likely, similar temperature pulses, such as we are currently experiencing, continue to occur. There seems little concern for serious sea level fluctuations beyond needing some remedial local engineering work.
THERE IS NO CLIMATE PROBLEM OR CRISIS
The geology of the Holocene (12,000 years ago to the present), completely refutes the assertion of manmade climate change and the involvement of CO2 as a climate trigger or driver. CO2 mitigation (CO2 reduction), is unnecessary. CO2 is not a pollutant but an already seriously depleted essential atmospheric gas. CO2 emissions from fossil fuel burning are a safe atmosphere-carried fertilizer, delivered daily to every plant on Earth, for free. Coal, with its contained CO2 is therefore already “clean coal”. There is no need for green or renewable energy technologies unless competitive with existing fossil fuel equivalents.
There is no climate crisis. The climate is behaving with short interglacial warming episodes, normally and predictably, as it has numerous times during a great many interglacial warming cycles over the last few thousand years.
There is no problem and therefore no solution is necessary. Science cannot solve or model a non-existent problem. If CO2 is not a climate driver then no amount of computer modelling involving CO2 will be able to recreate past, present or future climates, or make meaningful climate predictions or projections.
The climate is warming naturally as one would expect on emerging from the recent very cold Pleistocene glaciation. The best and cheapest climate option with the least impact on the economy, society & the environment is to do nothing. CO2 is not a problem. The cost of inaction is zero, & damage done to the economy, society & the environment would also be zero. Spending huge sums, on massive climate and social engineering and CO2 mitigation processes would ruin the economy, for no actual climate benefit.