Climate fear as carbon levels soar
October 11, 2004 9:27 AM   Subscribe

Scientists bewildered by sharp rise of CO2 in atmosphere for second year running. "The fear held by some scientists is that the greater than normal rises in C02 emissions mean that instead of decades to bring global warming under control we may have only a few years. At worst, the figures could be the first sign of the breakdown in the Earth's natural systems for absorbing the gas. That would herald the so-called "runaway greenhouse effect", where the planet's soaring temperature becomes impossible to contain. As the icecaps melt, less sunlight is refected back into space from ice and snow, and bare rocks begin to absorb more heat. This is already happening."
posted by acrobat (47 comments total)
 
It's carbon dioxide that does the job and not the extremely more dangerous carbon benoxide Bush is saying he's fighting.

Also, does anyone think there's good money to be made on Giant Reflective Umbrellas now the solar ice is melting? (Just trying to control my paranoia guys, sorry).
posted by acrobat at 9:43 AM on October 11, 2004


Measurements of CO2 levels in Australia and at the south pole were slightly lower, he said, so it looked as though something unusual had occurred in the northern hemisphere.

[...]

"I don't think an increase of 2 ppm for two years in a row is highly significant - there are climatic perturbations that can make this occur," he said. "But the absence of a known climatic event does make these years unusual.

"Based on those two years alone I would say it was too soon to say that a new trend has been established, but it warrants close scrutiny."


It seems like we need more CO2 measuring stations and more climate research.
posted by b1tr0t at 9:56 AM on October 11, 2004


Well, the cool thing about this is, according to the conservative voice of NOAA in the article (last paragraph), we will know if is is somthing to be worried about if it continues at this pace for another 3 or 4 more years. It could be the short term shocker event every one is waiting for to wake up from denial mode.
posted by stbalbach at 9:57 AM on October 11, 2004


If the worst case scenario is right, though, can we actually afford another 3 or 4 more years of our happy-go-lucky stance towards pollution?
posted by acrobat at 10:03 AM on October 11, 2004


Scientists bewildered by sharp rise of CO2 in atmosphere

Sorry, that was me. (blushes)
posted by Peter H at 10:07 AM on October 11, 2004


Peter H, relax. That stinky stuff is basically methane
posted by acrobat at 10:19 AM on October 11, 2004


No, I know.
I coughed. It's embarrassing!
posted by Peter H at 10:23 AM on October 11, 2004


"Based on those two years alone I would say it was too soon to say that a new trend has been established, but it ... aaaaaaagh!! Tsunami!!!!!!!!"
posted by mrgrimm at 10:25 AM on October 11, 2004


That's it. I'm using leaded gasoline and aerosol cans again.
posted by solistrato at 10:27 AM on October 11, 2004


I DON'T WANT TO KNOW ABOUT THIS.
posted by PigAlien at 10:30 AM on October 11, 2004


It could be due to an uprise in the photoautotrophs, especially among microorgamisms
that are able to thrive near underwater volcanoes.
posted by Smart Dalek at 10:32 AM on October 11, 2004


On a calmer note, I'll cling to hope in this order:

1) This is an anomaly and everything is OK.
2) The earth does a big smackdown on humanity, but humanity survives (tattered and in pieces) and the climate restabilizes.
3) Christ comes to rescue us.

I mean, haven't I heard that the earth has been much warmer in the past than it is currently? No, don't answer that question.
posted by PigAlien at 10:35 AM on October 11, 2004


can we actually afford another 3 or 4 more years of our happy-go-lucky stance towards pollution?

Just be glad you don't live in Florida.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:35 AM on October 11, 2004


Pshaw. The global climate has cyclical shifts like this all the time. This could just be one of those swings of the pendulum where the Earth becomes completely uninhabitable by humanity for generations to come, and then in another couple thousands of years, evens itself right back out. Relax.
posted by soyjoy at 10:43 AM on October 11, 2004


Wait til you see what hurricane season does next year. More heat = more and more powerful Coriolis storms. Hope your insurance is paid up...

And this year the El Nino is back! More CO2! Yay!
posted by zoogleplex at 10:43 AM on October 11, 2004


You know in a purely selfish way I kinda hope the end of the world happens in my lifetime. That way I'd know I wasn't missing out on anything after I'm dead...
posted by jeblis at 10:52 AM on October 11, 2004


I'll seize this opportunity to ask biologist mefites some explanation:

When the Pacific warms up during El NiƱo - a disruptive weather pattern caused by weakening trade winds - the amount of carbon dioxide rises dramatically because warm oceans emit CO2 rather than absorb it

Excuse me ? As far as I know oceans are also populated by fitoplancton aka organisms who live thanks to photosynthesis process which requires sunlight (as power source) and among others CO2 (dunno the role). The residuals of photosynthesis should be Oxigen as C-02 is broken, 02 is released and C is seized by the organism.

Now I dunno if warmer water result in increased reproduction rate of fitoplancton (which would decrease circulating C02 quantities) or if warm water reduces the reproduction ..but I don't see why ocean should release more C02 even if the fitoplancton is less active. What am I missing other then a Phd in marine biology ? :)
posted by elpapacito at 10:57 AM on October 11, 2004


You know, I've always wanted to start smoking crack. Maybe now's the time.
posted by chicobangs at 10:58 AM on October 11, 2004


"more and more powerful Coriolis storms"

That has already been predicted due to a 20-year cycle (give or take a couple years) that hurricanes undergo.
posted by mischief at 10:59 AM on October 11, 2004


Seriously, I'm glad to see a lack of panic or fear mongering in this thread right now. My pump has already been primed by years of dire predictions and the movie "Day After Tomorrow". This is helping me remain calm right now.
posted by PigAlien at 11:41 AM on October 11, 2004


So, we should buy land in, say, Minnesota? Montana? What're your long-term plans for your own individual lives in a climate-changin' world?
posted by DenOfSizer at 11:43 AM on October 11, 2004


What're your long-term plans for your own individual lives in a climate-changin' world?

good question. i've always wanted to move to the mountains near the equator eventually, but i can never remember if/when the north is gonna get blasted with the ubercold winters or if everywhere is just gonna get hotter ... i would head toward the high ground, nonetheless.

the big question, of course, is when to make the move. you don't want to go too early (unless you're ready to drop out now), but you also don't want to wait until it's too late ...
posted by mrgrimm at 12:06 PM on October 11, 2004


Yes mischief, there is the established hurricane cycle. However, this C02 effect - if it is indeed happening - would be an extra energy input on top of being at the maximum of that cycle, which may add more power and frequency to the storms. However that's a bit unpredictable.

I was being a bit flippant, too. :)
posted by zoogleplex at 12:09 PM on October 11, 2004


Land in North America, hmm.... Well, from what I've read, North America should get a bit cooler and drier, so I'd avoid Montana, Idaho, and eastern Washington, as well as the area from Texas up through Saskatchewan. The Pac NW/BC area is probably a good safe bet, as well as areas in the northern forests, as long as you don't mind hard winters. Over a geologic time scale, rainfall across the middle of North America is among the most stable known to man, though, so Michigan/Minnesota, western Ontario, Alberta, are all good, I think.

As for fearmongering -- the article seemed to do plenty of that, thanks. Lots of generalizations about "some scientists" believing doom-scenarios, but the named scientists were all much more ambivalent about real significance. Yes, it could be the indication that we're facing our doom -- but there are simpler explanations. I do happen to think global warming is a real risk (probably even just a plain reality), but a hundred lines in the Guardian don't make me much inclined to panic.
posted by lodurr at 12:11 PM on October 11, 2004


What're your long-term plans for your own individual lives in a climate-changin' world?

i plan to die. anything else is a sucker bet, global warming or not.
posted by quonsar at 12:15 PM on October 11, 2004


Uhh, fitoplancton? Phytoplankton? Oxigen? You mean oxygen, right?

If you aren't trolling, I'd say you're missing a PhD in marine biology, a spell checker and maybe a few marbles.

IANAMB, but yeah, for the phytoplankton you're grasping the rudiments. But it's not just phytoplankton in the ocean. There's plenty of CO2 producing organisms in the ocean as well, from micro to macro.

We seem to get a lot of algae and fish kills here in the Pacific when the el nino cycle really kicks up, but that's just my unscientific observation. It could be a local effect due to increased polluted runoff.
posted by loquacious at 12:59 PM on October 11, 2004


I firmly believe that "global warming" will not have an adverse affect on our world for hundreds (maybe thousands) of years -- if at all.

If I'm wrong, I'll buy everyone in this thread a coke.
posted by davidmsc at 1:09 PM on October 11, 2004


If you're wrong, that's a safe stake.

In any case, "firm belief" should always be stacked against evidence. I'm not sure I've actually heard of any evidence against global warming, except a set of cautionary statements about the relative accuracy of climate models.
posted by lodurr at 1:21 PM on October 11, 2004


Now I dunno if warmer water result in increased reproduction rate of fitoplancton (which would decrease circulating C02 quantities) or if warm water reduces the reproduction ..but I don't see why ocean should release more C02 even if the fitoplancton is less active. What am I missing other then a Phd in marine biology ? :)

It doesn't have anything to do with marine biology--it's basic chemistry. As the temperature increases, the solubility of CO2 in water decreases. So warmer oceans hold less dissolved CO2.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:39 PM on October 11, 2004


/me posts in this thread just to get a free coke
posted by Stynxno at 1:40 PM on October 11, 2004


Loquacious, I'm pretty sure that elpapacito's first language isn't English, so flaming him for not knowing the correct English transliteration of Greek words is lame in the extreme.

In fact, "fitoplancton" is the correct spelling in Italian and Castilian Spanish of the word spelled "phytoplankton" in English.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:01 PM on October 11, 2004


davidmsc, can I get a 7-up instead? Thanks.
posted by soyjoy at 2:19 PM on October 11, 2004


Good, now maybe the apocalypse can actually start, instead of just teasing us for so long. I shoot an entire box of ammunition every day getting ready for it, but it just never comes.
posted by Hildago at 2:19 PM on October 11, 2004


I read a recent bit of science news that has some impact here, though I'm not entirely too sure what, or what you might read into it. But here goes.

Most of what composes plants is "from the air", not "from the soil", as most people suppose. That is, the great majority of plant tissue is made from the carbon dioxide uptaken through pores in its leaves. Of course, plants need water from the soil, along with small amounts of other nutrients. But most of its food is carbon dioxide, converted via sunlight into sugars.

Now here's the twist. To get this CO2, plants open up their pores to get what they need. But opening their pores causes them to lose water through evaporation. So the less CO2 in the air, the more water the plant loses. Conversely, with more CO2 in the air, the plant needs much less water, so it doesn't uptake it from the soil.

This means that, if atmospheric CO2 increases, the ground becomes wetter and more plants can grow from the same available water. No extra precipitation needed.
posted by kablam at 2:42 PM on October 11, 2004


If I'm wrong, I'll buy everyone in this thread a coke.

Fair enough, but I want the soda and cup from Long John Silver's and the ice from Taco Bell.
posted by Smart Dalek at 2:43 PM on October 11, 2004


With all the CO2 around at least the coke won't be flat.
posted by jeblis at 3:04 PM on October 11, 2004


"What're your long-term plans for your own individual lives in a climate-changin' world?"

I figure enough guns will be lying in the street beside the corpses of their owners that I won't have much problem defending myself. ;-P
posted by mischief at 3:30 PM on October 11, 2004


I firmly believe that "global warming" will not have an adverse affect on our world for hundreds (maybe thousands) of years -- if at all.

Well, your beliefs are interesting, an' that, but what do they have to do with science? Even if you take issue with this news, based as it is on actual measurements, is there any science which you accept, though it goes against your (so far unsupported in this thread), ahem, beliefs?
posted by dash_slot- at 3:41 PM on October 11, 2004


Hey! It sounds like this thread is a great place to test out the seven things proposed in this thread. I'd do it, but I need to go have my aura balanced.
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:00 PM on October 11, 2004


Forget all that. We can't let the smoking gun of global warming be the submergence of Holland and New Orleans (and any other low-altitude areas)! Even if there's no such thing as global warming! Who can we invade to stop it?

Oh, wait...
posted by adamrice at 4:02 PM on October 11, 2004


"What're your long-term plans for your own individual lives in a climate-changin' world?"

Canada.

I've always loved Canada except for the weather. So if you guys could work out something in the So Cal range (warm days, cool nights, and very dry) I would be much obliged.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 4:32 PM on October 11, 2004


I'm not sure i've actually heard of any evidence against global warming, except a set of cautionary statements about the relative accuracy of climate models.

Well said, lodurr. My understanding is that this is where things stand. I did some reporting on the state of the art in climate modelling a couple years ago, and all of the PhD-wielding, research-lab-running climatologists I spoke to took pains to explain that no serious debate remains in their field about if climate change is happening.

What no one knows yet is exactly how it happened or what will come next - as an example, one of these climatologists explained that annual rates of glacial melting and freezing are absolutely crucial to improving the accuracy of complex climate models, and the study of glaciers is in its infancy. Out of this uncertainty about finer details, a few unscrupulous scientists and a pack of self-interested politicians and callous corporate chieftains have built a grand monolith to human ignorance and hubris that future generations, if they get the chance, will surely marvel at with far greater amazement than we now do at phrenologists and flat-earthers.
posted by gompa at 5:39 PM on October 11, 2004


loquacious: eeeeh ? spell checker ? What is that, something on the internets ? Dude don't let the fact english is not my
motherlanguage trip all over your grammar police fetish ! Oh wait you like that eh ? :-) I wonder if you moaned when your
teacher spanked you over spelling errors...mmmhh..yeesss more spelling bee teacher !!!

Anyway thanks for the hint that there is more in the sea that fish, cetaceans and phytoplankton. And a lot of oxIgen too :)

Roboto: oh so it's an effect of temperature variation on CO2 properties. Thanks I really didn't know.

Sidhedevil: correct fitoplancton is italian for the greek composed word it seems you have an ear for tongues. As for loquacious
thanks for the "protection" all he/she (indeed in his page we read Gender:YES) wanted is some good spanking I provided above.
posted by elpapacito at 6:47 PM on October 11, 2004


Some hypotheses are so audacious they nearly take your breath away. Heliocentrism must have sounded that way, five hundred years ago, with Earth spinning recklessly through space. Others include continental drift (while spinning recklessly, shifting beneath our feet), evolution by natural selection, the theory of relativity, and Big Bang cosmology. Reg Morrison's hypotheses may not be as grand as these, but they are just as audacious.

Morrison's book, The Spirit in the Gene: Humanity's Proud Illusion and the Laws of Nature, will not be a favorite of the clergy. Lynn Margulis praises it in her foreword, and I can imagine Richard Dawkins's wry smile as he reads it.

Morrison uses wide-ranging research and well-composed writing to argue that spirituality is a generically determined trait, molded by natural selection to prevent our species from destroying the world. And not, as you might think, by providing us with the compassion to care and the wisdom to see and solve our problems. On the contrary, Morrison says, our "proud illusion" of being a special species, bearing God and religion's imprimatur, is a fatal flaw that will (pretty soon, actually) result in our own destruction, to the greater good of the world.

Morrison's arguments go like this: According to the Gaia hypothesis (which he buys into), Earth is a self-regulating superorganism. To prevent plague species like achaebacterial algae, rats, locusts, and humans from destroying their environment, evolution has built doomsday flaws into all these species. He describes how early in Earth's history some bacteria evolved the ability to capture the energy of sunlight and use it to put carbon dioxide and water together into glucose: the first photosynthesizing algae. Unfortunately for them (though fortunately for us), oxygen was a byproduct of this reaction. This oxygen was toxic to early life, and clouded the oceans with rust, which acted as a feedback loop to bring the algae populations crashing down.

Likewise, rodents have a series of physiological mechanisms which decrease their birth rates as they get crowded. These are hormonal and behavioral changes which prevent them from completely destroying their habitats. And we humans?....Morrison discusses growing and good evidence that complex personality traits have a strong genetic component. Is there a spirituality gene? Unlikely, but our tendency to fall back on mysticism, tribalism, and emotional answers to complex questions, like other such personality traits, is likely hidden in a number of places on our DNA. This inborn tendency to delude ourselves, and use ancient emotional responses when clear-thinking is better called for, has actually played a big part in our success. Combined with our intellect and the part cultural evolution plays in insulating us from our environment, this innate emotional tribalism has made us, in Morrison's words, "surely the most dangerous animal ever to walk the earth." And, "being primarily founded on and driven by mystical beliefs of one kind or another, human civilization represents not so much the triumph of the mind over the body as the triumph of the gene over gene-threatening rational thought."


Further, Morrison proposes a Methane-hinged trap waiting to do humans in : an eruption of frozen methane, Clathrate Hydrates, from the ocean floors as the seas warm.

Just saying and - for the record - Morrison's not a scientist. He's a photojournalist and self taught naturalist ( and a damn smart one at that ).
posted by troutfishing at 7:30 PM on October 11, 2004


Sidhedevil: Yeah, I kinda realized that after I posted and felt stupid. I wasn't really flaming, as there'd be more swearing and bodily fluids and stuff, it was jesting. Regardless, google is right over there and offers quick spell checking, (assuming you can set it to the language of choice, which I believe it does.)

elpapacito: Spanked and moaning, oh yes, thank you. :) Increased amounts of CO2 and NO2 and other noxious gases being produced in my immediate area are due to increased mechanical friction and respiration cycles. I am purchasing CO2 credits online right now in the form of trees being planted in a school yard. Spanking trees, mmm yes. /wobbles off to mollycoddle poor, confused head and go back to work.
posted by loquacious at 8:07 PM on October 11, 2004


Loquacious, if I had a dollar for every time I posted something here that I regretted the second after I had posted it, I'd be able to buy everyone a pony and a case of Pepsi Blue. I'm sorry for scolding you; my years as an ESL teacher have provided me with some hair-trigger buttons, I guess!
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:39 AM on October 12, 2004


Here's an article about some real, rather easily measurable evidence that things may be going awry "in real time," as it were; davidmsc, you might want to read this carefully:

http://www.spacedaily.com/news/antarctic-04p.html

When an ice shelf that's been stable for 13,000 years almost completely disintegrates in a single year, and glaciers speed up their slide into the ocean by five to eight times, something is clearly having a macro-effect.

Then again, I guess that depends on whether you believe in the dating methods scientists use to determine the age of the ice sheet. They're similar to counting tree rings, actually, counting the actual layers of snow compacted to ice over the years. Coupled with carbon and other types of radioactive decay dating, they are felt to be scientifically reliable by the science community. YBMV, of course.
posted by zoogleplex at 10:50 AM on October 12, 2004


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