Global Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide

by Harrison Schmitt

See Related Releases of February 22, July 2, and 14 2010.

Given how little we actually know about climate, and particular the bogeyman called “carbon dioxide,” the President, the Environmental Protection Agency, Congress, and some ideological State governments and politically fearful corporations verge on choosing an extraordinarily dangerous path in attempting to stop natural change. The scientific rationale behind this proposed massive intrusion into American life requires more than a “consensus” of ideologically like-minded climate analysts and bureaucrats.

All of the political focus and almost all of the publicly reported scientific allegations related to present and future climate change centers on atmospheric carbon dioxide rather than on the immense complexity of natural climate. Not only do the legislative and regulatory proposals to control human production of carbon dioxide violate many provisions of the Constitution of the United States of America (see Release of February 22, 2010); but also the so-called scientific justifications for those proposals do not adhere to basic principles of scientific enquiry and analysis.

All must remember that water and clouds dominate the greenhouse effect in the atmosphere by a factor of about 10-20 over other components.1 Our quantitative knowledge of the actual concentrations and variations of water in the atmosphere, and the weather phenomena that control these parameters, only can be described as very poor2 so all discussions of water as a greenhouse gas should be tempered by this ignorance. Carbon dioxide constitutes the second most important greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, but still makes up only 0.05% by weight compared to about 2.7% for water.

Carbon dioxide, of course, forms an essential ingredient for plant and marine life on Earth on which all other life depends. Indeed, the planet life essential to human existence evolved in the geologic past at levels of carbon dioxide many times higher than exist today and grows significantly more vigorously at higher levels, particularly with increasing temperature.3 A long-term trend of decreasing atmospheric carbon dioxide prevailed over the last 175 million years.4 In that context, studies of the sizes of fossil Ginkgo leaf stomata indicate that high, but erratic carbon dioxide levels persisted in the Western United States from 250 to 65 million years ago.5

Direct, continuous measurements of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at the top of Mauna Loa, Hawaii, over the last 50 years show a steady increase from 260 to 385ppm,6 amounts many times lower than those for most of Earth history. Concentrations declined to about 260ppm approximately 9000-years ago, or some 19,000 years after slow warming, induced by a variation in the Earth’s orbit around the Sun, began the end of the last major Ice Age.7 During the Mauna Loa measurement period, at least 50% of the carbon dioxide produced by fossil fuel burning cannot be accounted for even by advocates of human-caused global warming, that is, lurking somewhere is a so-called “Missing Sink” for carbon dioxide8, probably in the oceans.

No significant evidence exists that changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide drive global temperature variations.9 The last 50 years of steady increase in carbon dioxide of one molecule per 10,000 molecules of air every five years has had no demonstrable effect on the multi-decade cooling and warming cycles since 1979 when collection of this data set by satellite began to augment other measurement sources. Cooling between 1935 and 1975 and after 2000 occurred even as a steady rise persisted in atmospheric carbon dioxide. The slow long-term warming since the coldest portion of the Little Ice Age (500-1900) shows no signs of acceleration during 150 years of industrialization and use of fossil fuels. This warming has averaged about 0.9 degree Fahrenheit (0.5 degree Centigrade) per 100 years for the last 350 years.10

The mathematically derived maximum sensitivity of surface temperature to doubling atmospheric carbon dioxide to about 760ppm is about 3.5-5.5 degrees Fahrenheit (2-3 degrees Centigrade). This calculation is tightly constrained by over three decades of records of both carbon dioxide concentrations on Mauna Loa and global temperatures measured by satellite.11 At the rate of carbon dioxide increase since 1960, doubling from today would occur in about 150 years, assuming that there were no prolonged global cooling. Doubling the atmospheric content of carbon dioxide just from new fossil fuel emissions, however, would require burning an unrealistic quantity of fossil fuels as most new emissions ultimately will end up dissolved in or precipitated from the oceans.

Should the observed rate of natural warming since the Little Ice Age continue during the next 150 years, the global temperature would increase about 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit (0.7 degrees Centigrade). Barring major volcanic emissions, this suggests that the long-term rate of increase in carbon dioxide, at least in part, actually may be a measure of the rate of natural warming, reflecting release of gas from global sinks, particularly the deep oceans12 . Recent studies, for example, indicate a significant release of carbon dioxide from the Southern Ocean during the waning millennia of the last Ice Age.13

Only about four percent of modern carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and upper-ocean today can be shown to have its origins in the burning of fossil fuels, based on ratios of stable carbon isotopes.14 This analysis is possible because the geological processes (metamorphism) associated with fossil fuel formation from plant debris, concentrates heavier isotopes of carbon in coal and oil. In contrast, earth surface processes tend to produce concentrations of light carbon isotopes. Analysis of carbon isotopes indicates that isotopically lighter, non-fossil fuel sources of carbon dioxide continue to dominate new contributions of this gas to the atmosphere.

Major non-fossil fuel sources of carbon dioxide include volcanic eruptions,15 input from rivers,16 and release from the oceans due to slow warming over the past three and a half centuries. For example, major volcanic eruptions occur every few years with each eruption releasing about two times the mass of current annual emissions from fossil fuel use.17 As would be expected due to their huge capacity to hold carbon dioxide, the oceans regulate the amount of that gas in the atmosphere as climate variations occur over the scale of decades to centuries.18 They do so by containing about 50 times the dissolved carbon dioxide present in the atmosphere19, including related chemical species, with solubility increasing with decreasing temperature20 .

Also, over at least the last 130 years, the varying rate of increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere closely follows temperature increases and decreases.21 Overall, however, the fraction of new carbon dioxide emissions absorbed by the oceans appears to have remained roughly constant for the last 250 years, if not much longer.

Where, then, is all the carbon dioxide from fossil fuels that is not in the atmosphere?22 Geoscientists have long known that most atmospheric carbon dioxide cycles through the upper ocean every 5-10 years.23 Some new carbon dioxide, with estimates of 20-35 percent of all new emissions,24 cycles down into cold deep waters where its solubility is greatest and where recycling times slow to hundreds or thousands of years.25 Some carbon dioxide goes into organic and inorganic deposition of calcium carbonate that ends up in the sediments under the oceans. Life processes have sequestered significant carbon in new biomass, particularly in phytoplankton26 and nonedible hydrocarbons27 in the oceans. Accelerated rock weathering also occurs28 with the calcium released precipitated as carbonate in soils and ocean sediments.

Studies of the history of atmospheric gas concentrations show that natural increases in carbon dioxide and methane normally follow, that is, lag global temperature increases by several hundred to a thousand years.29 Similarly, and even more clearly, natural decreases in carbon dioxide and methane follow, that is, lag global temperature decreases. This suggests that current increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide and methane reflect, at least in large part, a response to the average century-by-century temperature increases since about 1660. This cause and effect reflects the fact that increased temperature will accelerate both carbon dioxide and methane release from warming oceans and from biological processes. The potential positive or negative greenhouse effects of the delayed response of atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide to temperature changes might affect the ultimate scale of those temperature changes; but the complexities of water and cloud feedback related to atmospheric carbon dioxide may make such a determination difficult.30

The scientific rationale behind the Administration and Congress’ proposed massive intrusion into American life requires more than a “consensus” of like-minded climate analysts and bureaucrats about “carbon dioxide.” It requires a recognition that climate has changed in both the recent and geological past with little or no correlation with changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations. Bad science and unconstitutional usurpation of the rights of the people and the constitutionally reserved powers of the States should not sit well with the electorate in 2010 and 2012.

*****

Harrison H. Schmitt is a former United States Senator from New Mexico as well as a geologist and former Apollo Astronaut. He currently is an aerospace and private enterprise consultant and a member of the new Committee of Correspondence

References:

1 Segalstad, T. V., 2010, Geochemistry of CO2: the whereabouts of CO2 in Earth, Heartland Conference on Climate Change #4, Chicago, May 17, 2010.

2 Gray, W. M., 2008, Climate change: Driven by the ocean not human activity, 2nd Annual Heartland Institute Conference on Climate Change, New York, March 8-9, <http://tropical.atmos.colostate.edu>.

3 Ferguson, R., 2010, Plant and animal responses to global warming, Heartland Conference on Climate Change #4, Chicago, May 17, 2010;

Segalstad, T. V., 2010, Geochemistry of CO2: the whereabouts of CO2 in Earth, Heartland Conference on Climate Change #4, Chicago, May 17, 2010;

Robinson, A. B, N. E. Robinson, and W. Soon, 2007, Environmental effects of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide, Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, 12, pp. 79-90.

4 Rothman, D.H., 2002, Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels for the last 500 million years, Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 99, pp. 4167-4171;

Scotese, C. R. http://www.scotese.com/climate.htm.

5 Retallack, 2009, Geological Society of America Bulletin, 212, pp. 1441-.

6 Keeling, R.F., 2008, Recording Earth’s vital signs, Science, 319, pp. 1771-1772.

7 Jaworowski, Segalstad, and Ono, 1992, Science of the Total Environmnet, 114, pp. 227­284;

Segalstad, T. V., 2010, Geochemistry of CO2: the whereabouts of CO2 in Earth, Heartland Conference on Climate Change #4, Chicago, May 17, 2010.

8 Segalstad, T. V., 2010, Geochemistry of CO2: the whereabouts of CO2 in Earth, Heartland Conference on Climate Change #4, Chicago, May 17, 2010.

9 Dennis Avery, Heartland Conference on Climate Change #2, New York, March 9-10, 2009;

Segalstad, T. V., 2010, Geochemistry of CO2: the whereabouts of CO2 in Earth, Heartland Conference on Climate Change #4, Chicago, May 17, 2010.

10 Akasofu, S., Heartland Conference on Climate Change #2, New York, March 9-10, 2009;

Akasofu, S-I, 2007, Is the Earth still recovering from the “Little Ice Age”?, International Arctic Research Center, University of Alaska Fairbanks, abstract, May 7.

11 Hayden, H., 2010, Global warming: an upper limit to the sensitivity, Heartland Conference on Climate Change #4, Chicago, May 17, 2010.

12 Goldberg, F., 2009, Do the planets and the sun control the climate and the CO2 in the atmosphere?, Heartland Conference on Climate Change #3, Washington;

Segalstad, T. V., 2010, Geochemistry of CO2: the whereabouts of CO2 in Earth, Heartland Conference on Climate Change #4, Chicago, May 17, 2010.

13 Skinner, L. C., et al, 2010, Ventilation of the deep Southern Ocean and deglacial CO2 rise, Science, 328, pp. 1147-1151; Anderson, R. F., and M.-E. Carr, Uncorking the Southern Ocean’s vintage CO2, Science, 328, pp. 1117-1118.

14 Segalstad, T. V., 2010, Geochemistry of CO2: the whereabouts of CO2 in Earth, Heartland Conference on Climate Change #4, Chicago, May 17, 2010.

15 Plimer, I., 2010, the forgotten word of climate change: Time, Heartland Conference on Climate Change #4, Chicago, May 17, 2010;

Verosub, K. L., and J. Lippman, 2008, Global impacts of the 1600 Eruption of Peru’s Hauynaputina Volcano, EOS, 89, 15, pp. 141-142;

Winchester, S., 2003, Karakatoa, HarperCollins.

16 Richey, J. E., et al, 2002, Nature, 416, pp. 617-620;

Grace, J. and Y. Malhi, 2002, Carbon dioxide goes with the flow, Nature, 416, pp. 594-595.

17 Segalstad, T. V., 2010, Geochemistry of CO2: the whereabouts of CO2 in Earth, Heartland Conference on Climate Change #4, Chicago, May 17, 2010.

18 Mason, B., 1952, Principles of Geochemistry, Wiley, p. 182.

19 Segalstad, T. V., 2010, Geochemistry of CO2: the whereabouts of CO2 in Earth, Heartland Conference on Climate Change #4, Chicago, May 17, 2010.

20 Goldberg, F., 2009, Do the planets and the sun control the climate and the CO2 in the atmosphere?, Heartland Conference on Climate Change #3, Washington;

Sigman, D. M., M. P. Hain, and G. H. Haug, 2010, The polar ocean and glacial cycles in atmospheric CO2 concentration, Nature, 466, pp. 47-55.

21 Kuo, C., et al., 1990, Coherence established between atmospheric carbon dioxide and global temperature, Nature 343, pp. 709-714;

Ahlbeck, J., 2001, The carbon dioxide thermometer, 2001, see http://www.john-daly.com/co2-conc/updated.htm;

Calder,N., The carbon dioxide thermometer, Energy & Environment, 10, pp. 1-18.

22 See Segalstad, T. V., 2010, Geochemistry of CO2: the whereabouts of CO2 in Earth, Heartland Conference on Climate Change #4, Chicago, May 17, 2010.

23 Segalstad, T. V., 2010, Geochemistry of CO2: the whereabouts of CO2 in Earth, Heartland Conference on Climate Change #4, Chicago, May 17, 2010: See compilation in Solomon, L, 2008, The Deniers, Richard Vigilante, pp. 82-83.

24 Khatiwala, S., F. Primeau, and T. Hall, 2009, Reconstruction of the history of anthropogenic CO2 concentrations in the ocean, Nature, 462, pp. 346-349.

25 Skinner, L. C., et al, 2010, Ventilation of the deep Southern Ocean and deglacial CO2 rise, Science, 328, pp. 1147-1151;

Anderson, R. F., and M.-E. Carr, Uncorking the Southern Ocean’s vintage CO2, Science, 328, pp. 1117-1118.

26 Martinez, E., et al, 2009, Climate-driven basin-scale decadal oscillation of oceanic phytoplankton, Science, 326, pp. 1253-1256.

27 Stone, R., 2010, The invisible hand behind a vast carbon reservoir, Science, 328, pp. 1476-1477.

28 Segalstad, T. V., 2010, Geochemistry of CO2: the whereabouts of CO2 in Earth, Heartland Conference on Climate Change #4, Chicago, May 17, 2010;

Willenbring, J. K., F. von Blanckenburg, 2010, Long-term stability of global erosion rates and weathering during late-Cenozoic cooling, Nature, 465, pp. 211-214.

29 Mudelsee, M., 2001, The phase relations among atmospheric CO2 content, temperature and global ice volume over the past 420 ka, Quaternary Science Reviews, 20, pp. 583­589;

Petit, J. R., et al, 2000, Historical Isotopic Temperature Record from the Vostok Ice Core, In Trends: A Compendium of Data on Global Change.Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Department of Energy, Oak Ridge, Tenn., U.S.A. doi: 10.3334/CDIAC/cli.006;

Monnin, E., et al, 2001, Atmospheric CO2 concentrations over the last glacial termination, Science, 291, pp. 112-114;

Caillon, N., et al, 2003, Timing of Atmospheric CO2 and Antarctic Temperature Changes Across Termination III; Science, 299, pp. 1728-1731;

Barnola, J.-M., 2003, Historical CO2 record from the Vostok ice core. In Trends: A Compendium of Data on Global Change. Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Department of Energy, Oak Ridge, Tenn., U.S.A.;

Lorius, C., et al, 1990, The ice-core record: climate sensitivity and future greenhouse warming, Nature, 347, pp. 138-145.

30 Spencer, R. W. 2010, The Great Global Warming Blunder, Encounter Books, New York, 176 p.

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