Carbon Dioxide levels set a high of 400ppm in Antarctica

…A new announcement from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released Wednesday reveals a new benchmark that should kick us in the seat of our pants.

The remaining atmospheric observatory, Antarctica’s South Pole Observatory, has detected atmospheric carbon dioxide at 400 parts per million. Scientists agree that this number is alarming, as the level of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere has remained between 280 to 300ppm until around the time of the Industrial Revolution, when an increase in industrialization and manufacturing pumped higher levels of greenhouse gases into our atmosphere. These higher levels of greenhouse gases will bring about increasingly worse levels of destruction via climate change.

After the first observatory, the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, recorded 400 ppm three years ago, the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have flowed and cycled throughout the globe. From its original spewing out in the northern hemisphere, the greenhouse gas has made it to the southernmost continent….

New studies are showing that 400 ppm may be the new normal for planet Earth, though the levels at observatories may dip and rise as the Earth’s atmosphere cycles.

The last time that the Earth’s atmosphere contained carbon dioxide at 400 ppm was about four million years ago, approximately 3,988,000 years before humans began to roam the Earth.

When we have Congress-punks who believe the Earth is only 6,000 years old and Jeebus will fly into Cleveland for the Republican Convention on the back of a pterodactyl – it’s hard to grow any hope of governmental response to a situation that grows worse the more we learn. Know nothing-politicians aren’t going to become anything other than do nothing-politicians.

Still, there is hope in some parts of North America that the crusade led by Bernie Sanders will continue beyond the November disaster. Grassroots organizing may return to fashion among the bright and concerned. And real political opposition will stand of chance of becoming a force to reckon with.

I certainly hope so.

Human activity continues to upsets the natural balance of our atmosphere – says the World Meteorological Organization

The World Meteorological Organization said Wednesday the amount of greenhouse gases trapped in the atmosphere reached a record high in 2012.

“The observations from WMO’s extensive Global Atmosphere Watch network highlight yet again how heat-trapping gases from human activities have upset the natural balance of our atmosphere and are a major contribution to climate change,” WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said in a statement. “As a result of this, our climate is changing, our weather is more extreme, ice sheets and glaciers are melting and sea levels are rising.”

WMO said there was a 32 percent increase in the warming effect of greenhouse gases between 1990 and 2012. Carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels like oil and coal accounted for 80 percent of the increase.

CO2 levels in the atmosphere increased at a higher rate from 2011 to 2012 than the average growth rate over the last 10 years, the WMO’s report said.

Jarraud said the temperature increases associated with higher levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere may result in “devastating consequences” for the international community.

“We need to act now, otherwise we will jeopardize the future of our children, grandchildren and many future generations,” he said. “Time is not on our side.”

I’m fortunate in that I live in a county, a region where my Congressional representative and senator are on my side in the fight for sane science-based ecology. In fact, the state of New Mexico only has the one Congress-scumball downstate who believes the world must revolve around the needs of Big Oil and mining companies.

Still, my guys don’t fight for our future in a vacuum even if that is all I would expect to find inside the heads of many of our elected officials in Washington. And statewide, our local politicians ain’t a whole boatload better. The battle is joined, folks. Time to elect someone who can see further than the end of their nose and more detail than their bank account.

Signs of “new normal” in Earth’s climate apparent in hot 2012

Last year was one of the 10 hottest on record, with sea levels at record highs, Arctic ice at historic lows and extreme weather in various corners of the globe signaling a “new normal,” scientists said Tuesday in the 2012 State of the Climate report.

Meant to be a guide for policymakers, the report did not attribute the changes in climate to any one factor, but made note of continued increases in heat-trapping greenhouse gases including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide…

The report’s data indicate “new normal” conditions that can inform planning decisions, instead of relying on models that “count on the future being statistically a lot like the past,” Kathryn Sullivan said at a news briefing.

Global surface temperatures – land and water – were the eighth or ninth warmest, depending on which data set was used, since recordkeeping began in the late 1800s, the report found.

However, in the decade leading up to 2012, global temperatures actually declined by .05 degree C, according to Thomas Karl, director of NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center. Karl said the 50-year trend indicates global temperatures have consistently increased about .15 degree C per decade.

The recent decrease in temperatures has been noted by climate change skeptics who question the impact of human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels that emit carbon dioxide, on climate.

However, other changes detailed in the report paint a more complex picture:

– Sea levels reached a record high, after a sharp decrease in 2011 possibly linked to the Pacific Ocean phenomenon La Nina, which can have a cooling effect;

– Arctic sea ice shrank to its smallest summer minimum since satellite records began 34 years ago, while Antarctic sea ice reached a record high;

– More than 97 percent of the ice sheet covering Greenland melted at least a bit in the summer of 2012, four times greater than the 1981-2010 average;

– Average sea surface temperatures rose, but not much, making 2012 among the 11th warmest years on record;

– Ocean heat was near record high levels in the upper half-mile of the water, and temperatures also increased in the deep ocean.

The State of the Climate report is being published as a supplement to the August Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society and is available online.

I suggest reading the whole report. Something in there for everyone, amateur or professional, scientist or advocate for science.

It will bore the crap out of “skeptics” who normally rely on ideologues who tell them what to believe.

Greenhouse gases hit threshold unseen in 3,000,000 years

Republican answer to every climate question

The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere surpassed 400 parts per million for the first time since measurements began, breaching a threshold not seen for 3 million years.

The main greenhouse gas blamed for global warming averaged 400.03 parts per million at a monitoring station on Hawaii’s Mauna Loa volcano yesterday, according to data published today on the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website. The administration’s data stretches back to 1958.

The reading is considered a landmark by scientists and environmentalists, who say carbon emissions caused by burning fossil fuels are warming the planet and must be reined in before they cause irreversible changes to weather, sea levels and Arctic ice cover.

We are in the process of creating a prehistoric climate that humans have no evolutionary experience of,” Bob Ward, policy director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment…

The last time CO2 levels were this high was at least 3 million years ago, he said. Then, “temperatures were 2 to 3 degrees Celsius higher than pre-industrial times, the polar ice caps were much smaller, and sea levels were about 20 meters higher than today,” he said…

Carbon dioxide can stay in the atmosphere for as much as a century, so levels now may cause warming for decades. The concentration has now increased by more than 40 percent from the pre-industrial mark of 280 parts per million…

The United Nations in 2007 said stabilizing the gas at 400 ppm to 440 ppm may lead to a temperature gain of as much as 2.8 degrees Celsius (5 degrees Fahrenheit). That’s at odds with the goal set out by climate treaty negotiators from more than 190 nations, who have agreed to shoot for limiting the temperature increase to 2 degrees. The global average has already risen by about 0.8 of a degree since pre-industrial times.

As usual, conservative politicians in the United States and their peers in the Flat Earth community pay no attention to landmarks like this – other than to pat themselves on the back for ignoring science. Pimps for the fossil fuel industries, their only notice of ongoing scientific research is to complain that it occurs at all.

In a parallel effect, we have already reached and surpassed the critical mass for stupidity, egregious politics and short-sighted incompetence in the Congress of the United States.

Fracking without water! Shale gas production in arid regions

Carbon Dioxide pipeline

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, uses large amounts of water injected into wells under high pressure to help free natural gas and oil from shale deposits…Yet some of the world’s largest sources of shale gas are found in deserts, making the technique seem impractical.

It’s possible to fracture gas-rich rock formations without using any water at all. Indeed, gas and oil companies have been using carbon dioxide this way for decades, albeit on a limited basis. But if this approach is going to be used on a large scale, it will require a major investment in infrastructure for getting carbon dioxide to fracking sites. And in some cases a price on carbon emissions may be the only way to make the economics work.

In the United States, the abundant natural gas made available by fracking has spurred a huge shift to this fuel from coal, reducing greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants…But shale gas is also plentiful in places such as China, which is estimated to have 50 percent more of this resource than the United States.

Right now carbon dioxide fracking is used in places, like Wyoming, that already have carbon dioxide pipelines. Economics alone could justify building more in some places, says Robert Dilmore, a research engineer at the U.S. National Energy Technology Laboratory.

In other cases building pipelines might require a push from governments. A price on carbon, for example, could create a big supply of cheap carbon dioxide by giving utilities incentive to capture it from power plants’ smokestacks. This might make sense in China, where the best shale gas deposits are in arid areas…One of the largest shale gas resources in the world is the Tarim Basin in northeast China, located beneath the Taklamakan Desert—one of the largest sandy deserts in the world, with nearly 300,000 square kilometers of shifting dunes. Piping in water would strain already tight supplies. But these days, as China quickly adds to its stock of coal-fired power plants, the country has plenty of carbon dioxide—it’s just not capturing and using it.

Fracking with carbon dioxide has a number of potential advantages. Not only would it eliminate the need for millions of gallons of water per well, it would also eliminate the large amounts of wastewater produced in the process…

Water-free fracking could also solve other problems. In conventional fracking, half the water pumped into a well flows back to the surface, but the other half stays in the rock formation. The water that’s left behind can block the path of the natural gas, slowing down production and possibly decreasing the total amount a well can produce over its lifetime, Dilmore says…

When carbon dioxide is used instead of water, most of it comes back out of the well (where it can be captured and used again). This in turn allows natural gas to flow out more freely…

After the well is done producing, it can be sealed up, storing the carbon dioxide permanently underground. That would help reduce greenhouse-gas levels in the atmosphere…

The obvious conclusion is that since we’re talking about a quid pro quo that removes carbon from the air – uses it to free up natural gas [instead of scarce water] – and finishes off the task with sequestered carbon it would be worth making this the primary technology. But, not until we get to it, working out costs, etc..

Warming Arctic permafrost adds fuel to climate change worries

Katey M. Walter Anthony investigating a plume of methane

A bubble rose through a hole in the surface of a frozen lake. It popped, followed by another, and another, as if a pot were somehow boiling in the icy depths.

Every bursting bubble sent up a puff of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas generated beneath the lake from the decay of plant debris. These plants last saw the light of day 30,000 years ago and have been locked in a deep freeze — until now.

“That’s a hot spot,” declared Katey M. Walter Anthony, a leading scientist in studying the escape of methane. A few minutes later, she leaned perilously over the edge of the ice, plunging a bottle into the water to grab a gas sample.

It was another small clue for scientists struggling to understand one of the biggest looming mysteries about the future of the earth.

Continue reading

Ionic liquid catalyst helps turn industrial emissions into fuel

An Illinois research team has succeeded in overcoming one major obstacle to a promising technology that simultaneously reduces atmospheric carbon dioxide and produces fuel.

Professor Paul Kenis and his research group joined forces with researchers at Dioxide Materials, a startup company, to produce a catalyst that improves artificial photosynthesis…Artificial photosynthesis is the process of converting carbon dioxide gas into useful carbon-based chemicals, most notably fuel or other compounds usually derived from petroleum, as an alternative to extracting them from biomass.

In plants, photosynthesis uses solar energy to convert carbon dioxide (CO2) and water to sugars and other hydrocarbons. Biofuels are refined from sugars extracted from crops such as corn. However, in artificial photosynthesis, an electrochemical cell uses energy from a solar collector or a wind turbine to convert CO2 to simple carbon fuels such as formic acid or methanol, which are further refined to make ethanol and other fuels.

“The key advantage is that there is no competition with the food supply,” said Richard Masel, a co-principal investigator of the paper and CEO of Dioxide Materials, “and it is a lot cheaper to transmit electricity than it is to ship biomass to a refinery.”

However, one big hurdle has kept artificial photosynthesis from vaulting into the mainstream: The first step to making fuel, turning carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide, is too energy intensive. It requires so much electricity to drive this first reaction that more energy is used to produce the fuel than can be stored in the fuel.

The Illinois group used a novel approach involving an ionic liquid to catalyze the reaction, greatly reducing the energy required to drive the process. The ionic liquids stabilize the intermediates in the reaction so that less electricity is needed to complete the conversion…

Next, the researchers hope to tackle the problem of throughput. To make their technology useful for commercial applications, they need to speed up the reaction and maximize conversion.

“More work is needed, but this research brings us a significant step closer to reducing our dependence on fossil fuels while simultaneously reducing CO2 emissions that are linked to unwanted climate change,” Kenis said.


Not the only researchers studying this sort of solution to problems causing climate change, industrial pollution negatively affecting air chemistry. But, this is one of the first I’ve seen that appears to have some success in qualitatively reducing the cost of the transformation of carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide.

Where was all that CO₂ stored at the end of the Ice Age?

New University of Florida research puts to rest the mystery of where old carbon was stored during the last glacial period. It turns out it ended up in the icy waters of the Southern Ocean near Antarctica.

The findings have implications for modern-day global warming, said Ellen Martin, a UF geological sciences professor and an author of the paper, which is published in this week’s journal Nature Geoscience.

“It helps us understand how the carbon cycle works, which is important for understanding future global warming scenarios,” she said. “Ultimately, a lot of the carbon dioxide that we’re pumping into the atmosphere is going to end up in the ocean. By understanding where that carbon was stored in the past and the pathways it took, we develop a better understanding of how much atmospheric carbon dioxide the oceans can absorb in the future…”

The implications are that while large amounts of carbon could be stored in the ocean when there was a great deal of sea ice, the opposite is the case in a world that is warming, with less ice, which allows more carbon dioxide to be released into the atmosphere, Martin said. Thus, in a warming scenario the oceans may not be able to store as much carbon dioxide as they could under glacial conditions

The oceans are a critical part of the carbon dioxide cycle, Martin said. “The oceans have 60 times more carbon dioxide in them than the atmosphere, so when we worry about what’s happening with carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, we often look to the oceans as a potential source or sink.”

The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere during the glacial periods was about 200 parts per million, compared with 280 parts per million during a typical interglacial period, Martin said. Today that level has soared to about 380 parts per million, she said.

The time period that encompasses the last glacial period to the current interglacial period when carbon dioxide levels went up very quickly is often referred to as the “mystery interval” because scientists hadn’t known where the carbon was stored, Martin said.

“Now we have a better understanding of how the system worked,” she said.

Bravo! Deeper understanding, another avenue opened for investigation for those paleoclimatologists working hard at becoming forecasters.

Feed yard greenhouse gas study begins

That steaming pile ain’t topsoil

U.S. scientists say they are starting a study to determine greenhouse gas emissions from feed yard operations.

Texas A&M University scientists at AgriLife Research in Amarillo, Texas, said they will measure three greenhouse gases: nitrous oxide, carbon dioxide and methane.

Assistant Professor Ken Casey and research chemist Al Caramanica said they will use a Varian gas chromatograph with three detectors set up for automatic injection of gas samples from gas-tight vials. That, they said, will allow simultaneous detection of all three gases from samples taken at feed yards.

“This work will focus primarily on nitrous oxide,” Casey said, noting the gas has approximately 310 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide.

“We are part of a larger effort to quantify what emissions of greenhouse gas are from feed yards,” he said. “We want to understand the variability and circumstances that create the greatest emissions and determine methodologies that identify the right numbers. Then we want to help identify management practices that can keep them at the lowest possible levels.”

Sorry, I can’t help it. I don’t go out of my way to offend Texas readers of this blog – unless they’re some kind of reactionary git – which can happen anywhere. BUT –

Amarillo is the ultimo place on Earth to run these tests. If you’ve ever overnighted in Amarillo, say, during a nice hot July – you know the odors wafting from the feed lots scattered strategically in and around Amarillo can match any stench on the planet. My clients there used to joke that their biggest fear during a line storm wasn’t tornados; but, a lightning strike setting fire to the atmosphere!

Two million people endangered by poison gas from African lake

Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

More than two million people living on the banks of Lake Kivu in central Africa are at risk of being asphyxiated by gases building up beneath its surface, scientists have warned.

It is estimated that the lake, which straddles the borders of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda, now contains 300 cubic kilometres of carbon dioxide and 60 cubic kilometres of methane that have bubbled into the Kivu from volcanic vents. The gases are trapped in layers 80 metres below the lake’s surface by the intense water pressures there. However, researchers have warned that geological or volcanic events could disturb these waters and release the gases.

The impact would be devastating, as was demonstrated on 21 August 1986 at Lake Nyos in Cameroon, in West Africa. Its waters were saturated with carbon dioxide and a major disturbance – most probably a landslide – caused a huge cloud of carbon dioxide to bubble up from its depths and to pour down the valleys that lead from the crater lake.

Carbon dioxide is denser than air, so that the 50mph cloud hugged the ground and smothered everything in its path. Some 1,700 people were suffocated.

“The lake was essentially like a bottle of beer that had been shaken up,” said Professor George Kling, of the department of ecology and evolutionary biology at Michigan University. “When you opened it, carbon dioxide bubbled up, and the beer frothed over. A glassful is OK. A lakeful is deadly.”

Kling has since turned his attention to Lake Kivu, which is more than 3,000 times the size of Nyos and contains more than 350 times as much gas. More worrying is the fact that the shores of Kivu are much more heavily populated. About two million people live there, including the 250,000 citizens of the city of Goma.

Mount Nyiragongo, near Goma, erupted in 2002 and lava streamed from it into Lake Kivu for several days. On this occasion there was no disturbance of the lake’s deep layers of gas and no deadly outpouring of carbon dioxide or methane. However, Kling has warned – in the journal Nature this month – that in the event of another eruption the region may not be so lucky again.

Sometimes, nature can be scarier than human beings. True – not very often.

Still, there are risks attendant upon siphoning off the gases – as is currently being tried. And if you don’t try, a natural disaster could still upset what equilibrium there is – and kill millions of people.

Sounds like a good reason to move.