Sunday, November 30, 2014

Do you know what your jet stream is doing tonight?

                                           The jet stream actually doesn't look like that

Do you ever wonder what the jet stream is doing while you're not looking?  

Sure, you occasionally see maps that show the jet stream shooting across the United States, usually when the weather channel is trying to explain why the weather is so unusually hot or so unusually cold.  The jet stream is always portrayed as a thin, continuous and sinuous band of high speed winds snaking its way around the planet.   You can also see the same kinds of diagrams in many geography and science textbooks.

But thats all wrong.  The jet stream actually isn't like that at all.   Global Warming is changing the jet stream to something quite different. 

You don't believe me---then why not see the jet stream for yourself?   Real-time meteorologic data from around the world can now be accessed from data feeds provided by NOAA and other agencies around the world who collect meteorological data.   This is the same data that is used by the US Weather Service and various weather sites like Weather Underground when they make weather predictions.  

One of the best places to see the jet stream is at a site called Earth: An Animated Display of Global Wind, Weather and Ocean Conditions.   Click through on the link I've provided and it will take you to a real-time display of the jet stream.  Click around on this web site and you can access a lot of other interesting real-time meteorologic data as well.

Global Warming is changing the way the jet stream behaves and the way it operates.  The amplitude of the waveforms in the jet stream are becoming bigger and the wavelengths are becoming smaller so it is becoming more and more sinuous.  This allows warmer temperatures to penetrate far into the north, and is partly responsible for the melting of the Arctic Ocean sea ice.  Some climatologists also think the changes in the shape of the jet stream are causing more extreme weather events in temperate latitudes----such as more severe droughts and extreme heat events in the summer and more intense cold outbreaks of cold polar air in the winter.  The realization that global warming caused by CO2 building up in the atmosphere is changing the shape of the jet stream helps explain why we are seeing more of both extreme warm AND extreme cold weather events.

But you don't have to believe me that global warming is changing the shape of the jet stream.  Now you can see the jet stream for yourself.


Saturday, November 29, 2014

Geoengineering with Artificial Clouds

                                              "Hey.....You......Get off my cloud"  --- Mick Jagger

Most proposals for Geoengineering the Earth to mitigate global climate change involve scaling up natural processes that already occur on the earth.  For instance, cloudy days tend to be cooler then sunny days because clouds block the sun.  One proposal to counteract global warming involves creating artificial clouds.  A NASA review of climate change states:

"Even small changes in the abundance or location of clouds could change the climate more than the anticipated changes caused by greenhouse gases..." 

Artificial clouds aren't very hard to make.  Thousands of huge artificial clouds, called contrails, are created by jet aircraft everyday.   As thousands of passenger jet flights pass occur over the United States, contrails made of steam appear behind each jet engine as a by-product of combustion of jet fuel in the jet engines.  Currently about 60 billion gallons of jet fuel are consumed each year by jet aircraft in the USA.  The stream exhaust is superheated when it leaves the jet engine and quickly expands to about 100 times its original volume in the low air pressure found in stratosphere where jet travel occurs and then freezes into ice crystals to form visible clouds.  Based on the volume of jet fuel consumed, about 10 trillion cubic feet of clouds are produced.  Surely these clouds are cooling the climate?  Perhaps the ideal Geoengineering program would involve subsidies to encourage frequent free jet travel to Rio and Paris and Vegas and other exotic places in order to make even more jet contrails and counteract Greenhouse Warming?

Unfortunately, no.

Yes, clouds block solar radiation and can produce some local cooling.  But water itself is a greenhouse gas, and clouds absorb long wave radiation emitted by the earth and keep the earth's surface warmer than it would be without clouds.  This effect is especially noticeable at night----the very coldest nights tend to be clear, while cloudy nights are warmer.

When the warming and cooling effects of cloud cover are compared, the warming effect is actually somewhat larger than the cooling effect.  Some scientists actually believe jet contrails and other artificial clouds are playing a significant role in INCREASING planetary global warming.  

So Mick Jagger had it right all along...

I was sick and tired, fed up with this
And decided to take a drive downtown
It was so very quiet and peaceful
There was nobody, not a soul around
I laid myself out, I was so tired and I started to dream
In the morning the parking tickets were just like
A flag stuck on my window screen
I said, Hey! You! Get off of my cloud
Hey! You! Get off of my cloud
Hey! You! Get off of my cloud
Don't hang around 'cause two's a crowd
On my cloud


Friday, November 28, 2014

Nuclear War and Geoengineering

                                        Enough with the planetary geoengineering already

One of the nasty side effects of a nuclear war, in addition to the mass destruction of cities and deaths of millions of innocent civilians, is something called nuclear winter.  Computer models of the effects of nuclear war suggest that the huge explosions and enormous heat generated by nuclear bombs create convective clouds that carry radioactive dust and aerosols up into the upper atmosphere from the detonation site at ground zero.  Set off enough nuclear bombs and create enough nuclear mushroom clouds, and the debris carried into the atmosphere will block a portion of the sunlight and produce a global cooling effect.

In an article entitled "you want crazy we got crazy" Michael D. Lemonick suggested that a nuclear war just might make his day.  Mr. Lemonick didn't call for an all-out nuclear exchange between the US and Russia and China as he felt that was too extreme, but he proposed instead that limited nuclear exchanges between second tier nuclear powers like India and Pakistan, Israel and soon-to-go-nuclear Iran or even Britain and France might put just enough dust into the air to successfully counteract the effects of rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere.  Mr. Lemonick suggested the ideal scenario would be a series of limited nuclear exchanges between different pairs of countries, with a new nuclear war beginning between two new countries just as the cooling effect of the previous nuclear war was just diminishing in effectiveness. 

It definitely seems crazy to suggest limited nuclear war as a way to slow Greenhouse Warming, so perhaps Mr. Lemonick had his tongue firmly in his cheek when he made his suggestion.  Or perhaps Mr. Lemonick is one of those crazy cock-eyed optimists who can always put a positive spin on things, no matter how disastrous the situation.   

So if in the future, god forbid, a nuclear war starts, please remember Mr. Lemonick's idea.   The world may be ending, but there is a silver lining in those mushroom-shaped radioactive clouds----at least you won't have to worry about Greenhouse Warming for awhile.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

"We can't save the planet"


James Lovelock, the creator of the Gaia hypothesis, was one of the initial advocates of using Planetary Geoengineering to counteract the effects of Greenhouse Warming.  Lovelock himself proposed converting plant material into biochar and dumping the charcoal in the ocean as a way to pump down CO2.  But as he became older Lovelock abandoned hope that Planetary Geoengineering could successfully counteract human-caused Greenhouse Warming.  In a recent interview at age 90 Lovelock said it is too late for Planetary Geoengineering to stop Greenhouse Warming, and humanity now has no alternative but to accept whatever happens.  

James Lovelock's message to humanity is one of resignation and surrender to whatever is coming with global climate change.  There is no way around the fact, according to Lovelock, that "we can't save the planet!"  

In addition to abandoning his own geoengineering ideas, Lovelock now also dismisses all other geoengineering ideas as impractical and impossible, saying "trying to save the planet is a lot of nonsense."  Lovelock dismisses the efforts of both politicians to craft CO2 reduction treaties, and scientists to find ways to mitigate CO2 emissions and counteract global warming.

Its hard to know if Lovelock was just having a particularly bad day when he abandoned his earlier advocacy for biochar and planetary geoengineering, or if there is some scientific reason why he has changed his opinion.  Lovelock hasn't abandoned all hope, however, as he holds out some hope that the Earth (or Gaia?) might somehow mitigate Global Warming in ways that we presently can't foresee.

However, if Gaia fails to stop global warming, Lovelock recommends that people retain a good attitude about it all.  After all, Lovelock says, while people may've caused global warming by overindulging in fossil fuels, "We're not really guilty.  We didn't deliberately set out to heat the world."    

Monday, November 24, 2014

Saving Gaia with Biochar Geoengineering

                                    James Locklock, creator of the Gaia hypothesis

James Lovelock is a genius.  He is best know for the Gaia hypothesis proposing that biologic organisms interact with non-biologic processes on earth in ways that help maintain the conditions for life on our planet.   It was inevitable that Lovelock would become interested in Planetary Geoengineering.   Curiously, given his authorship of the Gaia hypothesis, Lovelock rejects the idea that growing plants or other natural processes (i.e. so-called Green Geoengineering) by itself can cope with the greenhouse warming that is projected to occur as result of human fossil fuel consumption, because any attempt to increase global biomass by growing more plants will ultimately just result in more decomposing plant debris that returns CO2 to the atmosphere.    Lovelock proposes instead that agricultural waste be converted to charcoal to remove CO2 from atmosphere.   He calls this process biochar.

What we have to do is turn a portion of all the waste of agriculture into charcoal and bury it. Consider grain like wheat or rice; most of the plant mass is in the stems, stalks and roots and we only eat the seeds. So instead of just ploughing in the stalks or turning them into cardboard, make it into charcoal and bury it or sink it in the ocean. We don't need plantations or crops planted for biochar, what we need is a charcoal maker on every farm so the farmer can turn his waste into carbon.

Biochar seems like a simple and effective way to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. But there is a complication. You can't make biochar by burning waste material in a bonfire ---combustion causes the CO2 to go right back up into the atmosphere. To create biochar you have to heat treat the waste in a specially controlled environment that keeps the carbon in the biochar----you need a device that Lovelock calls a "charcoal maker." The idea is to wind up with a charred simulacra of the original material---something like what happens to volcanologists if they get too close to a volcano when a pyroclastic flow is coming down the slope.

If I could make a suggestion, I would scale up Lovelock's plan beyond just agricultural waste. Why not also have "charcoal makers" in every restaurant so all the food trimmings and waste food could be shoveled into them. Why not replace garbage disposals in every home with "charcoal makers" so home leftovers could also be converted into biochar. Why not put charcoal makers at every garbage dump and every landfill so people could chuck their grass cuttings and shrub trimmings into them? Why not install a charcoal maker on every yacht, oil tanker, fishing boat and US navy vessel?

Imagine the mountains of biochar we could produce. We could make piles of black charcoal biochar as far as the could see.
Now here's the hard part---- please try to think of somewhere to put it all.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The "INTERSTELLAR" movie, Haboobs, and Planetary Geoengineering

                                                 Haboob sweeping across Phoenix, Az.

The movie "Interstellar" begins with the premise that something has gone terribly wrong with the Earth.  Humanity is no longer able to feed itself, so even a former NASA astronaut has been forced into farming to help grow enough food to avert mass starvation. Giant dust storms (called haboobs, from the Arabic word for such things) sweep periodically across the farms and bury small towns.  The future Earth in the movie Intersteller is something that looks like the Oklahoma dustbowl of the 1930s.   The only thing that still seems to work right is the hero's indestructible Dodge Ramcharger Truck, in an inspired bit of product placement by Chrysler-Fiat.

While the movie never explains whats gone wrong with the Earth, there clearly has been some kind of environmental degradation.  Lets see if we can figure out just what has gone wrong.  Haboobs are occurring more frequency  in places like Phoenix Az now as a consequence of higher temperatures and increasing aridification brought on by Greenhouse Warming.  California is in a massive drought due to Greenhouse Warming.  And crop blights and famines are predicted to occur as the planet warms.   The future Earth of Interstellar is our Earth, with CO2 emissions, Greenhouse Warming, and other current trends extrapolated into the future.   

Fortunately, in the movie NASA has secretly relocated to a new location just a short drive away from the former astronaut in his redoubtable Dodge truck.  At NASA an elderly scientist played by a charming Michael Caine has been laboring fruitlessly for 40 years to solve an equation describing gravity while the earth's environment has been progressively destroyed.  

And that raises fundamental questions.  The Interstellar film is to be applauded for championing the merits of science and science education.  Thanks to NASA science and technology and a huge dose of movie magic a small fragment of humanity is saved in Interstellar.  But why the heck doesn't lovable scientist Michael Caine devote maybe an hour a day trying to figure out how to save the earth?   Why does no one in the movie ever question the assumption that saving the earth is impossible?  Why hasn't NASA or some other agency or somebody somewhere done anything to counteract the changes in Earth's climate?  Why does the film want us to cheer because a few hundred select people successfully flee the dying earth, leaving billions behind in an ecological death trap?  Why does everyone assume the earth is headed for climate disaster and nothing can be done?   

Why is the idea of Planetary Geoengineering completely missing from Interstellar?

Friday, November 21, 2014

Snowpocalypse in Buffalo ---surprising side effect of Global Warming

                              Global temperatures on Nov. 21, 2014 from climate reanalyzer

The media is running out of superlatives to describe the unprecedented snowstorms in Buffalo, New York.  Up to 9 feet of snow haven fallen in the last two days.   Its being called a THUNDERSNOW!  MONSTER BLIZZARD!  INSANE!  WINTER STORM KNIFE!  EPIC!  SNOWPOCALPSE!   

But they should be calling it GLOBAL WARMING!

Lets put the SNOWPOCALYPSE into perspective by looking at a map of northern hemisphere temperatures on Nov. 21, the final day of the SNOWPOCALYPSE.   The cold temperatures that produced the massive lake effect snowfalls in the Buffalo area show up as a big blue blob over the northeastern part of North America.  But this area of blue on the map is surrounded by larger areas of red and black indicating unusually warm temperatures were present at the same time over Greenland, Alaska and nearby areas of the Arctic Ocean, north Africa and the Mediterranean Sea.  Even larger areas over the Atlantic Ocean and Northeast Pacific Ocean were also somewhat above normal temperatures.  

So northern hemisphere temperatures during the Buffalo storm are, for most part, above average.  Even the displacement of cold Arctic air southward to the middle west and the Buffalo area is a product of warm air blasting northward across Alaska, and pushing cold Arctic air southwards toward Buffalo.

So smile, Buffalo.  Thats not just the SNOWPOCALYPSE you're shoveling off your driveway---try to think of it as frozen GLOBAL WARMING.  

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Shoot the CO2 out of the sky with Fricken' Lasers!

              Incoming!  Incoming!  CO2 spotted at 12 O'clock High!   ZZZZZAAPPP!   Got it!!!!

There is no problem so large that someone won't think the way to solve the problem is to shoot at it or blow it up.  CO2 build-up in the atmosphere and Greenhouse Warming is no different.  If there is too much CO2 in the atmosphere, this line of thought goes, then the way to fix the CO2 problem is to shoot the #%$@& CO2 right out of the sky!

Of course shooting CO2 is a little bit trickier then shooting down the Red Baron.  CO2 molecules are very small and make up only about 0.04% of the atmosphere, so its hard to even find it, much less shoot at it.  The obvious solution?  Get a laser----or as Dr. Evil famously said "a fricken' laser."  

Conveniently enough, the same kind of space-based lasers that were once proposed as "Star Wars" weapons to shoot down ICBMs are now being repurposed as space-based lasers that could shoot down CO2.  However, even the developers of this ingenious idea admit that they might have a hard time shooting lasers at the CO2 in the atmosphere because the CO2 atoms are so small.  

If I could make a small suggestion, it would be to keep the laser idea, but shift the weapons platform from a space based satellite system to something located here on earth.  Since CO2 is so small, its going to be very difficult to hit it from a satellite system located in outer space, even if the satellite is put in low earth orbit.  However, borrowing again from Dr. Evil, if you put the "fricken' lasers" on a shark, then the shark will be able to get much closer to the CO2 in the atmosphere than a satellite can, adding to the ability of the shark to shoot down the CO2 and increasing the likelihood of this particular geoengineering concept being successful.

       Sharks with fricken' lasers on their heads could get much closer to the CO2 in the atmosphere than a laser system located on an orbiting earth satellite.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Pumping Down CO2 is like Drinking a Margarita with a Straw

                                     Pumping down CO2 is like drinking a margarita with a Straw

NASA just released an animation of modeled CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere over the course of year.  The animation lasts about a minute.  You can see it here at the NASA website.  The NASA animation shows how CO2 is released into the atmosphere mainly from the northern hemisphere.  Look more closely and you'll see the biggest producers of CO2 are a few densely populated and industrialized regions in the US, Europe and Asia.

Once the CO2 is released into the atmosphere it mixes with the rest of the atmosphere and eventually distributes new batches of CO2 through the rest of the atmosphere.  Over the course of a year CO2 concentrations grow rapidly in the northern hemisphere during the winter, but then descrease during the summer as new plant growth pumps down CO2 to create new biomass.  Then, each year when winter comes again, the CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere rise to new levels.

This animation illustrates an important assumption that lies behind Planetary Geoenginering proposals like Prof. Curry's idea to pump down atmospheric CO2 by freezing air in giant refrigerators, or Prof. Martin's idea to pump down CO2 by fertilizing the ocean, or my idea to scale up industrial chemical process to pump down atmospheric CO2.  Since CO2 becomes rapidly well mixed through the atmosphere over the entire surface of the planet on an annual cycle, it is not necessary to remove CO2 at multiple sites.  If the appropriate geoengineering method can be devised, and if the necessary engineering can be done to put the planetary geoengineering scheme into action, the actual process of pumping down CO2 needs to only be done at one location to have an effect on the CO2 content of the atmosphere everywhere on earth.  

Its like drinking a strawberry margarita from a jar with a straw----you don't have to use multiple straws to get at all parts of the margarita----you can just push your straw down  one spot down at the bottom of the ice cubes and drink---- all the margarita you want can be enjoyed right there in that one spot.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Capturing and Storing CO2 in Giant Refrigerators

                                         Don't touch that door---you'll let all the CO2 out!

A couple of years ago Judith Curry came up with an interesting geo-engineering idea for capturing and storing CO2.  Her idea essentially involves building various kinds of giant refrigerators powered by giant windmills, and is based on the fact that CO2 will "snow" out of the atmosphere at ca. 133° K, and forms a stable, solid compound known as "dry ice" at these low temperatures.  Her geoengineering idea involves building a huge network of giant refrigerators in Antarctica to capture and store atmospheric CO2.

Dr. Curry describes the giant refrigerators in this way :  A depositional plant constructed on Antarctica could conceivably pull air into a refrigerated chamber, where sufficient cooling could  result in CO2 snow deposition......Demonstrated success of a prototype system in the Antarctic would be  followed by a complete installation of .... 446 plants for CO2 snow deposition

Then, once the CO2 "snow" is produced, it would be moved into giant refrigerated pits dug into the surface of the ice sheet, i.e. ....solid CO2 can be stored in an insulated CO2 snow landfill that is 142 380m x 380m x 10m, which amounts to 0.00224B tons. The intake-exhaust fans will allow reversed air flow to permit the chamber to operate with the ambient wind direction . It is further noted that five insulated landfills (380m x 380m x 10m for each) will be constructed in a semicircle in  close proximity to each deposition plant to accommodate for five years of CO2 sequestration  (one landfill filled per year at each deposition plant).  [The landfills] will be insulated with polyisocyanurate (effective down to 93°K). Snow cat excavators will operate in  groups of five to move the dry ice rapidly into the insulated landfills. 

The idea is intriguing, but I'm a little unclear as to why the giant refrigerators and the landfills have to be in Antartica to start with.  Trying to maintain 446 refrigeration plants and hundreds of windmills and snow cat excavators, not to mention feeding and housing all the workers needed to support such a huge operation operation on top of the Antarctic Ice sheet, where the worst weather in the world prevails, would not be an easy operation.  And either the refrigeration units and wind power units would have to be engineered to never fail, or total redundancy would have to be built into every system, because if the temperature in the giant refrigerated landfills 
rose above 133° K the CO2 "snow" would quickly start to sublimate and evaporate back to atmosphere.  Even the coldest day in Antarcic is far far warmer then the temperature needed to quickly empty an entire CO2 snow landfill.

I've got a suggestion---why not put the whole operation somewhere more accessible and easy to deal with?  How about trying this geoengineering idea in west Texas or at the Hanford National Laboratory in eastern Washington State.  There is plenty of wind power there,  and while the refrigeration units used to create CO2 snows and the insulated refrigerated pits would have to be better insulated, they would operate just as well somewhere in the continental US as they would in Antarctica, and it would be a heck of lot easier to make it all work if this operation was built somewhere accessible in the mainland USA.  After all, refrigerators can break---and have you ever tried to get a refrigerator repairman to make a house call to Antarctica?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Green Geoengineering means raking up a lot of leaves

         Atmospheric CO2 concentrations continue to increase in spite of "Green Geoengineering"

"Green" geoengineering solutions are very appealing because they don't involve any complicated technology or geochemistry.  Wouldn't it be great if all we had to do to stop sea level rise and avert the Greenhouse Warming was to plant a garden or farm Christmas Trees or cabbages or wheat, and let the plant growth pump down the CO2 that our cars and factories and homes are expelling into the atmosphere?  Wouldn't it great if we didn't have to do anything at all?

Plants do pump down CO2, as shown by a strong annual cycle in the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere (figure above).  CO2 in the atmosphere increases from Oct to April, and then rapidly decreases by 3-4 ppm from April to Oct---i.e. during summer in the northern hemisphere.   The burst in plant growth and the appearance of leaves pumps down huge amounts of CO2.   But alas, as fall arrives and then winter, then leaves fall off the trees, the plant growth slows down, and natural soil process produce decay which returns the CO2 to the atmosphere.  

This shows the basic problem with "Green" Geoengineering---putting CO2 into plants is not a one-way trip.  The CO2 is released back to the atmosphere when the leaves decay and crops are harvested, when the christmas tree is cut, decorated, and then stacked up in landfills, or when trees in old growth forests crash to ground and rot.  The only way "Green" geoengineering can work would be to somehow preserve all the biomass and prevent it from decaying.  For starters, someone would have to rake up every single leaf dropped by all maple and oak trees across the United States, put the leaves in a giant garbage bag, and then keep that garbage bag sealed up in their basement ..... forever.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

How much CO2 will China be producing by the year 2030?

Chinese Premier XI signed an agreement earlier this week with President Obama.  In this agreement, Xi agreed to cap (or consider capping, as the Chinese version of the agreement reads) Chinese CO2 emissions in 2030.   So how much CO2 will China be producing by 2030?

There is no way predict exactly how much CO2 China will be releasing into the atmosphere 16 years from now, but its almost certain it will be a heck of a lot more then China is releasing now.  China passed the US to become the world's largest emitter of CO2 in about 2010, and since then has almost doubled their CO2 output.   The main reason that China's CO2 emissions are growing so rapidly is China's dependence on coal-fired power plants to generate electricity.  A secondary reason is the rapid adoption of motorcycle and cars by the Chinese public.  When I first visited China in 1990, a year after the Tien Amin massacre, there were absolutely zero private vehicles anywhere China.  The roads were filled with bicyclists.  Of course all that has changed---today cars, motorcycles, and trucks are everywhere in China.
Beijing traffic jam ca 1989

The simple graph at the top of this post, borrowed from the "Climate Central" web page, shows their projection of Chinese coal use.  Today, China burns more than twice as much coal as the US does.  By 2030, they are projected to increase their coal use by 50%.  Throw in even more cars, truck, and motorcycles, and China looks to greatly increase both their annual emissions and their share of total global CO2 emissions over the next 15 years.  AND, since CO2 has a residence time of ca. 1000 years in the atmosphere, all the extra CO2 emitted by China and the US under this new agreement will further accelerate global warming.

Its discouraging that this new and much ballyhooed bilateral international agreement that is supposed to reduce CO2 emissions will actually result in huge INCREASES to CO2 emissions.   Its not a new story---global CO2 emissions also rose dramatically during the time period of the Kyoto Accords.  

One can only conclude that CO2 emissions are going to be allowed to increase until the planet is clearly being damaged by global warming.  And by then the only thing left to try to fix things will be  Planetary Geoengineering.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

How hard is it to melt the Greenland Ice Sheet?

The Greenland Ice is a geographic oddity.  While the West and East Antarctic Ice Sheets are as far south as you can get and securely nestle up to the South Pole, the Greenland Ice Sheet is a small, solitary ice sheet that extends southward to 60° N. Latitude.  Extensive areas of North America, Europe and Asia lie farther north, but are not ice covered today.  Entire countries like Norway and Sweden are as far north as Greenland, and my own University here in Alaska is at the same latitude as the middle of the Greenland Ice Sheet.     Only 15,000 years ago there were huge ice sheets over the parts of North America right next to the Greenland Ice Sheet, but those ice sheets melted when the ice age ended while the Greenland Ice Sheet hung on.  It doesn't take much more than a glance at a globe to make one hard would it be to melt the Greenland Ice Sheet now.

We may be about to find out.  Field studies and satellite surveys all agree that Greenland is currently melting fast.   The most recent measurements indicate Global sea level is rising at about 3.5 mm per year,  and almost all of the rise in global sea level seems to be coming water melting from the Greenland Ice Sheet.  And the rate of sea level is slowly increasing.....a few years ago sea level was only rising at 3 mm per year, and ten years before that at only 2.5 mm per per year, and 50 years ago sea level was only going up 1 mm per year.   

Some years ago I spent two months off the east coast of Greenland on the Glomar Explorer, the international scientific drilling vessel.  I was part of a science team that drilled a series of scientific cores into the sea floor along a line reaching out from Greenland and into the North Atlantic.  On the Continental Shelf all around Greenland we encountered glacial till and other glacial deposits, and in the deep sea beyond the edge of the continental shelf we drilled through sequences of sediments deposited by ice bergs calving off the Greenland ice Sheet.  The earliest record of ice bergs dated back to 7 million years ago, indicating the Greenland Ice Sheet had been present then.  This was a big discovery---our paper on this discovery appeared in Science because we had pushed back the age of the earliest glaciation of Greenland by several million years.  We did good.  But we missed a big part of the story.

Today I look at the record of glaciation on Greenland much differently.  Yes, the earliest record of glacial deposits goes back to 7 million years, but there were portions of the drill core above the lowermost glacial sediments where glacial sedimentation apparently stopped, and then resumed, and then stopped and resumed..  When we wrote our paper for Science we ignored these cycles and focussed on the maximum age of glaciation.  But today, based on how rapidly the Ice Sheet is melting now, most likely that the Greenland Ice Sheet disappeared during multiple warm intervals in the past.   Some past interglacial periods were warm enough to melt the ice sheet.  It then would reform during Ice Ages,and sometimes survive the next interglacial, and sometimes. not.  

The Greenland ice sheet was set to survive our current interglacial before homo sapiens came along.  But the Greenland Ice Sheet never previously encountered anything like 5 billion people trying to live the good life.  Sadly, once James Watt invented the coal-fired steam engine and Henry Ford invented the auto assembly line, the Greenland Ice Sheet never had a chance.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Geoengineering the Anthropocene

                                        Rice Paddies produce methane.....a powerful Greenhouse gas

Earth Scientists are considering changing the name of the most recent period of Earth History.  The period since the end of the ice age, covering the last 10,000 years, is currently known as the Holocene.  The term is a composite of two Greek words, meaning something like "entirely new" or "wholly new."  The name refers to the fact that after the last Ice Age ended, earth's climate warmed and changed to something new ----a period during which more temperate conditions prevailed over much of the planet.  

But now it seems there is something even more "entirely new" then the Holocene, and thats the Anthropocene, coming from the root word "anthropos" or human.   Proponents of the Anthropocene note that humans are busily covering huge areas of the earth in rocks (i.e. concrete) and modifying much of the rest by cutting trees and farming.  Human's are also drilling oil wells, strip mining coal beds, and creating huge open pit mines to get at mineral deposits that took many many millennia to form.  But perhaps most importantly, humans are altering the climate by pumping CO2 into the atmosphere, in a kind of massive unwitting Geoengineering project.   Surely all these human-caused geologic changes are important enough to warrant the naming of new geologic period, the Anthropocene!

As usual, the devil is in the details.  Even proponents of the Anthropocene can't agree on when when the Holocene ended and the Anthropocene started.    Maybe the earth will only enter the Anthropocene sometime in the 100 years, when global warming warms the earth beyond recognition? Or maybe we are already in the Anthropocene starting with the invention of the Automobile?  Or with the industrial revolution?  Or with the invention of concrete and the building of roads during the Roman Empire?   

If it was up to me, I'd endorse Bill Ruddiman's "early Anthrogenic Warming hypothesis" and say the Anthropocene started when the Chinese invented rice agriculture, and proceeded to transform huge areas of southeast Asia from mostly dry, arid hillslopes  into made-by-hand terraced wetlands that could support rice.  Ruddiman noted that Rice began to be cultivated ca. 8000 years ago, but more recent work shows that rice may've been initially domesticated 10-12,000 years ago.  Once rice agriculture was invented, it quickly spread through China.  More land in Japan, VietNam, Cambodia, Laos and other parts of Southeast Asia were transformed into rice paddies a bit later.  Taken together, the construction of terraces and rice paddies across SE Asia is the single largest human engineering effort anywhere on the planet. 

And these rice paddies can be considered to be an early planetary geoengineering project.  Each of the paddies produces methane, a greenhouse gas much more powerful than CO2.  The global methane flux jumped significantly at periods in the past when rice agriculture is known to have expanded, producing small increments of global warming thousands of years ago.  

Thursday, November 13, 2014

What can we learn from the Kyoto UN Climate Treaty--Part One

The Kyoto Protocol was a UN-sponsored Treaty signed in December 1997 in Japan.  The Kyoto Protocol came into force in 2005, and expired in 2012.  Nations who signed the treaty agreed to try to make modest targets for CO2 reduction.  Several third world nations, most prominently China and India, participated in the treaty negotiations, but were not made parties to the treaty, as it was felt that asking underdeveloped countries to reduce or even limit the growth of their CO2 production would be an economic hardship, even if the CO2 reduction targets were non-binding.

Its interesting to look at global CO2 production since the Kyoto Protocol was signed in 1997.  The data in the figure above shows that for the EU CO2 production declined at a rate of almost 2% per year after the Kyoto Protocol was signed.  However, the decline in EU CO2 production actually began in 1980, and therefore probably as much due to long term trends in increasing efficiency for cars and other manufacturing in the EU as it does with any specific actions related to the Treaty.  US CO2 production also shows a strong decline after 2009 even though the US never signed the Kyoto Accords.   The US decline is clearly due to the post-2009 economic slowdown.   

But the largest change in CO2 production after the Kyoto Accords was signed occurred in China.  CO2 production exploded there, swamping all  the small reductions in CO2 made by the US and EU.  

Looking back, it is clear the Kyoto UN climate treaty failed to stop or even slow the delivery of CO2 to the atmosphere because it did not include China.  Clearly any future climate agreements must include limits on CO2 emissions from China and other developing economic powerhouses in the third world, as well as limits on CO2 production from the EU and US.  

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Hooray we're saved! President Obama and Premier Xi sign a CO2 accord

                             Lets play:  Kick the can down the road!

U.S. President Obama and Chinese Premier Xi signed a bilateral agreement today to reduce CO2 production.  The two leaders agreed that China would be able to continue to increase their CO2 output until the year 2030, while the US would immediately start reducing its CO2 production, targeting a reduction of ca. 26% by the year 2025.

At first glance this seems like a wonderful development.  Surely less CO2 is just what the world needs----and if significant CO2 reductions can be mandated in meetings like this, then hopefully the larger world can agree on a more comprehensive approach to CO2 reduction at the next UN climate conference scheduled for Paris in 2016.  And, best of all, if big enough CO2 reductions result from this agreement, then perhaps we don't even need to consider geoengineering to counteract Greenhouse Warming, and I can stop writing this blog.

Perhaps its time to declare victory and yell "Hooray we're saved!"  

Or perhaps not.

Lets look a little bit more closely at this deal.  First of all, the way this deal is structured means that absolutely no net reduction in CO2 emissions will result from this agreement.  Even if the US meets its goal, the agreement allows China to continue to grow their CO2 emissions, and these are growing fast.  In fact, China is adding the equivalent of the entire American economy in terms of CO2 emissions every 7-10 years.  By 2025 any US cuts in CO2 output will be swamped by a huge increase in Chinese CO2 emissions. 

This actually isn't a deal that cuts CO2 emissions.  This is a deal that allows a huge INCREASE in global CO2 emissions. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

There's only so much cold to go around

Please sir.  Can I have some more......freezing temperatures, icy winds, and snow and sleet?  Please sir?

One myth about global warming is that global warming means the planet is going to get warmer everywhere.  Thus any winter storm, any early snowfall, any record setting cold snaps, are seen as evidence that global warming isn't happening.

But here's only so much cold go to around. 

Look at the effects of Typhoon Nuri, the huge tropical storm system that is now passing over Alaska.  Nuri is so powerful the Jet stream is being diverted around it, sending cold Arctic temperatures down into the lower 48.  Meteorologists call this an Omega block---Nuri has displaced the jet stream so it sends cold Arctic down right down into the central US.  Right now its snowing in Chicago and freezing in Texas at the same time its unseasonably warm here in Alaska.   As much as we Alaskans would like to have that snow so we can go skiing and snow machining and dog mushing, all that wonderful cold weather is being wasted on the people in the midwest and Texas who don't even appreciate it.

Ah well.  There's only so much cold to go around.   

Monday, November 10, 2014

Neil Young, Planetary Geoengineering, and the carbon footprint of ISIS

             The US Military has a larger carbon footprint than ISIS

Neil Young is a world famous celebrity and one of the greatest musical talents of our generation---but most people don't know that he is also a very committed activist fighting global climate change.  For 30 years Young has been outspoken on the dangers of global climate change.  Young believes fighting climate change needs to be a top priority for world leaders.  In a recent interview he said the fight against Islamic State militants is a mistake because it just distracts attention from the larger threat of global warming.   "We can do little things to fight climate change but our armed forces are the biggest carbon dioxide providers in the world, and yet we are fighting, what, ISIS?" Young said. "And we are fighting these wars against these organizations and their carbon footprint has got to be like one percent of our huge army and our navy and all of this stuff that have with all our big machines," Young added.  "We're doing more damage to the earth with our wars. And you try to find out? Hey, freedom? No, freedom, you don't get it. You can't find out what that carbon footprint is of the military. It's not available for us."

Read more:

Given the intensity of Neil Young's concern about global warming, it wouldn't be surprising if he was a supporter of Planetary Geoengineering.   The Telegraph, a British newspaper, reports that Planktos, a geoengineering  company in San Francisco, carried out experiments fertilizing the oceans with iron filings in 2002, and possibly did so from a yacht loaned to them by the singer Neil Young.  

If true, then Neil Young is definitely not a space cadet--- he is a Planetary Geoengineer.

One of these Geoengineering things is not like the others

                    One of these things is not like the others

The CO2 Antarctic Pumpdown (CAP) geoengineering concept is not like most of the other geoengineering ideas.  For the most part, prior geoengineering proposals have relied on modifying or scaling up existing earth processes.  For instance, the "green" geoengineering idea is to plant and grow huge amounts of christmas trees and other kinds of plants.   The idea is that as the earth creates huge amounts of biomass, the plant growth pumps down CO2 from the atmosphere.  The so-called "Pinatubo" geoengineering concept suggests that by intentionally adding huge amounts of SO2 to the atmosphere, humans can induce global cooling similar to the transient cooling that is produced by huge volcanic eruptions.  The idea of adding iron to the oceans to fertilize marine microfauna is based on the theory that more dust was transported to the oceans during ice ages.  The idea of painting roof tops white to reflect sunlight is built upon observations of natural albedo variations.   Ways to generate more cloud cover and the idea of putting a giant parasol into outer space to block the sun are based on effects of natural clouds. 

The CO2 Antarctic Pumpdown idea is a different kind of animal.  Rather than trying to scale up or accelerate natural processes, I am suggesting that it may be necessary to think outside the box and apply industrial processes on a huge scale to mitigate the effects of future global warming.  Obviously no one wants to do this kind of thing.  The only reason to consider ideas like CAP is that (1)  earth's climate is alread being modified by industrial processes like manufacturing, coal-fired power plants, natural gas leaks from pipelines, and especially from the CO2 released from internal combustion engines.  And (2) continued CO2 release will eventually produce dangerous climate changes if nothing is done to remove the CO2 or counteract the effects of global warming.

And thats where planetary geoengineering comes in.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Record Warm Temps occurring on the West Coast at the Same Time as Record Cold Temps on the East Coast

Record warm conditions prevail across a huge area of the NE Pacific on Nov. 3, 2014

The weather has been pretty chilly on the east coast of the United States this November.  On Saturday November 3 they had a foot of snow in Maine with lesser amounts across the rest of New England.  Now a "polar vortex" cold front is moving down across the midwest bringing snow and temperatures 20° below across much of the midwest.  I'm sure many people are thinking "global warming is bunk" as they scrape their windshields and shovel their driveways and deal with the unseasonable cold.

Meanwhile, here in Alaska, the weather is really nice.  Farther down the west coast the weather has been unseasonably warm all fall, with temperatures into the 90s in California well into October. And just offshore, some of the warmest temperatures ever recorded are heating things up across a huge area of the northeast Pacific Ocean.  The size of this positive temperature anomaly ---shown above on Nov. 3, the same day a foot of snow fell in Maine--- is truly amazing.  Look at the figure above and then compare the warm region off the west coast to the size of chilly Maine or even all of New England.  The warm area over the NE Pacific is at least 50 times bigger then all of New England, and its at least 10 times bigger then all of the snowy midwest.  Its roughly half the size of the entire North American continent.  Its HUGE.

Global warming is already here.  Its just unevenly distributed.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Do Christmas trees pump down CO2 from the atmosphere?

     Do Christmas Trees  pump down CO2 from the atmosphere?

I was very surprised when two Alaskan newspapers published articles about my geoengineering proposal a couple of weeks ago.  I was even more surprised when one of these papers published a second article on planetary geoengineering just a week later.

The second article, entitled "Alaska scientist advocates green system of carbon dioxide removal" featured an interview with Dan Mann, my colleague who is currently an Assistant Professor of Geography at the University of Alaska.  In the beginning of the article Prof. Mann dismissed geoengineering by saying "Geoengineering in arrogant and dangerous" and then went on to present his own "green" geoengineering concept.  The newspaper article reports that Prof. Mann owns a tree farm in New Zealand, and he travels back and forth from Alaska to New Zealand to oversee his tree farm.  Prof. Mann said that he had a carbon calculator that showed that his tree farm was removing CO2 from the atmosphere, and that his tree farm was an example of a "green" way to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere and mitigate greenhouse warming. 

Lets examine Dan Mann's green geoengineering idea a little bit more closely.  I'm going to call it the "CO2 Christmas Tree Pumpdown" idea, because one of Dan's fellow geography professors told me the main cash crop from Dan's tree farm in New Zealand is Christmas trees. 

Christmas trees, like all trees, soak up CO2 from the atmosphere while they are growing.  The typical Christmas tree is harvested when it is 4-12 years old.  Millions of Christmas trees then spend a couple of weeks decorating living rooms and standing guard over Christmas presents, and are subsequently discarded.   The unwanted Christmas trees typically wind up in landfills.  Once in the landfills the tree then decomposes.  As it decomposes all the CO2 that was stored in the cellulose of the tree is released back to the atmosphere.  Thus, while the Christmas trees do indeed pump down CO2 while they are growing, the net effect of Christmas tree growing operations on CO2 in the atmosphere is zero---i.e. all the carbon removed from the atmosphere when the Christmas tree was growing returns to the atmosphere when the decorations and tinsel are removed from the tree and it is hauled to the landfill and left to decompose.   

The CO2 Christmas tree pumpdown idea is definitely green and environmentally safe (not counting all the landfills buried in discarded Christmas trees each year), but unfortunately it doesn't actually accomplish anything in the way of reducing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, or mitigating the dangerous effects of future climate change that are predicted by the IPCC.   


Monday, November 3, 2014

The IPCC's New Report and Geoengineering

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a UN sponsored organization made up of thousands of scientists from around the world that have been investigating and reporting on climate change since 1988.  

The IPCC has done a superb job of reporting on the progress of global climate change and in providing a clearinghouse for scientific models of future global change.   In 2006 the IPCC won the Nobel Peace Prize.

On November 2, 2014, a new IPCC report was released. This IPCC report, for the first time, clearly lays the blame on human CO2 emission for global warming. The IPCC says that global warming is now “unequivocal” and that evidence that global warming is human caused is now “clear.” The IPCC and UN head Ban Ki Moon both call on governments around the world to reduce their CO2 emissions to avoid the dire effects of future greenhouse warming.

Interestingly, the IPCC report strongly backs development of improved technologies for Carbon capture and storage (CCS), and it assumes that CCS will play a huge role in reducing CO2 emissions in the future. CCS is mainly targeted at capturing CO2 from smokestacks at coal-fired power plants and other sites that emit CO2.

The CO2 Antarctic Pumpdown (CAP) geoengineering concept I am proposing could be undertaken as a supplement to CO2 reductions due to CCS systems installed at powerplants. No matter how extensive the network of CCS systems becomes, it will never be able to capture all the CO2 emitted from individual cars, homes, and other localized sources. The CAP could play a role in capturing and storing some of the massive CO2 flux to the atmosphere that is never going to be captured by the proposed CSS systems

Sunday, November 2, 2014

More media coverage of the CAP concept

Another Alaskan newspaper has picked up the story of the CO2 Antarctic pumpdown concept.  The Fairbanks Daily News Miner is my hometown newspaper.    

The News Miner is a venerable old newspaper that began publishing about a century ago when Fairbanks was a small mining town on the edge of the very big Alaskan wildnerness.  Today the newspaper, like many small town newspapers, covers mainly local news stories but still prints wire-services stories about major national and international events.  The story in the Daily News Miner was also written by Ned Rozell.  The story was published on October 25 with the title "a cool idea for locking up carbon dioxide" and other than the title the story in the Daily News Miner is very similar to the story in the Alaska Dispatch.

The Daily News Miner article states:  " the great plateau of East Antarctica, home of the South Pole. There sits an ice sheet as large as the Lower 48. At its thickest, the ice is 15,000 feet above the ocean. Upon that ice in 1983, Russians at the Vostok Research Station recorded a temperature of minus 128.6 Fahrenheit. Ice cores show no evidence of temperatures close to the thawing mark.
“There’s no melt in the record, which goes back 200,000 years,” Beget said. “It’s a natural place for this concept.

The idea that CO2 could be removed from the atmosphere and stored in the cryosphere is at the heart of the CO2 Antarctic pumpdown concept.    All geoengineering proposals tend to be incredibly expensive because dealing with the large volumes of CO2 necessary to produced a global scale change in atmospheric chemistry is a huge, huge problem.  By using a natural geologic reservoir to store the CO2, the CAP concept removes one of the major expenses.  There is no need to build storage tanks for CO2. No need to power up pumps and move the CO2 via pipelines.  No money need be spent on an infrastructure at all for storing the CO2.  

The article goes to say, "To get the carbon dioxide out of the air and down to the ice sheet, Beget proposes seeding the air over central Antarctica with monoethanolamine, a compound industry workers use to capture carbon dioxide before it exits smokestacks."

I think this is the more technically challenging part of the CAP model. There are quite a number of industrial compounds and even some common minerals that will bond with CO2. I begin by discussing monoethanolamine simply as a way to get the necessary research started. Normally in industrial CO2 removal, monoethanolamine or a similar compound is used to bond with CO2, and then release the CO2 after some kind of chemical treatment so the CO2 can be collected and stored. However, the CAP concept is simpler----the compound just needs to bond with CO2 and be stable when solid and frozen.