For decades the US government has funded research into “clean coal” technology. Billions of dollars have been spent with the only visible result being employment for a small army of government coal researchers and academics. Now scientists at Ohio State University have announced that, after 15 years of effort, they have produced a breakthrough—a new technology capable of turning coal green and carbon dioxide emission free. This was widely reported in the news media and passed practically without critical comment. Is it true? Is coal no longer the dirty, devil spawned fuel of evil industrialists everywhere?
With the IPCC getting ready to churn out yet another frightening report based on consensus science in 2013, it is interesting to note that many things have changed since the previous report (AR4). For example, oxidation is a major factor in atmospheric chemistry and can impact many environmental issues: stratospheric ozone loss, acidification of water and soil, air quality, cloud formation and, naturally, climate change. In the AR4 report the only atmospheric oxidation factors included were ozone (O3), the hydroxyl radical (OH) and the nitrate radical (NO3). In a recent scientific report, measurements from a Finnish forest revealed a previously unknown atmospheric oxidant that promotes production of sulfuric acid—one of the main precursors for the formation and growth of aerosol particles and clouds. Scientists are still unsure what this mysterious chemical compound is, they refer to it as oxidant X.
Methane is an important greenhouse gas, 30 times more potent than CO2, but our knowledge of the methane cycle is woefully inadequate. Sediments on the ocean's floor contain immense quantities of methane and there are enormous fluxes of methane into and out of these sediments. Trapped frozen in ice, there are some 10,000 gigatons of carbon stored under the sea—twice as much carbon as contained in conventional fossil fuel reserves. Some scientists consider the release of this methane the single worst environmental danger we face as a species. A massive release of ocean floor methane could cause real runaway global warming that would have dramatic impact on life. But methane continually leaks from seabeds around the world, contributing to the total amount of carbon injected into the ecosystem. A new report finds that ocean methane concentrations have been underestimated by a factor of 10 to 20 fold.
Scientists believe that carbon released from the ocean floor played a key role in past episodes of climate change. Around 55 million years ago, the break-up of the northeast Atlantic continents was associated with the injection of large amounts of molten magma into seafloor sediments. Formation of the North Atlantic basalts heated the carbon-rich sediments, triggering the release of large quantities of methane and carbon dioxide into the ocean and atmosphere. It has been suggested that this release of previously sequestered carbon was responsible for a 100,000 year period of rapid temperature rise known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum or PETM. Three letters published in Nature Geoscience suggest that carbon trapped beneath the seabed continues to influence carbon dynamics, at least in the deep ocean.
Carbon monoxide, CO, is a trace gas that is important in atmospheric chemistry. It indirectly influences climate and has significant effects on methane and ozone levels. CO is a byproduct of combustion—particularly the incomplete burning of fossil fuels and biomass—and conventional wisdom says that humans, with their tendency to set things on fire, should be responsible for releasing much of the gas into the atmosphere. Little is known about the abundance and sources of CO prior to the industrial age, or about the importance of anthropogenic activities have had. A new study in the journal Science presents a 650-year-long record of CO atmospheric concentration using samples from Antarctic ice cores. Reconstructed past CO variability and its causes have come up with a shocking fact: CO levels are at a 2,000 year low. Apparently, humans actually prevent wildfire, reducing the release of carbon monoxide and, consequently, CO2.
Like an overly familiar maniac from a series of Hollywood slasher movies, CO2 has lost most of its ability to scare the public. Carbon dioxide's diminishing fright mojo has sent climate change alarmists—and those in the media who lend them mindless support in trade for salacious headlines—casting about for a next gas molecule to scare the public with. A few trial balloons have been floated for oxides of nitrogen (NOx) but the rising star in the global warming shop of horrors is methane (CH4). Aside from having a familial relation ship with CO2 based on carbon, CH4 is a known greenhouse gas and is produced almost everywhere on Earth by decaying organic matter. Most recently, there were panicked warnings that Arctic seabed methane stores were being destabilized. The hype over methane has gotten so out of hand that a news focus article in Science (which is not a hot bed of climate change skepticism) has publicly stated the situation is being exaggerated.
Because of the ubiquitous computer chip, it has become much easier to construct models of natural phenomena than to study them in situ. This is a growing problem for science because it leads to an over dependence on modeling and diminishes motivation for actually getting out into the big messy world. A pair of articles in Nature Geoscience, focused on the ocean's nitrogen cycle, serve to underscore the problems that can arise when multiple models disagree with each other and with nature. More proof that computer models do not provide scientific evidence, just tales from the silicon chip.
Across the southeastern US, the nitrogen-fixing legume Pueraria montana, more commonly known as kudzu, has been an impossible to eradicate invader for decades. While its direct impact on native ecosystems is highly visible—a smothering green blanket that swallows up shrubs, trees and even houses—what is not as apparent is kudzu's effect on the atmosphere. Its spread has the potential to raise ozone levels by increasing nitric oxide (NO) emissions from soils by as much as 100%. Since NO is a potent greenhouse gas, the spread of the pesky vine could be a contributing factor to climate change. That's right: kudzu causes global warming!
Two of the terms bandied about by global warming alarmists are “unprecedented” and “irreversible.” It is troubling that scientists, who should know better, persist in using these terms even though the history of our planet clearly shows that neither term is accurate. Proof of this inaccuracy is obvious if we look back over the history of Earth—the Phanerozoic Eon in particular—taking the “Grand View” of historical climate change.