Ocean Absorption Of CO2 Not Shrinking

Recent claims by climate change alarmists have raised the possibility that terrestrial ecosystems and particularly the oceans have started loosing part of their ability to absorb a large proportion of man-made CO2 emissions. This is an important claim, because currently only about 40% of anthropogenic emissions stay in the atmosphere, the rest is sequestered by a number of processes on land and sea. The warning that the oceans have reached their fill and their capacity to remove atmospheric CO2 is accompanied by the prediction that this will cause greenhouse warming to accelerate in the future. A new study re-examines the available atmospheric CO2 and emissions data and concludes that the portion of CO2 absorbed by the oceans has remained constant since 1850.

Wolfgang Knorr from the Department of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol, has published a study in Geophysical Research Letters entitled “Is the airborne fraction of anthropogenic CO2 emissions increasing?” Knorr combines data from ice cores, direct atmospheric measurements, and emission inventories to show that the fraction of human emitted CO2 that remains in the atmosphere has stayed constant over the past 160 years, at least within the limits of measurement uncertainty. Here is the paper's abstract:

Several recent studies have highlighted the possibility that the oceans and terrestrial ecosystems have started loosing part of their ability to sequester a large proportion of the anthropogenic CO2 emissions. This is an important claim, because so far only about 40% of those emissions have stayed in the atmosphere, which has prevented additional climate change. This study re-examines the available atmospheric CO2 and emissions data including their uncertainties. It is shown that with those uncertainties, the trend in the airborne fraction since 1850 has been 0.7 ± 1.4% per decade, i.e. close to and not significantly different from zero. The analysis further shows that the statistical model of a constant airborne fraction agrees best with the available data if emissions from land use change are scaled down to 82% or less of their original estimates. Despite the predictions of coupled climate-carbon cycle models, no trend in the airborne fraction can be found.

This work directly contradicts studies that claim to have shown that the uptake of atmospheric CO2 by the ocean has already slowed. Knorr's work is backed up by a study in Nature by S. Khatiwala et al.: “Reconstruction of the history of anthropogenic CO2 concentrations in the ocean .” Noting that buring fossil fuels has increased the level of to CO2 in the atmosphere, the authors state “the ocean plays a crucial role in mitigating the effects of this perturbation to the climate system, sequestering 20 to 35 per cent of anthropogenic CO2 emissions.” They found that sequestration by the oceans had not diminished significantly and that land plants have greatly increased their absorption of the gas. Quoting from the paper:

Our results indicate that ocean uptake of anthropogenic CO2 has increased sharply since the 1950s, with a small decline in the rate of increase in the last few decades. We estimate the inventory and uptake rate of anthropogenic CO2 in 2008 at 140 ± 25 Pg C and 2.3 ± 0.6 Pg C yr-1, respectively. We find that the Southern Ocean is the primary conduit by which this CO2 enters the ocean (contributing over 40 per cent of the anthropogenic CO2 inventory in the ocean in 2008). Our results also suggest that the terrestrial biosphere was a source of CO2 until the 1940s, subsequently turning into a sink. Taken over the entire industrial period, and accounting for uncertainties, we estimate that the terrestrial biosphere has been anywhere from neutral to a net source of CO2, contributing up to half as much CO2 as has been taken up by the ocean over the same period.

Some have suggested that reducing human CO2 emissions by 50% would bring atmospheric levels into equilibrium. This new report raises the possibility that, if human emissions were lowered, absorption levels by the oceans and land plants might decline as well, maintaining the growth in overall atmospheric CO2 levels. It also seems possible that, if man's release of carbon dioxide is greatly reduced, the terrestrial biosphere could shift from a net absorber to a producer of greenhouse gas. The change in sources and sinks over time is presented graphically in figure S3 from the paper's supplementary information, shown below:

Figure S3: Evolution of anthropogenic CO2 sources and sinks between 1765 and 2005. Sources, shown as positive values, include fossil fuel burning (with a small contribution from cement production) and changes in land use. Sinks are shown as negative values, and include the atmosphere, ocean, and land biosphere. Error envelope, indicated by broken lines and the shaded area, includes estimated uncertainties in the source terms (5% for fossil fuel emissions, and ±0.5 PgC/y for land-use change).

These observations imply that all the hoopla about reining in CO2 levels may be working at odds with nature, that Earth's environment already has mechanisms in place to regulate changing levels of greenhouse gases. The observation that the terrestrial biosphere was a source of CO2 until the 1940s, and has subsequently become a sink, indicate that the problem is not as simple as shutting down factories and banning SUVs. With nature regulating GHG levels on its own, perhaps we have time to look more closely into the matter before we leap off an economic cliff at the urging of the IPCC and the likes of Al Gore.

Ocean Acidification Reconsidered

Many climate scientists and ecologists seem to seek the dark cloud instead of the silver lining for any new discovery. A case in point is concern over increased ocean acidification due to the absorption of greater amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere. While the previous panic over bleached coral reefs seems to have abated (see “Bleached Coral Reefs Bounce Back”), researchers continue to warn that many species of invertebrates will disappear as the oceans acidify. But new observations indicate that the effects of increased CO2 on marine environments will be more complex than previously predicted. In fact, a new study shows that some of these species may benefit from ocean acidification, growing bigger shells or skeletons that provide more protection.

Because different ocean creatures use different forms of calcium carbonate for their shells, marine scientist Justin Ries of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, hypothesized that not all ocean organisms would respond the same way to increased acidity. Ries and two colleagues from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Anne L. Cohen and Daniel C. McCorkle, exposed marine organisms from 18 marine species to four levels of seawater acidity. As described in an article from ScienceNOW, the first environment matched today's atmospheric CO2 levels. The second and third were set at double and triple the pre-Industrial CO2 levels, conditions the IPCC has predicted to occur over the next century. The fourth CO2 level was 10 times pre-Industrial levels, a level not seen since before the onset of the Pleistocene Ice Age more than 3 million years ago.

Exposure to today's atmospheric CO2 levels (400 ppm, left), and 10 times the pre-Industrial level (2850 ppm, right) resulted in American lobster and blue crabs with unexpectedly larger, heavier exoskeletons. Credit: J. Ries.

Blue crabs, lobsters, and shrimp thrived in the highest CO2 level, growing heavier shells, the researchers reported in Geology. Ries speculates that these bottom dwellers are somehow better able to manipulate CO2 ions to build their shells, even though fewer ions are available to them in an acidic environment. Exactly how they accomplish this remains unknown. Meanwhile, American oysters, scallops, temperate corals, and tube worms all fared poorly, growing thinner, weaker shells. Clams and pencil urchins, who's exoskeletons dissolved at the highest CO2 levels, were the biggest potential losers. In all a thought provoking study, but we don't need to borrow trouble.

Barring any massive natural outgassing of greenhouse gas, CO2 levels will not rise as high as those in the fourth test environment, at least not in the foreseeable future. The atmosphere did experience similar CO2 levels during the middle of the Cretaceous period about 100 million years ago. “This is an interval in which many of these organisms lived and apparently did okay, despite the extremely elevated levels of atmospheric CO2 that existed at that time,” Ries said. “The take-home message is that the responses to ocean acidification are going to be a lot more nuanced and complex than we thought.” As usual when Earth's climate changes, there are winners and losers but life carries on.

For Earth to experience such conditions the Pleistocene Ice Age must come to an end, which implies the melting of all significant glaciers, a tremendous rise in sea levels and other climatic changes scientists can only guess at. On the bright side, if Earth is transitioning back to pre-ice age conditions mankind really doesn't have any say in the matter—at least our conscience will be clear.

That High Temperature Record

As a final note, it has become fashionable to declare current global temperatures as the highest in more than a million years, implying that anthropogenic global warming has resulted in a climate that is out of the norm for interglacials during the Pleistocene Ice Age. An article in the November 19, 2009, edition of Nature by David Noone has revealed that, using temperature estimates derived from isotopes in polar ice cores, interglacial periods were rather warmer than previously thought. How much higher is hard to say exactly given the limits of measurement accuracy for the proxy data but “the last warm period, the Eemian, occurred around 128,000 years ago, and from various proxy measurements it is widely accepted that temperatures then were higher than those during modern pre-industrial times.”

According to the USGS, during the peak of the last interglacial period, around 125 thousand years ago, sea level was about 6 m (20 ft) higher than present. This estimate is based on dating of emergent coral reefs on tectonically stable coastlines distant from plate boundaries. These data indicate that global ice volumes were significantly lower than present, by an amount equivalent to the present volume of the Greenland or West Antarctic ice sheets. This in turn suggests that temperatures were higher for longer than today in order to melt that volume of ice—all without human help. Despite these findings, global warming alarmists continue to issue bombastic statements that are known to be false—what kind of scientists are these people, who purposely mislead the public?

Be safe, enjoy the interglacial and stay skeptical

The Problem

If Greenland and Antarctica melt it will lead to 64 m of sea level rise not 6. During the Pleistocene, there was not 6.9 billion humans.

The argument being made by climate scientists is not that these volumes of ice could not be melted without anthropogenic forcing. No one in the scientific community would deny that ice levels were lower in the past or that sea level was higher than it is today.

The problem lies with timescales and our ability to adapt to such changes.

Warming out of a glacial to an interglacial typically occurs on relatively short time scales (relative to cooling into a glacial period) but will last for thousands of years. These cycles are referred to as D-O cycles. This means abrupt warming, slow cooling (oxygen isotope records). In some cases a warming of 5 degrees C occurs on a decadal time scale. This can be seen in an event termed the Younger Dryas. This event marks the beginning of the Holocene with a brief return to glacial conditions, then abrupt warming. To cause such an abrupt warming a tipping point must be reached to cause a runaway affect involving positive feedback mechanisms. Mechanisms that we are likely unaware of yet. Abrupt warming of this magnitude would be devastating to todays society. The scary part is we are adding CO2 in the atmosphere faster than is evidenced in the geologic record, and we are unaware of the triggers of natural abrupt warming. Gambling anyone?

So yes, climate change has occurred naturally, glaciers have melted, and sea level has risen and fallen naturally. However, the point is that these things have occurred much more slowly in the past (with exceptions) and with a significantly smaller global population of humans allowing species to migrate to adjust to climate changes.

Ask me for anything but time

The conventional wisdom that interglacials come on quickly and cool off slowly has been kicked around on this site before, particularly in light of the finding that historical interglacials come in all sorts of lengths and profiles (see “Sun & Cycles Heat Up Ice Age Interglacials” for more information). Not that glacials or interglacials are periods of unwavering cold or warm temperature, they are not. If you look through my past posts you will find that the Dansgaard-Oeschger events, Heinrich events and the Dryas excursions have also all been discussed here.

The most recent example of both rapid cooling and warming was, as you suggest, the Younger Dryas. Most climatologists believe that this thousand year interruption of the Holocene deglaciation was caused by the release of ice dammed glacial melt water, which in turn disrupted heat transfer by the thermohaline ocean circulation. While this short lived cold period was dramatic it occurred during a transition from glacial to interglacial conditions. That transition was driven by Earth's orbital cycles and the warming could not be denied. Similarly, if we are headed for the next glacial all of humanity's greenhouse gas emissions will not stop it. For more on the causes of the glacial-interglacial cycles see “Trends, Rhythms & Aberrations: The Mechanisms of Climate Change.”

Based on the lengths of previous interglacials, the Holocene warming may have anywhere from 5,000 to 40,000 years left to go. The presence of similar orbital configurations and comparable atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations have led a number of scientists to the suggestion that Marine Isotope Stage 11 (MIS 11) is the previous interglacial that most closely matches the Holocene. This means that we could, indeed, see a 10 or 20 meter rise in ocean levels—but this would be due primarily to natural causes, and there isn't a damned thing we can do to stop it. There will be aberrations but nature's schedule cannot be altered by our pitiful efforts, climate change will unfold in the fullness of time with or without our participation.

You seem to think that simply having 6.9 billion people on Earth makes this more of a problem than pre-holocene times. While it certainly means that there are more of use to fall victim to any natural calamity, I would posit that mankind is in a much better position to deal with the vicissitudes of climate change than when we were a bunch of scattered nomadic bands, hunting and gathering on the constant edge of starvation. For a detailed analysis of the possible down side of continued global warming, see “The Case For Doing Nothing About Global Warming.” As for a possible rise in sea level, some folks are already taking precautionary action, the Dutch for instance.

The rate of melting in both Greenland and Antarctica is not well understood, as many recent contradictory papers have shown. Indeed, the discovery of thick, widespread accreted ice layers changes in fundamental ways our understanding of the Antarctic ice sheet. Regardless, even the IPCC has predicted that it would take several thousand years to melt the Greenland ice cap, even under their most accelerated warming scenarios. Ocean levels simply are not going to change that quickly, even if you believe the dangerous anthropogenic global warming fairytale. If you still don't feel comfortable with that move inland now—as the recent tsunami in Japan demonstrated, living in littoral regions is fraught with risks.

What place ecology?

I wonder where ecology comes into your "In all a thought provoking study, but we don't need to borrow trouble" comment.

After all, Ries did say, “The take-home message is that the responses to ocean acidification are going to be a lot more nuanced and complex than we thought.”

These creatures that grew bigger in a lab setting, what will they eat if their prey are among "the biggest potential losers"?

The problem with tossing stuff like this off because you don't like Al Gore is that you're looking at life through a reductionist lens, instead of seeing all the "nuanced and complex" interconnections between all livings things - including our species.

Al Gore

We do not reject global warming because it is espoused by Al Gore. We dislike Al Gore because he is a sanctimonious hypocrite who spreads pseudo-scientific propaganda and promotes questionable social programs based on that nonsense.

Nature knows best

The paper's main message is that the sweeping warnings about dying oceans by climate change doomsayers are most certainly wrong. Nature will respond to changes in atmospheric CO2 in unexpected and unpredictable ways. Earth's oceans have done quite well when CO2 levels were ten times the current level. Combine that with other research work that reveals greater resilience among ocean life forms than previously known by scientists or admitted to by eco-advocates, and I have little fear of oceanic ecological collapse in the future.

The creatures in question did indeed grow larger in a lab—that's called an experiment and experiment is at the heart of real science. Your remark about the food chain is simply idle speculation with no factual basis. And the problem with tossing off stuff like “because you don't like Al Gore” is that your argument looses all credibility and becomes yet another tired ad hominen attack by a green nitwit.


Not scientists at all.

Climategate Forecast...
“• What is the current scientific consensus on the conclusions reached by Drs. Mann, Bradley and Hughes? [Referring to the hockey stick propagated in UN IPCC 2001 by Michael Mann.]
Ans: Based on the literature we have reviewed, there is no overarching consensus on MBH98/99. As analyzed in our social network, there is a tightly knit group of individuals who passionately believe in their thesis. However, our perception is that this group has a self-reinforcing feedback mechanism and, moreover, the work has been sufficiently politicized that they can hardly reassess their public positions without losing credibility.”
AD HOC COMMITTEE REPORT ON THE ‘HOCKEY STICK’ GLOBAL CLIMATE RECONSTRUCTION, also known as The Wegman report was authored by Edward J. Wegman, George Mason University, David W. Scott, Rice University, and Yasmin H. Said, The Johns Hopkins University with the contributions of John T. Rigsby, III, Naval Surface Warfare Center, and Denise M. Reeves, MITRE Corporation.

We Need to Encourage Scientific Whistle-Blowers to Emerge

Thanks for the excellent review of the science.

Encourage whistleblowers to tell the truth. Spread the word to the IPCC, Penn State, UEA, NASA, NOAA, DOE, and all over.
Anyone who shares inside information about the AGW scammers is eligible for huge rewards.
The momentum is with us now. We must organize and press the issue.
Who were the perpetrators of this fraud? From the lowliest, arrogant "scientist" at Penn State, right up to the White House, and the denizens of mansions in Tennessee.
Metaphorically speaking, heads will roll.
Al Gore and his minions jet around the world to exotic locales, meeting and plotting how to destroy our economy and way of life, all the while demanding that we peons ride the bus or subway, and turn our thermostats down to 60.
"Let them eat cake" attitudes are eerily similar to previous elites. The communist elites enjoyed the same privileges and mouthed the same type of platitudes. Where are they now?
No Consensus--No Warming (NOC-NOW)--Stop the Scam--Halt the IPCC
We have a quickly growing Yahoo Group (CO2 is Plant Food), and a petition (NOC-NOW) that simply spells out a Declaration of Climate Independence, and calls for immediate halt to all political and economic actions based on the fraudulent IPCC "science" and policy.
The petition will be provided to the US Congress, the White House, the UN, the IPCC, the EU Commission, and other representative bodies involved in "Climate Change" policy deliberations.
Post the call for whistleblowers in all forums where AGW insiders are present.
We will be heard.
Please join the group: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/co2isplantfood
And sign the petition: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/NOC_NOW/
Join Facebook group: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=191580771509
We can stop this scam, together.
Kent Clizbe
Stop the Scam—Halt the IPCC
No Consensus—No Warming

Frisco CPA

Glad to find this... It is insane how science and "OTHERS" will grow financial wealth from the worlds hazards. THEN LIE ABOUT THERE STUDIES!