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Land biosphere's absorption of CO2 skyrockets

The Global Warming Policy Foundation has pointed out seemingly sensational news reports that are however confined to New Zealand (you should ask why), to media outlets such as The New Zealand Herald.



A landscape in New Zealand. You should rotate your LCD panel by 180 degrees to have a better idea about the orientation of it in space. ;-)

Ms Mikaloff-Fletcher is an expert in carbon sinks. Together with others, she studied the changes of the uptake of carbon dioxide in recent 20 years.




You should read the original sources; I will just mention a few figures and some added value, an interpretation. It turned out that if you compare the present and the era 20 years ago, the amount of carbon absorbed by the land biosphere every year has jumped by 1 billion tons per year – that's about 3 billion tons of CO2 or 10 percent of the annual man-made emissions. And that's just the increase.

The newspaper articles generously argue that it's stunning, complete surprise, and so on. Most of them don't forget to reprint the mandatory phrase designed for similar situations that "the findings don't mean that people should stop being unhinged hysterical IPCC-style AGW loons".

I find it obvious that the absolute amount of carbon absorbed by the atmosphere inevitably increases if the CO2 concentration does. If a substance is easier to get, then the consumers will consume more of it. Is that shocking? It's true for CO2 much like it's true for water, marijuana, or anything else.

These days, the average CO2 concentration is about 393 ppm. Twenty years ago, it could have been 357 ppm or so. That means an increase by 10 percent. However, it's more interesting to compare the "excess CO2" in the atmosphere. The CO2 concentration that is in equilibrium with the current temperatures (and believe me, it makes no difference whether you mean "before global warming" or "after global warming" because this difference in tenths of a degree is negligible relatively to the difference between ice ages and interglacials which is almost a dozen of degrees) is about 280 ppm. So twenty years ago, it was 77 ppm above the equilibrium value; now it is 113 ppm above the equilibrium value. This "excess CO2" therefore rose by 47% in the recent 20 years.

This fast growth shouldn't shock you. In two recent centuries, CO2 emissions have been growing exponentially, being multiplied by \(e\sim 2.718\) every 57 years or so and the "excess CO2 in the atmosphere" was exponentially growing with approximately the same \(e\)-folding time.

If we compute the "overall annual trade balance" of the land biosphere's uptake of CO2, the sinks minus the sources, it's reasonable to estimate that this difference will be proportional to the excess CO2 (although some nonlinearities may exist). So the amount of CO2 that the land biosphere is absorbing (sinks minus sources) must have increased by dozens of percent in recent 20 years.

This fact may also be studied by looking at the "consumers". Despite the discussions about deforestation that may still be heard, the planet has greened substantially in the recent 20 years. Secondary tropical forests and many kinds of green areas in the moderate zone cannot be overlooked.

A week ago, I carefully studied about 2,000 historical photographs (and drawings) of my hometown of Pilsen (especially those on George Krejci's website) most of which were about 110 years old but there were others, too. I was impressed by the aristocratic image of Pilsen as a royal city of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. It looked beautiful, clean, almost all citizens looked wealthy.

That romantic picture apparently survived through the capitalist Czechoslovakia in between the wars and mostly through the Third Reich protectorate era, too. But what the communists have done to my town was rather devastating. The city was changed into a dirty industrial chimney with stupid communist slogans replacing the work of top artists. Old buildings were left to deteriorate (and some of the cool ones were demolished) while the new ones looked ugly and egalitarian. The inhabitants were changed from being the peers of aristocracy to a de facto uniform working class. Despite lots of improvements since 1989, it was a transformation that hasn't been undone in the 20+ years after the fall of communism and we may never undo it, at least not in a foreseeable future.

But I should return to the main topic. I was kind of amazed to see that half a century ago or even one century ago, Pilsen was in many respects more industrially sophisticated and filled with facilities to improve production and people's lives. Electric streetcars were going through many streets that are tramless these days. The number of tracks on the main square was doubled. And one could find factories and breweries at many places that are actually green these days. There were four major breweries in Pilsen at the end of the 19th century.

All these things are somewhat amazing to see if you realize that the population of Pilsen was something like 5 times smaller than it is today (although a part of it is just due to the old census' omission of various villages around Pilsen that have been reclassified as suburbs).

I have discussed the maths of the CO2 uptake many times and it's a brutally misunderstood topic by most people, including most people in the IPCC. Our CO2 emissions these days, if they were just being added to the atmosphere, would increase the CO2 concentration by 4 ppm per year or so (i.e. by 1% a year, using the current concentration). The actual increase is something like 1.9 ppm (0.5%) so 2.1 ppm is absorbed by the oceans and the biosphere. This amount of 2.1 ppm is approximately proportional to the "excess CO2 in the atmosphere" I discussed at the beginning. Whether a tree wants to grow "more than it usually does" depends on the immediate concentration of CO2 and other nutrients and essential ingredients only; it obviously doesn't depend on the change of these quantities in the last year or some other accounting that would try to monitor the human activity. Trees don't care (and can't even feel or find out) where the CO2 they breathe in came from, whether it was emitted in the last tax year or not, and whether it was emitted by humans (and whether someone stole CO2 indulgences for the CO2 from someone else).

So if we stopped all CO2 emissions tonight, the CO2 concentration would continue to decrease by the rate of approximately 2.1 ppm per year; this number was derived above. The rate would be slowing down as the concentration would be returning back to those 280 ppm and the CO2 consumers' boom would be fading away but it's still true that within a period comparable to a century, the CO2 concentrations would be almost exactly back to the equilibrium value.

After ice ages when the biosphere was scarce and frail, the reaction of the plants was probably slower and it took several centuries to adjust to the equilibrium value. It had to be slower, as the 800-year average lag of the CO2 concentration that was changing after the temperature changed indicates. But these days, the planet is full of potential CO2 consumers that are ready to strengthen and reproduce and increase their uptake so I am confident that in 100 years after CO2 emissions stop, almost all the excess CO2 will be reabsorbed.

Because of the partly deliberate confusion spread in the media and elsewhere, it's important to point out that the concentration of CO2 is important for the rate at which trees, crops, and other plants grow. But it is not important for the temperature.

While the temperature strongly affects the equilibrium concentration of CO2 (1 Celsius degree of temperature change modifies the equilibrium concentration by 10 ppm or so), CO2 only affects the temperature by the greenhouse effect which is negligibly weak (100 ppm of the concentration change implies less than 1 Celsius degree of temperature change – and probably much less than one degree). So it's a complete crackpottery to talk about "global warming" as a result of these CO2 changes. In all these discussions, the impact of the temperature on the equilibrium CO2 concentration is the only influence that is worth considering. And one must remember that the CO2 concentration can only deviate from the equilibrium value for a century (or a longer time, as long as we remain able to produce a sufficient amount of CO2 emissions).

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reader Steven said...

Good post.


I'm just wondering where you stand on the calibre of the IPCC scientists? It seems (to me at least) the best students go into physics and computing. I'm sure there are some very good climate scientists in the IPCC but are they in a small minority do you think?


reader Luboš Motl said...

Steven (who managed to post it via the old disabled blogger.com comments):


Good post. I'm just wondering where you stand on the calibre of the IPCC scientists? It seems (to me at least) the best students go into physics and computing. I'm sure there are some very good climate scientists in the IPCC but are they in a small minority do you think?
-----


LM: I completely agree. People like Richard Lindzen who was in the IPCC and a very small number of non-skeptic folks in the IPCC are good scientists. The rest are mediocre scientists and various types of activists who just barely managed to associate themselves with science.


In my college, Faculty of Mathematics and Physics at the Charles University in Prague, the worst students of physics would go to meteorology. It also ended up to be the physics specialization with the (by far) highest percentage of girls. It was on the opposite side of particle physics, theoretical physics, and condensed matter physics that were collecting the best students.


reader Luboš Motl said...

I am testing the new button in the left lower corner of the "post a new DISQUS comment" window which allows you to attach an image. Does it work and does it look OK?


reader Luboš Motl said...

I completely agree. People like Richard Lindzen who was in the IPCC and a very small number of non-skeptic folks in the IPCC are good scientists. The rest are mediocre scientists and various types of activists who just barely managed to associate themselves with science.


In my college, Faculty of Mathematics and Physics at the Charles University in Prague, the worst students of physics would go to meteorology. It also ended up to be the physics specialization with the (by far) highest percentage of girls. It was on the opposite side of particle physics, theoretical physics, and condensed matter physics that were collecting the best students.


Everything I have seen in the U.S. and all my debates with people who follow such things have reinforced my opinion that the hierarchy I know from Prague is representative of the whole physics portion of the university world. Before the climate panic began as well as today, meteorology and climatology are very close to the bottom, to say the least, in the expertise and intelligence of the scholars among physical sciences.


reader Luboš Motl said...

You may now even catch and drag the images to the "post a new DISQUS comment" textarea/window and the image will be attached, pretty cool! ;-)


reader thejollygreenman said...

So Lubos,


You have just started a war with Anthony of WUWT as he is also a weatherman. Anthony is gunning for Piers Corbyn and you could be his next target,


Incidentally, I agree with you, apart from the fact that the best students end up as Engineers:)


reader thejollygreenman said...

Yes, looks fine, great to have the comments issue sorted!


reader Steven said...

Thanks for your answer. It's kind of what I expected - although it's a difficult area to comment on publicly. I guess we just have to trust the good science will win out eventually. I can't help but draw parallels with health science & nutrition back in the middle of the century. There are so many bad and unproven ideas that are still around today from that period - that it's worrying. Some of it even makes it into official government guidelines! Ancel Keys immediately comes to mind in case you wondered!


reader Gordon Wilson said...

This post seems to correspond to what I have read by Freeman Dyson about CO2 sinks, biomass etc. Nature magazine still seems to be controlled/edited by climate alarmists, since cover headlines are still apocalyptic.
Also, our public TV's science programming seems to rely on the "expertise" of David Suzuki unfortunately.
Still, skeptical articles and forays do appear.


reader Luboš Motl said...

Hi jollygreenman, thanks for your intelligence services about wars which I don't believe so far. ;-)


I don't want to make the hypothetical war situation worse but despite my great appreciation for Anthony and his website and the diverse science he presents and became familiar with, I didn't realize that Anthony is a scientist at all. A weatherman doesn't mean a scientist. Do I misunderstand something?


This was a part of my point. Meteorology at MFF UK Prague attracts the least quantitative students including babes who don't like maths almost at all and they do end as attractive babes on TV screens who point their fingers to clouds. Some of them actually know something about the atmosphere but I would still say that most weathermen and weatherwomen are not scientists, are they?


I am saying it despite the fact that most weathermen are climate skeptics. Well, they're still not scientists. In Czechia, the separation to climatology and meteorology isn't deep. Climatology is still mostly non-existent as an academic discipline and the people doing it are growing up together with meteorologists, as far as I can see.


reader thejollygreenman said...

Hi Lubos, Thank you for not putting engineers in your line of fire.
IMHO one of the things the IPCC has done is to elevate the status of the meteorology guys, in the public perception and at the universities. This was achieved through the massive funding that flowed to institutions that study our pending doom, the changing climate.
Another issue is how the IPCC have managed to change the spelling of science and scientists. Previously science and engineering were plain subjects that people studied and worked at, now Science is a religion that nobody is allowed to question and must obey, like a religion. Questioning Science will let you be labelled as being Anti-Science, and that is worse than suffering from halitosis!
But, then we must realize, that in this post-modern world, chiropractors and orthopedic surgeons are both honorable members of the medical profession and part of the group of health service providers.


reader metamars said...

Off topic, but related to climate change: Radioactive decay rates have been found to be a function of solar flares and the internal rotation rate of the sun, by scientists from Purdue and Stanford (
http://news.stanford.edu/news/2010/august/sun-082310.html ). Meanwhile, while the uncertainties are huge, scientists believe (according to wikipedia) that a large percentage of the earth's heat, generated, internally, is from fission. The last piece of what I want to suggest is a unified puzzle is Endersbee's findings, who has found a 2x solar cycle moving average correlation of CO2 and SST of .9959 ( see http://www.livestream.com/naturalclimatechange , starting at 8:13). That is not only a long time; what is intriguing about it is that you apparently get maximal correlation by some sort of averaging over that long time period, where the contributions from long ago are as significant as those from more recent times. That, to me, suggests that the heating is going on in a distributed fashion, throughout the mass of the earth, and some of the 'excess' heat which eventually presents itself to the biosphere, say at the bottom of the ocean, had it's genesis from a nuclear fission reaction deep within the earth, and thus took a long time to travel that greater distance.


reader Gail Combs said...

The "Wars" wer between Piers and Willis E. not Anthony.


If we do not have discussions, sometimes heated, how can science advance? Piers does not have a monopoly on the "truth" and neither does Willis or Anthony.


With luck a lot of people came out of that discussion realizing a long term forecast is not set in concrete but that Piers does a darn good job of "beating the odds" He certainly crushes the MET.


Would Anthony come "Gunning for Motl? Heck no. I have posted reference links to here many times.


Might there be a heated discussion about some of his Motl's work in the future? Yes.


As a factory chemist, I also agree that the best students become Engineers. Though there were a few newbie engineers we would not let onto the plant floor without a nanny.


reader calvin kelly said...

this is on great sight that should not be missed. the water is so calm and it's just perfect for a peaceful escape from the stressful week!