Planet Earth Is Heating Up Faster

Planet Earth Is Heating Up Faster

A new scientific paper just accepted for publication by the American Geophysical Union (AGU) shows that, on the basis of both computations and experimental measurements, the net rate at which Planet Earth is absorbing solar energy has increased between years 2005 and 2019. Planet Earth is heating up — global warming — at a faster rate, and that rate is increasing.

In my article here, I will first quote the abstract of this paper (“Satellite and Ocean Data Reveal Marked Increase in Earth’s Heating Rate,” by Norman G. Loeb, Gregory C. Johnson, Tyler J. Thorsen, John M. Lyman, Fred G. Rose, Seiji Kato, 15 June 2021; https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1029/2021GL093047), and then give my interpretation of the overall scientific conclusion, in plain English.

Abstract from the AGU paper:

Earth’s Energy Imbalance (EEI) is a relatively small (presently ∼0.3%) difference between global mean solar radiation absorbed and thermal infrared radiation emitted to space. EEI is set by natural and anthropogenic climate forcings and the climate system’s response to those forcings. It is also influenced by internal variations within the climate system. Most of EEI warms the ocean; the remainder heats the land, melts ice, and warms the atmosphere. We show that independent satellite and in situ observations each yield statistically indistinguishable decadal increases in EEI from mid-2005 to mid-2019 of 0.50±0.47 W m-2 decade-1 (5%-95% confidence interval). This trend is primarily due to an increase in absorbed solar radiation associated with decreased reflection by clouds and sea-ice and a decrease in outgoing longwave radiation (OLR) due to increases in trace gases and water vapor. These changes combined exceed a positive trend in OLR due to increasing global mean temperatures.

MG.Jr. Interpretation:

Earth’s increased temperature has melted ice and snow and reduced cloud cover, which means that less solar radiation (light) is reflected back into space — a warming effect. Note that clouds, snow and ice fields are white and highly reflective of light; bare ground and the ocean surface have much lower reflectivity. Planet Earth’s net reflectivity is called the albedo; and it has decreased.

Even though the increased average global temperature has warmed — stored heat in — the oceans (a 91% effect, as only 9% warms the lands and air) and thus caused greater evaporation of water (and snow melt and ice melt) into the atmosphere, fewer clouds are forming because the higher air temperature keeps the water vapor from condensing as quickly as in previously cooler times. Note that clouds are cold, they are made up of water droplets and ice crystals: condensate from cooled vapor.

However, the ever increasing atmospheric load of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases that humans cause to be emitted, along with the increased water vapor in the atmosphere, just noted, make for a denser gaseous “filter” or capture medium for the outgoing Infrared Radiation (Outgoing Long-wavelength Radiation = OLR = HEAT) that cools the Earth.

For Planet Earth to be in thermal equilibrium — at a steady average global temperature — the rate of heat-energy radiated out into space (cooling) must equal the rate of light-energy absorbed from the Sun (heating).

The quantity of thermal-energy emission per unit time (OLR) from any isolated body (like Planet Earth suspended in space) increases as its temperature increases. This phenomenon is known as the “blackbody radiation” effect in physics, and quantified by the Stephan-Boltzmann Law. So, one might have hoped that with Planet Earth’s now higher average temperature that it would reject heat (and cool) at a higher rate; and in that way seek to maintain a steady planetary temperature.

BUT the AGU paper shows that the decrease of Earth’s light reflectivity (albedo), combined with the increase of its OLR (heat) absorptivity by the atmosphere, overwhelm the also increased rate of heat (IR or OLR) emission from the planetary surface back towards space.

The net effect is an increase in the rate at which originally-solar energy is absorbed by Planet Earth, and hence an increase in the rate at which Planet Earth’s average temperature is increasing. This is a self-reinforcing effect, a.k.a.: a vicious cycle.

Immediately ceasing “all” (the vast majority of) emissions of carbon-dioxide and greenhouse gases is the first essential step to SLOWING the rate of global warming and attendant “climate change”, and the absolute beginning of a very long process of global temperature equilibration:

1, from a slowing of the rising trend of temperature;

2, until temperature reaches a plateau; because it takes decades to centuries for the oceans and lands to reach a temperature equilibrium — think of equilibrium as “uniformity,” though that analogy is not exact;

3, and then the slow (decades to centuries) re-absorption of CO2 from the atmosphere by the surface waters of the oceans and photosynthesis (plants);

4, with a gradual (centuries to millennia) reduction of global temperature.

It took 200,000 years to clear away the global warming “hyperthermal” event known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), which occurred ~55.5 million years ago.

The sooner the emissions of greenhouse gases cease: the lower the height of the inevitable maximum temperature plateau, and the shorter the duration of the period before temperature returns to “normal” (as in the Holocene). Regardless, that duration will be vastly longer than a human lifetime, and even many human generations.

The social and political implications of these scientific findings quickly become obvious on honest reflection.

[Thanks to Peter Carter for the AGU reference.]

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Anthropogenic CO2 Emissions Are Fate

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Anthropogenic CO2 Emissions Are Fate

I developed a model of Global Warming based on the anthropogenic perturbation of the Carbon Cycle. The essence of this model is a rate equation for the evolution of the carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration in the atmosphere.

The interesting results from this model are projected trends for the CO2 concentration and the average global temperature during the next century. The character of those trends — whether rapid rises, shallow plateaus, or diminishment into the future — depend crucially on the magnitude of our civilization’s emissions of CO2, and whether those anthropogenic emissions increase or decrease with time. In the real world at present, they are increasing.

I have now been able to include the effect of linearly increasing or decreasing anthropogenic emissions into my Carbon Balance Model, which has been significantly improved.

This model also includes the effect of the increase in the rate at which atmospheric CO2 is absorbed by photosynthesis and the surface waters of the oceans, because those absorption rates are increasingly stimulated by the higher levels of CO2 in the air. This process of absorption-enhancement cannot continue indefinitely as the atmospheric CO2 concentration increases, but at what point of elevated CO2 concentration it saturates and then absorption largely shuts down, is unknown.

The third process included in the model is that of the slow absorption of atmospheric CO2 by the chemical reactions of weathering on the surfaces of rocks and soils. CO2 not “quickly” scavenged from the air by photosynthesis or the surface waters of the oceans will stay airborne for 12,000 to 14,000 years. The ~2,500ppm spike of atmospheric CO2 that occurred 55.5 million years ago took 200,000 years to clear away. That geological episode is known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM). At that time there was no ice at the poles, instead they were jungles and swamps with crocodiles. The global temperature at the peak of the PETM was as much as +12°C to +18°C warmer than in our pre-industrial 18th century.

I made three case studies from this model, called E-growth, E-flat, and E-fall.

E-growth

The E-growth case is driven by a relentlessly steady rise of anthropogenic CO2 emissions, based on the average upward trend of those emissions between years 1960 and 2020.

This trend arrives at 470ppm of atmospheric CO2, and a warming of +1.5°C (above pre-industrialization), in the year 2038 (in 18 years). It arrives 540ppm and +2°C in year 2055 (in 35 years); and it arrives at 800ppm and +4°C in year 2100 (in 80 years).

E-flat

The E-flat case is driven by a constant annual rate of 42.2GtCO2/y of anthropogenic emissions (42.2 giga-metric-tons of CO2 emissions per year), which is the rate in year 2020.

It arrives at 470ppm and +1.5°C in year 2041 (in 21 years); and 540ppm and +2°C in year 2070 (in 50 years); and 600ppm and +2.5°C in year 2100 (in 80 years).

E-fall

The E-fall case is driven by a steady linear reduction of anthropogenic emissions over 40 years: from 42.2GtCO2/y in 2020, to 0GtCO2/y in 2060; a reduction of 1.05GtCO2 every year for 40 years. This amount of annual reduction is 2.5% of the total anthropogenic emissions in year 2020. In this scenario, after year 2060 we would continue our civilization with zero CO2 emissions from our human activities.

This trend rises to 437ppm and +1.23°C during years 2035 to 2040 (from 15 to 20 years in the future) after which both fall. It arrives back down to 407ppm and +1°C in year 2059 (in 39 years); and 320ppm and +0.4°C in year 2100 (in 80 years).

Finally

In this year of 2020, we are presently at 417ppm and +1.08°C.

The math and physics details of this new work, as well as graphs of the trends calculated from it, are shown in the report (PDF file) linked at

A Carbon Balance Model of Atmospheric CO2
11 September 2020

Click to access a-carbon-balance-model-of-atmospheric-co2.pdf

 

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The Improbability of CO2 Removal from the Atmosphere

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The Improbability of CO2 Removal from the Atmosphere

The concentration of carbon dioxide gas in today’s atmosphere is 417ppm (parts per million). There are 10^44 gas molecules in the entire atmosphere (78% diatomic nitrogen, 21% diatomic oxygen, 1% everything else), so 1ppm is equivalent to 10^38 gas particles. The 417ppm of CO2 represents a total of 4.17×10^40 molecules.

Some people hope for new technology to remove carbon dioxide gas from Earth’s atmosphere, and then forestall the advance of global warming, or even completely eliminate it. I see this as improbable because I think any such technology would be extremely inefficient at CO2 removal, and be energy intensive as well. The process of gaseous diffusion, as with the release of CO2 into the atmosphere, requires no energy; the gases just mix, spread and dilute, and the entropy of the atmosphere increases. It is an “irreversible process” in the parlance of chemical thermodynamics. This means that the spontaneous un-mixing of gases and their re-concentration into separate volumes has never been observed. Energy must be invested to effect any such desired separation of component gases in a mixture. To explore the possibility of CO2 removal, I have quantified my sense of improbability about it, and describe that here.

Consider a hypothetical CO2 removal machine that is a tube with a filter box in the middle. Air is fanned into the tube, flows into the filter box where some of its CO2 is removed, and then flows out of the tube to rejoin the atmosphere and to slightly reduce the global average concentration of CO2. Energy is supplied to entrain air into the device, and energy is supplied to power the unspecified process that effects the CO2 removal within the filter box. The machine would operate continuously so that over time all the atmosphere would be filtered and de-carbonized.

This would be a very large machine, and most likely be a large array of identical or similar units all over the world that would comprise a composite machine. I will describe this composite as if it were a single tube. [1]

Machine #1

This machine has a filter cross-sectional area of 10,000 km^2 (10^10 m^2) into which air is fanned through at 1meter/second (2.24mph). Producing that continuous mass flow from still air requires 16GW of power, assuming an efficiency of 40% (from raw power into moving air). The filtration process is assumed to consume 40GW (1% of the power used by the United States) and be 1% effective at CO2 removal. The anthropogenic emission of CO2, at its current rate of 35.5GT/year (giga metric tons per year), is assumed to continue indefinitely (the economy!), with the oceans absorbing 29% of those emissions (10.4GT/y).

At the end of 10 years of continuous operation Machine #1 would have cleared 3.26ppm of CO2 from Earth’s atmosphere, at a cost of 1.77×10^19 Joules of energy (4.92×10^12 kilowatt-hours). Reducing the CO2 concentration to the pre-industrial level of 280ppm would require 507.6 years.

Machine #2

Clearly, improvements are required for Machine #1. So, we assume that 10% efficiency of CO2 removal can be effected by investing 400GW (10% of the power used by the United States) into the filter box. Now, the power consumption is 416GW for Machine #2. After 10 years of continuous operation 31.5ppm of CO2 would be removed from the atmosphere (bringing the concentration down to 386ppm), at an energy cost of 1.31×10^20 Joules (3.64×10^13kWh). Reducing the atmospheric concentration of CO2 back to 280ppm would require 51 years. This might seem promising except for the fact that the assumed 10% efficiency is pure fantasy.

Machine #3, All Earth’s Lands

To regain a sense of reality, consider the actual performance of the entire land surface of the Earth (1.489×10^14 m^2) acting as a CO2 removal filter. This was the case in the clearing of 2500ppm of CO2 from the atmosphere over the course of 200,000 years during the geologically brief episode of explosive global warming 55.5 million years ago, known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM). I described the PETM and cited numerous public-access scientific references to it in [2].

Using the same rate of CO2 removal (the e-folding time) as occurred during the PETM, in my formulation of CO2 removal machines, it transpires that the efficiency of removal by the Earth-filter (rock weathering reactions in the long term) is 8.6×10^-8 (0.0000086%). After 10 years, this Earth-machine would clear 0.42ppm of the atmospheric CO2 (bringing the level down from 417ppm to 416.6ppm). That level would be reduced to 280ppm in 3,984 years.

Machine #4

Hope in technology springs eternal for some, so maybe our Machine #2 even with a realistic efficiency can better the clearing-time set by the Earth, natural Machine #3. We accept an efficiency of 1.474×10^-7 (0.00001474%), invest 1.31×10^19 Joules of energy every year at a rate of 416GW of continuous power, and after 10 years find 0ppm of CO2 removal! In fact however long we run this machine there will always be 0ppm of CO2 removal, because the rate of technological removal is equalled by the rate of anthropogenic emissions. Reaching 280ppm is literally infinitely far away.

Machine #5

Maybe by some technological breakthrough the efficiency can be raised by a factor of 100, to 1.474×10^-5 (0.001474%). Then in 100 years Machine #5 would have cleared 0.0478ppm of atmospheric CO2 (reducing the level from 417ppm to 416.95ppm) for an investment of 1.31×10^21 Joules (3.64×10^14kWh). Achieving 280ppm would require 348,577 years. It’s hard to beat the Earth at its own game.

Best Course of Action

It should be obvious by now that our best course of action is to apply our energy resources to the betterment of our many societies and the equalization of living standards worldwide, and to the transformation of our economic activities for minimal CO2 emissions. The current catch-phrase for this transformation is “degrowth.”

During this pandemic year of 2020, the U.S. GDP shrank by 33%, and the CO2 emissions by the United States also shrank by the same proportion. Worldwide CO2 emissions shrank by 17%. Zero emissions require zero GPD, as we now know it.

Global warming will advance and its consequences will add great stresses to many human, animal and plant populations. This geophysical process could be experienced as “the collapse of civilization,” or it could be taken as a collective challenge to advance human civilization by bonds of solidarity, and the restoration of its reverence for the natural world. If we put our energy into fashioning that imperfect utopia, we would live through global warming with a justifiable sense of pride, and even have fun.

Notes

[1] Stream Tube CO2 Removal Machine
8 August 2020
Stream Tube CO2 Removal Machine
or
https://manuelgarciajr.files.wordpress.com/2020/08/stream-tube-co2-removal-machine.pdf

[2] Ye Cannot Swerve Me: Moby-Dick and Climate Change
15 July 2019
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2019/07/15/ye-cannot-swerve-me-moby-dick-and-climate-change/

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