Before I begin, if anyone wants to read up on the carbon cycle, one of the best sites that describes it for the non-scientists out there, is NASA's Earth Observatory website.
NASA's OCO-2 Satellite
The topic is NASA's OCO-2 project, which was launched earlier this year. NASA gave a report at AGU. They've been collecting data since early September. I'll let the scientists tell it, if you have the time:
It takes 16 days to get a full set of global data, with a million readings a reading a day which yields tens of thousands of data points. What they have to do is determine differences of maybe only one or two parts per million (there are around 400 ppm of CO2 in the air today).
I've been wanting to write this for a few days now, and have been prompted to get a move on by one of the sillier articles from conspiracy theorising Tim Ball (archived here).
(Tim calls himself a climatologist. Nothing could be further from the truth as you will see. All he is is a retired geography teacher from a University. He published almost no research over his entire career. He is being sued for defamation, so you can tell he's well experienced in spreading disinformation. He's also an A Grade Conspiracy theorist of the anti-semitic, One World Government, New World Order kind. Anthony Watts likes him and his work. He publishes his silliness all the time.)
Where does CO2 come from and where does it go?
Today Tim Ball wrote an article that showed he hasn't the first clue about carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. He seems to think that the climate science community, of which he erroneously claims to be a part, says that all of the CO2 that is emitted each year comes from human activity. Of course it's not. Here is what happens:
- Humans emit around 30 Gigatonnes of CO2 each year, of which around 45% to 50% ends up in the atmosphere. The rest is absorbed at the surface (oceans and plants and soil).
- Plants emit about half the amount of CO2 that they absorb, so on balance they are net absorbers, through photosynthesis. They cycle a huge amount of CO2 each year, much more than human activity.
- There is also a lot of CO2 exchanged at the surface of the ocean. On balance, the oceans are carbon sinks (net absorbers), which is why they are getting more acidic (pH is dropping).
There is a huge amount of CO2 cycled through the surface-plants-ocean-atmosphere each year - way more than humans emit from burning fossil fuel and land-clearing etc. Between 1015 and 1017 grams (1,000 to 100,000 million metric tons) of carbon move through the fast carbon cycle every year. It goes in and out of plants on land and in water, it goes in and out of the oceans. Compare that to the 9 billion tonnes of carbon (not CO2) that humans are adding to the air. Tim put up a table of CO2 sources, but he neglected to factor in the sinks. He didn't tell his readers that plants and oceans etc absorb more each year than they emit.
Most of the carbon that's exchanged between the surface and the atmosphere each year is not from human activity. Up until the industrial revolution, each year the amount absorbed was roughly equal to the amount emitted. Now that we're adding so much to the air each year, plants and oceans are absorbing a lot more (about half of what we're putting into the air) but they can't keep up with all of it. So that's why the atmospheric CO2 has increased from around 280 ppm to 400 ppm. A big enough amount on a geological timescale but a phenomenal amount on a human time scale. That's what is causing global warming.
Here is a picture from NASA's OCO-2 satellite, that Tim also put in his article at WUWT. I've sharpened it a bit so you can see the land masses more clearly:
|This map, pieced together with data from NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2, shows global atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations from Oct. 1 through Nov. 11. |
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech Source: BBC
Humans are exonerated, we can breathe out freely :)
Tim quite ludicrously wrote this about an article at the BBC, saying "scientists don't know nuffin'". He wrote:
Preliminary evidence essentially exonerates humans as the source of CO2. That is a narrative unacceptable to the IPCC and all their media supporters. As a result the BBC, whose lack of journalistic integrity and political bias, was exposed in the emails leaked from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU), are obliged to spin the evidence. One comment in the article says,
It is possible to see spikes, too, on the eastern seaboard of the US and over China. These probably include the additional emissions of CO2 that come from industrialisation.
This misinformation is contradicted by the lower than average levels over the UK and Europe.Now why he thinks that the UK and Europe emit at least as much CO2 as the north eastern USA and China is anyone's guess. It wouldn't - it has much less manufacturing and relatively less fossil fuel compared to other sources (renewables and nuclear) than either place. (You can see more yellow over eastern Europe, which could well be fossil fuel burning.)
Grass doesn't burn?
Then Tim writes:
Another comment on Figure 1 says,
Also apparent are the higher concentrations over South America and southern Africa. These are likely the result of biomass burning in these regions.
This misinformation is a contradiction because the area of southern Africa is mostly grasslands and desert. How does that generate “biomass burning”? Figure 2 shows a map of the climate zones of Africa, ironically, it appears in an article pleading for financial help to deal with climate change.
Good lord! Tim thinks grass doesn't burn! Goodness knows why. It can't be because he's from Canada. Here's a NASA image of fires in southern Africa:
Several large fires were burning in South Africa when the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite acquired this image on September 15, 2010. Wind blows the thick plumes of pale brown smoke east over the Indian Ocean. The fires are outlined in red.
Most of the fires were probably set by people who use fire as a tool to manage land, but some of the fires may be wildfires. The savannas of southern Africa have long been shaped by fires, which remove woody bushes to make way for grasses. Since September is the end of the dry season in South Africa, plants are at their driest and the landscape is prone to fire.
One of the first times I saw a wildfire up close was a grass fire - as a child. We were driving down the Hume Highway and there was a huge blaze racing through pastures. The flames were very high and the fire was moving extremely quickly (away from us). My father drove down the side road so we could gawk. I think he saw it as a teaching moment. He used to say that you run "through" a grass fire (the front can be very wide, but it isn't usually deep - maybe only a few metres at most. Grass burns quickly, so it burns out quickly and you can run through it to get to clear ground on the other side. Don't try this at home!); avoid going deep into bushland in the fire season; and if caught on the road in a forest fire don't leave the car. Close all the windows and bunker down and cover yourself with a woollen blanket or similar and hope you survive. [Added a bit later by Sou.]
Incidentally, five homes were burnt to the ground in early season wildfires not far from where I live in Victoria this month - which burnt over grassland and farmland.
[Update] And here's an image of fires in Australia particularly those in the Angry Summer of January 2013 when Australia was on fire, from an article I wrote earlier this year. Remember most of Australia is desert and grassland or low scrub:
Sources and sinks
At AGU14, someone asked the question about whether the red splotches were net sources. The scientist replied that now they are, but in six months time [many of them] will turn into net sinks. To see if they are sources [or sinks] overall, you'll need at least a year of data.
Tim doesn't understand that. He's not a climate scientist. He's a fruitcake.
There's a lot more nonsense in Tim's article. I've just used it to write about the OCO-2 project and to correct some of the idiocy that is fed to the gullible readers at WUWT.
Further reading and plant fluorescence map
You can read more at Live Science. There's also a great article on the plant fluorescence map obtained from the OCO-2 data, at Science mag. It deserves its own article - maybe later. Here's a sneak peek:
From Eric Hand at Science:
About 1% of the light that strikes plants is re-emitted as a faint, fluorescent glow—a measure of photosynthetic activity. Today, at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union here, scientists released a map of this glow (pictured, with data averaged from August to October of this year) as measured by the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2. The NASA satellite launched in July with the goal of mapping the net amount of carbon in the atmosphere. But the fluorescence map, an unexpected secondary capability, provides a more direct measure of carbon fluxes: the amount mopped up by plants during photosynthesis or released during respiration. The findings will help scientists disentangle inputs and outputs in places like the Amazon rainforest, where there are both big emissions from deforestation and big sinks from photosynthesis.Read the full article here.
From the WUWT comments
There is a heap more in the comments than I have time to read, let alone write about. Here is a small sample:
Michael Moon is unaware that the mechanisms for CO2 absorption and release are the same as they've always been. There is no "new" explanation needed, other than with all the extra CO2 we're pouring into the air, plants are taking up more CO2 and the increases partial pressure at the oceans means they are absorbing more as well. The science of that is old knowledge.
December 21, 2014 at 1:06 pm
It is very hard to draw conclusions from this CO2 chart. Springtime in the SH should show reduced CO2 there as plant growth surges drawing CO2 from the atmosphere, and fall in the NH should show increased concentrations as leaves fall and begin to rot.
No one has yet suggested a mechanism by which only around half of human emissions enters the atmosphere, year after year. The graphic with annual emissions totals is revealing because, as Dr. Ball points out, human emissions are less than the annual variability of natural sources.
There is no way Mother Nature could vary as much as she does, and yet take up half of our emissions every year. Something else must be happening. The chemistry of the oceans is immensely complex, and appears to me to be the most likely driver of atmospheric CO2.
Louise Nicholas is wanting to be a good little WUWT-er, but is having a bit of trouble maintaining the stance in the face of such utter nuttery from Tim Ball
December 21, 2014 at 1:33 pm
“A recent example appeared from the BBC, triggered by more evidence that contradicts the hypothesis, that human produced CO2 is almost the sole cause of global warming. ”
Don’t get me wrong- I totally agree with what Tim Bal says- but am missing the link as to why the fact that C02 concentration varies across continents/oceans contradicts the IPCC hypothesis. How are the IPCC results dependent on C02 being constant? Like temperature, I’ve always assumed C02 concentrations varied, and it was just the “change” the average change that was being measured Just as I think it’s nonsensical to make climate predictions on a world (as opposed to local) averages- it seems crazy to base predictions on an average increase in C02. However, I’m having a hard time explaining to my layperson friends, how the fact that it varies across continents nullifies the IPCC hypothesis. Can anyone help explain this in layman’s terms?
Barry notices just how well CO2 is mixed in the atmosphere and how finely tuned are the satellite instruments
December 21, 2014 at 2:10 pm
The range on the graph is very narrow, 387 to 402, despite the wide range in color scheme. Besides, how is biomass burning (farmers burning their fields, or grasslands to prepare for planting) not considered human activity?
wickedwenchfan is a conspiracy nutter
December 21, 2014 at 2:47 pm
This was never about science. This was always about usurping National laws with international ones. In short, power.
Goldie professes personal incredulity. In the video, the scientists say that while the data comes from a vertical column of the atmosphere, there is greatest sensitivity near the surface. Over the next few months they'll be refining things to get an even better picture.
December 21, 2014 at 3:18 pm
I somehow wondered why this project was going to provide anything useful at all. I assume that the results as graphed are not surface concentrations but average tropospheric concentrations. If so, how does that help? If one is trying to pinpoint a source, the measure needs to be for the lower troposphere. I suspect what we are seeing are the spring blooms in the Southern Hemisphere – noticeably missing in Australia due to the aridity, but present in Indonesia and Papua to the North. Personally I think the jury is out – not on humanity’s guilt. I never believed that, but on what this is actually showing. Could be that this is a white elephant because we will never really know what we are looking at.
Hans Erren says it will get interesting...
December 21, 2014 at 3:25 pm
It will be very interesting for the coming years, the Bern model expects a sink saturation soon and a huge increase in the airborne fraction, it will be interesting what the sinks will do, and now there will be no hiding when they won’t saturate.
François had the last word (so far) in a dig at Tim Ball's anti-semitism and political ideology:
December 21, 2014 at 4:30 pm
The Catholics are responsible, or the Jews, certainly not us red-bloodied twice-born Republicans. Hey, did you notice it is getting warmer?
You can read more comments here, to get an idea of how few WUWT readers understand the first thing about the carbon cycle.