Thursday, May 28, 2015

Updating An Inconvenient Truth

I recently re-watched Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth (2006), which is now somewhat out of date, and was wondering what's happened to CO2 since the movie came out.

Here's a recap. First, the most recent year's worth of data from Mauna Loa:


Carbon dioxide levels (which for 2015 are above 400 ppm) vary more-or-less sinusoidally throughout the year. Why? Most of earth's land masses are north of the equator. Plants bloom in summer and consume most of their CO2 in the warm months. In the (northern-hemisphere) winter, CO2 builds up because northern-hemisphere plants shut down and Australia is largely desert.

Here's Mauna Loa data for the last 55 years:

The graph shows that CO2 levels in the atmosphere have gone up about 75 ppm in 50 years, so around 1.5 ppm per year.

We have ice-core data going back 800,000 years, and it's reliable because the snowpack accumulates in definite layers, and we can sample the actual air bubbles in the layers to get CO2 ppm:


In the past 800,000 years, CO2 tyically has rarely been above 250 ppm and got to 300 ppm (briefly) just once. Temperatures (not shown) tend to follow CO2 levels closely, albeit with a bit of lag due to oceanic entrapment (and subsequent release) of CO2, with 100 ppm of CO2 equivalent to about a 10-degree (C) change in air temps. (Sometimes CO2 appears to lag slightly; sometimes air temps do. But overall, the two correlate strongly.) Which means that at 400 ppm, we're due for +10C higher temps over historic levels. Exactly how long it will take for that +10C increase to show up, I don't know (many people say it's already begun, of course!), but a +10C increase is pretty much inevitable.

Skeptics can argue all they want about whether the CO2 buildup is man-made. But there is no question that CO2 levels are higher (by at least 100 ppm) today than at any time in the last 800,000 years. That part is not open to debate. Also, the fact that CO2 is a greenhouse gas that traps heat is not really open to debate. So connect the dots however you like.

Presidential candidates, please discuss.

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16 comments:

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