The climate-impact puzzle – trying to get ALL the pieces to fit

Who ever would have guessed that content or concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would have a climate or climatic connection? Does it? Carrying this idea one step farther, does a change in the level of atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide (and other greenhouse gas emissions) change climate? What answer is given depends on whom you ask. As well, there is debate on whether Earth is warming at all. What I have read recently is that since data has been kept, 2015 was the hottest year on record for global mean temperature and of the past 15 years all have been temperature-record-breakers except one. It has been getting warmer and what is understood based on scientific discovery is elements like carbon dioxide and methane are heat-trapping gases and they have the ability to absorb and retain heat. But, is there a direct correlation between greenhouse-gas-emission concentration in the air and a changing climate?

Focus: San Joaquin Valley

I live in the San Joaquin Valley and what I can and will tell you is that in the four decades I have called the Valley home, what I can say with some level of confidence is, yes, I have noticed change as I am sure others here have also. The most notable change is that winters appear to be shorter. At the same time, the period of drought we are experiencing at present, I don’t ever recall a previous dry spell in the area lasting quite as long as this has. And, also from what I have been reading of late, the Valley is not out of the drought-woods just yet.

Then there is the El Nino effect – the warming of the northern Pacific Ocean region and how the western U.S. could presumably expect to get some relief to the so-far four years of drought conditions mentioned above. Locally (in Fresno), as of Sunday, Feb. 25th, the amount of rain totaled 9.95 inches as documented from Oct. 1, 2015. For the season-to-date category, last year the total precipitation was less than half that or 4.51 inches. Normal for the entire 12-month period of Oct. 1st through Sept. 30th is 11.5 inches of rain. Granted, the season is less than halfway over, but temperatures are again warming (spring has almost sprung), and the likelihood that this season will be a record-setting year for precip., well, so far, rainfall-wise, it hasn’t exactly been a gullywasher-of-a-year. From the looks of things, again, so far, this will be just another average year on the precipitation front, locally speaking.

Thirdly, with what amount of rain that has fallen this season already, I would have expected the appearance of a lot more wintertime (cold-weather) fog. But, that didn’t happen to any great degree, at least, not where I reside. I can remember when I first moved to Fresno in 1977, then and for several years thereafter, the area would be socked in with the mist for what seemed like three months solid. That’s 90 days straight of pea-soup or near pea-soup fog, interspersed, of course, with short periods of rain or sunshine/clear skies. Now, it is either sunny or rainy with only a couple of days here and there with fog an issue.

The weather has changed, no doubt about it. Yet, there remains the nagging question of whether or not the enhanced presence of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is the root-cause of these changes.

Personally, I would like nothing more than the intense and heated debate over whether these accelerated and enhanced atmospheric carbon dioxide levels brought on by all of the related fossil-fuel-burning activity – this itself most definitely an air-polluting process in case there is any question – is having any kind of climate impact (meaning: a change in it), would just up and go away.

What I know is that oceanic ecosystems are being adversely affected by acidity levels that are increasing due to the increased ocean water carbon dioxide concentration; the increased carbon dioxide in oceans caused on account of increased CO2 in the air – there is a direct connection, and the air, at present, has in it an average CO2 concentration of somewhere in the neighborhood of 400 parts per million (ppm). This, too, I know.

Meanwhile, air pollution continues, dare I say, unabated and intensifying in some regions; this while progress in regard to its cleanup has been made in others. And, as it has to do with the mitigation side of the story, we’ll have a better idea regarding its success when the percentage of people dying early from air pollution’s effects (relative to the entire world population, that is) becomes less and less.

Most definitely, something to look forward to!

– Alan Kandel

3 thoughts on “The climate-impact puzzle – trying to get ALL the pieces to fit”

  1. There can be little doubt that the burning of fossil fuels is contributing 80% of the cause of global warming. They are burned solely for the purpose of producing heat and only incidentally emit CO2 as a by-product. The heat emitted by fossil and nuclear power is more than four times that associated with the rise in air temperature, and when the annual rise exceeds 0.01*F the dissipation of the geothermal heat flow is prevented resulting in the accumulation of 44 terrawatts , a value 5 times the average energy usage, over the past century. This causes a build-up of heat inventory in the land and oceans. Though the increase in CO2 may add slightly to the warming, it is minuscule compared to the heat emissions from energy consumption and the captured geothermal heat flow. When heat emissions are considered in this context the proposals to capture and store CO2 are clearly expensive and not merely useless but counter-productive as well. The waste heat emitted from nuclear reactors is twice the amount that is converted to electricity ( which also becomes heat).
    The increase in the acidity of the oceans is more likely due to acid-rain from the burning of 2000 tons a year of coal containing ~1% sulfur, or an equivalent of 60 million tons a year of sulfuric acid. CO2 should increase the bicarbonate ion which should increase the rate at which reefs can continue to build.

    • Related and in response to part of your comment, I thought you would like to know that I addressed the-rise-in-atmospheric-carbon-dioxide-ocean-acidity-increase-connection issue in “Earth Day 2014: ‘Conserve’ is the word” post. Here is the link:

      And, on the subject of carbon dioxide’s impact, what I wrote is this:

      “It is indeed more than just a curiosity that one type of pollution can actually cause another. Some of the additional carbon dioxide (CO2) entering the atmosphere goes elsewhere: it has been and is ending up in major bodies of water like the world’s oceans. In fact, writer Elizabeth Kolbert in OnEarth magazine insists, since even before 1800, what has resulted with heightened CO2 emissions, is ocean acidity levels intensifying.

      “In the Kolbert article in question, according to the author, this increased ocean acidity, from what I understand, is due to air-to-ocean transference of CO2 and there is less of that gas escaping from the oceans than what is being introduced. And, as it happens, each year carbon dioxide by the billions of tons is being added to the seas. Not a pretty picture.

      “So, the atmosphere, tantamount to being a dumping ground for the extra CO2, what this, in effect, is resulting in are pH-altered seas. And, what the increased oceanic acidity means is: sea life is impacted if not threatened.”

      Kolbert, incidentally, is the recipient of a Pulitzer Prize in the General Non-Fiction category in 2015, awarded her for her book: “The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History.”

      • You and many others have accepted the notion that CO2 is the cause of acidification. If CO2 is dissolved in water that is not saturated with calcium carbonate. the pH will fall to a point where the CO2 in the water is in equilibrium with that in the air. If CaCO3 is present (reefs and the like) then calcium bicarbonate will be formed and maintain a pH of ~8.2 and the sea creatures will convert this to shell or calcium carbonate. The higher the bicarbonate ion, the more quickly the shell formation, so I contend that it is not CO2 causing acidification and have proposed a different possibility/probability, namely acid-rain of sulfurous/ic acid. Because the amount of acid to cause a drop of 0.2 pH units is such a small amount relative to the sulfate already in seawater this cannot be proved nor disproved.

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