Climate & environment - Nov 26
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For many people, this may seem relatively inconsequential as compared to daily cataclysmic revelations about the state of the national and global economy. This reaction is understandable: we care first and foremost about our own immediate survival prospects, and a new and greater Depression will mean millions losing their homes, millions more their jobs. It's nothing to look forward to.
It takes some scientific literacy to appreciate the implications of the catastrophic loss of microscopic sea animals. We need to understand that these are food for crustaceans and fish, which are food for sea birds and mammals. We need to appreciate the importance of the oceanic food web in the planetary biosphere.
(25 November 2008)
Acidic seas threaten coral and mussels
Steve Connor, The Independent
Rising carbon dioxide levels are increasing acidity in the oceans 10 times faster than scientists thought, posing a greater threat to shell-forming creatures such as coral and mussels.
An eight-year project in the Pacific has found that rising marine acid levels will challenge many organisms, because their shell-making chemistry is critically dependent on a less acidic, more alkaline environment. The study monitored seawater pH levels at the north-east Pacific island of Tatoosh off Washington state in the United States.
Timothy Wootton, from Chicago University, said scientists found that acidity levels increased at more than 10 times the rate predicted by computer models designed to study the link between atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and ocean acidity...
(25 November 2008)
Carbon is forever
Mason Inman, Nature Reports Climate Change
Carbon dioxide emissions and their associated warming could linger for millennia, according to some climate scientists. Mason Inman looks at why the fallout from burning fossil fuels could last far longer than expected.
After our fossil fuel blow-out, how long will the CO2 hangover last? And what about the global fever that comes along with it? These sound like simple questions, but the answers are complex — and not well understood or appreciated outside a small group of climate scientists
... University of Chicago oceanographer David Archer, who led the study with Caldeira and others, is credited with doing more than anyone to show how long CO2 from fossil fuels will last in the atmosphere. As he puts it in his new book The Long Thaw, "The lifetime of fossil fuel CO2 in the atmosphere is a few centuries, plus 25 percent that lasts essentially forever. The next time you fill your tank, reflect upon this"3.
"The climatic impacts of releasing fossil fuel CO2 to the atmosphere will last longer than Stonehenge," Archer writes. "Longer than time capsules, longer than nuclear waste, far longer than the age of human civilization so far."
The effects of carbon dioxide on the atmosphere drop off so slowly that unless we kick our "fossil fuel addiction", to use George W. Bush's phrase, we could force Earth out of its regular pattern of freezes and thaws that has lasted for more than a million years. "If the entire coal reserves were used," Archer writes, "then glaciation could be delayed for half a million years."
(20 November 2008)
Related from the same issue: Fossil carbon's fate:
A clever use of fable brings surprising clarity to the story of climate change.