Home » Columns »Sustainable Planet » Currently Reading:

A Page from the Story of Earth

May 22, 2012 by Tony Noerpel filed under Columns, Sustainable Planet No Comments
noerpel150

“The rates of such changes, not the changes themselves, should be our biggest concern. For climate, sea level, and ecosystems can reach tipping points. Pushed too far, positive feedback loops can kick in. What normally takes a thousand years could transpire in a decade or two.” Robert Hazen [1]

In my recent articles, I have been discussing the ongoing rate of the anthropogenic or human-caused changes in Earth’s climate. We are warming the planet at a rate of 2.76 degrees Celsius per century (NASA GISS and NOAA results but also confirmed by the denier study BEST [2]) which is unprecedented in the last 300 million years of Earth history. The only plausible explanation is the greenhouse gases we are emitting into the atmosphere also at a rate unrivaled in the last 300 million years. In fact scientists once believed that the extinction event 55 million years ago called the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) would be a good analogue for what we are doing today as it was believed to be the most rapid climate disruption in Earth’s history [3]. In a paper published in 2011, however, a team of geologists from Penn State led by Lee Kump and his graduate student and lead author Ying Cui discovered that even this devastating event was triggered by greenhouse gas emissions less than a tenth the rate of what is happening today [4]. Their paper compares model results with actual measurements for two possible causes for the sudden increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide. Their results indicate that the peak rate of carbon addition to the atmosphere during the onset period of PETM was between 0.3 Pg C/yr and 1.7 Pg C/yr. By comparison the current rate of human emissions is 10 Pg C/yr [5]. The changes that took more than a thousand years to occur during the PETM have occurred within the last century. The PETM cannot therefore help us make predictions about the future other than that what we are doing may be ten times worse.

As we’ve seen in the last couple of articles, the natural change in the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere during the Earth’s recovery from the last glacial maximum was never faster than about 0.023 ppmV/year while the current annual change due to humans is about 2.4 ppmV/year or hundred times faster [6]. There is nothing going on in nature today that can account for the rapid accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere or the rapid increase in global temperature other than human emissions. But more significantly, scientists have discovered that no natural mechanism has ever progressed that quickly, other than perhaps a 6 mile in diameter meteorite striking Chicxulub at about 22,000 miles per hour 65 million years ago terminating the Reign of T Rex.

Before we revisit the transition between the LGM and the Holocene as I was describing in my last article we should review one other bit of earth science. I should have introduced Figure 1 when discussing the polar amplification [7] as I did use it in a talk I gave a few weeks later. It shows that the spot in the Arctic above Alaska has already warmed about 6 degrees Celsius whereas the rest of the Earth has only warmed a degree or so and in fact some areas of the Earth’s surface haven’t warmed at all. Global temperature is of course the temperature integrated and averaged over the entire globe including both the cool parts and the warm parts. If we only had one thermometer and we placed it in the Arctic we would think the entire earth warmed by 6 degrees Celsius already which it hasn’t done of course.

Figure 1 Composite temperature anomaly from NCEP/NCAR

Carbon dioxide is a well-mixed gas in the earth’s atmosphere. The ratio of carbon dioxide to nitrogen and oxygen is the same at the poles and at the equator and on the surface and at very high altitudes. It is currently 394 parts per million by volume. If you measure it in one place, then you know the concentration everyplace else. This is not true for water vapor, by the way, as there is very little water vapor in the atmosphere over deserts which are too dry and over the poles which are too cold but lots of water vapor over tropical rain forests. Also as water vapor rises in the atmosphere, which it does at the equator, it condenses out in the cold upper troposphere forming clouds, subsequently precipitating out as rain. Water vapor is not a well mixed gas. It depends intimately on the local temperature whereas carbon dioxide does not. This is why carbon dioxide is the principle greenhouse gas or the Earth’s thermostat [8] while water vapor is simply an amplifying feedback.

What this means is that the ice core temperature data from Antarctica can only reflect the temperature at Antarctica at any specific time. But the carbon dioxide concentration measured in the ice cores can be used to reliably reflect the global concentration at that same time. Does this mean that the temperature measured by appropriate proxies in the ice core does not tell us anything about the global temperature? No not at all. When the global temperature rises, it rises nearly everywhere but just not at the same rate or by the same amount sometimes lagging by many centuries.

Returning to where we left off in my last article, what happened to cause the Earth to progress from a glacial maximum 18,000 years ago to the interglacial climate we enjoy today, by about 10,000 years ago? As I mentioned several recent papers published this year shed light. Figure 2 is from a paper written by a team of climatologists led by Jeremy Shakun of Harvard University published in the journal Nature [9]. The red curve is Antarctic proxy temperature from the core at Dome C. The yellow dots are the rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide. The blue curve is a composite estimate of the global temperature rise from 80 ocean sediment cores taken from various parts of the globe. As expected the Antarctic warmed first as a result of earth’s orbital obliquity. Sea ice around Antarctica melted releasing a stored charge of carbon dioxide from decaying biotic matter stored up over tens of millennia which could not escape the ocean into the atmosphere because of the sea ice that had persisted up to and during the LGM [10]. Andrea Burke of MIT and Laura Robinson of University of Bristol have recently shown that when this sea ice melted back, the stored carbon dioxide was gradually released into the atmosphere. This pulse of carbon rapidly spread over the earth and contributed to warming the rest of the planet. Atmospheric carbon levels followed the Antarctic temperature increase but led the global temperature increase.

Note that the Earth warmed an estimated 3.5 degrees Celsius over about 8000 years. By comparison we are causing the Earth to warm at a rate of 2.76 degrees per century but that rate is expected to increase as we continue to emit carbon dioxide and other green house gases into the atmosphere. While the magnitude of the anthropogenic warming this coming century will be dramatic enough the rate will be something never before experienced on Earth within the last few hundred million years, 100 times more than the recovery from the last ice age and 10 times more than the PETM. When a global warming denier tells us not to worry it will be good for us, would be a good time to apply some skepticism and ask “you know this how?”

How fast can sea level rise? Pierre Deschamps from Marseille University, France and colleagues have determined that during what is called the “melt water pulse 1A” between 14,650 and 14,310 years ago, at the boundary between the Oldest Dryas and the Bølling–Allerød periods shown in Figure 2, sea levels rose greater than 4 meters per century with a peak rate that may have been as much as 10 meters per century [11]. Current estimates call for just 2 meters this century so it is not out of the question that we may be in for a rude surprise.

Figure 1: The global proxy temperature stack (blue) as deviations from the early Holocene (11.5–6.5 kyr ago) mean, an Antarctic ice-core composite temperature record (red), and atmospheric CO2 concentration (yellow dots). The Holocene, Younger Dryas (YD), Bølling–Allerød (B–A), Oldest Dryas (OD) and Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) intervals are indicated. Error bars, 1-sigma; p.p.m.v. = parts per million by volume. Shakun et al. Figure 2a. [9]

References

[1] Robert Hazen, The Story of Earth, Viking, 2012.

[2] Tony Noerpel, Blue Ridge Leader, http://brleader.com/?p=8276

[3] Lee Kump, The Last Great Global Warming, Scientific American, July 2011.

[4] Ying Cui, Lee R. Kump, Andy J. Ridgwell, Adam J. Charles, Christopher K. Junium, Aaron F. Diefendorf, Katherine H. Freeman, Nathan M. Urban and Ian C. Harding, Slow release of fossil carbon during the Palaeocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum, Nature Geoscience, 5 June 2011 | DOI: 10.1038/NGEO1179. See also, Panchuk, K., Ridgwell, A. & Kump, L. R. Sedimentary response to PaleoceneEocene Thermal Maximum carbon release: A model-data comparison. Geology 36, 315318 (2008).

[5] PgC/year means Petagram of Carbon per year. 1000 grams = 1 kilogram, 1000 kilograms = 1 metric ton so a Petagram is a billion metric tons or a Gigaton. Also this is a measure of the carbon content of the carbon dioxide molecule which contains two oxygen atoms and one carbon atom.

[6] Tony Noerpel, The Last Deglacial Transition, Blue Ridge Leader, See also Michael Kaplan, et al., Glacier retreat in New Zealand during the Younger Dryas stadial, Vol 467| 9 September 2010| doi:10.1038/nature09313. ppmV is parts per million by Volume.

[7] Tony Noerpel, Arctic Amplification, http://brleader.com/?p=8136

[8] Robert Berner, The Phanerozoic Carbon Cycle, 2004.

[9] J.D. Shakun, P.U. Clark, F. He, S.A. Marcott, A.C. Mix, Z. Liu, B. Otto-Bliesner, A. Schmittner, and E. Bard, “Global warming preceded by increasing carbon dioxide concentrations during the last deglaciation”, Nature, vol. 484, 2012, pp. 49-54. DOI.

[10] Andrea Burke and Laura Robinson, The Southern Ocean’s Role in Carbon Exchange During the Last Deglaciation, Science, vol 335, 3 February 2012.

[11] Deschamps, P. et al., Ice-sheet collapse and sea-level rise at the Bølling warming 14,600 years ago Nature 483, 559–564 (2012).

Comment on this article


By commenting, you agree to abide by our Terms of Service.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Columns

Hundreds Will Join 20th Annual Butterfly Count August 6

spring garden butterfly

By Andrea Gaines How Is a Butterfly Like a Rainbow? Scientists recently discovered that some butterfly wings contain tiny structures called gyroids that diffract or break up light into the colors of the spectrum. You may also have seen this …

Your Retirement Plan B

Smith0035

Take the time to design an alternative retirement plan should retirement come earlier than expected. Imagine this. You’ve spend decades working, saving, and planning for your version of the ideal retirement. Your company was just acquired, and your boss is …

Learning Patience As a Camp Counselor

Lunde new

By Mary Rose Lunde They say that one of the biggest blessings is being a teacher. It is also one of the hardest. Explaining to nine-year-old kids how to build a fire is one of the most challenging things I’ve …

Remembering the Man Who Never Forgot

moore-sobelnewmug

By Samuel Moore-Sobel “God is God because He remembers.” The implication being that the defining element separating humans from God is the Divine’s inability to forget. Elie Wiesel was defined in part by his willingness to remember, along with his …

Just Like Nothing (Else) On Earth: Balch Library

Thomas Balch Library

By Tim Jon Solitude, peace, and quiet: Not exactly the first three adjectives I’d choose to describe the greater portion of downtown Leesburg, although its charms do shine through even on the busiest of weekday afternoons. The last morning I …

Superforecasting a Book Review

noerpel_new

The book “Superforecasting” by Philip Tetlock and Dan Gardner contains a nearly complete list of the attributes of superforecasting, as well as critical thinking. Tetlock’s research empirically confirms the aspects of critical thinking I’ve been discussing in this column. Their …

Pokémon GO: A Fun New Gaming App or an Accidental Treatment?

Michael_Pic

Penicillin was accidently discovered in 1928 when scientist Alexander Fleming returned to his lab from vacation to notice that a strange fungus growing on a culture had killed off the neighboring bacteria. After WWII, psychiatrist and researcher, Dr. John Cade, …

Student News

Congratulations, Class of 2016

6 Jul 2016

grads_woodgrove

Woodgrove High School’s Class Of 2016 Graduation – By Amanda Clark On June 16, Woodgrove’s Class of 2016 was the 5th graduating class to walk the stage and accept their diploma. The ceremony was filled with anticipation as the chorus, …

(Be the first to comment)

Buckland Earns Degree In Medicine

6 Jul 2016

buckland

Molly Buckland, D.O., graduated from the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine with a degree of Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine on May 28. While at WVSOM, Dr. Buckland received the Dr. Roland P. Sharp President’s Award and the James R. …

(Be the first to comment)

Adams Promoted To Lieutenant

6 Jul 2016

adamspromoted

Lt. James Adams, from Sterling and a Potomac Falls Halls Graduate, earned the promotion to the rank of Lieutenant. Adams is a Navy Week and Executive Outreach Planner for the Navy Office of Community Outreach in Millington, Tennessee. U.S. Navy …

(Be the first to comment)

Calendar

August 2016
Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
August 1, 2016

Hot & Cool featuring glass artists Dave & Dale Barnes and abstract painter Kay Layne

August 2, 2016

Hot & Cool featuring glass artists Dave & Dale Barnes and abstract painter Kay Layne

August 3, 2016

Hot & Cool featuring glass artists Dave & Dale Barnes and abstract painter Kay Layne

August 4, 2016

Hot & Cool featuring glass artists Dave & Dale Barnes and abstract painter Kay Layne

August 5, 2016

Hot & Cool featuring glass artists Dave & Dale Barnes and abstract painter Kay Layne

August 6, 2016

Hot & Cool featuring glass artists Dave & Dale Barnes and abstract painter Kay Layne

OysterFest & Roussanne Release!

Notaviva Vineyards - Bluegrass Jam - FREE event

Doug Parks

August 7, 2016

Hot & Cool featuring glass artists Dave & Dale Barnes and abstract painter Kay Layne

August 8, 2016

Hot & Cool featuring glass artists Dave & Dale Barnes and abstract painter Kay Layne

August 9, 2016

Hot & Cool featuring glass artists Dave & Dale Barnes and abstract painter Kay Layne

August 10, 2016

Hot & Cool featuring glass artists Dave & Dale Barnes and abstract painter Kay Layne

August 11, 2016

Hot & Cool featuring glass artists Dave & Dale Barnes and abstract painter Kay Layne

August 12, 2016

Hot & Cool featuring glass artists Dave & Dale Barnes and abstract painter Kay Layne

August 13, 2016

Hot & Cool featuring glass artists Dave & Dale Barnes and abstract painter Kay Layne

August 14, 2016

Hot & Cool featuring glass artists Dave & Dale Barnes and abstract painter Kay Layne

August 15, 2016

Hot & Cool featuring glass artists Dave & Dale Barnes and abstract painter Kay Layne

August 16, 2016

Hot & Cool featuring glass artists Dave & Dale Barnes and abstract painter Kay Layne

August 17, 2016

Hot & Cool featuring glass artists Dave & Dale Barnes and abstract painter Kay Layne

August 18, 2016

Hot & Cool featuring glass artists Dave & Dale Barnes and abstract painter Kay Layne

August 19, 2016

Hot & Cool featuring glass artists Dave & Dale Barnes and abstract painter Kay Layne

August 20, 2016

Hot & Cool featuring glass artists Dave & Dale Barnes and abstract painter Kay Layne

The Lucketts Fair

Live Music: Stealing Dawn

August 21, 2016

Hot & Cool featuring glass artists Dave & Dale Barnes and abstract painter Kay Layne

The Lucketts Fair

August 22, 2016

Hot & Cool featuring glass artists Dave & Dale Barnes and abstract painter Kay Layne

AUDITIONS

August 23, 2016

Hot & Cool featuring glass artists Dave & Dale Barnes and abstract painter Kay Layne

August 24, 2016

Hot & Cool featuring glass artists Dave & Dale Barnes and abstract painter Kay Layne

August 25, 2016

Hot & Cool featuring glass artists Dave & Dale Barnes and abstract painter Kay Layne

August 26, 2016

Hot & Cool featuring glass artists Dave & Dale Barnes and abstract painter Kay Layne

August 27, 2016

Hot & Cool featuring glass artists Dave & Dale Barnes and abstract painter Kay Layne

The Fabulous Hubcaps

August 28, 2016

Hot & Cool featuring glass artists Dave & Dale Barnes and abstract painter Kay Layne

August 29, 2016

Hot & Cool featuring glass artists Dave & Dale Barnes and abstract painter Kay Layne

August 30, 2016

Hot & Cool featuring glass artists Dave & Dale Barnes and abstract painter Kay Layne

August 31, 2016

Hot & Cool featuring glass artists Dave & Dale Barnes and abstract painter Kay Layne

September 1, 2016

Dreams of Trees and Other Living Things

September 2, 2016

Dreams of Trees and Other Living Things

September 3, 2016

Dreams of Trees and Other Living Things

Dear Creek Live at North Gate Vineyard

Notaviva Vineyards - Bluegrass Jam - FREE event

Snaggy Mountain Boys

September 4, 2016

Dreams of Trees and Other Living Things

Current Print Issue:
Sign up for our email newsletter:

Recent Comments

Steady and NoBull

Lifestyle

Winchester Plans Patsy Cline Music Festival Labor Day Weekend

11 Aug 2016

Patsy Cline

The Patsy Cline Music Festival will be held Labor Day weekend in her hometown of Winchester, Va. in honor of the legendary singer’s birthday anniversary on September. 8. Celebrating Patsy Cline sponsors the celebration that begins with a block party from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. in front of the Patsy Cline Historic House, 608 S. Kent St. Music will …

(Be the first to comment)

Vigil for Lost Promise to Remember Loved Ones Lost to Drugs

11 Aug 2016

sheriff

Residents and local leaders are encouraged to join the many families, friends and community groups to share the light of their loved ones lost to drugs. The Vigil for Lost Promise will be held Tuesday, August 16, 2016 at 7:30 p.m. The event will be held at the Drugs: Cost and Consequences Exhibit (DEA Museum), located at 750 Miller Dr. …

(Be the first to comment)

August Is National Peach Month: Eat a Peach in Salad

3 Aug 2016

peach

Are You Kidding? No. A nectarine and a peach are basically the same species. Nectarines are bald peaches, in effect. In early cultivation, nectarines occasionally appeared on peach trees, the result of a recessive allele, the fruit from which were then cultivated as nectarines. Peaches are also part of the rose family. No wonder why we like all three, so …

(Be the first to comment)

Editorial

Grief and Greed

blueridge2

By Matthew Parse What would drive a single individual to cause so much emotional stress and financial burden on hundreds, if not, thousands of families? What would drive the Town …

Op-ed

Opinion: Terrorism, Debt, and China: Oh My!

blueridge2.jpg

– By Nick Reid world can be a very dangerous place sometimes, especially for a nation state such as the United States. Although danger is always present, the number and …

Metro Money Mess Pushing West

blueridge2.jpg

– By Delegate Dave LaRock (R-33rd) A local paper recently quoted Loudoun Board Chair Phyllis Randall as saying that in her observation “some of the concerns raised by the people …

Dear Editor

Lessons from Short Hill

shorthillmeeting

It’s been a little over two weeks since the Commission Permit for the proposed AT&T facility on Short Hill was overruled by the Board of Supervisors. This is just about …

Thank You

speak

Dear Citizens of Purcellville: As your town council member it is my vision and priority that you feel welcome at your Town Hall and take part in shaping Purcellville’s future …

View From the Ridge

An Open Letter to the Citizens of Purcellville

blueridge2

Mark Your Calendar, They’ve Asked for Our Input So Let’s Give It To Them By Steady and Nobull The Purcellville Planning Commission has tentatively scheduled a series of public input …

Around Virginia

Land Trust Receives Large Donation

land trust

On August 22, The Land Trust of Virginia received a $10,000 gift from the Sharon D. Virts Foundation, based in Herndon. The presentation of this grant was part of the Foundation’s official launch event, held at Selma Plantation in Leesburg. Notable speakers included Sharon D. Virts, FCiFederal Founder and Chair, …

(Be the first to comment)

Farmers Urged To Be On The Lookout For Marijuana

marijuana

Farmers in Southwest Virginia are being urged to check their property for marijuana planted by trespassers. Within the past year, hundreds of marijuana plants have been discovered between rows of hay bales on farms in and around Pulaski County, according to the Claytor Lake Regional Drug Task Force. “Unfortunately this …

(Be the first to comment)

State Senators Investigate University of Virginia’s $2.3 Billion Operating Surplus

Uva-logo

Senators Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax City) and Bill DeSteph (R-Virginia Beach), are calling for an investigation into disclosures that the University of Virginia has accumulated a $2.3 billion operating surplus, now titled a “Strategic Investment Fund,” that is significantly larger than the Commonwealth’s own cash reserves. Both senators agree that the …

(Be the first to comment)

Sports

Let’s Make Some Memories

3 Aug 2016

baseball

American Legion Baseball At Fireman’s Field, August 3 – 7 By Andrea Gaines American Legion Baseball is here at Fireman’s Field in a big way, featuring five consecutive blockbuster Mid-Atlantic Tournament games – August 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7. Our local Leesburg Post 34 Rangers had some nice wins …

(Be the first to comment)

Registration Open For Ida Lee’s Fall NFL Flag Football

7 Jul 2016

NFL_Flag_Football_at_IdaLee

Ida Lee’s Fall 2016 NFL Flag Football League will begin with player evaluations on Saturday and Sunday, July 30 and 31.  Players must be registered by Tuesday, July 26, to participate. This fall, Ida Lee’s Leesburg NFL Flag Football House League will have the following age groups:  6-7; 8-9; 10-11; …

(Be the first to comment)

Archives

  • +2016
  • +2015
  • +2014
  • +2013
  • +2012
  • +2011
  • +2010
  • +2009