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

The Holocene Climate

noerpel_new

(Public Input Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, 7 March, 2017) Figure 1 shows the climate variation over the last million years. The low points on the curve correspond to ice ages when glaciers up to a mile thick covered New …

Choosing To Forgive

moore-sobelnewmug

By Samuel Moore-Sobel “Truly forgiving is the ability to say, ‘Thank you for giving me that experience.’” James Arthur Ray vaulted into fame on the Oprah Winfrey Show back in the mid-2000’s. Stunned hearing these words while watching The Rise and …

Five Key Retirement Questions

Smith0035

Beyond asking yourself where you see yourself and even what your lifelong goal are, effective retirement and longevity planning begs some very big questions. Review the points below and consider how housing, transportation and health considerations all play a role …

Work Woes

drmikenewpic

By Michael Oberschneider, Psy.D. Dr. Mike, I’m a manager at a large tech company and my boss has directed me to fire someone on my team, but as a Christian, I just can’t do it. It’s true that the employee …

Joy or Suffering

Lunde new

By Mary Rose Lunde No one likes to suffer. When given the chance, many people would choose to laugh rather than cry, to sit in silence with their friends rather than talk through their feelings, because not even their friends …

Wage Radio

wage

I will always remember – very fondly – the first time I ever set foot on the property at 711 Wage Drive Southwest in Leesburg, Virginia. It was a warm, sunny July morning in 1997, and I’d driven all the …

Speaking Truth to Power

noerpel_new

“With public sentiment nothing can fail. Without it nothing can succeed.” Abraham Lincoln On Thursday evening, February 23, I requested the Board of Supervisors pass a proclamation resolving to support the March for Science on Earth Day, April 22 [1]. …

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

March 2017
Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
February 27, 2017 February 28, 2017 March 1, 2017 March 2, 2017 March 3, 2017

LAST HAM STANDING COMEDY IMPROV

LAST HAM STANDING COMEDY IMPROV
March 4, 2017

Notaviva Vineyards - Bluegrass Jam - FREE event

Notaviva Vineyards - Bluegrass Jam - FREE event
March 5, 2017
March 6, 2017 March 7, 2017 March 8, 2017 March 9, 2017 March 10, 2017 March 11, 2017 March 12, 2017
March 13, 2017 March 14, 2017 March 15, 2017 March 16, 2017 March 17, 2017 March 18, 2017

Wine & Chili Weekend

Wine & Chili Weekend
March 19, 2017

Joshua Carr River Safety Foundation Rummage Sale

Joshua Carr River Safety Foundation Rummage Sale
March 20, 2017 March 21, 2017 March 22, 2017 March 23, 2017 March 24, 2017

March Fourth Friday

March Fourth Friday
March 25, 2017 March 26, 2017

Spring Brunch

Spring Brunch

Spring Brunch

Spring Brunch
March 27, 2017 March 28, 2017 March 29, 2017 March 30, 2017 March 31, 2017 April 1, 2017

”Homage to Mother Earth”

”Homage to Mother Earth”

Nebbiolo Vertical Tasting

Nebbiolo Vertical Tasting

Notaviva Vineyards - Bluegrass Jam - FREE event

Notaviva Vineyards - Bluegrass Jam - FREE event
April 2, 2017

”Homage to Mother Earth”

”Homage to Mother Earth”

GALLERY COFFEEHOUSE: Readers Theater, “One Slight Hitch”

GALLERY COFFEEHOUSE: Readers Theater, “One Slight Hitch”
Current Print Issue:
Sign up for our email newsletter:

Recent Comments

  • David on Protecting Free Speech: Constitutionally protected speech is exactly what it sounds like, protected. We all have the legal right to utter nonsensical and...
  • Martha on Protecting Free Speech: Free speech is not a cherished right at the not-quite accredited Patrick Henry College, a religious school that Del. LaRock...
  • Martha Polkey on First Look at Envision Loudoun Results: It remains to be seen whether the direction citizens have provided to the Envision process is actually incorporated into the...
  • David on Protecting Free Speech: Mr. LaRock, I assume that the only reason you weren’t at every School Board meeting in 2005 passionately defending the...
  • LongTimePville on Purcellville Emergency Meeting Postponed to March 10: I bet Kelli Grim flip flops on her conflicts of interest and transparency campaign she ran on and does not...

Steady and NoBull

Lifestyle

Loudoun Workforce Resource Center Presents STEM Career Fair March 28

16 Mar 2017

Illustration of STEM education word typography design in orange theme with icon ornament elements

Anyone interested in a career in the rapidly growing field of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) is encouraged to attend an upcoming STEM Career Fair in Loudoun. The Loudoun Workforce Resource Center, in partnership with Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC)’s Loudoun campus and NOVA SySTEMic Solutions, is holding a STEM Career Fair Tuesday, March 28, from 1:00 to 4:00 …

(Be the first to comment)

Keep Loudoun Beautiful—Greater Lovettsville Area Volunteers Needed

16 Mar 2017

Lovettsville Boat Launch 7-26-09

The Keep Loudoun Beautiful spring clean-up takes place the entire month of April and greater Lovettsville needs volunteers. Bags, vests, gloves and grabbers are available at the Lovettsville Community Center during normal business hours, Monday-Friday. This is a great group or individual activity that can be scheduled around your availability. E-mail Lovettsville Area Leader, Laura Lieberman, for details and to …

(Be the first to comment)

National Awkward Moments Day

8 Mar 2017

awkward

?Laughing at Yourself Is the Best Medicine No one knows who invented National Awkward Moments Day, Saturday, March 18. That’s no surprise, since it probably came about as the result of one stunningly awkward moment that the owner of that moment was hoping to forget. We surveyed our readers and friends to ask them about their most awkward moments, sharing …

(Be the first to comment)

Around Virginia

Protecting Free Speech

Dave_larock

By Dave LaRock (R-33) As elected officials and members of the legislature, our most fundamental responsibility is to protect God-given constitutionally protected rights. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution prohibits the government, including governmental public colleges and universities, from infringing on free speech and the free exercise of …

(3 comments)

Walbridge To Run for State Delegate in the 33rd District

Tia walbridge

Tia Walbridge announces her run for the District 33 seat in the Virginia House of Delegates. Walbridge is a wife and mother of two daughters and an active member of the Round Hill community. “Like many people in our district, my family has found its prosperity in a Virginia-based small …

(Be the first to comment)

Office Building on Capitol Square To Be Named After Civil Rights Pioneer Barbara Johns

image002

Governor Terry McAuliffe announced that the newly renovated state building located at 202 N. 9th Street on Capitol Square in Richmond (currently known as the 9th Street Office Building) will bear the name of civil rights pioneer Barbara Johns. The building, which reopened last year, houses the Virginia Attorney General’s …

(Be the first to comment)

Sports

Vikings Runner-Up at the State Championship 

8 Mar 2017

vikings

The Loudoun Valley Vikings are the boy’s runner-up at the VHSL 4A State Indoor Track and Field Championships at Roanoke College.  During the 2015-2016 school year, the Loudoun County School Board approved Indoor Track and Field as a Tier 2 (self-funded) sport.  The seven boys competing scored 48 points, second …

(Be the first to comment)

WLVBC U14 Boys Finish 3rd at VA Beach Event

23 Feb 2017

WLVBC300

The Western Loudoun Volleyball Club’s U14 Boys Team garnered 3rd place in their first travel tournament of 2017, the Virginia Beach Invitational. This event was held Feb. 18-19 and featured more than 24 teams from the U14 to U18 age group. The team was second on their net on day …

(Be the first to comment)

Archives

  • +2017
  • +2016
  • +2015
  • +2014
  • +2013
  • +2012
  • +2011
  • +2010
  • +2009