Dear Dr. Keating,
Thank you for responding. I sent another post to your challenge page which explains my question better. I am a non believer in man being the tipping point of global climate change for many reasons. I list just a few:
1. Green house gases: Scientists seem to agree the biggest heat trapping action comes from water vapor. The planet is 24% water in surface area so there is not much we can do about that. Man seems to get the blame for CO2 and Methane. A record was set recently for modern day CO2 at 400ppm. That is 400 molecules per million molecules. Most up to date charts show CO2 at .0350%. My 1979 Funk and Wagnall shows the figure at .031%. Is this what you call run away CO2 growth? Methane is .000017%….that is a decimal and four zeros before the 17. Also water is listed as 2-4%
So Dr. Keating please explain the science of miniscule volumes of elements overwhelming our gigantic atmosphere that is 24,900 miles in circumference and 30-50 miles high? Explain the science of how you stretch the molecules of CO2 or Methane at less than one half of one per cent by volume to create a heat trapping blanket to retain radiant heat?
2. It appears the real evidence of global warming is before our eyes in the melting of the ice caps and glaciers. Well sir you and I and all of North America are enjoying the benefits of this melting that has been going on for many thousands of years. Real science is now proving the melting is occuring at the bottom of glaciers and not at the surface. Causes are ocean currents, geothermal areas not known until now, etc. Can you explain the science of how man is responsible for geothermal melting of the glaciers?
3. The fact is man is a puny little ant in a giant eco system and does not posses the ability to effect climate change. Now man can kill and poison streams, river and oceans and wildlife and plant life but that is not climate change. The most powerful thing man posses is hydrogen bombs. Between 1947 and 1955 the USA and USSR detonated more than 50 bombs. You have heard of Bilini Atoll where much of our testing took place? Guess what…it is still there! How about Las Vegas? Buildings rattled a little but hey…it’s still there.
CO2 was five times greater and the world’s temperature much hotter during the Jurassic period. Man was not to blame…heck for awhile he wasn’t even around. This period produced the greatest explosion of plant and animal growth in earth’s history. Not gloom and doom as many current scientists predict.
I await your scientific expertise and answers to these points.
You have bundled a lot of issues into one challenge, but I will address all of them.
The first issue you raise is that the total amount of greenhouse gases are a very small percentage of the atmosphere, so how can they make a difference?
I will start out by pointing a similar situation – pharmaceuticals. I take two Aleve tablets every morning for pain. They are 220 mg each, so that is a total of 440 mg (we will assume all of each tablet is an active ingredient). I have a mass of about 88 kg. That means these two tablets are only .0005% of my body weight and yet, they have a great effect on me. This is true of virtually any kind of drug we use, legal or illegal. The amount of the drug is a very small percentage of our body mass. A 12-oz bottle of beer has only about six-tenths of an ounce of alcohol in it, but can have a great effect. How is that possible? Because that small amount of chemical interacts very specifically.
The greenhouse gases in our atmosphere also act very specifically and are very efficient at absorbing infrared radiation emitted by the surface of the planet. Sunlight passes through the atmosphere and reaches the surface where it is absorbed, heating the planet. This energy is then emitted as IR radiation and would escape directly into space if something didn’t stop it. This is a good thing because the average planetary temperature would be about -20 degrees C without this greenhouse effect. Too much of good thing is bad, though.
The total amount of all greenhouse gases we have added to the atmosphere (or caused to be added) has increased the efficiency of the naturally occurring greenhouse effect by about 1%. That may not sound like a lot, but keep in mind how much energy we are talking about. The amount of energy we get from the Sun every day is about 10^25 joules. One percent of this is about 10^23 joules. By increasing the efficiency of the greenhouse effect by only a single percentage point is adding 10^23 joules of energy to our environment every day. How much is that. The entire human population generates about 10^18 joules of energy every year. So, the amount of energy we are adding to the environment every day is equal to the amount of energy the entire population will generate (at current rates) in about 100,000 years.
So, you are correct, the amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere is very small. Good thing, too. With the enormous amount of energy we are talking about, we would be in serious trouble if that percentage was much larger. And, of course, we are doing just that. Take a look at the plot of the Keeling Curve
, the measurements of atmospheric CO2 taken on Mauna Loa in Hawaii. As of this writing, the CO2 level at Mauna Loa is 399.91 ppm as opposed to about 315 ppm in the late 1950s.
You next raised the issue of melting ice caps and claimed that most melting is occurring on the bottom due to hydrothermal activity and currents. There is some truth to this, but there are also some real errors. Some melting occurs from volcanic activity and sea ice melts from the oceans, but the majority of ice melts from the top down.
Increased melting of the Antarctic ice sheet is due to a warming ocean. Sea ice forms there every winter and is even reaching record levels this (southern) winter. Many deniers are pointing at this as proof that ice is not melting without bothering to examine the whole situation. Antarctic sea ice forms every winter, but nearly all of it melts in the summer. It is not a permanent ice cover like in the north. However, this is only part of the story for Antarctica because there is also a vast amount of land ice. Glaciers slide off the land and move into the sea. What is being observed in Antarctica is that the flow rate has increased and glaciers are sliding off the land at an increasing rate. The total amount of ice on Antarctica is decreasing
There are certainly some volcanoes under the ice
in places and the extent of the results from this is not fully known. Some critics are making the claim that this is the cause of Antarctic ice melt, but just look at the data
and you can see for yourself that the extent of ice melt is far greater than what a volcano could account for. It is a false argument to say that because there are reasons other than global warming, that means global warming isn’t occurring.
The majority of the melting of these glaciers is occurring in the oceans
and is increasing. As the front of a glacier moves into the ocean it gets stuck on the ocean bottom (called ‘grounded ice’) and acts as a stopper for the rest of the glacier behind it. What is happening is this front part is melting more quickly because of rising sea temperatures and floating higher because of rising sea levels, so the stopper is less efficient, allowing more ice to move off the land and into the ocean. The area of melting is much too large to be explained by a single volcano and the melting of the West Antarctica Ice Sheet appears to have reached the point where it can’t be stopped
Glaciers are also certainly melting mostly from above
and not from geothermal activity. An easy proof of that is that we can now walk on the bare ground that was covered with glaciers just a few years ago. There are no volcanoes there to melt the ice. Is there some melting on the bottom? Of course there is. They are sliding over the ground and friction is going to result in heating and melting, but it is insignificant in comparison to the melting on top.
The ice melt in the Arctic regions is dramatic and is most certainly not caused by underwater volcanoes. If it was, we would see the water getting warmer from the bottom up and we see it getting warmer from the top down. Again, the National Snow and Ice Data Center has a very good web page
that shows the progress of Arctic region sea ice throughout the year. The current plot shows that this year is going badly and the sea ice extent is decreasing again, after a modest rebound last year (the 60% rebound last year merely took the ice extent back to the 2009 level, the fourth lowest level recorded). But, there is still plenty of melt season remaining, so we can hop that it will go well. Here is the plot showing sea ice extent for June every year (the most recent one that includes this year). The ice extent for this year is the last data point on the right. You can clearly see the downward trend.
The summary on the global ice condition is that it is bad and getting worse and the source of the energy melting all of this ice is coming mostly from above, except in Antarctica where it is mostly coming from the warmed-up sea water. The claim that the ice melted in the past is a false argument. Yes, it certainly did melt in the past but that has no bearing on what is going on today. Deniers make this claim, but never show any kind of connection between today’s conditions and the natural cycles of the past. In fact, what we know is that the natural cycles
occurring today call for global cooling, not warming. If nature had been left to its own devices, the amount of ice worldwide would be increasing, not decreasing.
To say we are small and cannot affect the world around us the ultimate ego-trip. You want to absolve yourself of all blame for the effects of our actions by saying we can do anything we want and it won’t matter. Of course, this is a 100% false statement.
We know the increase in CO2 in the atmosphere is due to man made emissions
. The fact that our ‘puny little’ activities have changed the make-up of the planetary atmosphere is proof that your statement is not true. Also, just do a little examination of the oceans to see how much has changed due to our activities. The oceans are filled with garbage and entire fish stocks have collapsed due to our activities. We have hunted whales almost to extinction. These are just a couple of examples, there are lots more. Clearly, we are completely able of changing things on a planetary scale.
I addressed that issue, but the fact is that it is not scientific. You claim we cannot make the change merely because we are ‘puny little insects’ without offering any kind of proof of your claim. I showed it was wrong, anyway.
Yes, there have been times in the past where the CO2 level was higher than today, but not within the last 800,000 years. Take a look at this plot from the Scripps Institute:
That huge spike on the right-hand side is today’s level of CO2. To say that today’s levels are not relevant because there were times in the past with higher levels is a false argument. Those levels in the past occurred because of natural cycles that we understand. Today’s level did not. In other words, things changed in the past because it was the natural thing to happen, but today’s changes are happening because we are causing the change ourselves.
Now, should we worry about this? I believe the evidence is overwhelming that it is critically important we do something about climate change, but that isn’t what this challenge is about. The issue here is for deniers to prove that man made climate change is not occurring. We can have the debate about if it is good or bad after we get everyone to agree that it is happening.
As it stands, you did not prove man made global warming is occurring.