back to article Antarctic ice breakup makes ocean absorb more CO2

Some cheerful news on the climate change front today, as US government boffins report that ice breaking off the Antarctic shelves and melting in the sea causes carbon dioxide to be removed from the environment. This powerful, previously unknown "negative feedback" would seem likely to revise forecasts of future global warming …

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This could be fun

I'm looking forward to those that claim CO2 does not contribute to global warming leaping on this with self-contradictory glee.

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OK ...

... CO2 does not cause global warming. Now have your self-contradictory glee.

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Boffin

LIfe giving oxygen

There was once a whole biosphere of anaerobes for whom oxygen was a dangerous corrosive metabolic poison... you don't see them about quite so much these days.

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You never really could see them, but -

...they haven't gone away you know.

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Boffin

But you can see them

"There was once a whole biosphere of anaerobes for whom oxygen was a dangerous corrosive metabolic poison... you don't see them about quite so much these days."

In your gut there are plenty: about 1/3rd of the volume of your faeces consists of anaerobes. This means you are probably carrying around one or two pounds of them.

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Interesting article (in Deep Sea Research)

They may be onto an explanation of the unknown carbon sinks in the climate system. The existence of these sinks has been postulated previously, based on discrepancies between CO2 emissions and actual CO2 rise. This could in part fill the gap.

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Phew...

Panic over then.... As you were!

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So you don't believe any of the other climate change stuff...

...but, as this supports your agenda, it's clearly entirely correct and should be listened to and taken seriously.

What a surprise.

It's very interesting news, nevertheless.

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"All the other climate change stuff"

Well given the number of PRESUMPTIONS that have been made with models and particularly the hockey-stick model, and that are then shown to be FALSE...

I mean how much confidence can you have when every time they swear blind that their model is correct, but then another thing is found to contradict it.

The only honest things to say are:

- yes the climate is changing (the whole world is no longer completely covered with ice).

- No, we really don't know very much about how all the variables of climate control interact.

- It seems that in the past there were periods with much more CO2 than now, but not higher temperatures, and periods with lower CO2 but higher temperatures...

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Stop parroting the misinformation

>Well given the number of PRESUMPTIONS that have been made with models and particularly the hockey-stick model, and that are then shown to be FALSE...

Except that the 'hockey stick' model is still as valid today as it ever was.

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valid?

> "Except that the 'hockey stick' model is still as valid today as it ever was."

Which is "not at all".

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like it'll change anything

All that will happen, as with all anti-CC reports, is that it'll get ignored and we'll continue to get taxed to death.

Nothing stops a well oiled, fast moving gravy train, especially not irrelevancies like "facts".

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Anonymous Coward

Stop whining, you baby

Stop being such a whiny little martyr

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facts

like the the 'increase' in 300k sq km in the antarctic? Sounds like anti-CC except that the arctic lost 4 times that much. AND the arctic ice is generally thicker than the antarctic ice, so add another 15-20% more loss in the arctic than was gained in the antarctic.

Facts do shut down arguments, like anti-CC bullpuckey. Something the article doesn't mention is that by having more ice bergs breaking off, more water is exposed thus causing more of the suns heat to be absorbed by ocean.

This is whats known as a feedback loop. Even if the increased calving of icebergs results from higher temps and some of the excess CO2 is gobbled back up, it's already warmed up and more sea area is now contributing more heat to the environment. You stop the original small tip, but now that the big weight is rolling it's not going to stop even if you remove the original source.

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Care to make a li'l wager...?

"This powerful, previously unknown "negative feedback" would seem likely to revise forecasts of future global warming significantly downwards."

Since no other studies, evidence, or theories disconfirming the Global Warming Hoax have had any impact on the believers, why would *this* be any different, eh?

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WTF?

re: Turtle

How have you managed to see an article which essentially says "new data added to climate change theories, global warming to be slightly slower than predicted" and on reading it, to turn that in your head into "global warming is bollocks"?

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Where's my hockey stick?

Just more evidence that a computer model is only as good as the variables you put into it. Each time someone thinks of another angle the whole picture changes.

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Computer models - it's worse than that

If you allow me four free parameters I can build a mathematical model that describes exactly everything that an elephant can do. If you allow me a fifth free parameter, the model I build will forecast that the elephant will fly. - John von Neumann (December 28, 1903 – February 8, 1957)

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Joke

Sir

What suprises me the most is that the planet bothers to perform these little feedback systems, it's almost as if it were designed that way..spooky.

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Anonymous Coward

@Computer Models

Actually if you look at the development of computer modeils ove the last forty years then despite increasing complaexity and various additional factors, positive and negative feedbacks, etc. the overall sensitivity range hasn't changed that much.

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PT

Designed that way?

Like so many other things in the universe, the fact that we are here to observe it is a consequence of it being that way naturally. If it were not, Earth would have been barren of life a billion years ago, or maybe life would never have developed.

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The title is required, and must contain letters and/or digits.

Told you so!

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Pinch of salt?

Much as I love anything which is anti -GW, I fear that I have to discount this story, because of the messenger. Mr Page has damaged his credibility by his ridiculous reporting of Fukushima.

I'll wait for a more objective reporter to come along.

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Quick everybody

Line up with your requests for further funding into this negative feedback situation, we can milk this until the end of our research careers.

Large ones all round.

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Presumably the increased CO2 absorption is not offset by increase in oceanic pH?

It would be a nice change to get some good news about a feedback potentially alleviating climate change.

http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=119058&org=NSF&from=news

"After ten days, the scientists observed increased concentrations of chlorophyll a and reduced concentrations of carbon dioxide, as compared to nearby areas without icebergs. These results are consistent with the growth of phytoplankton and the removal of carbon dioxide from the ocean."

That seems to be a PR piece from NSF. I don't subscribe to Nature, etc. Would be nice if someone posts a scientist's evaluation of the paper that is not behind a paywall.

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Err.......

Say I have a cup of sugary water. Then I add a load more water. The result is less sugary. But there is still the same abount of sugar there. You can measure all of that in this simple closed system. But how the hell do you measure that in the oceans?

Maybe the article didnt explain everything, but to me it would seem that there are many possible explanations to their findings, yet, on first sight they appear to have been interpreted according to an agenda.

Disclaimer - I have no position on anthropogenic climate change - I am still waiting for some real science on the matter.

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Intriguing. Lets see how fast this gets incorporated into the next GCM

Note that another effect of this would be the *partial* disruption of any currents driven by salt concentration (as their concentration gradient is disrupted)

Cautious thumbs up but you have to wonder *why* it's taken this long to start collecting this sort of information.

A lump of impure (but clean) water several Kms in size gradually melts in the ocean and no one thought it *might* be a good idea to measure what effect it has before now?

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Ice extent figures

"The past three decades have seen the south-polar ice sheets grow by 300,000 square kilometres overall."

Indeed, and snow thickness has also increased on average in the Antarctic 1979-2008, but it is also useful to read the figures, and the context of them, in that report. An extract from the "Variations in Extent" and "Summary of differences between Arctic and Antarctic sea ice characteristics" sections from that report summary are below. The report is worth reading in it's entirety IMO, and is not long, although it may paint a somewhat less polarized view than seems to be hinted at in the Reg article (there's a surprise...)

----%<----

"Variations in Extent"

Both Arctic and Antarctic sea ice extent are characterized by fairly large variations from year to year. The monthly average extent can vary by as much as 1 million square kilometers (386,102 square miles) from the year-to-year monthly average. The area covered by Antarctic sea ice has shown a small (not statistically significant) increasing trend.

According to scientific measurements, both the thickness and extent of summer sea ice in the Arctic have shown a dramatic decline over the past thirty years. This is consisistent with observations of a warming Arctic. This trend is a major sign of climate change in the polar regions and may be an indicator of the effects of global warming.

----%<----

"Summary of differences between Arctic and Antarctic sea ice characteristics"

Trend, 1979-2008

Arctic

Significant decrease of 4.1% (~500,000 km2; 193,000 mi2) per decade

Antarctic

Small increase of 0.9% (~100,000 km2; 42,000 mi2) per decade

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FAIL

The dumbest thing I've read in a long line of very dumb things

I assume the subtext to this moronic post is (as usual) that we don't have to worry about global warming: we just carry on using our despot supplied, increasingly expensive and limited oil. "LET'S DO NOTHING!!" How much does the Reg get paid for this BS? I mean seriously.

The trouble is that, regardless of the science, you completely tie yourself in logical knots and fallacies exposing your wilful ignorance, hypocrisy and, by extension, a level of intelligence on a par with the phytoplankton you seem to think are going to save us all.

Let me see: global warming (which melts the ice) is going to stop global warming? The reason that this "negative feedback" is previously unknown is that it doesn't exist. If it did then we wouldn't have any global warming. I look forward to *lots* of posts saying that THERE IS NO GLOBAL WARMING but then this runs into further logical problems since if there was no global warming then the melting ice which you say is going to save us would not be melting. Indeed, if the world were not warming and this were not being caused by CO2 emissions then what is the threat that you now say we are being protected against by your intellectual companions the phytoplankton?

For *real* (and much more interesting) feedback mechanisms that result when the ice melts you should look at what's going to happen when the billions of tons of methane (a greenhouse gas 20X more powerful than CO2) buried in the ice sheet are released: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/2010/03/04/globe-warning-methane-is-gushing-from-a-russian-ice-shelf/ I think that's *probably* going to have a larger effect than the phytoplankton.

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Grenade

You are anonymous

therefore I discount your input - at least tie an account to your posts. And wher ein this article did you see any cheerleading for oil?

I'm not a full-on believer in AGW - but I do see the point of GW - I've got CFL lightbulbs andturn my thermostats down - TO SAVE MONEY. Just because one does not agree with the whole premise of the political movement behind AGW, doesn't mean I can share some of their goals - a reduced dependence on 'other people's stuff' is preferable.

Black|Grey|White - Mine's the one in the middle, not your monochromatic view of the world.

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RE: The dumbest thing I've read in a long line of very dumb things

Calmed down yet? I'm guessing by the exclamation marks and the CAPS that you were a little worked up.

Excluding the methane bit at the end (for we can all throw in our own favoured feedback, as if that were a good enough distraction from the aforementioned rant)...

In your comment, you set up a straw man, then proceeded to tear it down. Hardly very bright. You assumed that Lewis' point (or sub-text, as you called it) is that there is no global warming. Then you use the NSF study to prove that there is global warming. Ergo Lewis is an idiot.

That may work in your world, but doesn't stand up to sensible, reasoned, non-exclamation-marked, non-CAPS-ed review.

I think you'll find the point of the article is this: should global warming be caused by man's emissions of CO2 (a huge assumption which Lewis does not challenge here), then the end result might not be as catastrophic as the IPCC pretends. A new feedback has been found. It is negative. Therefore the net feedback of earth's bisophere needs to be revised towards the negative.

Your point about methane is not new. It has already been accepted, and taken into account when assessing the net feedback of the climate system.

Next time: no CAPS, fewer exclamation marks, more thinking.

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Balance

It gets me that people think the Earth is fundamentally incapable of looking after itself, like some kind of elderly relative.

The fact is that if such balances and controls weren't already in place, we wouldn't be here and the place would be a rock anyway. CO2 has risen and fallen for millions of years and where there's an opportunity for a CO2-thriving mechanism to take advantage, it will do, and will evolve to do so more, until CO2 comes back into line and then *other* mechanisms take over to restore balance the other way. The whole ecosystem is a balancing act and, most importantly, autonomous. Where there's too much CO2, various elements of the biosphere thrive on it and, by bringing about their own starvation of it, restore things to a more "normal" level. Similarly for the complete opposite.

Now, I have no doubt that human activity has an effect, but mostly this effect will only serve to trigger some compensatory mechanism that has kicked in millions of times before in order to restore order. That might mean making the planet (or parts of it) uninhabitable to us, but that's *our* fault. In the end, though, the Earth knows how to look after itself and it's been here a million times before.

When we talk about environmental issues, we never seem to worry about bringing on our own death, and that's really the only threat here... other species have been evolving and/or dying off for millennia and there's virtually nothing we can do about it.

I would be absolutely shocked if, in 50 years time, we discovered that our models of today were anywhere near accurate and modelled reality. I would not be at all surprised by things like this discovery occurring over and over and over again before that.

It doesn't mean we should be throwing our garbage around as easily as we do, but was anybody really *shocked* that there's a self-correcting natural mechanism that compensates for something, which we'd never taken account of?

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Alert

self correcting mechanism

The self correcting mechanism might be to shed several billion human beings

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@Lee Dowling - minor correction...

"That might mean making the planet (or parts of it) uninhabitable to us, but that's *our* fault."

Not proven thus far, should read...

"That might mean making the planet (or parts of it) uninhabitable to us, but that's *tough shit*."

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There have also been major planetary wide die-offs

Over the millions of years, there have been climatic states which have resulted in major die-offs of most of the species on the planet.

The atmospheric signature of man-made CO2 is there, the predicted changes are happening, the way heat is being held in the atmosphere maps exactly to what is expected if CO2 is the cause, the heat absorption of the atmosphere has increased in a way which shows a CO2 signature, CO2 is seen to rise, none of the other known major climate influencing factors are in effect (e.g. olar variations, orbital changes, massive volcanic activity etc).

Of course, if we want to push the planet into one of those hostile climate states, lets just keep on doing what we're doing- at the same time ignoring the fact that oil/gas/coal is a finite resource anyway and we'd have to do something in the future to stop burning it up anyway.

Climate change deniers seem to be protected with Douglas Adam's "SEP" field (somebody else's problem).

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Boffin

But, indulis ...

... hostile climate states, since they have happened before, will probably happen again. There is absolutely nothing we or anyone else can do about it. There clearly is a way that the rate of change to hostile climate state can be altered (say, huge lump of rock from space coincides with our orbit, or big volcano gets indigestion), but it is going to happen sooner or later.

Technology is the way forward - we need to be able to mitigate the effects of these changes, not piss about trying to "reverse" them. Being prepared to deal with *any* change is better than worrying about a specific change. The recent events in Japan have shown the difference - you couldn't reverse the changes (stop the earthquake/tsunami combination, but the effects were very well mitigated due to sensible application of technology). Unless and until better means of electricity generation (the absolute core of the technological revolution) than nuclear/gas/coal come on line to keep our levels of technology at the level that saves lives that would otherwise be lost (and yes, dreadful as the death toll is in Japan, it could have been *much* worse), we should not be turning away from them. Going back to a pre-20th Century life-style is going to help no-one.

Also, I'm more worried about global cooling, and we are definitely not going thrive without electricity if that happens.

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Boffin

Seriously

Let's just put the whole article in plain English:

-CO2 is continuing to be put in to the atmosphere at an exponential rate

-A possible negative feedback mechanism has been found

-The mechanism takes a finite resource (Ice) to make this happen

-When that finite resource runs out we loose the negative feedback mechanism

-CO2 continues to rise.

I don't see how this gets us away from a fairly obvious problem:

No mater how many buckets you have to store the filth, the problem still exists, and at the end you have no more empty buckets and just as much filth pouring out of the spout.

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Headmaster

Umm, no.

Understanding dynamic equilibrium fail. Back to school young/old man/woman.

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Boffin

Umm, yes

"On the infrequent occasions when I have been called upon in a formal place to play the bongo drums, the introducer never seems to find it necessary to mention that I also do theoretical physics."

Richard Feynman

So then let's bring a completely unnecessary piece of maths to it all and very slowly go through what I said:

"CO2 is continuing to be put in to the atmosphere at an exponential rate":

This is not in doubt, we have measured this:

We know the amount of hydrocarbons we extract, we have measured it. Lets say that the amount of hydro carbons we extract is X. We then try a simple model that assumes we burn all the hydro carbons and get some amount of CO2, lets call this Y or (Y(X) if you want to be a complete pedant). We then have measured the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, lets say this the number Z. We find that the rise in Z over the years quite nicely correlates with a simple model of burning all of X and getting Y(X) CO2.

From the beginning of exploitation of coal (1800 onwards) there has been an exponential increase in X. There has been an exponential increase in Z in that time.

“A possible negative feedback mechanism has been found”

That is to say that for some amount of stuff (Ice), we remove some amount of carbon. This consumes the stuff, we have no stuff left once it has done its removing of carbon. So for some amount of stuff, m, we remove some amount of carbon C(m).

A very basic model for the amount of carbon is:

TotalCarbon(t) = Z(t)-C(m)

Z(t) grows exponentially so we don't need to do anything more advanced to draw our conclusions. We know that C(m) needs to increase exponentially or TotalCarbon(t) will continue to increase. C is dependant only on m so one of the following must apply: m(t) increases exponentially and C(m) is a monotonic increasing function OR C(m) increases exponentially and m(t) is an increasing monotonic function.

Back to measuring – we know m(t) is not increasing exponentially, it might be bobbing about some equilibrium point but the measurements do not show an exponential increase in m(t). Nor do we see a monotonic increase in m(t). Thus the behaviour of C(m) doesn't matter, its overall behaviour compared to Z(t) is not exponential so TotalCarbon(t) grows exponentially. QED.

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Error in assumptions

You said:

"CO2 is continuing to be put in to the atmosphere at an exponential rate"

but I don't think it is at an exponential rate, which would be rising at a faster rate each period (like the acceleration due to gravity, prior to reaching terminal velocity).

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Unhappy

I spy with my little eye ...

at least two people who don't understand the meaning of the word 'exponential'.

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FAIL

@A 28

"-When that finite resource runs out we loose the negative feedback mechanism"

That *assumes* that the ice is not re forming.

Know what happens when you assume?

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Flame

Er...

... last time I looked, fossil fuels were a "finite resource" too. And there's rather less of those than there is water.

FYI: this is not the "with us or against us" argument some commenters appear to believe. I have no quarrel with the concept of a changing global climate—archeologists and geologists have produce more than enough compelling evidence for that.

What I do have a problem with is this endless computer model willy-waving. I used to make computer models for entertainment—they're called "computer games"—and I know first-hand how hard these things are to nail down. Unless you have a genuinely rock-solid grasp of *how* the real thing works, your model will inevitably suffer from the most common programming problem of all: Garbage In = Garbage Out.

It's clear that climatologists are nowhere near understanding exactly what variables and processes are involved. Until they reach the point where the Earth's climate's interactions are wholly understood, their models are inherently untrustworthy. This applies to all sides. Computer models are not, and never will be, proof of *anything*. All they are is illustrations. Pointing to a computer model as evidence for a case is like pointing at the Bayeux Tapestry and claiming it provides cast-iron evidence of exactly what happened in the Battle of Hastings.

This isn't to say there aren't some good things to come out of the ACC camp. More money has been invested in alternative energy sources. Energy sources we use today are also getting much more efficient. CFC and LED lighting is finally catching on in a big way too.

But much of the ACC camp's arguments could just as easily be phrased in terms of efficiency drives. Low-power lighting reduces costs. Find me a corporate accountant who won't vote in favour of that!

One thing we DO know, for a fact, is that fossil fuels are a finite resource. The only debate is how much of it we have, and how easy it is (or isn't) going to be to extract. Oil, coal and natural gas pricing also fluctuates wildly whenever some Western nation goes barging around the Middle East, so corporations are inevitably going to be interested in alternative, more predictable, sources of energy, *regardless* of whether this makes the Earth's climate any better.

Furthermore, hydrocarbons have far more important uses than as a source of heat for giant kettles and producing explosions for engines. Digging vast quantities of the stuff out of the ground, shipping it around the planet, refining it, only to then set fire to it, is easily one of the most stupid things our species has ever done.

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Boffin

It's getting silly now so I'll stop

I understand the term exponential, but you'll notice I didn't include 'me' in the argument. I used the word 'measured' i.e. it has been shown to be so. I encourage you to look it up, the evidence backs up my claim. A doubling in output per unit time. Exponential.

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Anonymous Coward

Proof we no so little, and there is much yet to learn then

It's clear from all these reports that basically, nobody has any real solid idea about climate change at all yet, but we are making progress.

Meanwhile, we continue with the policy and tree-hugging associated with the viewpoint that out CO2 production is the cause, and that we are able to reverse it simply by reducing our CO2 production, and that that is what we need to do.

Never mind the earth's climate (and CO2 an temperature levels) has been constantly changing over time and that actually it may have little to do with us.

Or, our raping of the planet of its ability to absorb CO2 may be of equal if not greater impact that our production of it.

Or, that actually reducing CO2 now is of little point, akin to trying to empty a swimming pool by pourly less water into it, and the planet will simply adapt - this article being an example of how.

In fact we have very little idea on how the climate will change, over what period of time, if we can stop or change it or even as to if this is a good or bad thing to happen!

The only good thing I see, is it is forcing us to look at clean and renewable energy and way of living - since regardless of CO2 and climate change, that is a good thing to be doing.

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Absorbtion of Carbon Tax too?

Will this also mean a reduction in the highly dubious Carbon Tax that gets added on to everything that has even the most tenuous link to a carbon energy source?

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Icebergs != Sea Ice

The report this article is based on appears to be discussing icebergs; large things break off glaciers, which themselves slowly roll over land (where they pick up nuitrients etc).

Glaciers form slowly and once they are gone there will be no more icebergs to provide this temporary relief..

So why the manipulated guff about Sea Ice at the end.. Sea Ice != Icebergs.. It's not relevant unless you are trying to con the gullible that there is an infinite supply of Icebergs.. or trolling.

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So the bit

about icebergs being created elsewhere - you know, from frozen h20 - you missed that yes?

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Boffin

Bzzzt...

Iceberg:

Formed on land from precipitation as part of a Glacier; collects nutrients while travelling over land for a period of many years; melts in sea and releases nutrients producing small algal bloom and some CO2 capture.

Sea Ice:

Formed on the Sea at both poles from a mix of seawater and precipitation; most melts every year, does not collect nutrients from the land, and does not produce this really minor CO2 absorption effect.

But yeah.. both are made from H2O, hurrah! Glad I had a genius like you around to point that out.

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tainted US science

Science funded by the pro-smoking lobby over many decades managed not only to hold back corporate damages claims but also to taint the whole US science community. Anything published is always countered by counter claims of industry bias. This piece (together with Japanese nuclear meltdown ravings and the Gulf coast "US Oil good British Oil bad" rhetoric) sound like the outpourings of the powerful US oil lobby.

Maybe it is maybe it ain't but it's difficult to take at face value.

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