February 04, 2006
|Global Warming Feedback Loops Having Measurable Effect||Environment|
The truly alarming aspect of global warming news in recent years has been the various indications that feedback loops are kicking in, feedback loops that will make global warming self-reinforcing. Some examples:
- Research indicates that global warming will kill phytoplankton in the sea. Less phytoplankton implies that less CO2 will be absorbed, which implies more global warming, which implies less phytoplankton, etc.
- The artic ice cover is melting, exposing more open ocean, which absorbs heat better, warming the ocean, causing more ice to melt, etc.
- Siberian permafrost is melting, which will begin to release enormous quantities of methane, a greenhouse gas some twenty times more potent than CO2. That will mean higher temperatures, which will melt more permafrost, which will release more methane, etc.
A recent report in the Independent (via FTW) should set off alarm bells in a big way, then. It appears to be direct confirmation that feedback loops are, in fact, starting to produce the feared acceleration in the rate of atmospheric change:
Global warming is set to accelerate alarmingly because of a sharp jump in the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Preliminary figures, exclusively obtained by The Independent..., show that levels of the gas — the main cause of climate change — have risen abruptly in the past four years. Scientists fear that warming is entering a new phase, and may accelerate further. [...]
The climb in carbon dioxide content showed up in readings from the US government's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, taken at the summit of Mauna Loa, Hawaii. The measurements have been taken regularly since 1958 in the 11,400ft peak's pristine conditions, 2,000 miles from the nearest landmass and protected by unusual climatic conditions from the pollution of Hawaii, two miles below.
Through most of the past half-century, levels of the gas rose by an average of 1.3 parts per million a year; in the late 1990s, this figure rose to 1.6 ppm, and again to 2ppm in 2002 and 2003. But unpublished figures for the first 10 months of this year show a rise of 2.2 ppm.
Scientists believe this may be the first evidence that climate change is starting to produce itself, as rising temperatures so alter natural systems that the Earth itself releases more gas, driving the thermometer ever higher. [Emphasis added]
Feedback loops are the source of exponential rates of growth. We may be entering a phase in which global warming becomes a runaway train. If not now, then soon. We must act. Given the scale of what needs to happen, we need to start immediately.
Here's where we in the US get our energy from (source):
As you can see, it's pretty much all coal (gray), oil (green), and natural gas (red): carbon-based fuels, the burning of which produces CO2. A little tweaking around the edges won't cut it.
For more on the urgency of the situation, listen to On Point's interview yesterday with James Hansen, chief climate scientist at NASA. I hope to have more to say about it in a future post. Bottom line: Hansen says we've got about a decade to make significant changes, or things are going to spin out of control.