We have got a problem

Keskiviikko 18.5.2022 klo 15:54 - Mikko Nikinmaa

More than half of Arctic land area belongs to Russia. Now that Russia is for a good reason isolated from most of the world, it is virtually impossible to get to have on-site information about what happens to the permafrost land in this time of climate change. This is a big problem, as there are huge deposits of natural gas under the permafrost, and if it melts, uncontrolled leaks of this very potent greenhouse gas get into the atmosphere.

Uncontrolled methane leaks have probably already taken place, as the appearance of unexplained craters has been reported before the Russian attack on Ukraine. Also, the measured methane concentration in air exceeds the concentration, which can be explained on the basis of agriculture, animal production and losses during oil and natural gas excavation, transport and use. So, now that we cannot follow the occurrence of leaks on site, the importance of remote sensing increases. Land-based measuring stations cannot report what is happening, as they are also in Russia and not available for Western climate scientists.

Luckily we now have quite extensive satellite surveillance system, which enables rapid evaluation of methane and other greenhouse gas concentrations. It is clear that the exact locations of methane leaks remains unknown, but that would be the case even if one had access to Russian locations, since most of the permafrost area is uninhabited.   

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, methane, permafrost, Russia

Human actions cause climate change even when fossil fuel use is not involved

Tiistai 22.3.2022 klo 18:24 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Although there are still many people thinking that climate change is not occurring or at least man has nothing to do with it, there are many problems that man is causing which accelerate temperature increase, and which could be avoided by human action. The points below are such, and can be very important in driving many parts of the world uninhabitable because of either too high temperature or drought or both. So, even people who do not believe that fossil fuel burning causes temperature increase, should accept that the following affect climate and that humans could take actions to combat the changes.

1. Because of massive deforestation, Amazon rainforest appears to near tipping point, where the rainforest turns to savannah. Boulton et al write in recent Nature Climate Change (Nature Climate Change 12: 271-278; 2022) how the resilience of Amazon rainforest has decreased dramatically since the early 2000s. Other studies have also indicated that whereas we have always considered Amazonas to be a carbon sink, it has recently turned into a net emitter of carbon dioxide. The major reason for carbon dioxide emissions is the widespread forest burning.

If the rainforest starts turning to savannah, naturally the first thing that happens is that the plant and animal species living in rainforest die off, so the biodiversity decreases radically. But even if this doesn’t concern the people, who deforest Amazonas, the following should. The water cycle of South America depends on the rainforest. If Amazonas turns into savannah, because more agricultural land is wanted, the whole South America dries up, and many areas become unsuitable for agriculture (too dry). So, by trying to increase agricultural area, greedy people end up decreasing it.

And because of the loss of one big carbon dioxide sink, the temperature throughout the world increases even if fossil fuels had nothing to do with climate change.

2. Two events happening to the oceans are also causing increased carbon dioxide levels and consecutive temperature increase even without the input of fossil fuel burning, and both depend mainly on human action. First, almost a half of the photosynthetic carbon dioxide use is due to the photosynthesis of (mainly unicellular) algae. Because of the pollution, it is estimated that the oceanic photosynthesis has decreased by 10-15 %. This increased carbon dioxide load is one factor affecting global temperatures, and could be avoided by human action – proper water purification. Second, world’s oceans are overfished. The global carbon cycle depends a lot on fish accumulating carbon. When they die, the accumulated carbon sinks to the bottom of the oceans and stays there for thousands of years. As overfishing reduces fish populations, this removal of carbon from ocean surface is reduced, and the reduced removal is seen as an increase in global carbon dioxide level, leading to temperature increase.

Again this takes place without any change in fossil fuel use, but is entirely human-caused.

3. There are further a couple of vicious circles, which increasingly take place, if human actions fail to limit temperature increase. Temperature increase decreases the carbon dioxide solubility in water. Thus, if temperature increases, more carbon dioxide is given up from the ocean, leading to further temperature increase etc. There are huge natural gas (methane) stores below the permafrost. Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas. If temperature increases so that permafrost starts melting, the methane below is liberated, causes further temperature increase leading to further permafrost melting and methane liberation etc.

To prevent these vicious circles from happening, climate deeds are important even today with the brutal Russian attack to Ukraine. In the best case, it can actually speed up the change from fossil fuel-based to green energy production.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: carbon cycle, Amazonas, deforestation, overfishing, permafrost, methane

Tipping Points to Vicious Circles, When We Cannot Control Temperature Rise

Torstai 5.12.2019 klo 15:23 - Mikko Nikinmaa

In the Eocene period about 50 million years ago, the mean temperature of the Earth was about 14oC higher than presently, and there was practically no ice anywhere. Further, the temperature gradient between poles and the tropics was small. This is taken by “climate deniers” to mean that human actions have little to do with temperature increase; “temperature increases as a result of natural causes”. Further, “climate deniers” maintain that human-like creatures were able to exist in Eocene conditions. Undoubtedly true, but at that time the number of human-like creatures was maximally a few million, and not more than seven billion. Close to half of the present human population lives in an area, which would be under the sea in ice-free world.

So, as a conclusion, there has been a markedly higher temperature on the earth because of natural causes, and some human-like creatures have survived it. However, this does not mean that mankind does not affect climate today, there is ample evidence on the contrary. At the worst, human actions can serve as trigger, causing a small temperature increase, which leads to tipping points with resulting vicious circles causing marked increases in temperature without any human role. Originally it was thought that the temperature rise before tipping points were likely to occur would be more than 5oC, then it decreased to 3-4 oC and the latest suggestion is that the probability for the occurrence of tipping points increases markedly, if the temperature increases 1.5-2 oC. The temperature has already increased by 1 oC from the preindustrial average, and the present promised actions to combat climate change would limit the temperature increase to approximately 3 oC. This is clearly larger temperature increase than what would be required for an increased probability for the tipping points and consecutive vicious circles of temperature increase to occur. Because of this, we have the CLIMATE EMERGENCY. Human actions matter now, but if enough of the tipping points have been reached, temperature increases no matter what we do. Below I list a couple of the tipping points with vicious circle properties, which may have been reached already.

Melting of Arctic sea ice. Recent years have seen open water in large areas of the Arctic sea. Virtually all the reports about it have been positive. Politicians have, e.g., rejoiced over the possibility of commercial shipping from Europe to Asia via the northeastern route. However, with melting sea ice one easily forgets that the white ice reflects virtually all the heat back to the sky, whereas the dark water absorbs the heat. This leads to marked acceleration of temperature increase.

Thawing of permafrost. Virtually all climate models have started with the outset that the thawing is gradual, and any effects reach significant level only a couple of hundred years from now. However, it has proven that the permafrost ice is a significant structural component of close to 20 % of the land area. Where this is the case, thawing permafrost is seen as huge craters etc. Where they occur, release of carbon (and methane) is much larger than estimated in the models. The carbon release can be double to what has been estimated.

Forest fires. The importance of forests as carbon dioxide sinks has repeatedly been emphasized. Whenever a forest burns, all the carbon it has accumulated is returned to atmosphere. Because of the hot and dry weather, the area affected by forest fires has increased markedly during recent years. In addition to forest fires, deforestation to gain agricultural land, and disease and harmul insect outbreaks especially in boreal forest decrease their carbon dioxide sink properties.

Aquatic pollution. For most of us it is unknown that about half of the Earth’s photosynthesis, i.e. carbon dioxide removal, is carried out by (mainly microscopic) algae. During recent years, the algal photosynthesis has been reduced by 10-20 % globally as the pollution of oceans has decreased the photosynthesis by algae.

Nitrous oxide production. The nitrogen fertilization, which is on the increase, increases the conversion of the fertilizers to nitrous oxide. This gas is the third most important greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide and methane. The need for nitrogen-containing fertilizers is on the increase as the fertility of agricultural land is decreasing.

Two articles in Nature have aspects of what I have written above (Lenton et al. Nature 575: 592-595, 2019; Turetsky et al. Nature 569: 32-34, 2019).

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, permafrost, deforestatio, aquatic pollution

Methane levels on the rise - have we entered the vicious circle

Tiistai 4.6.2019 klo 16:52 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Approximately two and a half years ago I wrote in this blog about rapid recent increase of methane level in the atmosphere. It has now become news in major newspapers and TV. As the figure indicates, after a period of constant level, the methane concentration has again Methane_trend.jpgstarted to increase in 2007. The news have been puzzled about the reason, but for me it was quite apparent already two and a half years ago.

A large part of the methane is under permafrost. It is largely from such deposis that the Russian natural gas exporters take the gas. If the permafrost has started melting, uncontrolled release of natural gas is possible. I fear that this is what is happening. Reports from Siberia have indicated that in the last few years large, unexplained holes in the ground have appeared. The most likely explanation for such holes is that the temperature has increased enough so that some of the natural gas deposits have been able to burst to the atmosphere. This is a worrying possibility, because it means that it is not enough that we limit the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees. Further temperature rise will increase methane release markedly, and, consequently, the temperature increase will continue even if we are able to limit carbon dioxide emissions (because methane is 30 times more effective greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide). If the methane increase is due to permafrost melting, we need to decrease the temperature to levels before year 2000. Even this would be possible, there are technical means to do it. However, it would require a radical change in many people's thinking.

To combat climate change we have virtually all the means, the problem is people's attitudes. Especially the statement "We are so small proportion of world's population that it doesn't pay for us to do anything, since that will not have any effect. We can require that other nations do as much as we have already done" is the most problematic of everything. It is like a cyclist riding under a bus, which did not follow the traffic rules. Being right doesn't help the dead cyclist much. It is the same with environmental questions. If we can do something, even in the places which would be other nations' tasks, we must do it to keep the world habitable for our children and children's children.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, natural gas, permafrost

A vicious circle is functioning already? Warming liberates methane and methane causes warming

Perjantai 18.1.2019 klo 20:26

Methane is about 20 times as effective in causing climate warming as carbon dioxide. Much of the methane is in deposits under permafrost in the Arctic areas. Recently, another source under the permanent ice in Greenland has become apparent. The estimations of atmospheric methane level indicate that the amount liberated from agricultural sources, ruminants and swine, industrial sources, and waste treatment is not enough to explain the measured level in the last years. This means that the Arctic deposits are already contributing to the level. Notably, people visiting permafrost areas have reported that small craters can be found in permafrost, suggesting that underground methane has escaped in those places. Also, the ice cover in Greenland has been melting with simultaneous liberation of methane.

The possibility of getting close to temperature increase, which generates vicious methane cycle; methane causes temperature increase which liberates methane, is demanding that climate actions restrict temperature increase to the 1.5-2 degrees agreed in the Paris Climate Accord. By doing this, it is probably possible to prevent entering the vicious circle. However, it is most likely not possible to do it cheaply, so that the "climate promises" of different political and economic circles, which say that we do climate actions as long as they do not disturb economic growth, are utter nonsense. If real climate asctions were the goal, growthnideology would be scrapped, and the high-GNP countries would dacrease their "standard of living" to half to enable funding of climate actions to be able to avoid entering the vicious methane circle.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, natural gas, temperature, permafrost