It’s getting hot in here

I have been doing a lot of reading around global warming – partly from an academic perspective and in part for general interest. It really is a hot topic (pun intended) for our generation; you can’t seem to escape the news coverage on it, with climate change summits becoming quickly known for ruthless through the night debating for weeks on end. I wanted to write this post to just talk about some of the more interesting things I have come across. This is not going to be a full round up of what climate change is and how it occurs – for those not in the know there is a rigorous discussion provided by the UK government here.

I think the first thing that I enjoyed reading both on the government source and in the text I was set to read as part of my studies is the acknowledgement that global warming is occurring. Global warming has become an incredibly politically charged phrase with a huge amount of debate from a variety of stakeholders. This often leads it to look a little bit like a debate into if global warming is happening at all – which is unfair. Global warming is happening right now, any scientist would not in their right mind debate this fact. The thing which is causing all of the debate and the excitement is the extent to which this increased warming is anthropogenic.

I think one of the most startlingly misquoted facts with reference to global warming is that sea levels will rise because the ice will melt. Intuitively this does not ring too many alarm bells, sounds about right. But if you put your science hat on and think about it there are two types of ice on this planet. The ice which sits on land and the ice which sits on water (basically icebergs, but some expanses are huge). When an ice sits on water it is totally and utterly irrelevant that a large portion of it is out of the water. The fact is the ice has already displaced the water as much as it would if it were all to be turned to liquid – the melting of this type of ice will have no impact at all on the overall sea levels. If all the ice on land were to melt then yes – the sea levels would rise a LOT. But for the ice on land to melt we would need a rise in the surface temperature so high we would of had much more pressing problems first. Where is all the excitement coming from? It’s thermal expansion. As the temperature on Earth begins to rise, the water expands and that makes the sea levels rise. Why can’t the media tell people this? I find it patronising to hide the real reasons from the public – it’s only fair.

In my exploration of global warming I took a trip down memory lane and revisited the water cycle and the carbon cycle. I must admit – it was really really fun, and actually I learnt some new facts so not at all wasted time. The new facts I learnt were:

  • The average water molecule will be in the ocean for 3,000 years before being transferred to another reservoir – not quite so dynamic!
  • In fact the fate for ice and snow is even more boring. The average water molecule as ice will be in residence for 10,000 years. This, of course does not apply to the sleet that falls over London on a December evening – it’s an average.
  • Moving on to carbon, I somewhat naively always considered humans and other organic beings as a fairly major source of carbon. We make up 0.001% of all carbon – and that’s shared with plants and animals.
  • The average residence time of our organic carbon is 4.7 years… I mean I kind of knew this it’s just so fun to think about the fact that you literally are a new person in some way every day. When you see old friends, you really can say it’s a whole new you with a smile.
  • 99.99% of the worlds carbon is held in rock – for these unlucky molecules the average residence time in the rock is 200,000,000 years. Somewhat humbling when I think of my probably 80 hopefully 100 years.

I suppose I don’t really have too much more to say with regard to global warming – except to encourage any scientists out there to read up on the facts. It was really refreshing to go back to basics and learn about something from a non-media source, because to be fair I only read about global warming in the news. It is such a great multi-disciplinary subject and there are many things we know so little about. For example – we know that increased water vapour in the air is a bad thing. Water vapour can absorb infrared radiation because of its ability to have its rotation increased, which it later re-radiates warming the surface. But at the same time more water vapour means more cloud cover. More cloud cover means more blocking of solar radiation. In turn clouds absorb and admit infrared radiation. In fact cloud feedback is one of the least understood parts of the global warming issue.

My final comments would be to express a hope that all the scientists reading this will spread the message that global warming is indeed exacerbated by humans. The present rate of warming is 0.5 degrees celsius per century – I know it does not sound much but the effect is massive and like nothing we have seen in a very long history. Furthermore increases of carbon dioxide correlate well with the increase in surface temperature which only really correlate with human activity. The models used to simulate global warming simply cannot get it right if the effects of human activity are left out. Models which only consider natural emissions predict a temperature far lower than it is.

Global warming is caused by humans – and it’s worth a little thought.

 

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17 responses to “It’s getting hot in here

  1. This was a very well articulated post. Even I learnt a couple of new things, and I’m a geology student!
    Another thing you might want think about is that the ice on water is all fresh water. When this fresh water melts, you’re right, there will be no change in the volume of the water. BUT there will be a change in the chemistry, because a ton of freshwater added into sea water will have a telling effect.

    Loved this post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you very much for reading and your response…. I didn’t think too much about the decreased concentration of sea water – I suppose that could have devastating impacts for life in the sea… could also reduce the freezing temperature which could make things interesting!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post, and well-written. Baffling how facts still fail to elude people…or maybe it should be better stated as it’s baffling how people still elude facts.

    One thing to add, permafrost (which makes up about 25% of the land in the northern hemisphere) contains enormous amounts of not only carbon, but methane as well. Methane has more than 20x the warming power of carbon. And with the melting/thawing of this permafrost, more and more methane gets released into the atmosphere…adding to the runaway nature of climate change. Very scary.

    Liked by 1 person

    • it is indeed baffling how many people elude facts! Yes I was reading about the large deposits of methane, trapped both in rock and ice. If that were to be released into the atmosphere then I believe carbon dioxide would start to look insignificant.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oops, meant to say “baffling how facts still elude people” (not fail to elude people). Oh well.

        And I totally agree with you…most of us think carbon is the issue (and it is a big one), but once enough methane starts escaping its frozen prison, we’re in for much more of a troubled time. I wish people could get their heads out of the sand and pay attention….and I wish governments and corporations would actually see the dangers instead of being so focused on reduced profits and obstacles. Priorities

        Like

      • Yes it is always a great challenge tackling things which have a fairly long term effect. No government of a 5 year term, or even people with an 80 year horizon are going to be troubled by something with long term effects. It is only when it starts to impact our lives we care, and from the point of view of the world that is just far too late

        Like

  3. Obama gave a very candid speech on this actually. He is a very forward thinking leader , in my opinion, on climate change and combating it. With the super Tuesday in the States and everyone’s presidential promises taking shape, no candidate is even talking about it. Alarming!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes it really is – unfortunately it’s been a real elephant in the room in many western powers political debates. Obama is very forward thinking – especially with gun control, however I can’t help but feeling he got braver once he secured his second term and effectively lost legislative power…. would of like to have seen him stick his neck on the line a little more

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: The tale of the dynamic blue dot. | Rationalising The Universe·

  5. With trees cut down, multistory concrete/glass structures come up, increased number of cars (never willing to pool), ‘n’ number of factories fumigating, land filled agricultural lands and glaciers, we are digging our own graves

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree with you in full. Science is great and it is doing its best to help, but science cannot keep pace with the way we are harvesting the resources on this planet

      Liked by 1 person

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