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Monday, 1 May 2017

CO2 as the driver of climate change

Moving forward a little bit on Eschenbach's blog comments to another statement by Chimp, he says:

"That is, if CO2 indeed be the predominant driver of “climate change”"

More utter nonsense. That carbon dioxide (CO2) is the driver of man-made climate change is basic science. The warming potential of CO2 has been known about since 1859 when John Tyndall conducted laboratory experiments to identify gases in the atmosphere that trap heat. He identified water vapour (H2O) and carbon dioxide (CO2) as two of the most important ( The warming potential of CO2 remains true even though it is only present in the atmosphere in small quantities, i.e. a few parts in ten thousand. Tyndall's conclusions were supported by other scientists, such as Svante Arrhenius and Arvid Högbom, and many others afterwards.

There is also this question of whether CO2 lags (i.e. fails to keep up with) temperature. However, the science confirms that 90 percent of the warming followed an increase in atmospheric CO2. Skeptical Science ( puts it like this:

Over the past 400,000 years CO2 and temperatures are closely correlated. However, data from Antarctic ice cores show that the initial changes in CO2 followed changes in temperatures by about 600 to 1000 years. This has led to deniers to conclude that CO2 can't be responsible for current warming.

The problem with this claim is that the initial changes in temperature were caused by changes in the Earth's orbit around the sun. Orbital changes affects the amount of seasonal sunlight reaching the Earth's surface. However, the lag between temperature and CO2 is explained by the oceans. As the temperatures of the oceans rise, they release CO2 into the atmosphere, which in turn increases the warming, leading to yet more CO2 being released. Thus the CO2 increases becomes the cause and effect of more warming. This is known as a positive feedback.

Shakun et al found that:

  • The Earth's orbital cycles triggered warming in the Arctic approximately 19,000 years ago, causing large amounts of ice to melt, flooding the oceans with fresh water. 
  • This influx of fresh water then disrupted ocean current circulation, in turn causing a seesawing of heat between the hemispheres.
  • The Southern Hemisphere and its oceans warmed first, starting about 18,000 years ago.  As the Southern Ocean warms, the solubility of CO2 in water falls.  This causes the oceans to give up more CO2, releasing it into the atmosphere
 The New Scientist ( explains that this proves that "rising CO2 was not the trigger that caused the initial warming at the end of these ice ages", but no scientist has claimed that to be the case anyway. Rather, it was to do with the orbital changes (Milankovitch Cycles). This does not in any way negate the fact that CO2 drives warming.

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