Rocketdoc Notes – Week of April 11, 2020
Update of latest Global Warming information – Part 3
This blog builds on the data from the previous two blogs on Global Warming and projects world winners and losers based on a number of recent studies. I continue to believe that Global Warming is real but will much less of a problem than certain politicians want you to believe. The Global Warming crisis is somewhat similar to the Limits to Growth crisis I witnessed as a young adult back in the 1970s. Human ingenuity and technology growth essentially solved the Limits to Growth issues by 2000, and I believe they will also mediate Global Warming to the point where life goes on close to normal. Unfortunately, certain politicians and a young Swede need a world crisis to further their political goals and they are hyping the top end of the latest projections from the IPCC atmospheric modelling to claim a disaster is coming. Our “if it bleeds it leads” media showcases this disaster version and downplays the true science story which says that the worlds temperature rose one degree Celsius during the Twentieth Century and will probably do the same during the Twenty-First Century1. This will be inconvenient, but hardly a disaster. Let’s look at the data.
We know the developed world will continue build new renewable energy sources in regions where they make sense and push electric vehicles, but also that the developing world will build whatever energy sources that are affordable to raise the Gross National Product (GNP) for their populations. This will result in continued use of fossil fuels worldwide and give us the current and projected Global primary energy consumption curves shown in figure 1 below.
Figure 1 – Global Primary Energy Consumption by Energy Source (2010-2050)
Unfortunately, there is just no economic substitute for petroleum and coal in parts of the world, and for certain applications like aircraft, so I think figure 1 is an accurate prediction of where energy consumption will be in the year 2050. Assuming that the consumption of fossils fuels will continue to increase through the year 2050 in order to provide a safe worthwhile existence for all the people of Earth, how will that impact the planet? My goal is to stay apolitical and give you the pertinent facts and not succumb to political rhetoric. Here is what we know.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its Fifth Assessment Report in 2013-2014, synthesizing the latest science behind global climate change. The IPCC does not do any original research; instead, it relies on the work of thousands of scientists. The members of the IPCC review this original research and synthesize the findings.
If we look at the IPCC report results, we get plots of projected temperature probabilities based on total assumed CO2 emissions per year as shown in figure 2 below.
Figure 2 – IPCC Global Warming Projections relative to Preindustrial Levels
Modeling the Earth’s response to increased greenhouse gases is not an exact science. The current models predict that as the world consumes ever more fossil fuel, greenhouse gas concentrations will continue to rise, and Earth’s average surface temperature will rise with them. Based on a range of plausible emission scenarios, average surface temperatures could rise between 2°C and as much as 4°C by the end of the 21st century, relative to preindustrial levels. This means that without the technology improvements I expect to see in the next 50 years we could expect to see a 1°C to 3°C rise from current temperatures to end of the 21st century. This is not what you read in today’s media. I expect technology breakthroughs in nuclear power (especially fusion) and use of aerosols to reduce solar heating. These will reduce the projected 3°C rise to 1°C or less.
Assuming we don’t advance the technologies I have been advocating in the last several blogs and we do get a 3°C rise, how does that effect our weather and local climates? The key to weather and local climates is ocean heating and here are the IPCC results relative to the world’s oceans.
The oceans play a unique role in regulating our climate, and this is due to water’s high specific heat capacity. This means that a lot of heat is needed to raise the temperature of a certain amount of water. Conversely, this large amount of stored heat can be slowly released. In the context of oceans, this capacity to release vast amounts of heat moderates climate change.
Areas that should be colder because of their latitude remain warmer (for example, London or Vancouver), and areas that should be warmer remain cooler (for example, San Diego in summer). This high specific heat capacity, in conjunction with the ocean’s sheer mass, allows it to store more than 1000 times more energy than the atmosphere can for an equivalent increase in temperature. According to the IPCC:
The upper ocean (from the surface down to 2100 ft) has been warming since 1971. At the surface, seawater temperatures have risen by 0.25 degrees Celsius as a global average. This warming trend was geographically uneven, with areas of greater warming rates in the North Atlantic, for example.
This increase in ocean temperatures represents an enormous amount of energy. In the Earth’s energy budget, 93% of the observed increase is accounted for by warming ocean waters. The rest is manifested by warming in the continents and the melting of ice.
There have been significant changes in how salty the ocean is. The Atlantic has become saltier due to more evaporation, and the Pacific has become fresher because of increased rainfall.
Surf’s up! There is enough evidence to state with medium confidence that waves have gotten larger in the North Atlantic, by as much as 20 cm (7.9 in) per decade since the 1950s.
Between 1901 and 2010, the global mean sea level has risen by 19 cm (7.5 in). The rate of increase has accelerated in the past couple of decades. Many continental landmasses have been experiencing some rebound (an upward vertical motion), but not enough to explain this sea-level rise. Most of the observed rise is due to the warming, and therefore expansion, of water.
Extreme high sea events produce coastal flooding and are usually the result of the coinciding effects of a large storm and high tide (for example, the 2012 landing of Hurricane Sandy on the New York and New Jersey coastline). During these rare events, water levels have been recorded higher than during extreme events in the past, and this increase is mostly due to the rising mean sea levels discussed above.
Oceans have been absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, increasing the concentrations of carbon from man-made sources. As a result, the pH of the oceans’ surface waters has decreased, a process called acidification. This has important implications for marine life, as the increased acidity interferes with shell formation for marine animals such as coral, plankton, and shellfish.
Since warmer water can hold less oxygen, the concentration of oxygen has decreased in many parts of the oceans. This has been most apparent along coastlines, where nutrient runoff into the ocean contributes also to lower oxygen levels.
Since the previous report, vast amounts of new data were published and the IPCC was able to make many statements with more confidence: it is at least very likely that the oceans have warmed, the sea levels have risen, contrasts in salinity have increased, and that the concentrations of carbon dioxide have increased and caused acidification. Much uncertainty remains about the effects of climate change on large circulation patterns and cycles, and still relatively little is known about changes in the deepest parts of the ocean.
Source: IPCC, Fifth Assessment Report. 2013. Observations: Oceans
The IPCC has predicted weather changes on projected ocean warming. These weather pattern changes are summarized in figure 3 below.
Figure 3 –Ocean Condition Changes predicted by IPCC
As you can see in the figure the models predict increased ocean temperatures, more rain for northern South America and less rain for southern South America, Mexico, and the American Southwest. Below are some of these impacts that are currently visible throughout the U.S. and will continue to affect these regions, according to the Third and FourthNational Climate Assessment Reports, released by the U.S. Global Change Research Program:
Northeast. Heat waves, heavy downpours and sea level rise pose growing challenges to many aspects of life in the Northeast. Infrastructure, agriculture, fisheries and ecosystems will be increasingly compromised. On the plus side and growing season should be extended by several weeks.
Northwest. Increased rainfall and less snowpack will change the timing of streamflow which could reduce water supplies for competing demands during the summer season. Sea level rise, erosion, risks to infrastructure, and increasing ocean acidity pose threats to some industries. The growing season for fruits, wines, and wheat should be longer.
Southeast. Sea level rise poses some threat to the region’s economy and environment. Extreme heat will affect health, energy, agriculture and more. Decreased water availability will have economic and environmental impacts. More frequent and larger hurricanes are a risk.
Midwest. Extreme heat, heavy downpours and flooding will affect infrastructure, health, agriculture, forestry, transportation, and more. Climate change will also exacerbate a range of risks to the Great Lakes. Longer growing seasons should occur.
Southwest. Increased heat, drought and insect outbreaks, all linked to climate change, will increased wildfires. Declining water supplies, reduced agricultural yields, health impacts in cities due to heat, and flooding and erosion in coastal areas are additional concerns.
If there are winners in the IPCC predictions, they are the Northwest and the Northeast United States who should avoid the drought problem, avoid the hurricane problem, and get extended growing seasons. The bottom line here is that Global Warming is real, but it has been politicized way beyond the existing scientific data. Yes, if all the ice in Greenland and Antarctica melted the oceans would rise by 66 meters, but it would take thousands of years to melt all that ice with the few degrees of warming we are predicting. Somehow the second part never gets mentioned in the dialogue. I want to assure you that there is no reason to panic, there are no tipping points we are rapidly approaching, and despite the shrill voices, the world will be using fossil fuels for a long time yet. Not because the world doesn’t care, but because there is no economic alternative, and prohibiting drilling on federal lands and raising the tax on fossil fuels is only going to raise costs to the consumer. The government should be funding research on alternatives to fossil fuels, not raising the living expenses for Joe Public. Raising taxes on gas will make a minuscule reduction in gasoline usage since we all need to get to work or to the grocery store. On the other hand, a working fusion powerplant combined with an efficient, quickly rechargeable battery pack would enable a huge reduction in fossil fuels burned. Pick your battles wisely
Everything presented here supports my view that we do indeed understand the causes of Global Warming and that human ingenuity and technology advances will allow us to eventually overcome it. Unfortunately, it is going to get worse for a while because the world cannot stop burning fossil fuels until economical substitutes are available. Our job is to get politics out of the way and fund the development of those economical substitutes. All the science data says there is no reason to panic but we need to start thinking out of the box. This is the main reason I have been discussing aerosols for cooling the Earth and ammonia to store renewable power in my previous blogs.
News Flash: NASA just announced the Space-X has won the Artemis Lunar Lander Program with a bid of $2.9 B. I will cover the long-term implications of this in next week’s blog.
Thanks for reading.
1. Wall Street Journal, “How a Physicist Became a Climate Truth Teller”, Interview of Steven Koonin by Holman Jenkins, April 17, 2021.