Monday, July 27, 2009

Bad News, Worse News

An interesting study was released by the University of Hawaii overnight:

Atmospheric carbon increased 70 percent during the period known as Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum 55 million years ago, said Richard Zeebe. Yet it was less than expected to explain a rapid increase in temperatures, he said in an interview.

"This constitutes an enigma because carbon dioxide released cannot account for the entire warming. This means something else contributed significantly to the warming," he said.

"We're not saying carbon dioxide is not important," he emphasized. "It is very important. Current and future warming is almost entirely due to carbon emissions. There is no doubt about this."

The right wing will probably crow loudly about this, in their Crow Magnon style, but this is even worse than anticipated.
See, if global climate change correlates with an increase in temperature, and that increase in temperature (which has been shown) is correlated with a rise in atmospheric carbon, then any fluctuation from that means that predictions going forward based on that mechanism are suspect.
Which might be good news IF temperatures had risen less with a rise in carbon than anticipated in history.
This study indicates something far more insidious, although you won't read about it in the news much. The implications of this story are the very real threat of a feedback loop that actually creates more warming than the levels of atmospheric carbon would dictate.
For example, it's very hard to measure atmospheric methane in ocean sediment cores-- carbon gets to the bottom of the ocean as unicelled organisms which process it in photosynthesis die and drop down-- but methane is even more of a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. This study showed that a 70% increase in atmospheric carbon created a 16 degree rise in global temperatures. This was a rise that would be predicted with a tripling of carbon dioxide levels.
Scientists predict now that CO2 levels will double this century. We're in for nasty weather, not just this century, but for milennia to come.