Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Sea Ice or Ice Shelves?

There is an community of people who are ardently opposed to the whole idea of Greenhouse Warming.  Like a modern version of the Athenian sophists, they continually trumpet only those bits of information that they believe undermine the idea of global warming 

The most recent blast from the anti global warming crowd involves crowing over what they claim are record extents of sea ice.  Given that Arctic Ocean sea ice is shrinking, how is it possible that the world is reaching record levels of sea ice?  And why is this happening during the Antarctic summer?

The answer lies in the Antarctic glaciers themselves.   Weather dats shows thst global warming is producing ever warmerAntarctic  summers.   Glaciers in Antarctica turn into a special form of sea ice known as ice shelves as they flow into sea, and the size of the ice shelves is controlled by the VELOCITY at which  the eAntarctic  glaciers when they reach the sea.   Warmer temperatures duringAntarctic  summers produces faster ice flow which transfers more glacier mass into the ice shelves.  

Yes the Antarctic ice shelves are covering more area then they did in the past.  But this is happening during Antarctic SUMMERS and is actually caused by global warming. 

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The ECONOMIST endorses Planetary Geoengineering

The venerable Economist magazine began publication in 1843, and is one of the most respected news magazines on the planet.   It is noted for its independent reporting and rational and economically analysis of global issues.   In its December 13, 2014 issue, the Economist endorsed the use of planetary geoengineering.

The main point of the article in the "Science and Technology" section of the magazine, is that "scientific studies of techniques for deliberately modifying the climate are getting ready to move out of the laboratory" and for the most part thats a good thing if proper care and caution is taken.  The Economist notes that the risks from a warming climate are real and substantial, and political efforts to craft treaties to stop global warming are producing lots of nice sounding promises but little to nothing that actually requires reductions of emissions of CO2.  Geoengineering may offer a way to delay or mitigate some of the worst aspects of global warming.

The Economist also notes the existence of a group of academics who oppose even discussing geoengineering out of fear that the promise of a geoengineering "solution" to global warming may influence politicians and the public not to take difficult measures to reduce CO2 emissions in the belief that geoengineering may "save" them from a warming planet.   But the idea that not  discussing or preparing to deal with problems somehow averts the problems is clearly wrong-headed.

                Geoengineering?  Nope uh uh no way nope nope nope nope don't want to know 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Sea Level Rise and Surfing

Surf's up!  So is sea level.  So how is that going to work out?

We know sea level is currently rising at 3.5 mm per year.  That means sea level will rise by about 3.5 cm in 10 years and about 35 cm (about a foot) in a century. 

But what if the RATE  of sea level rise is increasing?  What if sea level was rising by about 1mm each year 50 years ago and the RATE of sea rise progressively increased to the 3.5 mm per year we see now. 

Well, then an intelligent person might be concerned that the RATE of sea level rise would continue to increase.   If the RATE triples again over the next 50 years then the RATE will be 10 mm per year or about 4 inches each decade.  

But what if the rate of increase in the rate of sea level change is also increasing?  What if global warming is accelerating?  

We'll be in deep water, that's what....

Deeper water means changes in surf.  Waves break and form surf when the wave forms come into contact with the sea floor.  Higher sea levels will produce changes in the location and size of surf breaks

Surf will still be up....just not so much

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Prearcheology of San Francisco

Sea level is likely to rise by about 5 m (16 feet) in the next 85-200 years.  In San Francisco this will flood the Market Street area, the lower Mission district and parts of the Marina district.  

Lower Market Street was an area of tidal mud flats when the 49ers began to pour into San Francisco during the 1849 gold rush. The crews of the ships that ferried the gold miners to SanFrancisco would abandon their ships and follow the gold miners heading off to the gold fields in the Sierra Nevada.   Hundreds of ships were abandoned 

Eventually the mud flats were covered over as the city of San Francisco began growing rapidly.  The abandoned ships were covered over as well.  It's not unusual for fragments of gold rush ships to be found when excavations are made to set the foundations for modern buildings being constructed in downtown San Francisco today

A hundred years from now the waters of San Francisco Bay will be rising rapidly.  The ground level floors of buildings along Market Street will be flooded.  Market Street will mostly be underwater. These buildings will have to be abandoned just as hundreds of sailing ships were abandoned in 1849, and eventually they'll collapse into their own foundations and settle into the same mud.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Underwater Archeology of the Future

The bronze statue now known as "Victorious Youth" was dredged up out of the Adriatic Sea.  It likely was created to commemorate the original Olympic Games held in Greece about 2300 years ago. Underwater archeology at shipwreck sites and at ancient cities that have sunk beneath the waves, like ancient Alexandria in Egypt, has been incredibly successful

Soon underwater archeology will have entirely new cities to study. With sealevel   projected  to rise by 5 m in the next 85-200 years, low lying parts of cities like New York, Los Angeles, Dublin, Lisbon, London, and Barcelona will slowly and inevitably eventually be under water

What will future archeologists find when they study the drowned cities of the 22nd century?   Will they find immortal art treasures like Victorious Youth?  Or will they find rusted hulks of millions of sbsndoned cars clustered around thousands of submerged McDonalds and drowned WalMarts

Monday, December 15, 2014

CO2 Antarctic Pumpdown at AGU

The American Geophysical Union (AGU) is the premier scientific organization dealing with Earth Science in the USA.  About 25000 geophysicists are in San Francisco this week for the annual AGU meeting.  Every possible thing having to do with the earth is discussed somewhere at AGU including geo engineering. Also including my geo engineering concept as of Monday December 15.

Like most presentations at AGU I wrote a short abstract on CAP and submitted it for review about three months ago.   My paper was assigned to a session on the Cryosphere.  I created a "poster" that Summarized the CAP concept, pinned it up to a display board and spent two hours talking with geophysicists, glaciologists, climatologists and anyone else who was interested about the CAP concept.  

At least three different people told me they also had geoengineering ideas but were reluctant to present them publicly out of concern that they might be thought to be out of the mainstream.  

Luckily or unluckily I don't share that particular concern

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Turn Humans into Morlocks to Mitigate Global Warming?

Morlocks for planetary geoengineering  

Since the idea of geoengineering and modifying earth's climate to reduce the effect of global warming, is so controversial perhaps it was inevitable that someone would suggest that the best way to cope with global warming is to leave the Earth alone and instead modify the human species.

Prof. Liao of New York University has suggested that the best way to accommodate future climate change is to embrace human genetic engineering instead of planetary geoengineering.    For instance, Prof. Liao proposes genetic engineeringing be applied to the human species to make us shorter and smaller because a population of  three-foot-tall humans would consume less food and need fewer natural resources than modern humans do.  Another of his ideas is to genetically reengineer humans to improve night vision, so humans could get along better in dimly lit rooms, thus reducing energy consumption.    Add more body hair to reduce the need for clothes and central heating, and you've got a dystopian vision of a future populated by shambolic sub-human creature living in the dark.

Prof. Liao's vision of humanity in the future is surprisingly similar to H.G. Well's creation of the Morlocks in his 1898 science fiction novel The Time Machine.  H.G. Wells also described a future in which part of humanity had intentionally been turned into shorter, hairier light-sensitive creatures, the  sub-human Morlocks, in order to better adjust to their terrible work conditions.    But unlike Prof. Liao, H.G. Wells also had the common sense  to realize there was something horrifying about the idea of genetically modifying humans to fit the conditions rather than modifying the conditions to better suit humans.  H.G. Wells wrote in the Time Machine:   "there was an altogether new element in the sickening quality of the Morlocks—a something inhuman and malign. Instinctively I loathed them. "

I feel much the same way about Prof. Liao's proposal to genetically modify humans to make them more adaptable to climate change.  I loathe Prof. Liao's idea.  Probably most people would loathe Prof. Liao's idea.    I think even the Morlocks would loathe the idea.  In fact, if they had a choice, I bet Morlocks would be some of the biggest supporters of planetary geoengineering over genetic reengineering.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Scientific American Endorses Geoengineering

                       Welcome to the wonderful world of Planetary Geoengineering, SciAm!

The venerable and highly respected Scientific American (SciAm) magazine has been reporting on science issues and publishing popular scientific articles for 168 years.  It is the oldest continuously published magazine in the United States.

In it's most recent issue, Scientific American endorsed the use of Planetary Geoengineering.

Now it wasn't a strong endorsement.  In fact it was more the along the lines of a geoengineering-is-terrible, but-the-alternatives-are-worse kind of endorsement.   But it was still an endorsement.  Here's some excerpts from what David Biello said in a SciAm report from the UN climate conference in Lima, Peru:

global deal to combat climate change lurches toward reality in Lima, Peru, this week—and yet any politically feasible agreement will be insufficient to restrain continued warming of global average temperatures, perhaps uncomfortably high.....atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide have crossed the threshold of 400 parts per million—and will reach 450 ppm in less than two decades at present growth rates.

If civilization continues, the unplanned, undirected geoengineering of the climate via burning fossil fuels—whether coal in a power plant or oil sludge in a massive container ship steaming across the Pacific—then perhaps nations will need to plan for a directed attempt at geoengineering or the "deliberate, large-scale manipulation of the planetary environment" as the U.K.'s Royal Society defines it.

Geoengineering could play a role in coping with some of the impacts of climate change, perhaps used to cool off the rapidly warming Arctic and save summertime sea ice. Or "these strategies might be used throughout the period required to replace fossil fuel burning with globally distributed clean energy and even be continued while CO2 concentrations remain too high," as atmospheric scientists put it in an overview of the Philosophical Transactions issue

SciAm made it clear that it sees risks in some geoengineering ideas, and doesn't believe that any geoengineering concept can permanently solve the problem of global warming without a concomitant transformation of the world's energy systems. 

But an endorsement of geoengineering, even a qualified one, is very welcome coming from a premier scientific magazine like Scientific American.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Greenland Ice Sheet is Turning Black

The surface of the Greenland Ice Sheet is turning black

What's the absolute worse thing that could happen to the Greenland Ice Sheet?   It's already under stress from warming oceans and a warming climate. Glaciologists report that the Greenland ice sheet is starting to move more rapidly and more and more ice is being dumped into the ocean.  High on the surface of the glacier where just 30 years ago snow melt was only rarely observed, today huge rivers form in the summer and flow over the surface of the glacier before dropping into huge moulins that send the meltwater straight to the base of the glacier.

What else could go wrong?

Well, the surface of the Greenland ice sheet could turn black.  And that's exactly what it is doing.

What's going on?   Well, some dust snd black soot is carried on to the glacier each year, transported thousands of kilometers by arctic winds.  Unusually large forest fires in Canada and alaska send unusually large amounts of soot to Greeland.  But much of the soot and dust is a residual lag left behind as the surface of the glacier starts to melt. More melt means ever increasing amounts of residual dust and silt

The albedo (reflectivity) of snow reflects about 90% of solar energy.  Black soot and dust ABSORB as much as 90% of solar radiation 

The more the Greeland ice sheet melts the darker it will become.  The darker the Greenland ice sheet becomes, the more solar energy it will absorb.  The more solar energy it sbsorbs, the more it will melt

The UN Orders Climate to Stop Changing

                                              King Canute orders the tide to stop rising

Atmospheric CO2 concentrations have risen from ca. 280 ppm at the start of the industrial revolution to almost 400 ppm today---an increase of about 40%.   Average global temperatures have gone up by about 1° C over the same time period.  There is no sign that the global community of nations is going to take any concrete measures to reduce CO2 emissions----indeed atmospheric CO2 levels continue to rise by about 2 ppm each year, and the recent and much ballyhooed agreement signed by President Obama and Premier Xi of China actually allows China to greatly increase their CO2 emissions 

Nonetheless, there are still a few scientists and politicians who think CO2 emissions need to be capped.   A group called advocates keeping atmospheric CO2 levels below 350 ppm in order to minimize climate disruptions.  The 350 ppm target comes from a scientific evaluation by Dr. James Hansen of the maximum level that CO2 concentrations can reach without triggering climate disruptions.

Of course, since atmospheric CO2 is already at 400 ppm, targeting a maximum concentration of 350 ppm might be seen as quixotic.  Others think 400 ppm should be the absolute limit.  For instance, Al Gore twitted:  

"Atmospheric CO2 levels breached 400ppm for first time in history of human civ. A sad milestone. A call to action."

Still others who worry about global warming don't focus on CO2 at all, but instead hope that restrictions can be placed on the amount of global warming that will be allowed to occur.  In a dramatic shift, world leaders, including President Obama who met at the 2009 UN climate treaty meeting in Copenhagen abandoned the 20-year-long drive to craft a binding UN climate treaty to replace the non-binding UN Kyoto accords on CO2 emissions, and instead issued a statement saying that average global temperatures should not be allowed to  increase by more than 2° C.

Another UN climate meeting is going on right now in Lima, Peru with the next UN climate conference planned for 2016 in Paris.  Just five years after the UN Copenhagen meeting the 2° limit on temperature increases set in 2009 is coming into question.  A debate has begun in scientific journals and at the Lima conference whether or not to ditch the 2° limit on the maximum global average temperature increase that can be allowed and instead set some higher limit at which global warming has to be stopped.  

The annual UN climate treaty negotiations no longer even try to set firm limits on CO2 emissions.   Their new message is:  Let the word go forth!  Climate shall not rise any more than 2°C!  Or maybe 3°C!  Or some other number!  But climate must stop warming!  Let the word go forth!

It all reminds me of King Canute, who ordered the tide to stop rising.  

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Geoengineering Earth's Climate by Dumping Iron into the Ocean

It is Best to Avoid Prematurely Declaring Victory

Most geoengineering ideas involve identifying natural processes that remove CO2 from the atmosphere and then artificially enhancing them to accelerate the CO2 removal mechanism.  One of the most widely boosted geoengineering concepts involves dumping iron into the ocean to encourage plankton growth.   
This concept was championed by  oceanographer John Martin who famously said, ""Give me a half a tanker of iron and I will give you another ice age".

The iron fertilization idea is based on the fact that large regions of the ocean have low iron contents, and lack of iron inhibits the growth of marine phytoplankton.  Artificially adding iron to these regions should enhance phytoplankton growth, and phytoplankton shells incorporate CO2 from ocean water which ultimately is derived from atmospheric CO2.  In theory the phytoplankton shells should then sink to the ocean bottom, sequestering the CO2.

This geoengineering idea has been extensively tested, perhaps more than any other geoengineering concept.  At least nine scientific cruises have been made to various parts of the world's oceans, iron of various types and amounts has been added to the ocean, and phytoplankton growth was repeatedly observed to be enhanced.   

At first the iron fertilization concept seemed to work so well that one almost expected to see the marine science vessels testing iron fertilization to come steaming back to port with giant "MISSION ACCOMPLISHED" banners streaming from the ships.  

However, as with all geoengineering ideas, serious problems have arisen.  In 2009 an attempt was made to measure how much carbon was actually being stored in ocean sediments as a result of iron fertilization.  And the answer was ...... not very much.

UC Berkeley issued the following press release:  :

Ocean Carbon: A Dent in the Iron Hypothesis

Plankton blooms do not send atmospheric carbon to the deep ocean

BERKELEY, CA – Oceanographers Jim Bishop and Todd 
Wood of the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have measured the fate of carbon particles originating in plankton blooms in the Southern Ocean, using data that deep-diving Carbon Explorer floats collected around the clock for well over a year. Their study reveals that most of the carbon from lush plankton blooms never reaches the deep ocean.

The surprising discovery deals a blow to the .... Iron Hypothesis, whose adherents believe global warming can be slowed or even reversed by fertilizing plankton with iron.
"Just adding iron to the ocean hasn't been demonstrated as a good plan for storing atmospheric carbon," says Bishop, a member of Berkeley Lab's Earth Sciences Division and a professor of Earth and planetary sciences at the University of California at Berkeley. 

Geoengineering your Carbon Footprint Away

About 15 years ago I was an official US delegate to a UN climate change conference in Amsterdam.    This wasn't the main conference where climate treaties are voted on but an associated scientific conference sponsored by the UN as part of the overall climate treaty process.   I first heard about the idea of a "carbon footprint" at this conference.  

At this meeting all the attendees were given a small booklet that contained a diagram showing how many passenger jet trips a person could make without producing excessive amounts of CO2.  According to the booklet, I had just released so much CO2 by flying from Alaska to Europe that I shouldn't be allowed to fly on airplane for another 20 years.  I had just travelled to a conference dedicated to preventing climate change, and in doing so I had apparently emitted so much carbon that I personally had just increased global temperatures by 0.000001° C.

Today calculating a "carbon footprint" and then selling "carbon offsets" that are supposed to counteract the effects of the carbon releases has become a business.  Google the words "carbon footprint" and you'll find dozens of calculators that you can use to estimate how much carbon you release during your activities and how much you'd have to pay to "offset" that carbon.  Play around with these calculators and it soon becomes apparent that the best way to do the worst thing in carbon footprints is to fly somewhere.  Jet travel releases huge amounts of carbon.

There is another UN climate change conference going on this week, this time in Lima Peru.  If a US diplomat travels roundtrip from Washington DC to Lima to attend this meeting, his jet travel will result in about  3,195 pounds of CO2 being added to the atmosphere.  Thats a staggering amount of CO2 for one trip by one person, especially considering that many thousands of people will attend the Lima UN climate change conference.    The conference itself, not counting the air travel, will emit another 50,000 tons of CO2.

Removing all that CO2 from the atmosphere is not a simple task.   Consider the efficiency of various geoengineering proposals in dealing with just one person's CO2 emissions for air travel to Lima:  (a)  freezing it out of the air would create 1.5 tons of frozen CO2 that would have to stored and artificially kept cold in giant refrigerators forever (2) pumping it out of the atmosphere using biochar would require growing, charring and then storing about 3 tons of charcoal (3) Pumping it down into the Antarctic Ice Sheet would require bringing 3-5 tons of chemicals or buckyballs with amines to Antarctica and (4) and don't even think about trying to cycle that CO2 out of the atmosphere by breaking lots of rocks or raising ant farms----it ain't gonna happen.

Hopefully the delegates at the UN Climate Change Treaty in Lima will be able to craft a binding treaty to reduce global CO2 emissions.  If they need some encouragement to reach agreement, I hope somebody gives them a little booklet showing just how much carbon they all personally emitted into the atmosphere to attend yet another conference on stopping climate change.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Planetary Geoengineering with Ants!

                                     The Exciting Ant Farm of Planetary Geoengineering!

There are a wide range of natural processes that remove CO2 from the atmosphere.  In almost every case, some scientist or other has suggested scaling up the natural process as a way to counteract global warming.  However, there is one important natural process that removes CO2 from the atmosphere that has not yet been considered as a possible planetary geoengineering mechanism.  I'm talking, of course, about the recent discovery that ants play a big role in removing CO2 from Earth's atmosphere.

After 25 years of studying ant nests, scientists have determined that while they are digging tunnels and building nests, ants also break down various silicate minerals and help produce carbonate minerals which utilize CO2 from the atmosphere.  Its difficult to determine precisely how much CO2 ants are removing from the global atmosphere, but since ants are widely distributed across all the continents except Antarctica, the total amount of CO2 pumped down from the atmosphere by ants may be significant.

Obviously, there is an opportunity here for a new geoengineering method.  If every home, every classroom, every military barracks, every ship at sea began to keep ant farms, then the amount of ant activity could be greatly increased, and the amount of CO2 ants remove from the atmosphere would be commensurately increased. 


Of course I'm joking, but there is a serious point here.  The huge amounts of CO2 released into the atmosphere by human use of fossil fuels has completely overwhelmed all the natural Earth processes that kept atmospheric CO2 levels at ca. 285 ppm for the last 10,000 years.  Even ants haven't been able to keep up with the additional 26 gigatons (i.e. 26 billion metric tons) of CO2 humans release into the atmosphere each year.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Geoengineering and Ocean Acidification

There are two different approaches to designing Planetary Geoengineering concepts that can help counteract the effects of rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere.  Most geoengineering proposals are designed merely to offset or counteract the effects of global warming.  These proposals, which include ideas like injecting particles or aerosols into the upper atmosphere to cool the planet, making clouds whiter to reflect more sunlight, and putting a giant parasol into to outer space to shade parts of the Earth are designed to cool the planet.   However, this line of geoengineering proposals would do nothing to reduce the high CO2 levels already in the atmosphere, and nothing to stop CO2 from going ever higher as more fossil fuels are burned in coming years.

This is a severe drawback, as CO2 buildup in the atmosphere has other negative side effects in addition to causing global warming by enhancing the atmospheric greenhouse effect.   One of the more direct coeval effects of high atmospheric CO2 levels is increasing acidification of the oceans.  About a third of all the CO2 released into the atmosphere is ultimately absorbed by the ocean, resulting in increasing acidication of all ocean waters.  While the acidification level of the ocean will never reach the level that it can dissolve polar bear fur, as shown in the cartoon above, ocean acidification in some regions is already killing corals and damaging the shells of other invertebrate marine species.  Continued acidification of the ocean will severely damage many components of marine ecosystems around the world.

Geoengineering proposals which seek merely to ameliorate the effects of global warming presumably must also entail separate large scale geoengineering efforts to address the side effects of CO2 buildup in the atmosphere and oceans, greatly increasing the costs of these kinds of proposals.    And GCM studies show that this variety of geoengineering proposals can themselves cause harmful environmental and climatic changes that in turn may require still more remediation efforts.

Alternatively, geoengineering proposals targeted at reducing the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere address the root cause of global warming, and have the added benefit of simultaneously addressing all the side effects of CO2 build up such as ocean acidification.   Pumping down CO2 from the atmosphere is a very large technical problem, but reasonable proposals do exist.  These include freezing CO2 out of the atmosphere and storing it in giant refrigerators, dumping iron into the ocean to encourage algae blooms that may pump down CO2, encouraging natural rock weathering, and my own proposal to use industrial chemicals and Buckyballs to pump down CO2 over Antarctica leading to burial of the CO2  in the East Antarctic Ice Sheet.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Global Warming and the 1899 Gold Rush to Nome, Alaska

                                          Gold Dredge on Second Beach in Nome Alaska

In 1899 gold was discovered in the beaches along the shores of the Bering Sea in northwest Alaska.  By 1900 over 10,000 people were panning and digging and sluicing for gold in the beach sand while living in a huge tent city that  stretched for 30 miles along the coast.   The gold rush city of Nome was being built just behind the gold-bearing beach sands, and by 1904 enough boards, nails, and alcohol had been shipped north to build dozens of saloons and brothels, along with a respectable number of churches, schools, and stores selling mining supplies and other goods.  There was even a newspaper and a downtown district with electric lights.  

By 1905 Nome was a thriving city, but the gold mining on the beach was starting to play out.  What Nome needed to keep going was another beach filled with gold.  But where they could they find another beach filled with gold?

Miners are resourceful people, and soon enough they found two new beaches, which they named "Second Beach" and "Third Beach."  But Second Beach and Third Beach were not located along the shores of the Bering Sea---they were found miles inland from the current beach, and at elevations lying 10 m to 100 m higher then the current level of the the ocean.

In the century since the Nome gold rush, gold miners have traced and excavated almost all the beach sands of the Second Beach and Third Beach.  They've exposed and mined not only beach sand occurring high above modern sea level, but also ancient sand spits and ancient deltas built into the ocean when it stood higher then it does today.  Most recently huge gold dredges were brought to Nome to excavate these beach sands.  I visited the last operating Gold Dredge in Nome about 10 years ago, and it was still excavating its way along a segment of Second Beach.  

The discovery of Second Beach and Third Beach at Nome marks the first recognition that sea level had been much higher in the recent geologic past then it is today.  Modern research indicates that Second Beach formed about 125,000 years ago, when sea level was about 7-12 m higher then it is today.  Third Beach formed about 400,000 years ago, when sea level was even higher.  

Sea levels are rising around the world today due to global warming.  Unless Greenhouse gases like CO2 and CH4 are kept out of the atmosphere by global treaty or removed by geoengineering, Earth will continue to warm and sea level will continue to rise.  How high will sea level rise?  You can see for yourself by visiting Nome and walking along Second Beach, created 125,000 years ago when the Earth was just a bit warmer then it is today.


Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster and Sea Level Rise due to Global Warming

                              But the computer model said the tsunami wouldn't be this high!

There are two ways of evaluating geologic hazards.  The first way is to develop sophisticated and complex computer models that will numerically reproduce the geologic process that is being studied.  Then, based on the computer model, various scenarios can be tested and an evaluation can be made of just how great various geologic hazards are and what areas are most likely to be affected.   Computer models define hazards based on assumptions about the nature of future events.

The second way to evaluate geologic hazards is to study the geology of the area at risk to determine what has actually happened there in the past.  The premise of this approach is that if some geologic event has happened in the past, it is possible it will also happen in the future.  The geologic studies define a maximum credible event that can occur in the future based on what has actually happened in the past.   

Ideally these are complementary approaches---the geologic data showing what has actually happened in the past can provide a test and a calibration of the accuracy of the predictions made by computer models.  However, it doesn't always work that way in practice.   Consider the recent Fukushima Disaster in Japan, where an earthquake generated a tsunami wave that damaged the Fukushima nuclear plant.  

Before the nuclear plant was built the Japanese created sophisticated models of earthquakes and tsunami generation, and based on the computer models they believed that the Fukushim nuclear plant site was too high above sea level to be affected by tsunamis.   Based on the predictions of those computer models, the Fukushima nuclear power plant complex was approved and built.

However, a geologic hazards analysis came to a very different conclusion.  Deposits of the 869 A.D. Jogon tsunami can be found widely in the Fukushima region, including at the nuclear plant site.  Based on the geologic data, the maximum credible event was a tsunami large enough to damage the Fukushima nuclear power plant.   And, of course, on March 2012 another tsunami similar in size to the 869 Jogon tsunami occurred and destroyed the Fukushima nuclear power plant.  With hindsight it is clear the numerical models significantly underestimated the actual hazards, because the modelers did not completely understand the natural system they were modeling.

Global Climate Models (GCMs) are among the most sophisticated numerical models ever created.  They attempt to model Earth's climate by defining interactions for every natural process in the atmosphere, ocean, biosphere, and cryosphere.   Many of these processes are not well understood.  One lesson of the Fukushima disaster is that predictions from computer models shouldn't be accepted unskeptically, especially if the processes they are modeling are not completely understood.  One risk is that serious hazards may be underestimated if the hazards appraisal is solely based on the GCM output.  If possible, GCM predictions should be tested and calibrated based on geologic studies of past climate change just as other numerical models of hazards are tested and calibrated.

Perhaps the greatest danger from Global Climate Change is sea level rise, as millions of people live in coastal areas that are at risk.  The International Panel on Climate Change used GCMs to estimate that sea level would rise by at most 1 meter by the year 2100.  But many glaciologists think sea level rise could be much greater based on recent increases in the amount of glacier melt occurring in Antarctica and Greenland.  

What is the maximum credible sea level rise event based on the geologic evidence of past climate change?   Data from around the world shows that sea level reached five meters above current levels during the last interglacial period.   The geologic evidence is very clear----if Greenhouse Warming continues unabated, we are highly likely to see 5 m (15 feet) of sea level rise in the future.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Global Warming and Tlaloc, the God of Lightning

Tlaloc---Aztec God of Lightning 

Who makes the lightning?

 In Athens in 600 BC it was thought the god Zeus hurled lightning bolts at the earth.  Move to Rome 500 years later and Jupiter had the job of making lightning.  When the Spanish Conquistadors reached the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan (modern Mexico City), they found huge statues of an Aztec god of rain and lighting called Tlaloc.    Almost every religion and cultural tradition associated lightning with the gods----Norse mythology had Thor, Finnish mythology had Ukko, and Hindus still venerate Indra.  Even the great monotheistic religions get in the act----for instance the Prophet Muhammad ascribed the origin of lightning to an angel, saying:

"It is one of God's angels in charge of the clouds.  He carries in his hand a skewer of fire by which he pricks the clouds to drive them to where God has ordered them.  They say to him, "What is this sound that we hear?"  He said:  "It [the thunder] is his voice"

Soon it will be Global Climate Change that will be creating the lightning.  Lightning is created when warm air masses collide with cold air masses in the atmosphere.  Lightning occurs particularly frequently in tropical ares where large rapidly rising cumulus clouds are generated, and flashes of lightning seen in the far distance are sometimes called "heat lightning."   Global Warming will bring more heat, and more heat will also bring more lightning.  Based on likely models of the amount of atmospheric warming produced by the growing concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere, the amount of lightning around the planet may go up by about 50%.   Only a very small percentage of lightning bolts actually strike the earth, but the number of lightning strikes will likely increase as well.

Since it is estimated that there are about 1.4 billion lightning discharges each year, global warming is going to be responsible for about 700 million extra bolts of lightning each year----and thats a heck of a lot more lightning then Tlaloc is making these days.

           Global Warming will soon produce an additional 700,000,000 lightning bolts each year

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Buckyball Geoengineering

                                                                 Buckyballs (C60)

Most Geoengineering concepts involve scaling up natural processes, but there is no reason why geoengineering should be restricted in this way. The CO2 Antarctic Pumpdown (CAP) geoengineering concept I am advocating is different in that I propose (1) utilizing modern industrial processes on a large scale to pump down CO2 from the atmosphere, and then (2) storing the industrial solvents and CO2 in the Antarctic Ice Sheet.  

The utilization of the Antarctic Ice Sheet for storing anthropogenic CO2 removed from the atmosphere has the advantages of being environmentally safe and inexpensive.  There is no natural biosphere that can be disturbed on the high plateaus of the ice sheet---indeed there is no native life at all.  If CO2 can be removed from the atmosphere over Antarctic by industrial processes, then it snow will bury it at no expense and it will be safely trapped in the ice for hundreds of thousands of years.

Pumping down large amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere is problematical.  Several different industrial processes can currently do this, but they are expensive and chemically complex.

New research on Buckyballs---spherical molecules made of carbon that are also called Fullerene, and named after Buckerminister Fuller in honor of his pioneering work on the geometry of geodesic domes, suggests that these nano particles might be the ideal substances for pumping down CO2.   New research shows that Buckyballs, when combined with amines, can capture up to a fifth of their own weight in CO2.  The CO2 will be released back to the air if the Buckyballs are heated---but that wouldn't be an issue for Buckyballs and CO2 stored in the Antarctic Ice Sheet under the CAP proposal.

Buckyballs are now under consideration for capturing CO2 released at coal or natural gas fired electrical power plants.  But by scaling up the concept and using Buckyballs as part of a Planetary Geoengineering program,  CO2 could be pumped down from the atmosphere as a whole.  There are environmental concerns about the effects of nano particles released into the environment.  But there is no organic biosphere in central Antarctica, so the risk of using nano particles there would be minimal, especially when compared to the severe environmental damage projected to be caused by global warming.  

Nanoparticles---meet Geoengineering!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Dangerous Geomorphology of Deltas

                                                               The Ganges Delta, Bangladesh

Deltas were always going to be a problem.  Deltas form where rivers dump sediment into the ocean, and form vast low-lying plains that lie only a few feet above sea level.  Because deltas are flat and well-irrigated, delta areas like the Ganges River Delta in Bangladesh (above) are some of the most densely populated areas on Earth.  If sea levels rises by about a meter over the next 80 years, as climatologists with the UN IPCC project predict, hundreds of millions of people will be displaced and millions of acres of farmland will be lost.

If that wasn't bad enough, deltas have another problem.  Because deltas are built by annual floods, the sediments will consolidate over time so that the elevation of deltas tend to decrease over time unless new floods deposit fresh sediment across the delta every few years.  But human-constructed levees and other flood control infrastructure along rivers flowing across deltas stop floods, and keep the sediment within the river channel.  At places like the Mississippi Delta (below), the levee systems help direct the sediment down the channel all the way to the ocean.  The flood control projects have helped preserve a long skinny "birds foot" delta, but have starved the surrounding parts of the delta of sediment.  The result is the rate of local sea level rise at deltas with levee systems like those on the Mississippi River may be 2-3 times greater then the background rate of global sea level rise, because the land itself is locally sinking.    By trying to protect delta areas from river floods, we have unintentionally made them more susceptible to being drowned by rising sea levels.

                                    The Mississippi River Delta, USA

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Is it Time to get that Beachfront Property on the Arctic Ocean?

                                         Retrodiction and Prediction of Climate Change

While there is a great deal of controversy over whether or not human activities are causing the  Earth to get warmer, there should be no doubt that large global climate changes are a basic part of the history of the Earth.   Over the last few million years the Earth has repeatedly swung between intervals of very cold climate known as Ice Ages or Glaciations  and warmer intervals when Ice Sheets melted known as Interglaciations.  The diagram above show the last 450,000 years of earth history during which four glaciations and five interglaciations occurred.  For the last 10,000 years or so the earth has been in the most recent interglaciation.

When you compare the current interglacial to past interglacials on the figure two things are immediately apparent.  The current interglacial is LONGER then most past interglacials.  The earth normally briefly spikes into warm conditions, and then grows cooler and cooler over periods of time lasting 50-80,000 years.  This interglacial has stayed unusually warm, possibly because human activity such as rice farming, forest clearing, etc. has been modifying the earth's climate for as long as 10,000 years.  The human influence on this interglaciation is so significant that some scientists wish to call the most recent warm period on the Earth the Anthropocene, to signify the role humans are playing.  The second interesting thing is that the last four interglacials were all WARMER then the current interglaciation, showing that there is no natural limit that would restrict the Earth from getting warmer now in response to human CO2 loading of the atmosphere.  

In the plot above, the red line shows past temperatures reconstructed from isotopic changes.  The green line shows temperature forcing due to CO2 in the atmosphere.  Past temperatures on Earth are highly correlated with past Greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere.

Based on this evidence of a strong and close relationship between Greenhouse gas forcing and temperature changes in the past, it is reasonable to predict future temperatures for various levels of CO2 concentration in the atmosphere.  Extrapolating from current trends in CO2 production, atmospheric CO2 will rise to levels that will  result in average future global temperatures increasing by ca. 6° C (10° F) over the next century or so.  As the figure shows, these temperatures will be far above any seen over the last 450,000 years.    

But before you use this inside info to rush out and be the first to buy beachfront property along the beautiful and still undeveloped Arctic Ocean coastline of Alaska or Svalbard or northern Siberia, consider that during the last four interglaciations part of the Greenland Ice Sheet melted, and sea level rose to levels 5 m (15 feet) higher then current sea level, and that was at lower temperatures then we are heading for soon.  So when picking out the ideal spot to build your Arctic beach cabana, remember to limit your search to hills at least 20 or 30 feet high when shopping for the ideal beachfront building site along the Arctic Ocean.  

   Make your move --- buy land now at what is sure to be the next beach resort hotspot

Monday, December 1, 2014

Geoengineering with Rocks

                                                            How a Geoengineer cracks rocks

Most geoengineering schemes proposed to combat Greenhouse Warming by artificially cooling the planet are really just scaled up versions of natural processes.  For instance, plants use CO2 to grow so one geoengineering idea is to encourage the planting of tree farms to pump down CO2.  Clouds block sunlight, so perhaps creating artificial clouds would be beneficial.  Volcanoes cool the planet, so artificially putting volcano-like aerosols into the upper atmosphere could replicate and expand upon this effect, and so on.

The chemical weathering of rocks also involves processes that take CO2 from the atmosphere.  So of course there are geoengineering schemes based upon artificially enhancing the natural weathering of rocks.  At first glance this seems like a great idea, but there is one serious flaw intrinsic to this particular geoengineering  plan.  Rocks must undergo a process known as "physical" or "mechanical" weathering before they are chemically weathered and interact with CO2.  The mechanical weathering processes produces cracks and fracture and breaks the rock apart.   Without mechanical weathering only the outermost skin of rocks will be subject to chemical weathering, as water and air will only be able to come into contact with the rock's outermost surface.

Unfortunately, rocks are stubborn things and are't easy to break into pieces.  Mining operations typically have huge facilities dedicated to milling, crushing, grinding, and processing rocks, and climate geoengineering based on artificially inducing rock weathering would have to rely heavily on these kinds of industrial facilities to crush the rocks.  This geoengineering scheme would involving scaling up something far, far larger than the entire modern mining industry to mine rocks and crush the rocks.  Only after millions of tons of rocks were mined and crushed could an artificial natural chemical weathering processes even be started on the broken rock fragments.

But wait a cotton-picking minute here----isn't one of the reasons we've have so much human-generated CO2 in the atmosphere in the first place that factories and industrial facilities around the planet release huge amounts of CO2?   How is creating thousands of new mines dedicated to mining millions of tons of rocks, and then crushing the rocks in thousands of industrial facilities actually going to reduce CO2?   

Clearly you would have to create a huge alternative carbon-fee energy system to power the huge mines, and this would be in addition to the creation of a huge alternative carbon-free energy system to power society, or this shame would wind up producing far more carbon then it pumps down. 

I think mining for carbon reduction is an oxymoron.