the Air Vent

Because the world needs another opinion

Where Has All the Carbon Gone?

Posted by Jeff Id on March 4, 2010

This post covers a very important topic which is a new interest of mine.  Understanding how climate works is a series of layers, in this case DeWitt discovered some interesting discrepancies between atmospheric carbon models and measured results.

Guest post by DeWitt Payne.


Where Has All the Carbon Gone?

(Sung to the tune of Where Have All the Flowers Gone?)


I want to thank Harry (comments #22 #39 in the Mike Hulme – Consensus Science thread) for getting me started on this. This was going to be a short post, but the more I thought about it, the more I needed to explain.

Carbon is going missing.  We know to a reasonable approximation how much carbon is being emitted to the atmosphere by burning fossil fuel and land use changes.  But the concentration in the atmosphere isn’t going up as fast as expected.  Where is it going and what will be the long term effect?  I don’t have the answer, but I’ve learned some things by looking at the data that weren’t obvious in relation to what I’ve previously read about the carbon cycle. This is important, because any strategy for stabilization of atmospheric CO2 is completely dependent on our understanding of the carbon cycle.

What is the carbon cycle?  Carbon exists in various forms and reservoirs.  Many of these exchange carbon with each other at different rates.  The major reservoirs are, in no particular order, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, carbonate rocks (limestone and dolomite, e.g.) dissolved inorganic carbon in surface water and the ocean (carbonic acid, bicarbonate and carbonate ions and suspended calcium carbonate), fossil fuels (various forms of coal, oil shale, tar sands, petroleum and natural gas) and organic carbon in the biosphere on land and in the ocean.  The seasonal, annual and centennial scale exchanges between these reservoirs are components of the carbon cycle that are of interest. Millennial scale or longer exchange times are too slow to be of interest for modeling the effect of fossil fuel combustion and land use changes on atmospheric carbon dioxide and its potential effect on climate.

IPCC Carbon Cycle Model

The IPCC AR4 WG1 report uses the following model of the carbon cycle to determine the effect of carbon emissions on atmospheric CO2 concentration:

The CO2 response function used in this report is based on the revised version of the Bern Carbon cycle model used in Chapter 10 of this report (Bern2.5CC; Joos et al. 2001) using a background CO2 concentration value of 378 ppm. The decay of a pulse of CO2 with time t is given by

ao = sum[i = 1,2,3] (ai e -t/Tau i)  — Sorry for the nomenclature, my screen capture isn’t set up since the hd kicked the bucket – Jeff

Where a0 = 0.217, a1 = 0.259, a2 = 0.338, a3 = 0.186, τ1 = 172.9 years, τ2 = 18.51 years, and τ3 = 1.186 years.

So what does that mean?  There are three reservoirs other than the atmosphere where carbon can go.  They equilibrate at different rates.  At equilibrium after an addition of CO2, 21.7% will remain in the atmosphere, 25.9% will be in a reservoir with a time constant of 172.9 years, probably intermediate depth in the ocean, 33.8% will be in a reservoir with a time constant of 18.51 years, probably the near surface ocean, and 18.6% will be in a reservoir with a time constant of 1.186 years, probably the ocean surface layer. I’ll need to introduce the concept of a continuous flow stirred reactor to show how the math applies.

Take two tanks each containing 100 kg of water.  Each tank is well stirred.  If I replace 1 kg of water with 1 kg of sodium chloride in tank 1, then the concentration of salt will be 1% in tank 1 and 0% in tank 2.  Now I take 10 kg of solution from each tank and place it in the other.  The concentration of NaCl in tank 1 is 0.9% and 0.1% in tank 2. If I keep doing this once an hour, the concentration with time looks like this:

If I subtract the equilibrium concentration of 0.5 from the tank 1 results, I can fit the data with an exponential function.  That makes the equation describing the concentration with time in tank 1 equal to:

Or, to put the exponent in the same form as the IPCC equation, it would equal –t/4.482.  So the equation constant represents the ratio of the volumes of the tanks and the time constant is proportional to the residence time, a function of the flow rate between the two tanks and the volumes of the tanks. If I continuously pump between the tanks at a flow rate of 10kg/hour, the time constant becomes equal to half the time necessary to completely replace the tank volume or 5 hours.

So the IPCC model has four tanks and the flows are only between tank 1, the atmosphere, and each of the other tanks with no flow between the other tanks.  Does it work?  Well, it turns out that there is test data available.  The Law Dome ice core has annual CO2 concentration from 1832 to 1978 and Mauna Loa CO2 data runs from 1959 to the present.  Total fossil fuel and cement production and land use CO2 emissions data are also available from 1850 to 2005.  I can treat each year as a separate pulse of CO2 and let it decay over time then sum the total concentration for each year.  I can use Trenberth’s conversion factor for Mt carbon to ppmv CO2 of 2130 MtC/ppmv.  Then I can plot the Law Dome and Mauna Loa data on the same graph using a secondary y axis to correct for the initial offset.  When I do that I get this graph:

I was quite surprised that the fit from 1850 to about 1940 was so good.  But then see what happens.  To show in more detail, I can subtract offset adjusted model concentration from the measured concentration here;


Obviously, CO2 is going away compared to the model.  There was a major shift about 1937 resulting in the loss of quite a lot of CO2 from the system, on the order of 100,000 MtC when you correct for the transfer to the other reservoirs.  The loss has not increased since about 1993, but who knows how much longer that will continue? It’s possible that carbon emissions have been overestimated for the 50 years from 1940 to 1990, but what does that say about our ability to forecast emissions for the next 100 years? Combine an overestimate of how much emissions end up in the atmosphere with extremely optimistic scenarios of fossil fuel consumption for the next 100 years and it becomes very hard to place much confidence in the forecasts whatever one thinks about the accuracy of model predictions of mean temperature.

122 Responses to “Where Has All the Carbon Gone?”

  1. harry said

    @ DeWitt Payne,

    Nice work. I have also done some more digging. I have posted it up at Tom Fuller’s blog on the big questions. I will copy it here.


    The ICPP has modelled CO2 content of the atmosphere using the Bern model with parameters that result in 20% of an emitted CO2 pulse to remain forever in the atmosphere. The authors of this study (Joos et al 2001 Glob. BioGeoChem. Cyc 15:891) have just published a study in Nature 2010 463: 527 to evaluate the forcing of CO2 as function of temperature. They used 9 hockeysticks, which between them share many proxies, to test the effect of the LIA temperature increase on release of CO2 by oceans. Instead of the expected 40 ppm/K, they found 8 ppm/K. In a paper on 14C CO2 of the nuclear bomb age it was found that 14CO2 declined to 50% after 12 years (Levin et al 2010, Tellus B 62B:26). The Bern model, used by ICPP is physically wrong. They ignore the rapid recycling of stored carbon due to biomass burning (Vay et al 2009. Atmos. Chem. Phys 9: 4973) which is why they have to assume a magical compartment in the atmosphere in which CO2 is trapped forever. Hit by their own hockeysticks?

    I think you have exposed an additional flaw in this model. I will check on it today.

    Thanks, Harry

  2. Terry said

    Jeff, there was some recent work published somewhere (I cant remember where, and I didnt download it), but it was to do with micro-organisms sequestering CO2 into CaCO3 (shells) that were increasing their rate of shell production as a result of increased ocean CO2(g), H2CO3 and HCO3 species. This of course results in permanent removal of CO2 and its aqueous products when the shells deposit on the seabed. Might be worth trying to find it.

  3. DeWitt,
    The discrepancy really comes down to an apparent pause from about 1939 to 1950. But just 3 cores doesn’t give much resolution. The first core has data about every nine years. The second has only one year’s data between 1940 and 1970. The third, DSS, has data about every 5 years. Then to all this, they fit a 20-year smooth. I think it would be advisable to plot the scatter of the readings as well as the smooth.

    What did you do about pre-1850? Do you just assume zero? With a 173 year time constant, it’s quite significant. Pre-1850 industrial emission was low, but land use looks like it may have been quite high. The decay of these pre-1850 emissions would bring down the model predictions.

  4. Luke Warmer said

    I remember being taught about “the missing sink” for carbon dioxide during a late 80s Environmental Chemistry module.

    Haven’t really kept track of developments on that since:


  5. KimW said

    A missing sink, flawed models ?. It is quite incredible and beyond belief that these massive economic changes have been set in motion based on incomplete science. I would have thought that they would have been double checking using independent means to establish the CO2 cycle.

    But wait, it is climate science, or more accurately, the rebirth of the Dutch Tulip Craze. So few actually ask if it is correct.

  6. Tony Hansen said

    3.Nick Stokes
    What is ‘an apparent pause’?

  7. dfbaskwill said

    “But wait, it is climate science, or more accurately, the rebirth of the Dutch Tulip Craze. So few actually ask if it is correct.”

    An interesting take on the Warming Scam! Hopefully our tulips will be appearing soon, and the carbon trading bubble will totally burst by then.

  8. Peter Dunford said

    Surely the land and sea based biomass should also be included as a sink? I recall reading somewhere that the biomass content of the rainforests have increased 8% as measured by satellites over the last 20 years (I remember the 8% the time period is less certain). This is not modelled in the GCM’s either because we have no real idea as to the amount of carbon in use.

    A further area not measurable is the sequestration in man made “things”. As the population grows, we need more clothes, furniture, buildings etc. This has to have variable short to long term effects.

  9. harry said


    And the most strange thing about this single most important formula of the IPCC report is that I could not find how it was computed. They refer to Joos2001, but I must have overlooked it. Can anybody point out where I am missing? The deviation DeWitt observes can also been seen in Fig 2 of Joos et al 2001. In this case the observed CO2 is above the modelled line, which underestimates the observed CO2 before 1950. A change in increase of the observed CO2 is apparent between 1940 and 1970 (eyeballed). So they must have used different coefficients to compute their model compared to the IPCC one.

  10. [...] of atmospheric CO2 is completely dependent on our understanding of the carbon cycle.Read it all: Where Has All the Carbon Gone? « the Air Vent.Possibly related posts:Now satellite radiation data debunks global warming theoryReader asks, [...]

  11. Alan D McIntire said

    Terry, I think this is the link you were referring to.

  12. Leonard Weinstein said

    If you look at and examine the steepest slopes of the monthly variation of CO2 at Mauna Loa, you get a slope of .053 per year. This implies a time constant of 19 years. Since the Southern and Northern hemispheres are 180 degrees out of phase for seasons, this is actually only the difference in hemisphere response, and mainly due to the land differences. Thus the actual time constant of seasonal variation would be much shorter if only one hemisphere were involved. In addition, the lag of ocean heating and cooling to temperature (thermal inertia) further decrease the peak effect. I would expect the net true time constant to be a fraction of 19 years. The radiation released by bomb testing gave a value of less than 10 years for a time constant. These two facts tend to support the several studies that claimed less than 10 year time constants. In addition, the time constant is of little value other than showing how long a response to a change in input would take to respond. Water vapor has a short time constant but is continually renewed, so running levels, not time constants are the important issues (if there are even any issues to consider).

  13. Ruhroh said

    Dear Sir;
    Another thought-provoking piece, thanks for the effort.

    Here’s a small serving of the local brain salad;

    1 What fraction of the burnt fuel was soot instead of OCO?
    If not for soot, we wouldn’t have PlayDoh, originally sold as wallpaper-cleaner…
    2. If 20% of burnt carbon is forever in the atmosphere, that says disaster is inevitable unless All OCO (both natural and manmade) emissions are halted. Is that really part of the IPCCC model?
    3. It would be really handy if the purportedly relevant papers mentioned @9 were linked and thus accessible to bystanders.


  14. timetochooseagain said

    Well if we assume that it is being absorbed by increasingly hungry plant life, we might have something that works!

    Of course, that would be good news, so it can’t be that.

  15. Ruhroh said


    Those WHRC (I think the real science guys, not the name-grabbing pretender group?) guys have a nice graph of fluxes,
    albeit in PetaGrams (?) of Carbon /year.

    Is it hard to extract numbers from a Gif? Never tried this…


  16. Tom Bakewell said

    Somewhere in the midst of all of this complexity the carbonate compensation depth also has to do with sequestering carbon as carbonate in the oceans.

    Here’s a link.

    I do not understand all that I read here, but I keep trying and I very much value your efforts at exposing real data to real analysis.

  17. DeWitt Payne said

    Re: Nick Stokes (Mar 4 06:07),

    I extended the model backwards assuming a constant emission of 500 MtC/year (equal to 1850 land use). After correcting the offset to match the average from 1850 to 1900, it only makes about 3 ppm difference and looks like it’s starting to under predict the CO2 in 1800. I also plotted the individual data points for the three ice cores going back to 1794 for the longest core ( see new graph here ). It still looks like something happened to either suck up CO2 between 1940 and 1990 or the total emission was substantially overestimated during that period. Either one makes trying to project scenarios into the future look very iffy. The error range is going to expand very rapidly.

  18. DeWitt Payne said

    Re: Peter Dunford (Mar 4 09:16),

    Biomass sequestration is included in the land use CO2 emission numbers. The US, Europe and China currently have negative land use emissions. But they’re overwhelmed by positive emissions from tropical regions.

  19. DeWitt Payne said

    Re: Ruhroh (Mar 4 11:49),

    Petagrams (Pg, the proper SI nomenclature) C is the same as gigatonnes (Gt) C or 1,000 megatonnes (Mt) C. The unidentified sink represents about 25% of the total accumulation and is not included in the IPCC model.

  20. DeWitt Payne said

    Re: harry (Mar 4 09:37),

    I could get the model to fit post 1960 data by changing the constant, but, as you pointed out, it would underestimate pre 1950 measurements. Empirical fits like that are only good for the fitted range. Extrapolating 10 to 20% (which amounts to five or ten years) beyond the range may be ok, but extending by a factor of two, i.e. to 2100, is pushing things way too far.

  21. kim said

    To follow up on Terry’s point in #2, it seems inevitable that the processes by which the sun acts on biomass to virtually permanently sequester carbon underground in the form of carbonates and hydrocarbons will be enabled by feedback mechanisms enhanced by a higher concentration of CO2. It’s also not beyond the realm of imagination to think that feedback mechanisms not even working now will come into existence.

    In other words, higher concentrations of CO2 will probably shorten the residence time of any given aliquot of anthropogenic CO2.

  22. DeWitt Payne said

    Re: Leonard Weinstein (Mar 4 11:01),

    I can get a really good fit to the seasonal variation in CO2 at Mauna Loa using the seasonal variation in southern hemisphere temperature with a short lag and a short time constant. Barrow, AK seasonal variation seems to be more closely related to high latitude insolation than temperature. I should finish that work and write it up.

  23. I have a plot of the pulse response here:

    The function never goes to zero; not that a plot is needed to realise that. It does not seem to be in keeping with the usual accumulation of emissions model. I have played about with the model briefly but could not get a good fit to MLO CO2.

  24. M. Simon said

    The time constants matter. Suppose your model winds up at some point with “infinite gain” i.e. a tipping point. And suppose that shows up as “next year” with the “correct” model. How do you “fix” that obviously untenable result? Long time constants. Say long enough to push the “tipping point” out past 100 years. Then you only “forecast” for 100 years because after that the results can’t be relied on. Now long time constants and high gain are a guarantee of oscillation (in the models if not reality) but if you put your “out of control” point far enough in the future and truncate properly no one will notice. Just basic control theory.

    I tried to bring this up with Willis Eschenbach but he wasn’t biting.

  25. M. Simon said

    Is it hard to extract numbers from a Gif? Never tried this…

    I have used Paint and a calculator (I was doing log intervals) it works pretty good. You also wind up with grid marks that are useful if you want to go back and have another look at a later date.

  26. harry said

    @M. Simon,

    You are just following my way identical way of reasoning (or I am follwing you, whatever you prefer). I would suggest to make a systems approach (actually this has alreday been done: Li et al. 2009, Tellus 61B: 361-371), make a Nyquist diagram of the positive feedback and see what happens . Fortunately, time constants are not that long as can be derived from fig.2 in Levin et al 2010, Tellus 62B: 26-46.

  27. timetochooseagain said

    I seem to recall that the IPCC was for years assuming that CO2 had a compound interest rate of increase of 1% per year when in reality it’s closer to half a percent. Could be related.

  28. harry said


    The compound interest rate of CO2 was stated to be 40 ppmv/deg C. This has now been debunked to be most likely 8 ppmv/deg C. (Nature 2010 463: 527). Which is 80% less.

  29. RB said

    More a note to self to follow up on really …
    Joos seems to talk about a large anomalous ocean sink around 1940 apparently attributed to a higher than normal El Nino activity.

    There are a bunch of links there showing good relationship with models for the last 150 years (Bern Model, 2001) as well as the last 10,000 years (2004). If so, the question then is whether equations are an approximation for model behavior.

  30. RB said

    Maybe Nick might be able to clarify for Harry #28

  31. Inge said

    I’ve used the freeware program engauge,
    to digitize and extract numbers from performance curves etc.

    As for the vertical mixing, I recently saw that mixing from the vertical migration of jellyfish, shrimps and such are probably of the same magnitude as that of wind and tides. This should have an impact on those time constants.

  32. harry said


    Maybe it is good to read Frank et al 2010. yourself before commenting that I need to be enligthened.

  33. harry said


    And the most ironic part of it al: because Frank et al. 2010 used the Nature approved hockeysticks to calibrate their temperature record before trying to estimate gamma, they ended up with this low value of gamma. Had they used denier-type temperature recontructions, with a high midieval warming period followed by a very cold LIA, they would have found….. 40 ppmv/deg C or more. Hit by their own hockeystick, as it were.

  34. Gary P said

    Here is a nice graph comparing the CO2 lifetime used by the IPCC vs. other studies.

  35. harry said

    @Gary P,

    I know this nice graph, but it lacks any recent observations (Except the IPCC 2007), which is why I added the ref to Levin et al 2010.

  36. actually thoughtful said

    # 33, many others – can you state 40ppmv/deg C in a sentence? I am confused as to what that is saying: Every 40ppmv gives us another degree C? – that seems like a lot of warming. Every degree C coughs up another 40ppmv (or 8ppmv) of CO2? Something else that makes more sense (he wrote hopefully…)

    Thank you.

  37. M. Simon said


    My math is not that strong in the relevant area. Nor am I conversant with the ins and outs of the data. That is why I posted my suggestion.

    What I find interesting is that although there was once a lot of chatter about tipping points from the warmist “scientists” that has gone rather quiet. I think they were touting a model defect as another big scare and then decided that if some one looked into it they would tumble to the fudges. Of course that is just sociological speculation. But given what has been going on probably not unreasonable speculation.

  38. harry said


    Sorry, it means that 40 parts per million in volume (this boils down to 40 ml or cubic centimeter of CO2 gas in a cubic meter (ppmv) of CO2 will be released from the source (mostly oceans and the biosphere) after 1 degree Celsius temperature increase. It was one of the scary parameters, which would contribute to runaway heating, since the released CO2 would again cause temperature increase and so on). It is considered the second important positive feedback factor in global warming. The value of 40 ppmv/deg Celsius is mentioned in the paper of Frank et al 2010.

  39. Andrew said

    28-the “compound interest rate” I was talking about has NOTHING to do with temperature, so a ratio to degrees C is irrelevant.

    The interest rate is just the percent increase from one year to the next.

  40. actually thoughtful said

    Thanks Harry. So 8ppmv/deg C is a less scary outcome. If doubling of CO2 gives us 3C, then we are only adding an additional 24ppmv (ie doubling CO2 from 230 to 460ppm). Is it true that the amount of increase in C per doubling is called sensitivity? And that the aftershock from that doubling is called gamma (here the 8ppmv))?

    How robust is the 8ppmv if it truly would be 40ppmv if the warming period were warmer and the ice age colder? I find the hockey stick’s relevance to climate change on the small side (sorry to all of you who are so vested in the hockey stick on all sides – it is good to understand it). I focus on what is happening now, and what seems very knowable.

    When I read about the lower ppmv (on realclimate of all places) I took it as good news. But if the 8ppmv is only true if the hockey stick is very straight – that puts us right back in the frying pan.

  41. harry said


    I know the details, but what you are referring to is a feedback which is effected via an intermediate. It is not money generating money (dimensionless), it is CO2 increasing temperature, expressed as : rise of temperature in degrees Celsius per ppm increase of CO2), followed by temperature increasing CO2. So it will have to have a unit dimension definition of: unit CO2 released per unit temperature increase. But the two together are dimensionless, so they actually work like compounded interest rate. And then you can apply the regular mortgage calculus on it.

  42. harry said


    You are completely right with your reasoning. But now comes the complicating factor: the IPCC model relies on CO2 halflife times in the atmosphere of hundreds of years. The example I mentioned about 14C carbon (released by the open air testing of nuclear weapons in the 1960′s) shows that the average amount of carbon in the atmosphere decays to half the amount in 12 years. This means that all carbon that we humans release by burning carbon, half of it will be transferred from the atmosphere to any other compartment of this planet. It means that not 100% of the carbon in the atmosphere is due to human burning, it boils down to about 5 to 10% of the atmospheric carbon which is directly (and this is important!) related to human burning of carbon rich fuels. The consequence is that release of CO2 due to increasing temperatures becomes more prevalent than the models can tolerate. And do not forget: the models only reproduce whatever you put into it as starting values!

  43. RB said

    In Joos96, he issues some caveats for his simple carbon cycle models, if I understand correctly that the representations are based on assuming that ocean circulation does not vary with time:

  44. harry said


    Joos et al have published a truckload of papers since 1996 ignoring many of their own caveats.

  45. RB said

    On the definition(s) of atmospheric lifetime:
    There are rival definitions of a lifetime for anthropogenic
    CO2. One is the average amount of time that individual carbon atoms spend in the atmosphere
    before they are removed, by uptake into the ocean or the terrestrial biosphere. Another is the
    amount of time it takes until the CO2 concentration in the air recovers substantially toward its
    original concentration. The difference between the two definitions is that exchange of carbon
    between the atmosphere and other reservoirs affects the first definition, by removing specific
    CO2 molecules, but not the second because exchange does not result in net CO2 drawdown. The
    misinterpretation that has plagued the question of the atmospheric lifetime of CO2 seems to arise
    from confusion of these two very different definitions.

  46. harry said


    In Biology, metabolism, equilibrium equations, all do not care: they have all their parameters defined as halflife times, equally to the definition in radionulear science. There is no need for different definitions. They only serve one goal: to make things more unclear.

  47. Stephen Mc said

    Off-topic, but Jeff, have you seen this:

    Hydrothermal Vents Discovered Off Antarctica

    The vents are suggested to be near West Antarctica, which would explain the peninsular warming.

    It fits nicely with your Antarctica temperature analysis work.

  48. woodNfish said

    This is important, because any strategy for stabilization of atmospheric CO2 is completely dependent on our understanding of the carbon cycle.

    Sorry DeWitt, you’ve obviously done a lot of work on this, but the fact is we are incapable of stabilizing carbon in the atmosphere and the truth is that there is no reason to do it anyway. All your work is really in pursuit of an idle curiosity.

    Climate science is bunk. There is nothing strange or scary happening with the climate or even the weather. The seasons still come around as always and all the hand wringing is just part of what the previous post describes as scare us, take our rights, scare us some more.

    None of this is of any importance.

  49. RB said

    If I understand correctly, the definition is important to distinguish between transient and permanent changes in atmospheric CO2 concentrations.

  50. harry said


    It is not that simple. I think the main reason for the different views is to be traced back on simple mechanistic properties of CO2, which are defined differently by different groups in the AGW discussion. The values as used in the model which is the basis for the entire IPCC 2007 are bluntly stated: 20% of all CO2 released will stay forever in the atmosphere, the rest will be sequestered in the various compartments with different half lifetimes. This results in a very high level of CO2, which cannot be adressed by the reduction of CO2 release, which in itself is counterproductive. If one on the other hand accepts a physical halflife time for atmospheric CO2 in the range of 5 to 15 years, things become quite different. It opens up the sky for the almost immediate effect for carbon reducing methods, in which a lot of money has been invested already, but it also allows to look beyond the drama and see that nothing of a drama is imminent. With a halflife time of 15 years, less than 20% of the atmospheric CO@ is caused directly by burning coal, the rest is by outgassing of the biological compartments due to temperature rise. Temperatures rise and fall naturally ever since the Earth was born.

  51. RB said

    On the previous thread I linked to Archer’s 2005(?) paper. The 20% does not stay in the atmosphere forever, it is believed to be removed over multi-millennial timescales. The constant is an approximation for the centennial timescales of interest from a mitigation perspective.

  52. RB said

    I think Joos cautions against using his earlier 1996 expressions for greater than 100 year periods.

  53. DeWitt Payne said

    Re: woodNfish (Mar 4 17:29),

    All your work is really in pursuit of an idle curiosity.

    Indeed. I’m retired. What else do I have to do. Besides, you have to understand the nuts and bolts of the theory before you can criticize it intelligently.

    As far a stabilizing atmospheric CO2 in reality, Eli Rabbet made a comment about that on his blog recently quoting the chestnut: when you’re in a hole, stop digging. We can’t stop digging or the hole will fall in on us. A more apt analogy is that we’re on a leaky boat. If we stop bailing, we’ll sink. Of course, there’s a good possibility we’ll sink eventually anyway, but why do it now rather than later? The only way to stop CO2 emissions is either to go back to a hunter/gatherer society, which is impossible at anywhere near current population levels, or come up with a new source of primary energy to replace fossil fuels. We’re not going to be able to do the latter if we don’t keep using fossil fuels now.

  54. DeWitt Payne said

    Re: Stephen Mc (Mar 4 17:26),

    I remember seeing a temperature anomaly map recently that showed a big red spot in the ocean near the Antarctic Peninsula. I bet that’s where the vents are.

  55. harry said


    thanks for your remarks. Multimillenial timescales are like eternity, they do not matter much.
    And I think Joos did not warn in 1996, I think it was his late tutor, Ulli Siegenthaler, who died in 1996.

  56. RB said

    Also, I don’t think the 20% alone is the issue – the remaining 80% is expected to be removed from the atmosphere over 100-300 years, if I remember Archer correctly.

  57. harry said


    20 % is the issue. Integrate over time all the 20% emissions and see what you will get. It is not limited. All models which deal with partioning between compartments use inverse log nat functions. And this is no coincidence. Never do they use percentile functions with fixed values for the partioning. Never.

  58. harry said


    Have you ever done the following experiment on your calculator:
    Enter the value of 1.01. take this to an ever increasing power. Look at it after 100 generations:
    your 1 % increase has become a 2.7 fold multiplication. With 1% annual increase.

  59. RB said

    I’m not saying the 20% is not an issue – but if one is concerned about impact until 2100 (assuming it is an issue etc etc), one is definitely interested in the other 80% as well if much of it is expected to be around in that timeframe.

  60. RB said

    Please Harry, let’s not assume that I don’t understand compound interest. Matter of fact, we’ll long be past fossil fuels in a few generations in any case.

  61. harry said


    Sorry for being a bit too educational. The problem is that the models of the IPCC do not allow for a rapid decrease in the atmospheric CO2 content, even if we all humans, decide at this very moment in time to not release any microgram of CO2 (which would be an effective complete planetary homicide). Since the IPCC has decided that CO2 is the longest living GHG, there is no need to establish its actual physical halflife time. And this information is not used in the CGM’s developed by the IPCC.

    Which to my opinon is more than just dumb.

    I think it is deliberate .

  62. DeWitt Payne said

    Re: RB (Mar 4 17:19),

    You can address the different lifetimes with the stirred tank model. With just two tanks, the equilibration time is the turnover time T where 1/T = 1/t1 + 1/t2, where t1 and t2 are the turnover times of each tank (tank volume/pump rate). But now add another tank to the system with a much slower pump rate, say 0.01 kg/hour instead of 10 kg/hour. Assuming that the third tank is much larger than the other two, there will be a second system time constant of 10,000 hours. Over a period of less than 100 hours, the change in concentration will be small enough to neglect. That’s the relative time scale for transfer to the deep ocean. The geologic time scale for removal by weathering, organic deposition and subduction at the plate boundaries and emission from volcanoes and mid-oceanic ridges is longer than that.

    So the 1/e lifetime of a sodium ion in tank 1 is 5 hours when tank 1 and tank two have the same volume, but the 1/e lifetime of a sodium ion in the tank 1 plus tank 2 system is 10,000 hours.

  63. stumpy said

    I can see some major issues here with carbon cycle models:

    1. We dont really know what historic co2 levels were as they are based on proxies (ice cores) and as was recently confirmed co2 levels are the antarctic are lower in relation to the global mean – this hasnt been accounted for. The chemical gas analysis used for years prior to 1960 used only a small sample of the available data, eliminating high readings as they didnt fit with the theory. So from the start we are testing a model against un-reliable data, not a good start!

    2. I beleive the IPCC model us un-validated – your post merely confirms this – its of no use to anyone. Simplyfing the carbon cycle into 4 linear reservoirs is of course going to be wrong. Nothing in nature is linear or predictable!

    3. There are numberous (about 38) papers published that estimate the co2 lifespan between 2-15 years using c13/c14 analysis etc… these are empirical studies and overide any IPCC model assumtpions which do not co-incide with the data.

    4. The issue with the IPCC carbon model is they started with the assumption that rising co2 since 1850 is entirely due to man, leading to a large carbon sink no-one can find. They tried to explain rises based on a small amount of co2 from man leading to OTT lifecycles. I suspect the warming since the LIA would have led to an exchange of co2 from the oceans to atmosphere (as seen in the Mauna Loa ice core) with warming. This is a well established law. The rising co2 levels since 1960 have a linear correlation to rising ocean temperature in line with this and co2 growth rate changes from year to year correlating well with SST. I would suggest the IPCC have neglected to correctly account for natural co2 changes through reverse logic i.e. assuming co2 leads temperature which is in contradiction to the longer climate record, were co2 rises following warming – as mentioned in the IPCC report.

    5. I suspect there are other elements of the various reservoirs and the flow between them that are dynamic and change with temperature – I do not beleive the IPCC has considered this, most likely due to a lack of information – If the sea warms, there will be increase algeal blooms are more co2 drawn to the sea bed for example.

    6. Garbage in = garbage out. I wouldnt even attempt to model something and draw conclusions from it unless with was based on well understood and proven concepts and calibrated against current records and validated against long term historic records. If the model has not been validated, it no more useful than the musings of a derranged parrot.

    Unfortunetly you can not draw any more conclusions than the IPCC – only that their model is worthless, but everyone already knew that didnt they?

  64. harry said


    Yes we did!

  65. harry said

    Thanks for sharing your blogspace with something you could not have imagined how it would develop. It has been a great honour to me to meet all the people on this blog. I hope I did live up to your expectations.

    And no,
    I am not a climate scientist, *** forbid.
    I am only a humble biologist.
    Thanks, you all

  66. timetochooseagain said

    41-Still not getting it. All I’m talking about is the rate of accumulation, get this notion that I’m describing a feedback out of your head.

    It’s simple, when I say “compound interest rate” I mean to take the concentration in the atmosphere each year, divide it by the previous year’s, subtract 1, multiply by 100, and that’s the percent increase. It turns out this rate is fairly stable over time, although individual years vary a little. That produces what is called a “compound interest exponential” type of curve.

    No temperature involved. Period.

  67. Murray Duffin said

    I think you have to look at history a little differently. In fact you do not have reality tracking the model to ca 1940 and then a mysterious offset. You have a smooth curve departing from the model several years earlier and a flattened spike ca 1937 to 1945 that gives the flat in the Law Dome curve. The flat comes from a major northern hemisphere spike in CO2 from WWII that got flattened as it mixed in the global atmosphere and then got trapped in ice over the time needed for ice closing. I wrote the following a couple of years ago, but don’t know how to transfer the illustrations to this medium. I hope the hot links work. You need to look at the CO2 history this way, and you will find that the models give an unrealistic rate of increase in atmospheric concentration, but tgere is no mysterious missing CO2.


    When Jaworowski first made his claim about Law Dome data being shifted 82 years to connect with Mauna Loa data, he was probably right. If memory serves, I checked his claim about 2004 and found it correct. However checking the Law Dome data now, it appears that the shift is only 30 years. Was something changed after Jaworowski’s congressional testimony?

    The following analysis supports a ca 30 year air/ice age shift, and supports Jaworowski’s contention that pre-industrial CO2 concentration was higher than claimed due to CO2 loss from ice core depressurization. However it seems that the CO2 loss was only about 20 ppm for 1780, and probably no more than 30 ppm for ancient ice.

    1) Rich source of CO2 data. And:


    Data from Ernst Georg Beck 2006

    In Beck’s curve above, readings prior to 1840 seem totally anomalous, and probably should be discarded. The three lowest readings between 1840 and 1850 look plausible. Other readings before 1865 appear questionable.

    If we take the smooth moving average from 1870 to 1960, excluding the peak from 1935 to 1950, Beck’s data seems to be consistently 10 to 15 ppm higher than the ice core data. Let us say 10 ppm to be conservative. If the ice core data is good, then we should conclude that Beck’s data is biased 10 ppm high.

    Going to 1) above we can find 10 sites in the SIO air sampling network, and 8 sites in Germany, plus one in Italy that appear reasonably unbiased. For 1986, the European sites average 346 +- 7 ppm. The 10 SIO sites average 345 +- 2 ppm. Isolated sites in Europe, reasonably unaffected by urban bias are at world average atmospheric CO2 concentrations in 1986. 1980 Law Dome air age is also within 1 ppm of Mauna Loa 1980. It seems then that there is no depressurization loss of CO2 in sampling recent ice with low pressure differential.

    If we take the 3 low 1840 to 1850 readings as good, and correct them for the 10 ppm bias, we have 300 ppm for European air in 1845. If the ice core air/ice age shift can be believed, this would correspond to about 1765 ice. Looking at Law, Siple and Vostok average we find about 280 ppm for 1765. This would suggest a decompression loss of 20 ppm for 200+ year old ice. And a pre-industrial real atmospheric concentration of more like 300 ppm than 280 ppm.

    From the Vostok ice core, making a scatter plot of CO2 concentration vs temperature we find that atmospheric CO2 concentration increases 10 ppm for every 1 degree C rise in temperature. The global average temperature has increased about 1 degree C since 1780, contributing 10 ppm CO2. Therefore the anthropogenic CO2 increase is probably only 70 ppm, rather than the 100 ppm claimed by AGW believers.

    The share of anthropogenic CO2 remaining in the atmosphere may be overstated by 30%.


    Beck data smoothed.

    In 3, taking data only from ca 1865 as good, we can clearly see both WWI and WWII. As noted above, Europe 1986 corresponds with Antarctica 1986, which suggests strongly that Beck 1960 is biased 10 ppm high.

    I went from
    > Jaworowski to Beck, to RC on Beck, to Law Dome, and to
    > several other sources. Seems to me that most all are right, and most all
    > are wrong. To wit:
    > Both Jaworowski and Beck seem to think that the measurements Beck presents
    > are global, and therefore ice cores are wrong. They also are thinking
    > statically rather than dynamically. RC agrees and points out, corectly,
    > that there was no CO2 source that could create the 1942 peak (globally).
    > Beck says the peak is not WWII because there are elevated readings in
    > Alaska and Poona India.
    > Let’s assume that the warm spell peaking about 1938 made a small
    > contribution and WWII made a large contribution. There is no reason that
    > there couldn’t have been local spikes also in Alaska (military staging)
    > and Poona (industrialized part of India supporting the Asian campaign).
    > Most of the measurements were from Europe, and in ’41/’42 Europe was in
    > flames. Imagine a high ridge of elevated CO2 across Europe that is
    > continuously flowing out to become well mixed around the world. By the
    > time it gets to the South Pole 200 ppm would probably be no more than 20
    > ppm.
    > Now consider that a few year spike (bottom to bottom 1935 to 1952) gets
    > averaged out over abouit 80 years during ice closure, so its maybe 4 ppm.
    > By the time the core is made, 1942 ice is deep enough to form CO2
    > clathrates, but not oxygen or nitrogen per Jaworowski, so when the core
    > depressurizes, some more of the peak is lost, now 1 ppm.
    > Now see Law Dome, per Etheridge “flat to slightly up and down” from about
    > 1935 to 1952.
    > You can take the Law Dome CO2 plot, look only at the last 100 years, and
    > fit Beck’s peak right on the unexplained flat.
    > There was plenty of CO2 to generate that ridge over Europe, and it was
    > WWII. Beck is right, the ice core is right, RC is right; Beck is wrong, RC
    > is wrong, but the ice core remains right.
    > It would be nice if people didn’t jump to conclusions and would think
    > dynamically.

  68. harry said

    @Murray Duffin,

    Thanks for your extremely valuable contribution. It is the first which mentions clathrates (AFAIK). Clathrates may very well be more important than is currently acknowledged, since they may form the mytical additional sink, not included in any model yet.
    Again, Thanks!

  69. harry said


    I gave you the advance, you spoiled it.

  70. DeWitt Payne said

    Re: timetochooseagain (Mar 4 21:03),

    A simple exponential function doesn’t give all that good a fit to the Mauna Loa data. It’s not bad, but I get a better fit if I use an exponent that increases linearly over time. I should do some statistical analysis on the fit to see if it’s really significant.

  71. Jeff Id said

    I’m at a trade show for today and tomorrow so completely unavailable for commenting. However, this thread has been very interesting again. Thanks to DeWitt to putting in the legwork and the thought. I’m reading comments and trying to keep up but it will be some time before I can contribute meaningfully. There are several interesting links in these comments. Thanks to you all, I’ll be doing a bit of learning.

  72. Steve Fitzpatrick said

    I just got back from a trade show!

    I think that one factor is missing from the CO2 model: temperature of the ocean surface. The very short term (year on year) sensitivity of atmospheric CO2 to ocean surface temperature is on the order of 4-5PPM/degree C, and longer term (several years to many years) the sensitivity to ocean surface temperature is almost certainly higher (in the range of 8 PPM/degree C or more). You can see the ocean surface temperature/atmospheric CO2 correlation very easily by plotting Mauna Loa year on year CO2 change against GISS year-on-year change in ocean surface temperature. I suspect that the rising temperatures from ~1915 to ~1945 added several PPM of CO2 to the atmosphere, while the falling temperatures from 1945 through the mid 1970′s partially off-set the atmospheric rise from human CO2 emissions.

    The influence of ocean surface temperature on CO2 likely explains at least some of the apparent change in the modeled versus measured CO2 concentrations starting in 1945. By the way, the CO2 model Dewitt describes does not seem to be a very good representation of how CO2 is absorbed/desorbed by the oceans due to slow ocean turnover; since at least when the Mauna Loa record begins, a very simple model does an excellent job of describing the uptake ( This may be the biggest reason why the model described by Dewitt doesn’t work so well.

  73. timetochooseagain said

    70-There is definitely a tendency for the rate to increase over the entire record, but hasn’t budged much in a while. Here’s the percent increase year by year:

  74. Geoff said

    Regarding atmospheric lifetime of CO2, I haven’t seen anyone comment on Essenhigh’s “Potential Dependence of Global Warming on the Residence Time (RT) in the Atmosphere of Anthropogenically Sourced Carbon Dioxide” abstract here.

  75. JJ said


    “1. We dont really know what historic co2 levels were as they are based on proxies (ice cores) and as was recently confirmed co2 levels are the antarctic are lower in relation to the global mean – this hasnt been accounted for.”

    Do you have a reference for this?

  76. George said

    “There was a major shift about 1937″

    I can’t help but wonder if it wasn’t the war combined with nuclear power that caused that change. So imagine things like blackouts and bombings and power lines being down in large parts of the world that otherwise would have been lit at night causing a reduction in power consumption from about 1939. This would have persisted during the war. Then after the war was over, we see the development of nuclear power. Looking at the graph of “atmospheric CO2″ it begins to climb again at about the time WWII is over. The original line might have held true had there not been a war and had nuclear power not been developed.

  77. RC Saumarez said

    From experience of washout curves in biology/medicine, I would say that multicompartment models are easy to write, but much more difficult to calcibrate. If one has precise measurements of the mass of the substance in question in each compartment , the diffusion between compartments, and hence transfer coefficients can be calculated. If one doesn’t, one has to resort to fitting multiple exponentials to a decay curve of what one can actually measure. This is a very error prone procedure. From the point of CO2, it now appears that it is not uniformly mixed in the atmosphere and the errors in estimating the various sinks would appear to be large. Therefore the time constants in the decay of CO2 in the atmosphere would probably have very large errors.

  78. Jeff Id said

    There is still another issue WRT CO2 absorption. It’s not even mentioned in the links above. There have to be several lurking geologists and perhaps even a geochemists who may be aware of the CO2 absorbing mechanisms in rock. My experience in geology is limited to a college roomate who was studying hydrogeology so it’s not much. What I learned about how the watertable works and how much more water is flowing through the land vs above ground leaves me with the belief that it wouldn’t take much of a feature on a geological scale to provide a huge CO2 scrubber. No matter how you cut it, we are not talking about a HUGE amount of material here. It’s simply not that big compared to the mass of a rock formation.

    It doesn’t take much imagination to consider that rain water would carry CO2 down and filter it through rock before passing into the oceans again. We would then have a removal system which would take CO2 from the air at a rate proportional to the CO2 concentration in the rain water. It would explain an increase in sink, not that a biological explanation doesn’t also make sense.

    It looks clear from the data that there is a strong feedback mechanism of some kind which doesn’t return the CO2 back to the system on a 30 year timeframe. Ocean critters are one possibility, geology IMHO is another.

  79. Peter Dunford said


    Thanks for the reply. I’m probably being thick, but although you mention the biomass as a carbon sink in your list of sources, in the IPCC model you explain is only refers to atmosphere and oceans (deep, near surface and surface) adding up to 100%. That doesn’t allow for the biomass element.

    After your response I looked further into the topic and found papers indicating that the tropical forests were increasing in productivity as the carbon in the atmosphere increases (0.2% for each 1ppm). Does the model allow for this?

  80. harrywr2 said

    “There was a major shift about 1937″

    The wide scale introduction of nitrate fertilizers occurred in the 1930′s. Specifically the use of Ammonium Nitrate and Urea.
    Corn yield per acre has gone from 29 bushels per acre to 130 bushels per acre in the last 100 years.

    A simplistic study of CO2 cycle might just focus on ‘acres in use’. A more exact study would have to figure not only acres, but growing density.

  81. harry said


    Excellent paper by Essenhigh, which was exactly what I was looking for. Thanks.

  82. DeWitt Payne said

    Re: Peter Dunford (Mar 5 12:41),

    There are two sets of carbon emission input data, fossil fuel plus cement production and land use. Any net change in biomass is, or should be, included in the land use data. Remember that any reduction in carbon due to the increase in biomass in the rain forest may be overwhelmed by a decrease in biomass, and consequent introduction of CO2, by slash and burn agriculture and similar practices.

    Re: RC Saumarez (Mar 5 07:29),

    Therefore the time constants in the decay of CO2 in the atmosphere would probably have very large errors.

    As near as I can tell, the equation is entirely empirical. I don’t think it’s an accident that the relative sizes of the boxes are approximately equal and the time constants differ by almost exactly an order of magnitude. The analysis of variance of the fitted constants may actually have fairly small errors, but that still doesn’t mean that you can extrapolate beyond the fitted range with small error.

  83. Clive said

    And there has been a significant increase in the worlds population which are carbon based also farmed animals and fish so some of the carbon must have been gone into these.

  84. DeWitt Payne said

    Re: Clive (Mar 5 20:31),

    The human body is ~18% carbon. At 80 kg/person, 10E9 people is 14.4 MtC. That’s 0.014% of the missing carbon. Even if you add in farm animals, I don’t think you can even get to 1%.

    Re: harrywr2 (Mar 5 13:00),

    Synthetic fixed nitrogen fertilizers with consequent increase in crop yield should reduce acres in use for farming per capita. The previously farmed area would then grow permanent biomass. But unless you continually remove and bury that biomass, it stops accumulating very fast after a while. Also, fixing nitrogen (converting nitrogen to ammonia) takes a lot of energy. The US went from a peak land use emission of 350 MtC/year in 1880 to -31.9 MtC/year in 2005 probably because of increased efficiency of agriculture. Unfortunately, tropical countries plus South America went from 100 MtC/year to 1500 MtC/year land use emission from 1850 to 2005.

  85. D. D. Freund said

    I’m guessing the formula:
    ao = sum[i = 1,2,3] (ai e -t/Tau i)
    should read
    ao + sum[i = 1,2,3] (ai e -t/Tau i)

  86. DeWitt Payne said

    Re: D. D. Freund (Mar 5 22:14),

    Correct. I used Equation Editor in the Word document and Jeff couldn’t get it to copy correctly. There’s another missing equation in the document describing the concentration in tank 1 with time:

    y = 0.5 + 0.5*exp(-0.2231*t)

  87. Jeff Id said

    #85, 86 yup. In normal circumstances, I had latex or could grab a section of the image, but the laptop HD just bit the dust a couple weeks ago and isn’t fully reinstalled yet.

  88. Jean Demesure said

    The fact that at least 25% of anthropogenic carbon emission is neither accountable nor accounted (the infamous “missing sink”, euphemically renamed by the IPCC “residual land sink” in it’s 2007 4AR) is not new.
    That’s climate science.

  89. #82 DeWitt Payne

    I did some research on that in early 2000s, so these are my recollections (I have not followed the most recent literature). The data on land use that you link to in the post look like the land use sensu strictu (deforestation/soil erosion). They do not include carbon absorption by the terrestrial biosphere, which can theoretically occur without land use changes at the expense of changing the mode of the ecosystem functioning. For example, tree growth rate can increase or the rate of decomposition can decrease storing more carbon in soil.

    Currently the terrestrial biosphere is believed to be a net sink of carbon, with about 1.6 GtC/year land use emissions compensated by about 2.6 GtC/year carbon absorption by forests. It has long been unclear which forests (boreal or tropical) actually absorb carbon and how they do so. This caused the non-trivial missing sink problem as you outline in your post. To my knowledge, Gorshkov (1979) [PDF, 5 Mb] was among the first to mention it.

    Where to attribute the missing sink has spurred much research in the last two decades. Here is one of the more recent studies. Oceanic biota (responsible for the dissolved organic carbon store) has been conventionally excluded from the carbon budget considerations under the premise that its functioning is limited by the nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations that do not change in the ocean. Hence, it was assumed that the oceanic biota cannot be fertilized by increasing carbon concentration and cannot increase productivity thus storing more organic carbon in the ocean.

    In our studies here and here, see also Gorshkov (1979), we suggested that these particular grounds for the exclusion of the oceanic biota as a player in the global carbon budget are not justified. The apparent limitation by nitrogen and phosphorus can be overcome by relatively minor changes in the ratio of the production rates of the various organic compounds (e.g. live biomass vs DOC) and by changing the vertical distribution of biological decomposition. The proposition that the oceanic DOC (dissolved organic carbon) is a sink of atmospheric carbon is in principle testable. We have not attempted such a test. What we showed is that such a sink is possible.

  90. Howard said


    Rainfall is a scrubber, not the ground. Slightly acidic rain is buffered by the alkaline ground resulting in increased dissolved solids in groundwater. I don’t see how this would be effectively different from ocean sequestration.

  91. Howard said

    Sorry for the double. Based on a geologic swag, the missing CO2 is most likely biological and dominated by bacteria.

  92. harry said

    To my opinion, the basic questions which have to be answered are the following:
    1. What is the effective half-life time of CO2 released by burning fossil fuels?
    2. What is the current amount of CO2 in the atmosphere directly caused by burning fossil fuels?

    These two questions are related. If one assumes a half-life time of 10 years, not all the CO2 in the atmosphere can be directly attributed to the burning of fossil fuel. Then the biosphere, lithosphere etc kicks in. If half-life time is measured in millenia, as IPCC suggest is true for 20% of the emitted CO2, then this is different and the CO2 composition in the atmosphere starts to exist of mainly fossil fuel burning released carbon.

    But in the latter case, stopping 100% of the burning of fossil fuel today globally will not solve the problem: see IPCC ar4-wg1 chapter 10 page 824 figure1 FAQ10.3. In fact, this figure shows how useless CO@ reduction will be if the CO@ behaves as IPCC thinks it does. If it does not behave that way, scenario in figure c is applicable, and the urgency of tackling CO2 emissions dissappears.

  93. [...] Where Has All the Carbon Gone? This post covers a very important topic which is a new interest of mine.  Understanding how climate works is a series [...] [...]

  94. harry said

    I want to summarize what I have been writing on this blog:
    You can discuss half a degree of warming due to thermometer placement, UHI or whatever. The basic idea is that increasing CO2 in the atmosphere causes global warming. Increasing CO2 must be due to human activity to allow humanity to have any influence on it. This is only true when all CO2 in the atmosphere is there due to human activities. Wel, this is very unlikely.
    CO2 has an atmospheric half-life time.
    This half-life time determines whether CO2 can be identified as a long living GHG. This half-life time also determines whether CO2 released by burning fossil fuel is responsible for the increase of atmospheric CO2 content. Regardless of long or short lived, taxing to eliminate the release of CO2 by burning fossil fuel will not influence temperature rise of the atmosphere in the coming decades.

  95. DeWitt Payne said

    Re: Anastassia Makarieva (Mar 6 14:06),

    The apparent ~310 ppmv threshold (the concentration of CO2 at the flat spot in the Law Dome curve) for the missing sink would seem to require a biological mechanism. But maybe there’s also some effect from agricultural fertilizer runoff into the ocean.

  96. Tim said

    #95 – Or a mechanism that increases CO2 intake as the partial pressure of CO2 in the atomosphere increases.

  97. Geoff said

    Just at the right time, the journal Tellus B has a group of articles devoted to these questions. A detailed overview is given in ” Observations and modelling of the global distribution and long-term trend of atmospheric 14CO2″ by Levin et. al, fortunately available for free here. The other articles in that issue are also freely available.

  98. John F. Pittman said

    Re: Anastassia Makarieva (Mar 6 14:06), Although there is a tendency for biota to keep to a specific C:N:P ratio, it is not exact. As in any diverse ecosystem, certain species may respond to an external forcing in a competitive manner to secure an advantage. The lateral and vertical extant of the oceans combined with the diversity should be presumed to absorb more CO2 in the short term. The long term would be questionable without experimentation indicating a continued CO2 fertilization actually occurs. Though from experience with Nitrobacter and Nitrosoma, more ammonia reduction than a strict C:N:P can be obtained, but it is limited to a maximum of approximately 30% above the C:N:P ratios that were indicated. Given the large Gt-C flux in the ocean, it could be argued that this fertilizer enhancement could be a significant factor. Likewise, it would not be unexpected that terrestrial biosphere would also be able to see the fertilization effect up to 30%. Given that the C is the larger quantity of the three, a small fertilizer effect of CO2 could sequester large fractions of CO2. There was a study on grasses that indicated some fertilization effect. Also, it was indicated that the NOx from combustion, actually increased the available N in terrestrial ecosystems resulting in a CO2:NOx enhancement. Farm runoff has been measured in estuaries and has been cited as the cause of eutrophication. In fact, phosphates were banned for that reason. Given the large amounts of fertilizer that is now being used world wide, and that ammonia is one, if not number one, of the most produced chemicals, an assumed static baseline of ocean nitrogen and phosphate seems ridiculous on the face of man’s farming techniques. Especially since farmers tend to use soluble commercial fertilizers, rather than organic fertilizers, and have been replacing organic fertilizers worldwide with man-made ones for the past 100 years. Our use of man-made fertilizers has grown with our fossil fuel consumption.

  99. harry said

    The main problem however remains that the IPCC model is not a real model. It is based on the Bern Carbon cycle box model, but the parameters used are the parameters of the impulse (Dirac) function response. An extensive effort has been done to remodel the parameters of the impulse RF into a modelwise more down to earth translation (Jarvis et al. 2009 Tellus B 61B: 361-371), but they struggle to assign reasonable parameters to all of the relevant model components. Which, to MHO implies that the models are still far from describing nature with any measure of confidence.

  100. woodNfish said

    DeWitt Payne March 4, 2010 at 6:05 pm: We can’t stop digging or the hole will fall in on us. A more apt analogy is that we’re on a leaky boat. If we stop bailing, we’ll sink. Of course, there’s a good possibility we’ll sink eventually anyway, but why do it now rather than later? The only way to stop CO2 emissions is either to go back to a hunter/gatherer society, which is impossible at anywhere near current population levels, or come up with a new source of primary energy to replace fossil fuels. We’re not going to be able to do the latter if we don’t keep using fossil fuels now.

    Thank you for your answer DeWitt. Sorry about the long delay in my response.

    You are assuming that man is responsible for the assumed jump in CO2. I don’t think there is any real proof of that assumption. You also assume that more CO2/carbon is bad. There is no proof of that either. CO2 is good for all living things. Farmers use it in solid form (fertilizer) to increase crop yields, make plants greener, etc. I’m pretty certain that every lifeform on this planet is based on carbon.

    We will change over to other forms of energy when they become economically viable either through the advancement of technology or the scarcity of resources. Right now we have an abundance of fossil fuels and we should use it all to create cheap plentiful energy.

    You need a good retirement hobby to relieve your stress from digging. Let me know when you are in my area and I’ll take you fishing on my boat. We’ll enjoy a great day on the water even if we don’t catch anything.

  101. DeWitt Payne said

    Re: woodNfish (Mar 9 14:52),

    You are assuming that man is responsible for the assumed jump in CO2. I don’t think there is any real proof of that assumption.

    There’s lots of evidence, 13C/12C isotope ratio, decrease in oxygen percentage equivalent to the amount of fossil fuel used, the list goes on and on. Go look for the links to Ferdinand Englebeen’s pages on the other CO2 thread and read them. There are, however, no proofs in science, only in math.

    You also assume that more CO2/carbon is bad.

    And what led you to that belief? Just because I defend parts of the theory doesn’t mean I agree that the magnitude of the problem is large enough to justify the proposed solutions. In fact, the whole point of this post was to show that one of the tools used to project the supposedly catastrophic future is seriously flawed.

    Right now we have an abundance of fossil fuels and we should use it all to create cheap plentiful energy.

    Oil production has still not exceeded 2005 levels. The rate of discovery of new fields continues to decrease. Nobody has convinced me that Hubbert was wrong. Coal is on the same path. The UK had hundreds of years of coal until suddenly they didn’t and now only small amounts are still being produced there. Maybe we’ll get lucky with natural gas from shale, but it won’t be all that cheap and the greens will be very active trying to block it. There are at least somewhat legitimate concerns about pollution and the large volumes of water needed to fracture the shale. The market will allocate resources efficiently, but it doesn’t discover them. Absent a breakthrough somewhere, it’s likely that cheap, plentiful energy will be a thing of the past. That’s what I mean about the boat being likely to sink anyway.

  102. #101

    Absent a breakthrough somewhere, it’s likely that cheap, plentiful energy will be a thing of the past. That’s what I mean about the boat being likely to sink anyway.

    It seems there have been no precedents in human history when there appeared a breakthrough right when it was needed. Quite the opposite, people discovered new stores of resources quite chaotically, with spontaneous population bursts following such discoveries.

  103. Cement a friend said

    Anastassia Makarieva (102) re your article concerning Hurricanes and Cyclones (Makarieva &Gorshkov 2009) I suggest you get in touch with Prof Marusic ( They are building a great new wind tunnel to test large scale boundary layers as applicable to the atmosphere. I was impressed by the methods to reduce turbulence, the temperature control, the scale (200kW fan, over 50m ducting), laser measuring equipment etc. It was claimed to by the largest in the world for this type of research.

    Maybe Jeff ID would be interested in the research being done there by Ivan Marusic who was at Uni of Minnesota in Aerospace engineering. Fluid mechanics is a chemical and mechanical engineering subject which is beyond the capability of those who call themselves climate scientists. Heat and mass transfer are also engineering subjects which it seems no climate scientist (particularly those associated with the IPCC) or physicists understands. Fancy anyone thinking CO2 can be forcing.

  104. RB said

    This energy analyst states that nuclear energy has turned out to be not quite the breakthrough energy technology as well that will solve our energy problems.
    The disappointment comes, however, upon learning that Nuclear power still only provides a little more than 5.00% of the world’s primary energy. Hydro provides over 6.00%–thus eclipsing Nuclear after all these decades. No doubt, many will point to political and policy choices as barriers to adoption of nuclear. But, those political and policy factors are a direct outgrowth of nuclear’s enormous expense, time-to-completion, and safety costs.

    Perhaps, there is no single breakthrough technology in the foreseeable future, just a mix of various energy sources.

  105. #104 RB

    We, too, recently mused on the global energetics problems. Personally, I am convinced that there is no solution for current population numbers, so discussing long-term strategies without mentioning the strategy towards depopulation is just unrealistic. As it always happens, — people live as if nothing happens, then the next day is a catastrophe of some kind. This does not preclude the following generations from living “as usual” up to the point when people start dying in masses.

    #103 Cement A Friend

    Many thanks for the information. Indeed, my colleagues and I are exploring various opportunities trying to find interested people.

    It is not very pleasant to be imposing ourselves on people. And I think sometimes — is it really we who are most interested in our results being spread and understood? Science awards the scientists with the joy of discovering new things. After that one feels absolutely happy and self-sufficient. Official recognition adds little if anything to one’s internal recognition of what has been achieved. Had it not been for the strong motivation to change the world a bit for the better with the science we are doing, my colleagues and I agree — we would have never go through all this “purgatory”, as a friend called our large-scale endeavour to find interested and competent listeners among people who are supposed to be professionally interested.

    There is another angle — it is the society who is interested to get most of science. It is in the interest of the society that the peer-review is competent and fair. It is in the interest of the society that grants be given to people who work, not to those who write beautiful grant proposals. etc. Indeed, the society feeds scientists making them free from the daily work on growing cereals, making bread, etc. — so the society is interested in getting something in return. The society should be continuously keeping an eye on the scientific community attending that the latter is not colonized by a mafia and that the true workers have the opportunity to work and publish their results, such that these results could be consumed by the society. In this aspect the live attention of the society to the climategate is perfectly justified.

  106. RB said

    #105 Anastassia,
    That sounds Malthusian and there are certainly plausible arguments that we are living in an unprecedented time of cheap energy. Just a guess, but this is probably the wrong place for these views :)

  107. DeWitt Payne said

    Re: RB (Mar 10 14:34),

    I’m tempted to suggest a peak oil, or something like that, thread to Jeff. The math behind the Hubbert curve would be one possibility. The problem with the other sites I’ve seen on that topic is they tend to be like RC or WUWT, low signal to noise in the comments.

  108. RB said

    I don’t know if you’ve visited The Oil Drum which seems to have a fair number of knowledgeable commenters.

  109. Kenneth Fritsch said

    The market will allocate resources efficiently, but it doesn’t discover them. Absent a breakthrough somewhere, it’s likely that cheap, plentiful energy will be a thing of the past. That’s what I mean about the boat being likely to sink anyway.

    DeWitt, I would agree that there are no guarantees in life, but what bothers me is that the market system will not be allowed to work unimpeded and that will affect negatively, not only the allocation of resources, but the discovery of new sources of energy.

    We have trended towards emergencies and then government acting precipitously and emotionally to respond in attempts that I see as only making things worse. If that continues, I would almost guaranty a boat sinking.

  110. Kenneth Fritsch said

    Personally, I am convinced that there is no solution for current population numbers, so discussing long-term strategies without mentioning the strategy towards depopulation is just unrealistic.

    Russia has been depopulating. Would you suggest the world follow this example?

  111. DeWitt Payne said

    Re: Kenneth Fritsch (Mar 10 19:34),

    We have trended towards emergencies and then government acting precipitously and emotionally to respond in attempts that I see as only making things worse.

    Thomas Sowell has written a couple of books about that. The more entertaining one, but rather polemical, is The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy. His examples are all social policy like sex education in the public schools as a means to reduce teen pregnancy and STD’s (worked real well, didn’t it), but the process he describes fits the AGW movement as well.

  112. RB said

    OK, since we are getting OT, I’m not immune to bias either, and the examples here might be of interest, although the conclusion is one of the “yeah, we know that already.”

    Depressingly, the Yale project study finds that people “more readily count someone as an expert when that person endorses a conclusion that fits their cultural predispositions.”

  113. Climate sensitivity strongly depends on latitudinal mixing as part of general atmospheric circulation. (A possible scenario is this: some heat is transported from the tropics towards the poles, where the greenhouse effect is smaller and a larger proportion of surface radiation leaves to space. If this heat remained at the equator, global planetary greenhouse effect could have been conspicuously larger.)

    Total global power of general atmospheric circulation is about 1% of global solar power. The power of terrestrial biosphere in terms of evapotranspiration is several times larger. Therefore, the anthropogenic transformation of the most actively transpiring parts of land biota (tropical forests) cannot go without consequences for atmospheric circulation, climate sensitivity and climate stability. This is simply too a significant disturbance in terms of modified energy fluxes. Since deforestation is primarily a function of local population growth, the overpopulation problem is a major factor to be concerned about for people interested in global climate problems.

    For comparison, the global power of the biogenic carbon cycle (photosynthesis) is about two orders of magnitude smaller. Fossil fuel emissions are yet another order of magnitude smaller factor. Concentrating on carbon while neglecting the land-use induced changes in evapotranspiration is equivalent to focusing on the terms of higher order of smallness while neglecting the zeroth order term. From all I personally know about the global environment, population numbers and their sustainability appears as problem number one to be subjected to a serious scientific analysis.

    #109, #110 Kenneth Fritsch
    I live in St. Petersburg in Russia where as little as (almost) seven decades ago over a million of people died of famine during the Nazi’s siege of the city. People were eating dead corpses in the streets. It was exactly that pattern — people lived as usual; then “tomorrow there was war” (a famous Russian movie).

    In practical terms, the fewer people there are on the sinking boat, the fewer people will suffer unnatural death. Yes, I think gradual population reduction via family planning is a better choice for the world. Russia is not the best example to follow — here depopulation is also caused by very high mortality and poor health standards, especially male mortality (mean male life expectancy barely reaches the age of retirement). There are also hundreds of thousands of parentless, unattended children, of which nobody wishes to care. At the same time there is on-going propaganda in the mass-media: “reproduce, or the nation disappears!”. I find such a situation insane.

    #106 RB
    I can well be mistaken about which views should be where presented. When in late October 2009 I turned to blogs to find out if there is perhaps a way of exposing our results on condensation dynamics there, I was utterly surprised to see that there seemed to be a strong political division between the sceptics and the AGW proponents; then an important finding of mine was that the sceptics are the right, while the AGW proponents are the left. Yet I still have but a vague idea what it all means. Myself I am apolitical. I like the Air Vent because it is the first blog where our physical findings were discussed and because people are not snipped here. Also, the apparently different culture here and the lines of thought I am meeting with are interesting to me.

  114. Kenneth Fritsch said

    Anastassia @ post #113:

    I think you need more detail in your argument when you use order of magnitudes of power sources for the globe. It reminds me of the false argument that some skeptics use about the amount of CO2 generated anthropogenically and naturally – it is the incremental amounts that can cause problems.

    Interesting that the big energy users of the world are also those that tend to have lowest birth rates.

    The world, as has Russia and the old USSR, have suffered from the unintended (sometimes perhaps intended) consequences of government actions that have caused depopulation through war and economic policies that have led to famine (USSR and China being good examples of the latter).

    I would not want a government, prone to unintended consequences and then not admitting those mistakes, interfering with the strongest social ties we humans have in the family. If individuals are not prevented from facing the consequences of their actions (like populating the world) I would suggest that they will do better in arriving at an optimum than a one size fits all government attempt.

    Anastassia your view of the politics of blogging on climate change is essentially correct. Those on the left have faith that government action and involvement are good regardless of the need and will see little negative consequences from government attempts to mitigate AGW. They thus are much less concerned about getting the science right. Of course there are those on the right who minimize the science that disagrees with their position because of their lack of faith in government action.

    I personally have no trust in government action, but I do attempt to look at the science with a skeptical (and influenced partly by my political philosophy) but reasoned view.

  115. DeWitt Payne said

    Re: Anastassia Makarieva (Mar 11 08:55),

    A possible scenario is this: some heat is transported from the tropics towards the poles, where the greenhouse effect is smaller and a larger proportion of surface radiation leaves to space.

    Yes. In fact the transfer rate can be calculated from the latitudinal emission and absorption data. The crossover point for excess absorption to excess emission is about 40 degrees latitude in both hemisphere. That’s also the point of peak energy transfer. The calculated maximum rate is about 6 PW in each hemisphere, which is a significant fraction of the total solar energy absorption (~120PW if I did my sums correctly). The fraction carried by ocean circulation and air circulation varies by latitude with the ocean becoming less important as latitude increases. I should link to a relevant paper but I can’t find it at the moment.

  116. #115 DeWitt Payne

    My point is not about the heat transfer par se. Rather, about its potential role in climate stability. There are two internal destabilizing feedbacks associated with water — (1) water vapor saturated concentration grows with temperature, thus enhancing greenhouse effect and further elevating temperature, and (2) at high latitudes, as temperature decreases and the water freezes, the albedo grows contributing to further temperature decrease. These are two positive destabilizing feedbacks.

    The problem of thermal stability of climate should be, in my view, the central one to study. Why does the global mean temperature remains relatively stable despite these feedbacks? A general answer to this question is missing from the literature; and it is not a focus of research, either. We had something to say on this here: One of the few exceptions of such type studies in the meteorological mainstream are the studies of Dr. J. R. Bates, like this one It gives a very nice short introduction to the problem and describes a few existing views on how this could be solved.

    Since vapor concentration depends on temperature, the greenhouse effect due to water is greater in the tropical zone than at higher latitudes. So, latitudinal heat transport might play a role in climate stabilization. E.g., when water vapor concentration suddenly rises at the equator, greenhouse effect increases, but the excessive heat is quickly transported away to the higher latitudes and leaves to space there, where the greenhouse effect is smaller. If this heat remained at the equator, the planet would warm more.

    On the other hand, the pattern can be the reverse. Heat transport to the higher latitudes can make the region warmer and elevate greenhouse effect there to such a degree that the global mean greenhouse effect would grow. In this case latitudinal transport would destabilize rather than stabilize the surface temperature.

  117. DeWitt Payne said

    Re: Anastassia Makarieva (Mar 13 14:21),

    The problem of thermal stability of climate should be, in my view, the central one to study. Why does the global mean temperature remains relatively stable despite these feedbacks?

    Indeed. The temperature does seem to be bounded on both the high and low end. The planet may have been almost completely covered in ice 700 MYa, but why hasn’t there been another such event or a thermal runaway to near Venusian conditions? Assuming that the consensus on the existence and mechanism of the PETM is correct and that the climate sensitivity is high, a runaway would seem to have been likely. That’s the sort of thing that makes me very skeptical of the high climate sensitivity, catastrophic warming end of the AGW spectrum.

  118. kevoka said

    Anastassia and Dewiit,
    That is exactly my problem. Why has runaway, either cold or hot, not already occurred. Nobody has proposed a catastrophic forcing that, to our current knowledge, has not occurred before.

    Except for really large meteors – they appear to cause real trouble on the climate forcing front.

    Retorical question regarding the 700MYa ice cover – where were the continents circa 700MYa? All bunched up? North, South, in the middle? And what parts were exposed? A lot can change in 700MY…The comment just made me curious…

  119. DeWitt Payne said

    Re: kevoka (Mar 15 02:15),

    I don’t have the link to the actual article (and it’s probably money-walled), but the press release in Nat. Geo. Daily News said that the Yukon and Canada were near the equator at the time.

  120. That’s the sort of thing that makes me very skeptical of the high climate sensitivity, catastrophic warming end of the AGW spectrum.

    I would favor the following logic in climate research: we know there are internal destabilizing positive feedbacks. They could have produced something very different from the global mean +15 C without any external forcing like fossil fuel burning. But they did not. Apparently, there is a stabilizing negative feedback, which counteracts the two destabilizing ones. We do not know what this feedback is.

    Then, let us all go and find out what this stabilizing feedback is which makes our climate thermally stable and dampens internal instability. After this is done, our next move will be to see — whether global human activities threaten (modify, change) this stabilizing mechanism or not, and if yes, how. If they do not threaten it, fossil fuel emissions will make no big harm. If it is threatened, whether we emit CO2 or not, climate will destabilize due to internal instabilities. In either scenario, the current focus on CO2 appears unjustified.

    (As I mentioned, global change of vegetation cover is a major disturbance of energy flows at the planetary surface and the atmosphere, due to the high intensity of evapotranspiration. E.g., some people think that the stabilizing mechanism has to do with clouds, but clouds are strongly under biogenic control over forested areas.)

    Regarding a snowball Earth 700 MYa, in my view it is not possible to reconcile such a perspective with the persistence of life.

  121. [...] Where Has All the Carbon Gone? « the Air Vent [...]

  122. Teva said


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