Memphis Belle

Did Jesus Predict Global Warming?
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II. Mechanics of Global Warming

“With the possible exception of another world war, a giant asteroid, or an incurable plague, global warming may be the single largest threat to our planet.  For decades human factories and cars have spewed billions of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and the climate has begun to show some signs of warming…If we don’t curb our greenhouse gas emissions, then low-lying nations could be awash in seawater, rain and drought patterns across the world could change, hurricanes could become more frequent, and El Ninos could become more intense” says John Weier writing in EarthObservatory.nasa.gov.  Then some scientists (I believe in the minority) believe global warming will result merely in “warmer winters and increased plant growth.”  John Weier states, “In truth, the future  probably fits somewhere between these two scenarios.”  i.e. What he’s saying is the future lies somewhere between totally disastrous global warming side effects (i.e. The Day After Tomorrow scenario) and little more than warmer winters—which is what?—a good amount of disastrous global warming side effects in the middle of this PS (Pooch Screw) scale.  [sorry, I couldn’t help myself.]  He states, “To understand global warming we must understand the science behind it.”  I’ve given you a lot of the side effects and what’s going on right up front.  Now let’s take a look at the science of global warming and simply how the earth is a stable and warm enough environment to support life.  Got to know how a well functioning system works, before we can really understand how it can get messed up.  Right?  So let’s go.  [ http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Library/GlobalWarming/ ]

  1. The sun warms the Earth with a constant amount of radiant energy which reaches the Earth at all times.  The sun’s output has remained relatively constant over millennia of time. 
  2. About 30 percent of the sun’s total energy striking the Earth reflects back into outer-space, and 70 percent is absorbed in the form of UV, visible light and near infrared solar radiation.  I say it is held, but this is only for a period of time.
  3. The energy which is held doesn’t stay bound up on Earth forever, but ends up being radiated back off into outer-space at a near constant rate that leaves the Earth at a mean constant of around 59 degrees Fahrenheit.  As the sun heats the Earth’s surface, land and oceans, it heats them, and they in turn emit thermal radiation in the form of long-wave infrared back into outer-space.

So what holds the Earth at 59 degrees F?  Some of this long-wave infrared radiation being radiated back upwards from the earth’s surface is re-absorbed by water vapor, C02 and methane and re-radiated back toward Earth’s surface—trapped at the top of the troposphere.  Without the greenhouse gases, Earth’s average surface temperature would be a nice cold -18 degrees C (-0.4F), and life as we know it would be impossible, the Earth would be essentially frozen. 

          But over the past 250 years, from 1750 to the present, human activity has been raising greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere by our factories, power plants and vehicles, all burning coal, gasoline and diesel fuel, and pouring C02 into the atmosphere in increasing amounts.  Once carbon-based greenhouse gases (C02 & CH4) get into the atmosphere beyond the levels that maintain global temperatures at a steady, even level, they stay there for decades, or for C02, even longer, up to 100 years.  The IPCC says since the start of the Industrial Revolution carbon dioxide (C02) is up 31 percent, and methane (CH4) is up 151 percent.  Paleoclimate readings from ice cores and fossil records show these two gases are at their highest levels in the past 420,000 years (i.e. one half million years).  These increased levels of greenhouse gases are preventing additional thermal radiation from leaving Earth, trapping excess heat in Earth’s atmosphere, causing a steady rise in the average mean temperature of the Earth. 

Here are the facts:  Most leading researchers and scientific organizations project that the average mean surface temperature of the Earth will increase along with emissions, according to the IPCC, with surface temperatures (mean) raising anywhere between 1.4 C and 5.8 C by the end of the 21st century.  It only rose by 0.5 C, a lot in and by itself, over the past 100 years.  Now in the next 100 years it is projected to rise 1.4 C (3 times as much in the same time span) to 5.8 C (a whopping 11 times as much in100 years!).  This is an exponential rise in global mean surface temperature—from 56 F in 1900 to 59 F in 2000, to anywhere from 63 F to 67 F by the end of the 21st century. 

          Normal average mean temperatures over extended periods of time, geologically speaking, are very stable.  i.e. During the last ice age Earth was 5 C cooler.  It has gradually increased to present levels, at a very slow rise rate (1 C between every 1,000 to 4,000 years depending on when you date the last major Ice Age—i.e. whether you view C-14 as an accurate dating method or not).  We’ve just experienced a rise of 0.5 C in a very short 100 year time-span, and now the projected rise in average mean surface temperature is between 1.4 C and 5.8 C within the next 100 years.  The mid-range between 1.4 C and 5.8 C is a projected 3.6 C rise in 100 years or less.  That’s close to 68 F average mean surface temperature!  [ http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Library/GlobalWarming/warming2.html ]

So, in review greenhouse gases are gaseous components of the atmosphere that contribute to the “greenhouse effect”.  i.e. those are the gases that help contribute to the trapping of solar energy in the form of heat—the trapping of the suns infrared spectrum.  With insufficient “greenhouse gases” the sun’s radiant energy would escape back into outer-space, and earth would be a giant deep-freeze.  Too much, and the climate warms, with all the resultant side-effects we’ve been reading about.  Now let’s learn about those gases.

Greenhouse Gases 101: The major green-house gases are

1)     Water vapor.  Yes, amazingly water vapor is a green-house gas.  Water vapor represents anywhere from 36 percent to 70 percent of the greenhouse effect on earth.

2)     Carbon dioxide, which represents anywhere from 9 to 26 percent of the greenhouse effect (G.H.E).

3)     Ozone, 3 to 7 percent of the G.H.E.

  Other gases:

4)     Methane

5)     Nitrous Oxide

6)     Sulfur Hexaflouride

7)     The Fluorocarbon’s (Freon: RF-12 & RF-22 from refrig and  ac units)

Water Vapor: Water vapor is a natural greenhouse gas and it accounts for the largest percentage of the greenhouse effect.  In climate models an increase in temperature caused by the greenhouse effect do to a rise in C02 and methane levels will in turn lead to an increase in evaporation and thus water vapor content in the troposphere.   This in turn leads to a further increase in the greenhouse effect, and thus a further increase in temperature, and thus a further increase in water vapor until some equilibrium is reached (i.e. the atmosphere at the higher temp becomes saturated with the amount of water vapor it will hold (it’s dew point)).  So we see that water vapor acts as a positive feedback to the forcing provided by human released greenhouse gases such as C02.  Water vapor provides a powerful positive feedback in the global warming sequence of events. 

Carbon Dioxide:  The C02 level just as the industrial revolution began in 1750 was 280 ppm (parts per million).  It has steadily increased without any real drop in ppm to 365 in the year 2000, a 31 percent increase.  The problem with C02 is that although an actual molecule of C02, if followed in its life-cycle, would remain in the atmosphere for only a few years—before the ocean with its phytoplankton and zooplankton absorbed it permanently from the atmosphere—the calculation of the dissipation of a large increase in C02 levels would be measured in 100’s of years.

Methane:    Methane in 1750 was 700 ppb (parts per billion).  In the year 2000 it has risen to 1745 ppb, a 150 percent increase.  What happens to Methane in the air?  Lightning and high intensity rays from the sun “burn” it with the 02 in the atmosphere so it becomes water vapor and C02, both greenhouse gases.  So the half-life on methane isn’t the true half-life of the greenhouse effect it has, because it’s degrading down to water vapor and C02 continues it’s effect. 

          Nitrous oxide in 1750 was 270 ppb, and in the year 2000 has risen to 314 ppb. 

          Aside from water vapor near the earth’s ocean surface—which has a residence time of a few days—most greenhouse gases take a very long time to dissipate from the atmosphere [see http://www.sciencedaily.com/encyclopedia/Greenhouse_gas .  Look up NOAA Paleoclimatology Program-Vostok Ice Core, go ahead, do a Google search on your own.]

A must see, with good explanations and clear charts, log onto NOAA CMDL CCGG Interactive Atmospheric Data Visualization, NOAA C02 Data at:  http://www.cmdl.noaa.gov/aggi/  .

“NOAA issued the Annual Greenhouse Gas Index (AGGI) today, its benchmark measurement of gases in the atmosphere that affect the Earth’s climate.  This year’s AGGI reflects an increase in carbon dioxide (C02) and nitrous oxide (N20) but a leveling off of methane (CH4), and a decline in two chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), gases that contribute to the cause of the Antarctic ozone hole.  Overall, the AGGI shows a continuing, steady rise in the amount of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere…The AGGI is referenced to a baseline value of 1.00 for the greenhouse gas levels that were present in the atmosphere in 1990. The value of the AGGI for 2005 is 1.215.  This reflects a continuing upward trend in the accumulation of greenhouse gases, as well as the change in the amount of radiative forcing.  Radiative forcing indicates the balance between radiation coming into the atmosphere and radiation going out.  Positive radiative forcing tends on average to warm the surface of the Earth, and negative forcing tends on average to cool the surface.  Radiative forcing, as measured by the index, is calculated from the atmospheric concentration of each contributing gas and the per-molecule climate forcing of each gas…Most of the increase in radiative forcing [positive] since 1990 is due to C02, which now accounts for approximately 62 percent of the radiative forcing by all long-lived greenhouse gases.  Global C02 increased from an average of 376.8 parts per million (ppm) in 2004 to 378.9 ppm in 2005.  This increase 0f 2.1 ppm means that for every one million air molecules there were slightly more than two new C02 molecules in the atmosphere.  The pre-industrial C02 level was approximately 278 ppm.  [Probably determined from ice-core samples, fairly accurate.]  [taken from http://www.publicaffairs.noaa.gov/releases2006/may06/noaa06-050.html ]

As we have just seen, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, has said that for this year of 2006, in May, there was a continuing rise in carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide, though methane leveled off.  There was also a decline in chlorofluorocarbons, gases that contribute to the ozone hole over the Antarctic.  Currently the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has climbed to a record 381 parts per million last year…the reading up 2.68 ppm according to NOAA’s David J. Hofmann.  In addition to C02, the  2004 data from WMO calculated nitrous oxide, which has been steadily rising since 1988, totaled 318.6 ppb.  Methane has risen the most dramatically over the past two centuries, with the total amount in 2004 at 1,783 ppb, but its growth has been slowing down, according to the World Meteorological Organization.  Said Leonard Barrie of WMO, “If you have that much more energy being trapped, where does it go? [keep that question in the back of your mind, it’s important]...Given the lifetime of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is 50 to 200 years depending on how you calculate it…it doesn’t take a nuclear scientist to state that we’re going to have this problem for a long time…If we stop now C02 emissions to the atmosphere, it would take 50 to 100 years before we were starting to see approaches to pre-industrial levels.” Scientists worry that overall warming will melt glaciers and the polar ice caps, raising sea levels enough to damage many low-lying islands and cities around the world. In addition, warmer climate could lead to changes in weather patterns, agriculture and even allow some diseases to expand into new areas. [March 15, 2006, Associated Press]

[ http://www.cmdl.noaa.gov/ccgg/trends/co2_data_mlo.php ]

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