Examining Global Warming’s Best Friend, N2O

29 08 2009

Chlorofluorocarbons (CFC’s) are out of the way – a major success story in the fight against ozone depletion but a new menace is quickly becoming the top dog in the crowd of global warming fugitives. It took more than 20 years, but CFC’s are finally down and still sinking but nitrous oxide is hastily becoming our new arch-enemy. Nitrous oxide is now, according to a new report from NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory (NSRL), the most destructive and abundant man-derived greenhouse gas in our atmosphere. Where CFC’s were in our minds and in the environment now lies Nitrous Oxide.

“The dramatic reduction in CFCs over the last 20 years is an environmental success story. But manmade nitrous oxide is now the elephant in the room among ozone-depleting substances,” said Ravishankara, lead author of the study and director of the ESRL Chemical Sciences Division in Boulder, CO.

The gas is quite common, even it’s natural occurrences, but never in this quantity. The gas is derived from the fertilization of agriculture, mainly, but can also be found in animal dung, dentists’ offices (“Laughing Gas”), sewage treatment, combustion engines, and the rearing of livestock.

CFC’s were abundant in use, especially in aerosol cans in the 70’s and 80’s but scientists soon found that it’s effects on the environment were to harmful to be allowed to continue. In an international agreement, the Montreal Protocol was established in 1987 to reduce the CFC input into the environment world-wide. The plan was a huge success, now 22 years later, as we can see the incredible reduction of it’s concentration in the atmosphere. Although this is true, even the scars left behind are still mending; in particular the gaping hole in the ozone layer situated above the South Pole. Will nitrous oxide be as dangerous to the environment as the CFC’s were? In short, yes.

Examination of Atmospheric Layers

If left unchecked, the concentration of nitrous oxide in the atmosphere would continue to climb exponentially. We still have time to correct the problem before it gets out of control but it would take control to do it. The main target would certainly have to be the control of agricultural fertilization – fertilizers highly concentrated in the chemical. Although it does help the soil to produce more abundant (and vivacious) plants, it destroys the ozone layer – thinning it more and more.

What happens when the atmosphere gets thinner? More radiation enters the earth’s lower atmosphere which in turn actually harms the plants (and us). Imagine the worst sunburn you ever had. Multiply it. No one really wants to deal with the effects of global warming. “I don’t believe in it”. I guess it really doesn’t matter if you believe or not. It’s a decision that you’d have to make. A) Live with the changes you have to make today and be a little less “wasteful” or B) Ignore the warnings and live in a hotter, more naturally violent world potentially full of disease and famine. It’s up to you really….

Information derived from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Image derived from ScienceDaily.com
All information retrieved Saturday, August 29th, 2009

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The Deadly Cycle – How Global Warming Causes Global Warming

16 08 2009

The Deadliest Cycle – How Global Warming Causes Global Warming

It is a process known as “feedback”. This process involves some sort of action or event which triggers another event which worsens the first event leading to another secondary event which worsens the first event even more. Confusing? I’ll explain.

A good example of feedback is the melting of the polar ice caps and it’s involvement with global warming. The ice naturally reflects heat energy in the form of radiation back into space. As the ice melts, it covers less area and reveals more water coverage. Less ice enhances the atmospheres heat energy (ice cools air just like it cools your summer drinks). With less ice, the remaining ice melts faster revealing yet more water. Water absorbs heat energy instead of reflecting it. This causes the ice to melt even faster.

There are several types of natural “feedback”: Ice Albedo feedback, water vapor feed back, arctic methane feedback, lapse rate feedback and more. These feedback types enhance global warming and are also, simultaneously, caused by global warming to some extent.

Ice Albedo Feedback

As discussed earlier, Ice Albedo Feedback involves the fact ice reflects more radiation than it absorbs. When ice melts it is replaced by land or water which absorbs more than it reflects. This causes more heat absorption which causes more ice melting which causes yet more absorption. This cycle is never-ending unless affected by an outside source.
Northern Hemisphere Glacial Regression

Water Vapor Feedback
Water Vapor is a Greenhouse Gas. As the earth warms, more water is evaporated leading to more water vapor. More water vapor leads to more warming which leads to more evaporation thus more water vapor. This cycle is never-ending unless affected by an outside source.

Lapse Rate Feedback
Temperature differences between the lower atmosphere and upper atmosphere is called the Lapse Rate. The higher the temperature of the upper atmosphere, the more radiation is emitted. Thus, if the upper atmosphere (which is supposed to be cold) is heated, it emits much more radiation than if it were cold. This cycle is never-ending unless affected by an outside source.

Methane Release
Warming of the earth has effects both on land and in the ocean in the form of methane release. As the earth’s temperature increases, certain areas of permafrost on the earth melt releasing long frozen and stored methane gas, which in turn, causes more warming since it’s considered a greenhouse gas. This cycle is never-ending unless affected by an outside source.

Cloud Feedback
Some types of clouds, particularly cumulus, are expected to increase in frequency and coverage in the future due to warming and higher, faster evaporation rates. Clouds of this type tend to reflect radiation back down to the ground thus enhancing the lower atmosphere’s ability to retain heat. This increases the earth’s temperature even more causing more cumulus clouds and more back-to-earth radiation reflection. This cycle is never-ending unless affected by an outside source.

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