The Botanical Advantage to Climate Change

5 12 2009

According to a new research article published in the journal, Global Change Biology, researchers from the University of Wisconsin – Madison and the University of Minnesota – Morris conclude that evidence extracted from local Aspen and Birch trees suggest that the impact of inflated amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased the trees’ growth rates. This comes after researchers sampled the rings within the trees and compared it’s growth rates with the increase in carbon dioxide. The two seem to be in near perfect symmetry with one another. All plant-life absorb carbon from the atmosphere and convert it to energy for the plant to survive – a process known as photosynthesis.

A strand of Aspen.

“Trees are already responding to a relatively nominal increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide over the past 50 years,” says Rick Lindroth, a UW-Madison professor of ecology and an expert on plant responses to climate change.

It seems the two species of North American tree have taken the increase in carbon and in itself increased it’s rate of growth. Aspen and Birch trees, particularly in the American Midwest, are considered “foundation species”. These particular species impact every other plant around them. The concern that is impacting the researchers’ interests as well as the rest of the science world – is what effect will the increased growth of these species have on their symbiosis with other plants. Some plants which grow slowly may be overtaken and consumed by the rapid growth of these trees.

Ecological impacts involving the vitae of plant-life and the effects the plants themselves have on each other and their locale is a big question. Ecology is an ever-changing field and it’s very hard to predict what impacts factor A will have on factor B and vice versa.

“We can’t forecast ecological change. It’s a complicated business,” explains Waller, a UW-Madison professor of botany. “For all we know, this could have very serious effects on slower growing plants and their ability to persist.”

To the surprise to many, the growth rate of these particular species has increased phenomenally – as much as 50% faster growth than 100 years ago. The next question is, how much more carbon can the plants absorb? The plants can only handle so much carbon and can only grow to a certain point.

“Forests will continue to be important to soak up anthropogenic carbon dioxide,” says Waller. “But we can’t conclude that aspen forests are going to soak up excess carbon dioxide. This is going to plateau.”

“Aspens are already doing their best to mitigate our inputs,” agrees Cole. “The existing trees are going to max out in a couple of decades.”

The new study was funded by the National Science Foundation and the University of Minnesota – Morris.

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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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A Synopsis on Climate Change

15 08 2009

There has been skepticism during the entire lifetime of the theoretical atmospheric anomaly called “Global Warming”. Global Warming is a term coined to describe the unnatural rise of the mean low-level atmosphere temperature over a period of time called climate. Global Warming has also been described as Climate Change although it is not a deserved alias as the earth’s climate often changes in temperature over long periods of time (see ice ages and medieval warming). As such, Global Warming should have been coined as the 21st century Global Warming Trend instead of its current names.

Cycle of Greenhouse Gases

The evidence of Global Warming has seemed to pile-up over the time span of its coined existence. This could be due to the fact that more investigations into the global climate heating has resulted in both expected and unexpected evidence and it could be a result of ongoing changes that take place in real time such as the breaking off and thinning of glaciers. Some of the evidence already observed include a research study by various scientists and reported by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) include a global mean temperature increase of 0.74 ± 0.18 °C (1.33 ± 0.32 °F) over the period of the last century although it seems variations in solar radiation and volcanic activity was the primary contributors before the pre-industrial times before 1950.

Temperature Changes
It is forecasted by the IPCC that the global mean temperature could increase yet another 1.1 to 6.4 °C (2.0 to 11.5 °F) by 2100. The uncertainty in the predicted temperature increases is partially due to the fact that different models have forecasted different amounts of chemicals such as Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere during varying spans of time. The prediction of 2 °F is a conservative guess but the 11.5 °F increase is also quite possible and would be, of course, the worst case scenario.

Temperature History

The NASA Goddard Space Institute estimated that 2005 was the warmest year globally since dependable and accurate modern satellite temperature monitoring began, exceeding the previous record established in 1998 by only a few hundredths of a degree. The high temperatures recorded in 1998 is thought to be a result of an unusually strong El Niño event – the strongest in over a century.

Since global temperatures have been monitored and recorded, various global locations seem to heat faster than others such as the difference in ocean temperatures relative to land-based atmosphere temperatures. Ocean temperatures rise approximately 0.13 °C relative to land-based atmosphere temperatures which rise an average of 0.25 °C during the course of a decade. Many factors contribute to the difference in temperature increases including the ocean having a vast depth and spread in which temperature is required to increase as well as the effect of evaporation on the air above the ocean. Liquids warm and cool much slower than the air, being more dense, thus the difference in temperature fluctuations. Also, the north hemisphere would warm much faster than the southern hemisphere mainly due to the fact that the northern hemisphere has more land area than does the south. With upper air currents in combination with the difference in temperature, the polar regions would heat much faster than regions closer to the equator, thus the rapid warming and thinning of the polar ice caps in the Arctic and Antarctic Circles. Due to the heat-retaining capacity of the oceans as well as the lifespan of Carbon Dioxide, even if all emissions were to cease the global temperature would continue to rise well after 2100.

Global Warming Projections

Another area which affects the global mean temperature is the effects of “Greenhouse Gases” originally discovered and coined by Joseph Fourier in 1824 and was first investigated quantitatively by Svante Arrhenius in 1896. “Greenhouse Gases” are gases which emit and absorb infrared radiation in the planets atmosphere and enhance the atmosphere’s ability to withhold heat energy. “Greenhouse Gases” include but are not limited to: Water Vapor, Methane, Carbon Dioxide, Nitrous Oxide and Tropospheric Ozone. Higher concentrations of these gases lead to the planet’s atmosphere retaining more heat than it exerts thus raising the global mean temperature. Since the industrial revolution, global carbon dioxide levels have increased by 36% – ¾ of the increase is suspected to be a direct result of the burning of fossil fuels. Evidence extracted from deep ice pockets suggest that carbon dioxide levels are higher than they have been in the last 650,000 years – additional evidence is believed to indicate that levels are actually higher than they have been in the last 20 million years. Although most of the gases mentioned enhance the planets ability to retain heat, some chemicals known as aerosols which are either released naturally, as is the case with volcanoes, or by human sowing as is the case with some CFCs. These chemicals reflect radiation back into space from the upper atmosphere countering the effects of “Greenhouse Gases”. Although this may have been the case up until now, it seems as if the amount of “Greenhouse Gases” such as carbon dioxide and methane are well exceeding the amount of aerosol in the atmosphere. This may have been the reason that extreme global mean temperature increase was delayed during the latter half of the 20th century and only become urgent from the beginning of the new millennium onward. Methods have also been used by scientists to combat global warming indirectly and directly including the use of Biochar, Geoengineering and the like.

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Combating Global Warming One Pile at a Time

12 08 2009

So what has the world come to? All of a sudden, desperate people clinging to climate change destruction found a new way to combat global warming – burning poop. Aven manure to be exact. A conference was recently held in Boulder, CO on the topic of Biochar – a charcoal formed from burning organic materials in a low-oxygen environment. It is said to be like a “sponge” for atmospheric carbon dioxide. Not only does it soak it up and store it for up to a thousand years, it’s burning in a low-oxygen environment prevents the creation of carbon dioxide when it is burned.

The Infamous Chicken - The Infinite Possibilities

I fully understand every little effort helps against global warming but I don’t think I would ever be too large of a fan of spreading burnt poop all around the world. It’s a great and large endeavor to take on a project of this size and, although it’s impact on the climate would be minimal, those who wish to spread the poop can say that they assisted in the combat against climate change.

As a reminder, every little effort helps. Carpooling, riding a bike instead of driving, driving a hybrid, stopping smoking, planting more trees and other CO2 consuming plants as well as abstaining from burning fossil fuels can all add up when performed on a global scale.