Science Counts Humankind’s Carbon Output

Science Counts Humankind’s Carbon Output

Installing a gas monitor on a volcano in Papua New Guinea. Image: By Emma Liu, University of Cambridge, via Wikimedia Commons

We leave the planet’s volcanos far behind on greenhouse gas emissions: humankind’s carbon output can exceed theirs by 40 times – to our cost.

Scientists now know how much carbon dioxide is pumped into the atmosphere and oceans by volcanos and volcanic fissures annually – perhaps as much as 360 million tonnes – and another crucial statistic, too: humankind’s carbon output.

They know that, by burning fossil fuels and clearing forests and building cities, we now emit much more than that: between 40 and 100 times more.

They can also now tell you how much carbon is in circulation above the Earth’s surface, in the oceans, on land, and in the atmosphere: the answer is 43,500 billion tonnes. That is about two-tenths of 1% of all the carbon locked for the moment in the Earth’s crust, mantle and core.

The research delivers no answers and no new directions for climate science, and in particular for governments and international agencies concerned about global heating and the climate emergency.

This is the ultimate in basic, bedrock, accounting: to understand the carbon cycle – the continuous traffic of carbon between atmosphere, ocean, rocks and living things – researchers need to have a better idea of the scale of what they like to call the carbon budget.

“To secure a sustainable future, it is of utmost importance that we understand Earth’s entire carbon cycle”

And after a decade of research, a partnership of more than 500 scientists from 39 countries working on more than 100 separate projects has delivered a set of down-to-earth answers in a new issue of the journal Elements.

The total estimate – it can only be an estimate – for the entire stock of carbon at the surface, in the crust and in the Earth’s mantle is around 1.85 billion billion tonnes.

And the observations of volcanic discharges of carbon are vital to understanding the cycle: this more or less steady renewal from deep below the surface is what has made life’s evolution from microbe to monkey puzzle-tree, from bacterium to Bactrian camel, possible over the last billion years.

Carbon from the atmosphere is absorbed by forests and sea meadows and buried, sometimes as shell and bone and limestone, sometimes as coal and oil and methane gas, and the carbon lost to the atmosphere is steadily replenished by deep hot sources from the Earth’s crust.

The study also highlights the nature of the climate emergency: by mining, drilling or quarrying for fossil fuels with which to drive chain saws through forests and bake limestone to make cement, humans are now returning ancient deposits of fossil carbon to the atmosphere at an overwhelming rate.

Doubling carbon levels

For most of human history, human ancestors, like all other life forms, evolved in a low-carbon atmosphere. In the past 60 years, humans have begun to double the normal levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, a potent and enduring greenhouse gas.

And one pay-off of this increasingly urgent interest in the carbon cycle is that the researchers in the Deep Carbon Observatory partnership have added to fundamental knowledge and established what might be the limits of the knowable. They also have a better idea of carbon’s natural cycle.

“Carbon, the basis of all life and the energy source vital to humanity, moves through this planet from its mantle to the atmosphere. To secure a sustainable future, it is of utmost importance that we understand Earth’s entire carbon cycle,” said Marie Edmonds of the University of Cambridge, UK, one of the partnership.

“Key to unravelling the planet’s natural carbon cycle is quantifying how much carbon there is and where, how much moves – the flux – and how quickly, from Deep Earth reservoirs to the surface and back again.”

The Observatory recently identified the huge volume of subterranean life far below the planet’s surface. But the details of the carbon traffic in atmosphere, soils and waters are still somewhat muddy.

Only a start

The issue is vital to planning for what should be the accelerating shift from fossil fuels to solar and wind power, and researchers have been looking for new ways to assess vegetation uptake, the role of microbes in the world’s soils and the play between carbon and the world’s rivers.

The same study throws light on the periodic role of volcanic and magma discharges and other difficult-to-predict events in disrupting life on Earth. At least four times in the past 500 million years enormous discharges of carbon have changed climates and triggered mass extinctions.

And a giant meteor impact 66 million years ago is thought to have released up to 1400 billion tons of carbon dioxide, rapidly warmed the planet and helped in the mass extinction of plants and animals, including the dinosaurs.

The research continues: scientists will meet soon in Washington to start discussing the next decade of work.

“While we celebrate progress, we underline that deep Earth remains a highly unpredictable scientific frontier,” said Tobias Fischer of the University of New Mexico, another of the authors. “We have only truly started to dent current boundaries of our knowledge.” – Climate News Network

About the Author

Tim Radford, freelance journalistTim Radford is a freelance journalist. He worked for The Guardian for 32 years, becoming (among other things) letters editor, arts editor, literary editor and science editor. He won the Association of British Science Writers award for science writer of the year four times. He served on the UK committee for the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction. He has lectured about science and the media in dozens of British and foreign cities. 

Science that Changed the World: The untold story of the other 1960s revolutionBook by this Author:

Science that Changed the World: The untold story of the other 1960s revolution
by Tim Radford.

Click here for more info and/or to order this book on Amazon. (Kindle book)

This Article Originally Appeared On Climate News Network

Related Books

Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know

by Joseph Romm
0190866101The essential primer on what will be the defining issue of our time, Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know® is a clear-eyed overview of the science, conflicts, and implications of our warming planet. From Joseph Romm, Chief Science Advisor for National Geographic's Years of Living Dangerously series and one of Rolling Stone's "100 people who are changing America," Climate Change offers user-friendly, scientifically rigorous answers to the most difficult (and commonly politicized) questions surrounding what climatologist Lonnie Thompson has deemed "a clear and present danger to civilization.". Available On Amazon

Climate Change: The Science of Global Warming and Our Energy Future second edition Edition

by Jason Smerdon
0231172834This second edition of Climate Change is an accessible and comprehensive guide to the science behind global warming. Exquisitely illustrated, the text is geared toward students at a variety of levels. Edmond A. Mathez and Jason E. Smerdon provide a broad, informative introduction to the science that underlies our understanding of the climate system and the effects of human activity on the warming of our planet.Mathez and Smerdon describe the roles that the atmosphere and ocean play in our climate, introduce the concept of radiation balance, and explain climate changes that occurred in the past. They also detail the human activities that influence the climate, such as greenhouse gas and aerosol emissions and deforestation, as well as the effects of natural phenomena.  Available On Amazon

The Science of Climate Change: A Hands-On Course

by Blair Lee, Alina Bachmann
194747300XThe Science of Climate Change: A Hands-On Course uses text and eighteen hands-on activities to explain and teach the science of global warming and climate change, how humans are responsible, and what can be done to slow or stop the rate of global warming and climate change. This book is a complete, comprehensive guide to an essential environmental topic. Subjects covered in this book include: how molecules transfer energy from the sun to warm the atmosphere, greenhouse gases, the greenhouse effect, global warming, the Industrial Revolution, the combustion reaction, feedback loops, the relationship between weather and climate, climate change, carbon sinks, extinction, carbon footprint, recycling, and alternative energy. Available On Amazon

From The Publisher:
Purchases on Amazon go to defray the cost of bringing you InnerSelf.comelf.com, MightyNatural.com, and ClimateImpactNews.com at no cost and without advertisers that track your browsing habits. Even if you click on a link but don't buy these selected products, anything else you buy in that same visit on Amazon pays us a small commission. There is no additional cost to you, so please contribute to the effort. You can also use this link to use to Amazon at any time so you can help support our efforts.

 

 

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeiwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptruesswsvthtrukurvi

follow InnerSelf on

facebook icontwitter iconyoutube iconinstagram iconpintrest iconrss icon

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

EVIDENCE

UK Land Now Stores 7% More Carbon Than 300 Years Ago And What That Means For The Environment
UK Land Now Stores 7% More Carbon Than 300 Years Ago And What That Means For The Environment
by Victoria Janes-Bassett and Jess Davies, Lancaster University
Limiting global warming to 1.5°C and avoiding the worst effects of climate change will take more than eliminating…
Why Rising Carbon Emissions Might Not Make The Earth Uninhabitable
Why Rising Carbon Emissions Might Not Make The Earth Uninhabitable
by Laura Revell, University of Canterbury
Even with all humanity’s carbon emissions to date, there’s a lot less carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere than Venus,…
Emissions Of Methane Are Rising Dangerously
Emissions Of Methane Are Rising Dangerously
by Pep Canadell, CSIRO; et al
Fossil fuels and agriculture are driving a dangerous acceleration in methane emissions, at a rate consistent with a…
Antarctica's Ice Shelves Are Trembling As Global Temperatures Rise – What Happens Next Is Up To Us
Antarctica's Ice Shelves Are Trembling As Global Temperatures Rise – What Happens Next Is Up To Us
by Ella Gilbert, University of Reading
Images of colossal chunks of ice plunging into the sea accompany almost every news story about climate change. It can…
Why Huge Volcanic Eruption Didn't Cause Climate Change And Mass Extinction 140 Million Years Ago
Why Huge Volcanic Eruption Didn't Cause Climate Change And Mass Extinction 140 Million Years Ago
by Joshua Davies, Université du Québec à Montréal et al
Mass extinctions are times in Earth’s past when large proportions of life suddenly and catastrophically died. These…
Tree Rings And Weather Data Warn Of Megadrought
Tree Rings And Weather Data Warn Of Megadrought
by Tim Radford
Farmers in the US West know they have a drought, but may not yet realise these arid years could become a megadrought.
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
by Alan N Williams, et al
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that without a substantial decrease…
Why We Can't Blame Climate Change On Solar Activity
Why We Can't Blame Climate Change On Solar Activity
by Gareth Dorrian and Ian Whittaker
The past decade (2010-2019) was the hottest on record and five of the top 10 warmest single years have all occurred…

LATEST VIDEOS

The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
by Alan N Williams, et al
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that without a substantial decrease…
Earth Has Stayed Habitable For Billions Of Years – Exactly How Lucky Did We Get?
Earth Has Stayed Habitable For Billions Of Years – Exactly How Lucky Did We Get?
by Toby Tyrrell
It took evolution 3 or 4 billion years to produce Homo sapiens. If the climate had completely failed just once in that…
How Mapping The Weather 12,000 Years Ago Can Help Predict Future Climate Change
How Mapping The Weather 12,000 Years Ago Can Help Predict Future Climate Change
by Brice Rea
The end of the last ice age, around 12,000 years ago, was characterised by a final cold phase called the Younger Dryas.…
The Caspian Sea Is Set To Fall By 9 Metres Or More This Century
The Caspian Sea Is Set To Fall By 9 Metres Or More This Century
by Frank Wesselingh and Matteo Lattuada
Imagine you are on the coast, looking out to sea. In front of you lies 100 metres of barren sand that looks like a…
Venus Was Once More Earth-like, But Climate Change Made It Uninhabitable
Venus Was Once More Earth-like, But Climate Change Made It Uninhabitable
by Richard Ernst
We can learn a lot about climate change from Venus, our sister planet. Venus currently has a surface temperature of…
Five Climate Disbeliefs: A Crash Course In Climate Misinformation
The Five Climate Disbeliefs: A Crash Course In Climate Misinformation
by John Cook
This video is a crash course in climate misinformation, summarizing the key arguments used to cast doubt on the reality…
The Arctic Hasn't Been This Warm For 3 Million Years and That Means Big Changes For The Planet
The Arctic Hasn't Been This Warm For 3 Million Years and That Means Big Changes For The Planet
by Julie Brigham-Grette and Steve Petsch
Every year, sea ice cover in the Arctic Ocean shrinks to a low point in mid-September. This year it measures just 1.44…
What Is A Hurricane Storm Surge and Why Is It So Dangerous?
What Is A Hurricane Storm Surge and Why Is It So Dangerous?
by Anthony C. Didlake Jr
As Hurricane Sally headed for the northern Gulf Coast on Tuesday, September 15, 2020, forecasters warned of a…

LATEST ARTICLES

The US Electric Power Sector Is Halfway To Zero Carbon Emissions
The US Electric Power Sector Is Halfway To Zero Carbon Emissions
by Bentham Paulos, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory et al
So far 17 states plus Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico have adopted laws or executive orders setting goals for…
Hydrogen Is One Future Fuel Oil Execs And Environmentalists Could Both Support As Rival Countries Search For Climate Solutions
Hydrogen Is One Future Fuel Oil Execs And Environmentalists Could Both Support As Rival Countries Search For Climate Solutions
by John Ballantine, Brandeis University
The 2015 Paris Agreement was a groundbreaking diplomatic effort – 196 countries committed to prevent average…
Climate Change Threatens Coffee – But We’ve Found A Delicious Wild Species That Could Help Save Your Morning Brew
Climate Change Threatens Coffee – But We’ve Found A Delicious Wild Species That Could Help Save Your Morning Brew
by Aaron P Davis, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
The world loves coffee. More precisely, it loves arabica coffee. From the smell of its freshly ground beans through to…
Competition Heats Up In The Melting Arctic, And The Us Isn't Prepared To Counter Russia
Competition Heats Up In The Melting Arctic, And The US Isn't Prepared To Counter Russia
by Rockford Weitz, Tufts University
For decades, the frozen Arctic was little more than a footnote in global economic competition, but that’s changing as…
Global Farming Feels The Impacts Of Global Heating
Global Farming Feels The Impacts Of Global Heating
by Tim Radford
Global heating has already set back farming around the world, and wiped out seven years of steady advance.
Interstate Water Wars Are Heating Up Along With The Climate
Interstate Water Wars Are Heating Up Along With The Climate
by Robert Glennon, University of Arizona
Interstate water disputes are as American as apple pie. States often think a neighboring state is using more than its…
As Extreme Fires Transform Alaska's Boreal Forest, More Aspen And Birch Are Coming In And That Can Slow Fires And Their Climate Impact
As Extreme Fires Transform Alaska's Boreal Forest, More Aspen And Birch Are Coming In And That Can Slow Fires And Their Climate Impact
by Jill Johnstone, University of Saskatchewan et al
Fire is a hot topic these days, particularly when it comes to the boreal forest, the vast expanse of trees that…
Would A Carbon Tax On Imports Be The Climate Solution Officials Expect?
Would A Carbon Tax On Imports Be The Climate Solution Officials Expect?
by Timothy Hamilton, University of Richmond
The European Union is considering a new tax on imports as it tries to fight climate change, and the U.S. is raising…

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

New Attitudes - New Possibilities

InnerSelf.comClimateImpactNews.com | InnerPower.net
MightyNatural.com | WholisticPolitics.com
Copyright ©1985 - 2021 InnerSelf Publications. All Rights Reserved.