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-iconrss-icon

 Get The Latest By Email

{emailcloak=off}

EVIDENCE

Will The Climate Warm As Much As Feared By Some?
Will The Climate Warm As Much As Feared By Some?
by Steven Sherwood et al
We know the climate changes as greenhouse gas concentrations rise, but the exact amount of expected warming remains…
Methane Emissions Hit Record Breaking Levels
Methane Emissions Hit Record Breaking Levels
by Josie Garthwaite
Global emissions of methane have reached the highest levels on record, research shows.
What The World Was Like The Last Time Carbon Dioxide Levels Were At 400ppm
What The World Was Like The Last Time Carbon Dioxide Levels Were At 400ppm
by James Shulmeister
The last time global carbon dioxide levels were consistently at or above 400 parts per million (ppm) was around four…
What An Ocean Hidden Under Antarctic Ice Reveals About Our Planet's Future Climate
What An Ocean Hidden Under Antarctic Ice Reveals About Our Planet's Future Climate
by Craig Stevens and Christina Hulbe
Jules Verne sent his fictional submarine, the Nautilus, to the South Pole through a hidden ocean beneath a thick ice…
Antarctic Ice Shelves Reveals A Missing Piece Of The Climate Puzzle
Antarctic Ice Shelves Reveals A Missing Piece Of The Climate Puzzle
by Katherine Hutchinson
Ice shelves, massive floating bodies of ice, are well-known for their buffering effect on land-based ice sheets as they…
Why We Won't Be Heading Into An Ice Age Any Time Soon
Why We Won't Be Heading Into An Ice Age Any Time Soon
by James Renwick
When I studied climate in my university geography course in the 1960s, I am sure we were told that the Earth was…
How Volcanoes Influence Climate And How Their Emissions Compare To What We Produce
How Volcanoes Influence Climate And How Their Emissions Compare To What We Produce
by Michael Petterson
Everyone is going on about reducing our carbon footprint, zero emissions, planting sustainable crops for biodiesel etc.
What Is Climate Sensitivity?
What Is Climate Sensitivity?
by Robert Colman and Karl Braganza
Humans are emitting CO2 and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. As these gases build up they trap extra heat…

LATEST VIDEOS

Methane Emissions Hit Record Breaking Levels
Methane Emissions Hit Record Breaking Levels
by Josie Garthwaite
Global emissions of methane have reached the highest levels on record, research shows.
kelp forrest 7 12
How The Forests Of The World’s Oceans Contribute To Alleviating The Climate Crisis
by Emma Bryce
Researchers are looking to kelp for help storing carbon dioxide far beneath the surface of the sea.
Tiny Plankton Drive Processes In The Ocean That Capture Twice As Much Carbon As Scientists Thought
Tiny Plankton Drive Processes In The Ocean That Capture Twice As Much Carbon As Scientists Thought
by Ken Buesseler
The ocean plays a major role in the global carbon cycle. The driving force comes from tiny plankton that produce…
Climate Change Threatens Drinking Water Quality Across The Great Lakes
Climate Change Threatens Drinking Water Quality Across The Great Lakes
by Gabriel Filippelli and Joseph D. Ortiz
“Do Not Drink/Do Not Boil” is not what anyone wants to hear about their city’s tap water. But the combined effects of…
Talking About Energy Change Could Break The Climate impasse
Talking About Energy Change Could Break The Climate Impasse
by InnerSelf Staff
Everyone has energy stories, whether they’re about a relative working on an oil rig, a parent teaching a child to turn…
Crops Could Face Double Trouble From Insects And A Warming Climate
Crops Could Face Double Trouble From Insects And A Warming Climate
by Gregg Howe and Nathan Havko
For millennia, insects and the plants they feed on have been engaged in a co-evolutionary battle: to eat or not be…
To Reach Zero Emissions Government Must Address Hurdles Putting People Off Electric Cars
To Reach Zero Emissions Government Must Address Hurdles Putting People Off Electric Cars
by Swapnesh Masrani
Ambitious targets have been set by the UK and Scottish governments to become net-zero carbon economies by 2050 and 2045…
Spring Is Arriving Earlier Across The US, And That's Not Always Good News
Spring Is Arriving Earlier Across The US, And That's Not Always Good News
by Theresa Crimmins
Across much of the United States, a warming climate has advanced the arrival of spring. This year is no exception.

LATEST ARTICLES

Two-thirds Of Glacier Ice In The Himalayas Could Be Lost By 2100
Two-thirds Of Glacier Ice In The Himalayas Could Be Lost By 2100
by Ann Rowan
In the world of glaciology, the year 2007 would go down in history. It was the year a seemingly small error in a major…
Rising Temps Could Kill Millions A Year By Century’s End
Rising Temps Could Kill Millions A Year By Century’s End
by Edward Lempinen
By the end of this century, tens of millions of people could die each year worldwide as a result of temperatures rising…
New Zealand Wants To Build A 100% Renewable Electricity Grid, But Massive Infrastructure Is Not The Best Option
New Zealand Wants To Build A 100% Renewable Electricity Grid, But Massive Infrastructure Is Not The Best Option
by Janet Stephenson
A proposed multibillion-dollar project to build a pumped hydro storage plant could make New Zealand’s electricity grid…
Wind Farms Built On Carbon-rich Peat Bogs Lose Their Ability To Fight Climate Change
Wind Farms Built On Carbon-rich Peat Bogs Lose Their Ability To Fight Climate Change
by Guaduneth Chico et al
Wind power in the UK now accounts for nearly 30% of all electricity production. Land-based wind turbines now produce…
Climate Denial Hasn't Gone Away – Here's How To Spot Arguments For Delaying Climate Action
Climate Denial Hasn't Gone Away – Here's How To Spot Arguments For Delaying Climate Action
by Stuart Capstick
In new research, we have identified what we call 12 “discourses of delay”. These are ways of speaking and writing about…
Routine Gas Flaring Is Wasteful, Polluting And Undermeasured
Routine Gas Flaring Is Wasteful, Polluting And Undermeasured
by Gunnar W. Schade
If you’ve driven through an area where companies extract oil and gas from shale formations, you’ve probably seen flames…
Flight Shaming: How To Spread The Campaign That Made Swedes Give Up Flying For Good
Flight Shaming: How To Spread The Campaign That Made Swedes Give Up Flying For Good
by Avit K Bhowmik
Europe’s major airlines are likely to see their turnover drop by 50% in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,…
Will The Climate Warm As Much As Feared By Some?
Will The Climate Warm As Much As Feared By Some?
by Steven Sherwood et al
We know the climate changes as greenhouse gas concentrations rise, but the exact amount of expected warming remains…