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Thursday, March 8, 2012

Carbon Emissions and Global Warming...What's the Connection?

Yesterday in the news there was an item reporting that a large solar flare was headed toward earth, and that satellite communications might be temporarily disrupted. What I find especially interesting is that now we have even advanced to the point where we are monitoring solar radiation just as routinely as the daily temperature.

Which got me thinking of an exchange I had last week with a grad student who is doing his Ph.D. work in the field of energy metrics. We are working together to try to improve the way biomass energy can be compared to other forms of energy in use. I mentioned before that I have a personal project underway to make a heating system upgrade to my home...I've made preliminary calculations, but I'm not quite ready to share them here because of other considerations I've had recently. Should have that analysis posted in a month or so, in time for you to consider for next year's heating season.

Anyway, back to the discussion with the student. He was making the case to me that regardless of how we measure it, carbon emissions at any level are detrimental to the earth's atmosphere, and specifically cause global warming. Of course, I encouraged him to express his views, but gently cautioned him that there is historical statistical evidence that average temperature changes precede changes in CO2 levels, not the other way around. He seemed surprised, and I was surprised that he was surprised.

Then came the coincidence that led to today's post. While viewing online videos of this week's solar flare, I came across this excellent video posted about four years ago.



The video gives, I think, a nicely balanced view of the issue...and in doing so, advances the idea that while man-made emissions do in fact contribute to climate variations, they may be a relatively minor impact compared to natural variations in solar radiation, of which this week's solar flare was a noticeable demonstration.

Taking this view, we see that our attempts to reduce carbon emissions might have a beneficial impact, but we are still too early in the scientific investigation process to determine with significant accuracy or precision what the magnitude of that impact will be. But videos such as this one are helping move the science along. Who knows, in a few years, we might be promoting wood biomass energy for its benefit of speeding up the carbon cycle in order to put more CO2 into the atmosphere...so that the Vikings and the giant redwoods can re-populate Greenland.

2 comments:

Mike Messina said...

Chuck Ray is one of the bravest people on this campus!

J.R. Dickens said...

Great post, Chuck. It is unfortunate that climate science (so called) is driven more by a political agenda than a desire to truly understand the complexity of climate. As pointed out in the video, climate is always changing, and historical changes are not accounted for by current climate models. The doomsayers of AGW pretend as though climate is something that is (and SHOULD be) static, when this has never been true. BTW, here at 9000 feet elevation in the Rockies we have some impressive artifacts of global warming--fossilized giant redwoods. Something definitely changed, but I don't think it was the Industrial Revolution!