JoNova

A science presenter, writer, speaker & former TV host; author of The Skeptic's Handbook (over 200,000 copies distributed & available in 15 languages).


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Amazon River produces monster levels of “pollution”. The dilemma. Should we stop the river?

The mouth of the Amazon is the worst source of “pollution”.

Bad news for fans of The Amazon River. A new study shows that while the Amazon rain forest is the Lungs of The Planet, pulling down gigatonnes of CO2, the river undoes all the good the trees do, and pours all the CO2 back into the sky. Damn that river eh? Lucky it only discharges one fifth of the worlds freshwater.

Apparently most researchers thought bacteria couldn’t digest the tough woody lignin of tree debris fast enough to prevent it getting to the ocean*. Underestimating microbial life seems a common affliction, and we hear was a big surprise that only 5% of the lignin actually ends up reaching the ocean where it might sink to the floor and be sequestered. The rest is broken down by bacteria and released into the air. The clues were there for years that the Amazon was giving off lots more CO2 than people expected, but the consensus was that it “didn’t add up”. So much for that consensus.

Yet another victory for observations over opinions.

Until recently, people believed much of the rain forest’s carbon floated down the Amazon River and ended [...]

Ocean plankton suck up twice the carbon we thought they did

Hyperia | Credit Wikimedia

Despite the fuss about CO2 emissions, on a global scale no one is quite sure where a lot of it ends up. Those mystery “sinks” draw in a large proportion of CO2. Here’s a big sink that just got twice as big.

Science Daily  Mar. 17, 2013 — Models of carbon dioxide in the world’s oceans need to be revised, according to new work by UC Irvine and other scientists published online Sunday in Nature Geoscience. Trillions of plankton near the surface of warm waters are far more carbon-rich than has long been thought, they found. Global marine temperature fluctuations could mean that tiny Prochlorococcus and other microbes digest double the carbon previously calculated.

The trouble started when someone made an assumption.

[...]

Is man-made CO2 different? 1000 years? Try 4 years.

That CO2 you emitted last Tuesday: Is it coming back next month, next year, or in March 3011?

Tim Flannery makes it clear that CO2 circulates o-so-slowly, circa “a thousand years”. Remember that CO2′s “greenhouse” effect occurs at speed-of-light timescales, so if the temperature is affected, so must be the CO2 (according, at least, to the World of Flannery).

If we cut emissions today, global temperatures are not likely to drop for about a thousand years… Just let me finish and say this. If the world as a whole cut all emissions tomorrow the average temperature of the planet is not going to drop in several hundred years, perhaps as much as a thousand years because the system is overburdened with CO2 that has to be absorbed and that only happens slowly.  [Thanks to Andrew Bolt]

There are a few clues that maybe CO2 doesn’t idle the centuries away aloft, and that (I know you’ll be shocked) the Climate Commission (and IPCC) have overstated things: If emissions are absorbed by the global system in a matter of months, it rather blows the idea that we have to act decades ahead to stop the catastrophe. If CO2 levels adjust quickly, our [...]