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MIT Team Asks: Is Increase in Greenhouse Gas Part of Natural Cycle? - A Galaxy Debate


A team of MIT scientists recorded a nearly simultaneous world-wide increase in methane levels -the first increase in ten years. What baffles the team is that this data contradicts theories stating humans are the primary source of increase in greenhouse gas. It takes about one full year for gases generated in the highly industrial northern hemisphere to cycle through and reach the southern hemisphere. Since all worldwide levels rose simultaneously throughout the same year, however, it is probable that this may be part of a natural cycle - and not the direct result of man's contributions.

MIT's Matthew Rigby and Ronald Prinn, the TEPCO Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry in MIT's Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Science, state that this imbalance has resulted in several million metric tons of additional methane in the atmosphere. Methane is produced by wetlands, rice paddies, cattle, and the gas and coal industries, and is destroyed by reaction with the hydroxyl free radical (OH), often referred to as the atmosphere's "cleanser."

Wildflowers Methane accounts for roughly one-fifth of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, though its effect is 25x greater than that of carbon dioxide. Its impact on global warming comes from the reflection of the sun's light back to the Earth. Methane is broken down in the atmosphere by the free radical hydroxyl (OH), a naturally occuring process. This atmospheric cleanser has been shown to adjust itself up and down periodically, and is believed to account for the lack of increases in methane levels in Earth's atmosphere over the past ten years despite notable simultaneous increases by man.

Prinn has said, "The next step will be to study [these changes] using a very high-resolution atmospheric circulation model and additional measurements from other networks. The key thing is to better determine the relative roles of increased methane emission versus [an increase] in the rate of removal. Apparently we have a mix of the two, but we want to know how much of each [is responsible for the overall increase]."

The primary concern now is that while the collected data in 2007 reflects a simultaneous world-wide increase in emissions, how relevant are any of the data findings at this late date?

One thing does seem very clear, however; science is only beginning to get a focus on the big picture of global warming. Findings like these tell us it's too early to know for sure if man's impact is affecting things at "alarming rates." We may simply be going through another natural cycle of warmer and colder times - one that's been observed through a scientific analysis of the Earth to be naturally occurring for hundreds of thousands of years.

What do you think? Join the Comments thread below.

Posted by Casey Kazan.

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I recall warnings that warming of the arctic would liberate stored gas from thawed permafrost wetlands : muskeg, swamps and the like. Since there is coastal erosion caused by thawing, evidently that process has a good chance of having started. It would make sense when linked to loss of snow/glacier cover and increased absorption of light energy.

The atmosphere is influenced by human activity as well as other "natural" factors, and not by either just humans or just everything else.

The simple fact is that people HAVE been releasing millions of years worth of captured carbon back into the atmosphere, by burning huge chunks of the worlds coal and oil in a relatively short time span.

There is broad consensus, that even oil companies accept, that the greenhouse effect exists. We know that it is exacerbated by carbon emissions (from whatever source: human, permafrost, Santa Claus). There is therefore an obvious risk that increasing the greenhouse effect would result in climate change, which would have negative effects on humans and the rest of the planet. In that case, it doesn't matter if it is caused by Santa -- we would still need to be REDUCING the carbon in the atmosphere, not adding to it.

This global warming argument can be summed up by just 1 line acc. to me.
"Better safe than Sorry"
Don't you think, especially when considering there won't even be a sorry if it ever came to that.
On another note i don't accept the fact Planet Earth is at danger, we as a species are at danger along with others that is it,Period.Its really irritating.
Earth has gone through CO2 levels of 6000ppmv (385ppmv is current modern level)all the way down to 100ppmv at various points in history with O2 levels sometimes at 10% (21% today)
Temps have been far higher also.
Its the Humans not the planet at danger.

This is the first sensible post regarding "global warming" I've seen on this site. Congratulations. The fact that there is consensus on the green house effect is meaningless. The debate is over whether or not the Earth's climate is nearing a "tipping point" where warming sets off a series of self-reinforcing events (positive feedback) causing the climate to irreversibly change in unpredictable and potentially catastrophic ways. There is NO evidence supporting this thesis. The computer models, now revealed to have been manipulated to produce this doomsday scenario, have failed to predict climate outcomes and cannot produce correlation to past events. The ClimateGate emails and documents reveal an effort to mislead, manipulate and subvert the scientific process. The media has been reduced to farce after years of unquestioned promotion of "the end is near" hysterics. As one British science blogger put it:

Slice your average environment correspondent through the middle and you're going to find a left-leaning liberal arts graduate who is utterly out of his/her depth. Their world view is being swept from underneath them and they are being shown—in ways that they do not really and have never had to understand—that the guys they thought were the goodies are in fact "at it" and that those they have spent a decade disparaging as deniers were in fact spot on.

The fact that the world does not face catastrophe should be greeted by all rational and reasonable people as good news. And the exposure of the fraud at the CRU should serve as a cautionary tale of what happens when scientists put their political beliefs ahead of their commitment to the truth. We should clean up the mess that has been made of climate research and renew the effort to understand our world and the way we impact it, without the politics and hysterics.

So, CO2 at 338 parts per million, less than %1.00, is heating up the global atmosphere?, yeah right, the brit. met. office has issued a graph showing temperature falling since the year 2000!
Even NASA ha said that 2000+ is cooler than 1900+, figure that out.

Well we already know that CO2 levels are now higher than they've ben in the last 2 million years. And we already know that if we manage to melt the polar ice caps completely (Antarctica and Greenland) then sea levels will rise some 80 meters. That would put all of the US east coast underwater and the state of Florida completely under water. And we do know that the poles were once completely ice free more than 40 million years ago. Maybe we can help create those conditions again:-)

If you want to see what the world would look like with no polar caps then take a look at these maps:

Never underestimate the power of insanity.

The government of Canada has decided that it will become an enemy of environmental cleanliness, will embrace a petroleum economy, and will depart from the will of the people.

We may be entering the age of unreason.

"Better safe than sorry" -- The trouble is that current political efforts only look at one side of "Better safe than sorry." Global warming has always been welcomed in the past, longer growing season, more usable land, more fresh water, better health, etc. Humanity's struggles with survival have been against cold, against ice.

By "Better safe than sorry," you mean to say that we should reduce gases that cause warming even if the Earth is not warming. Well we are not "better safe than sorry" if the Earth is actually cooling and we reduce those gasses and make it cool all the faster.

As Freeman Dyson has said, we need data, actual hard data, and it's easy to get (just read his books and articles)... but we're not getting the data, we're not even trying to get real temp data -- we're fudging made-up data and fudging computer models to obtain funding (as the hacked emails make clear).

We should not restrict our use of fossil fuels (let the free market control their use), we should not attempt to manage naturally occurring gasses in the atmosphere.

Dan, if things get too warm then we just get droughts and bushfires (California, Australia, Greece amongst others).

As for your free market statement, why are some governments providing fossil fuel companies with massive tax breaks? The free market then doesn't exist since one method of fuel is sponsored above others.

I was impressed with your first two comments, wondering 'Is a more educated class of commenters evolving?' Should have known better, it then degenerated to the usual blather.

This is the first nonsensible post regarding "global warming" I've seen on this site. Condolances. The fact that there is consensus on the green house effect is crucial.

The fact that CO2, which has been increasing for decades and had plenty of time to mix globally, has perhaps caused a global increase in release of methane might occur to you, or MIT guys.

I'd be happy to leave this issue behind, if only the impassioned deniers would promise to turn off CO2's ability to intercept infrared radiation. Any takers?

In the event that no one has the trick of turning off CO2's opacity to certain wavelengths of infrared, we still have a very simple question to answer. Is fossil fuel energy safe?

Consider the inertial factors that face us.

If all of humanity today were agreed that fossil fuel energy needs to be phased out and replaced by renewable energy, it would be a 50 year project. With all the kicking and screaming, it will take 80 to 100 years. Huge technology inertia in today's system.

CO2 once it gets in the atmosphere (half of emissions go into oceans and forests) stays there for a very long time. CO2 is 38% higher than the preindustrial norm, now, and will be 100% higher before the end of the century. The higher we push the CO2 total, the higher it will be for many many many decades thereafter. Huge inertial momentum here, too. And every molecule an interceptor of infrared, unless our conservative friends know how to turn that feature off.

Where does the trapped extra heat go? Surface oceans soak it up, to a depth of several hundred feet. Boost atmospheric CO2 by any given amount, and surface oceans will take twenty or thirty years absorbing the extra heat before the Earth's heat balance is restored. The warmer the surface oceans become, the more thermal momentum we have in the global climate system. It is a long slow process on the way up, and whatever the oceans warm to, we will be stuck with for a very long time.

Inertial momentum from technology. Inertial momentum from raising atmospheric CO2, to 38%, 60%, 100%, higher. Inertial momentum from warming oceans. If our conservative friends turn out to be wrong about how wonderfully safe fossil fuels really are, the entire planet will be trapped in a hotter climate from which there is no escape. Will our conservative friends volunteer to indemnify all those who lose their homes to rising seas, should the conservative promise of fossil fuel safety turn out to be, hmm, nothing more than hot air?

Climate change and global warming subject ?

Intense debate will spark immediately.

The MIT research seems to be serious as usual...even though they and all of scientific community have not sufficient data to develop a credible model of the Greenhouse gases development and human influence on the global climate.

Methane is a bad guy : true , it is from 25 to 33 times stronger than CO2 as greenhouse gas.

The current estimate is that we humans generate some 50% to 60% of the Methane in the ATM.

Much of it is due to human manipulation of Fossil Carbon and Oil and part of it comes from various other sources such as Cattle again increased by the rich countries food habits.

About the 'Tale' that the planet temperature has decreased from year 2000 , we can avoid any comment .... may be the thermometers used in UK were somewhat old.

One of the main problems that nobody is talking about is the FACT that for each molecule of CO2 created by us 2 athoms of oxygen are gone and we tend to need oxygen when we breeth.

So there are quite few problems , one of them appears to be kept hidden . We western countries are poor of fuel fossils (Oil and Gas) and we fully depend on 3rd world countries.

In the near future these oil (and gas) rich countries can black-mail us (westerns) with sky high prices...and presently we have NOT developed adequate alternative energy means as correctly said by one commenter.

Therefore even if I am NOT an expert on climate changes and ATM evolution cycles on planet earth , I sustain that it is safer for our future to develop alternative energy sources and decrease our dependency on OPEC a minimum concrete action.

Regards to the intense debates.

... sources such as Cattle again increased by the rich countries food habits.

Actually, "rich" countries are responsible for the greatest reduction of methane in history as the internal combustion engine replaced the need for millions of horses, oxen and other beasts of burden.

We western countries are poor of fuel fossils (Oil and Gas) and we fully depend on 3rd world countries.

In fact, the west is rich in both oil and gas, we do not harvest our resources because of enviromental concerns, but we have more than enough to provide for our needs for hundreds of years.

Its a loose loose situation it seems. Until every country is using natural energy sources the atmosphere will deal with the effects.

lets see if scientists cnan prove this theory absolutely

The revelations that the warming of Greenland 10-20 degrees may have created ancient beds of greenhouse gases of Carbon 14 with a half life of 5,730 years suggests that our recognition of global warming is positive, not negative, as an opportunity to turn to natural sources of energy to be converted by humans and recycled for its use.

20 years ago, no one knew that the ocean floor was filled with heated volcanic vents that emitted methane, and humans could not envision the role that ancient warming cycles might have provided recyclable natural energy opportunities. So committed to oil drilling rather than natural energy collection, we may still be missing the "big event" that methane production is natural, and what we do with the methane produced matters. Allowed to languish unused in society, excessive production must decay the atmosphere especially where the ocean is warmed by such natural and uncollected currents - to become a part of the atmosphere by the emissions into the water which rises up to become a part of the air we breathe.

Not contained by anything, it would be the equivalent of meandering through "forest fires" burning all around with no method of containment, or putting them out.

Building practices in the last 100 years adding "pollution and global warming potential" to the atmosphere may have revealed the earth's potential to release excess methane that otherwise would never have been recognized without that building. To maintain air quality, low saturation, not high saturation of methane needs to be in the air, but part of that obligation is to collect natural methane produced to control the source of the methane produced. If higher concentrations occur on the ocean floor than upon the surface of the earth, harvesting methane from either source would be beneficial and have the potential to reduce methane in the atmosphere where it isn't wanted, and convert it to energy where it is useful to mankind, and wildlife. With a 5,730 half life, it is unlikely that there is a limit to how much methane can be collected for this purpose?

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