Foretelling a major meltdown: Rare mineral might portend return to hothouse climate of old

Dec 01, 2008

By discovering the meaning of a rare mineral that can be used to track ancient climates, Binghamton University geologist Tim Lowenstein is helping climatologists and others better understand what we're probably in for over the next century or two as global warming begins to crank up the heat — and, ultimately, to change life as we know it.

"I think the earth will be a very different place in the next hundred years or so, and that many species will adapt to it and many won't," Lowenstein said. "Humans are supremely good at adapting. But, rich countries will adapt much better than poor countries and other species will have far more trouble coping with environmental change. There are going to be challenges we can't even imagine right now."

Lowenstein's concerns are rooted not in speculation about unprecedented future happenings, but in the scientific discovery and analysis of mineral samples formed during the Eocene Epoch, the warmest period on earth in the last 65 million years.

What Lowenstein and his colleague Robert Demicco at Binghamton University have discovered is that nahcolite, a rare, yellowish-green or brown carbonate mineral, only forms on earth under environmental conditions marked by very high atmospheric CO2 levels. That establishes it as both a marker and a benchmark that can be used by scientists as they consider the likely climatic implications of ever-increasing CO2 levels in our atmosphere today. More specifically, nahcolite suggests that Eocene warming was concurrent with atmospheric CO2 levels of at least 1,125 parts per million (ppm), which is 3 times the current levels of 380 ppm, but not all that much higher than we can expect on earth in the next 100 years or so given generally accepted scientific projections based on fossil-fuel consumption.

Because CO2 is a forcing factor for climate change, increases in its levels can be directly tied to global warming. A greenhouse gas, CO2 absorbs radiation that would normally be reflected out of the atmosphere, helping to ramp up temperatures, melt glaciers and significantly alter ocean currents and weather patterns.

As for steep, projected increases in CO2 levels over the next century, Lowenstein thinks that might not be our only cause for concern.

"If we assume that you and I are both in our 50s, the change in atmospheric CO2 in our lifetime is greater than the rate of any change in at least the last half million years," said Lowenstein, who is particularly concerned about unexpected changes

"Right now, we're on a predictable pace. But there will likely be tipping points, unexpected events that could really change things, so all of a sudden we may get changes in ocean circulation that we never would have predicted, or the tundra may melt. Some unexpected event is going to occur that's going to be more dramatic than the progressive changes that occurred over the last 100 years."

As a scientist, Lowenstein has no doubt that burning oil, gas and coal are fueling global warming and creating, along with environmental degradation, an immediate threat to some species of life on the planet. His opinion is unchanged by those who would point to the earth's ancient hothouse past as proof that natural swings in climate take place with or without human intervention.

Lowenstein said these consequences seem more and more likely without drastic change.

"The glacier on Mount Kilimanjaro has not much time left even now. Many mountain glaciers are going to disappear," he said. "It all depends on how much fossil fuel we burn. But if we keep doing what we're doing now, we will be up to the CO2 levels of the Eocene within another 100 or 200 years."

As Lowenstein points out, although it is difficult to predict how global temperatures over the coming centuries will compare to the Eocene, the "hothouse" world 50 million years ago should serve as a reminder of what global changes are possible.

Source: Binghamton University

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thermodynamics
4.7 / 5 (15) Dec 01, 2008
Just a minor nit to pick - probably a result of the reporting rather than a problem with the report.

The article says: "A greenhouse gas, CO2 absorbs radiation that would normally be reflected out of the atmosphere,..."

That is not correct. The wavelengths that CO2 absorbs in are in the infrared and are those radiated by the earth into space. They are not those reflected by the surface of the earth from the sun. So, the article should have said "radiated" instead of "reflected."
GrayMouser
2.8 / 5 (15) Dec 01, 2008
A couple of other things:
1) the CO2 levels have been in the 7000 to 8000 ppm range, so what are the levels of this rare mineral for that period of time?

2) the levels of CO2 trail the rise in temperature so it is the temperature that forces the level of CO2 and not the level of CO2 forcing the temperature.
h1ghj3sus
3.6 / 5 (8) Dec 01, 2008
grow more trees. If GrayMouser is right, the sun gets cooler on a cycle and less plants grow which decreases the rate of CO2 conversion. The process in itself allows for more trees to grow which then increases the rate of CO2 conversion.
jyro
2.9 / 5 (14) Dec 01, 2008
Sounds like he thinks we have enough oil to burn for another 200 years.
Velanarris
3.4 / 5 (12) Dec 01, 2008
Sounds like he thinks we have enough oil to burn for another 200 years.
And that we're attempting to burn it as fast as possible.
Soylent
3 / 5 (10) Dec 01, 2008
2) the levels of CO2 trail the rise in temperature so it is the temperature that forces the level of CO2 and not the level of CO2 forcing the temperature.


Non sequitur; the fact that the warming was initialized by some other factor(mostly orbital forcings) doesn't tell you anything about what impact the CO2 had.

If you want to get a crude estimate of what the CO2 did all you have to do is look at the IR absorbtion-spectrum of CO2.
Nartoon
3.3 / 5 (17) Dec 01, 2008
"The glacier on Mount Kilimanjaro has not much time left even now. Many mountain glaciers are going to disappear," he said.

As soon as he said that I know he's full of S---,
Mt. K. is not melting because of Global Warming, it's the changes around the mountain, deforestation etc. that have caused less snow to keep the glaciers size. The top of Mt. K. is always below 32F (0C) and so it cannot melt, but it does sublimate directly from a solid to a gas.
Nartoon
2.5 / 5 (10) Dec 01, 2008
I highly doubt we'll have much fossil fuel, other than a few trees in 200 years.
Graeme
3.4 / 5 (10) Dec 02, 2008
That rare mineral nahcolite is sodium bicarbonate, found in many kitchens!
Excalibur
3 / 5 (8) Dec 02, 2008
Nahcolite is found in limited locations, owing to its being readily soluble in H2O.

See http://www.mindat...831.html
dlp
2 / 5 (8) Dec 02, 2008
Grow more trees? Evidence has shown that faced with a sudden rise in temperature trees become substantially less efficient at dealing with CO2...
mikiwud
2.9 / 5 (11) Dec 02, 2008
dlp,
Where do you think all the coal came from?
Carboniferous era, high temperatures, high humidity and high Carbon Dioxide.
QubitTamer
2.8 / 5 (11) Dec 02, 2008
"Lowenstein's concerns are rooted not in speculation about unprecedented future happenings, but in the scientific discovery and analysis of mineral samples formed during the Eocene Epoch, the warmest period on earth in the last 65 million years. "

and then:

"Right now, we're on a predictable pace. But there will likely be tipping points, unexpected events that could really change things, so all of a sudden we may get changes in ocean circulation that we never would have predicted, or the tundra may melt. Some unexpected event is going to occur that's going to be more dramatic than the progressive changes that occurred over the last 100 years."

So this supposed "scientist" whom would probably not be able to accurately describe the scientific method / empirical tests, etc isn't speculating when he talks about "tipping points" or "melting tundra" in the future? He knows these events are going to happen how?

There is no such thing as a climate model. It's analogous to dumping a truckload of household garbage including paper, wire, metal, cloth onto the floor of a hangar and saying you now have an accurate model of an Airbus 380 because all Airbus 380's contain paper, wire, metal, and cloth.

There are Climate theories, there are Climate indicators, there are Climate observations and measurements and there are most definitely CLIMATE POLITICS but ANYONE who claims to have a Climate MODEL is 1) unable to give the correct definition of a model and 2) is likely completely not factoring a huge set of variables because those variable sets are either too hard to correlate or they correlate in such a way as to disprove the result the Climate 'expert' is trying to 'prove'.

A definition of what a model is: http://en.wikiped...odelling
wfl
3 / 5 (10) Dec 02, 2008
Two recently discussed studies at CO2 Science throw considerable sand in Lowenstein's face, so to speak.

http://www.co2sci...EDIT.php

http://www.co2sci...11/N49/C
3.php

Both involve scientific discovery based upon analysis samples and proxies for past climates conditions.
GrayMouser
3.2 / 5 (9) Dec 02, 2008
Non sequitur; the fact that the warming was initialized by some other factor(mostly orbital forcings) doesn't tell you anything about what impact the CO2 had.

If you want to get a crude estimate of what the CO2 did all you have to do is look at the IR absorbtion-spectrum of CO2.


It isn't that simple:
1) Any CO2 in the atmosphere also blocks incoming IR at that frequency,
2) Any increase in cloud coverage also blocks incoming IR and visible light that would be converted to IR.
3) Water is the most important greenhouse gas, its in far higher concentrations than CO2.
4) Rain will pull CO2 out of the atmosphere so an increase in water vapor could drive a decrease in CO2.
5) Nobody knows what the most important factor, or factors. That CO2 following the increase in global temperature instead of leading it tends to indicate it is of, at best, secondary importance.
Corvidae
2.6 / 5 (5) Dec 02, 2008
So how long can we run a 15 Tera Watt distributed heat source with increasing co2 levels?
morpheus2012
3 / 5 (8) Dec 03, 2008
watch

the truth how the global warming scam works
why all this co2 warming fakes news and propaganda

http://www.youtub...PV01uyRs

truth shall set u free:)
lengould100
1.2 / 5 (5) Dec 03, 2008
Non sequitur; the fact that the warming was initialized by some other factor(mostly orbital forcings) doesn't tell you anything about what impact the CO2 had.

If you want to get a crude estimate of what the CO2 did all you have to do is look at the IR absorbtion-spectrum of CO2.


It isn't that simple:
1) Any CO2 in the atmosphere also blocks incoming IR at that frequency,
2) Any increase in cloud coverage also blocks incoming IR and visible light that would be converted to IR.
3) Water is the most important greenhouse gas, its in far higher concentrations than CO2.
4) Rain will pull CO2 out of the atmosphere so an increase in water vapor could drive a decrease in CO2.
5) Nobody knows what the most important factor, or factors. That CO2 following the increase in global temperature instead of leading it tends to indicate it is of, at best, secondary importance.


Re your 5), declaring that sequence as a critical factor is faulty logic. Example. If, historically, an orbital shift cause a slight warming to warm up the areas around the artic ocean to the point where large releases of methane (tundra bogs, undersea clathrates, etc.), then the resulting warming event would slightly precede the increase in CO2 levels (caused by conversion after several years of methane into CO2) BUT the warming event would still be due to accumulations of GHG's.

Humans burning fossil may not be using exactly the same method as the Milankovitch cycles to initiate the release, BUT the effects would be identical.

BTW, that research vessel which crossed northern Russia last summer noted with some concern large areas of artic ocean, on the order of many km, where methane was visibly bubbling from the seafloor, which they hadn't seen before....
Velanarris
3.7 / 5 (6) Dec 03, 2008
Len, it doesn't trail by decades, it trails by upwards of 200 years on average and in some cases thousands of years.
GrayMouser
5 / 5 (5) Dec 03, 2008
Re your 5), declaring that sequence as a critical factor is faulty logic. Example. If, historically, an orbital shift cause a slight warming to warm up the areas around the artic ocean to the point where large releases of methane (tundra bogs, undersea clathrates, etc.), then the resulting warming event would slightly precede the increase in CO2 levels (caused by conversion after several years of methane into CO2) BUT the warming event would still be due to accumulations of GHG's.


Your making an assumption. If it starts warming and then starts cooling before the GHG level rise is the cooling due to GHGs? History shows the temperature falling before the GHG level fall.
out7x
3.7 / 5 (7) Dec 04, 2008
Is this article a joke? Nahcolite is a NaHCO3.
Velanarris
5 / 5 (3) Dec 04, 2008
Is this article a joke? Nahcolite is a NaHCO3.
For those not so chemically adept, NaHCO3 is baking soda.
Corvidae
not rated yet Dec 05, 2008
They use the name Nahcolite to reference the natural occurring mineral rather than the mass produced version. Chemically they're identical, it's only the source that differs.
Velanarris
5 / 5 (3) Dec 05, 2008
They use the name Nahcolite to reference the natural occurring mineral rather than the mass produced version. Chemically they're identical, it's only the source that differs.


I'd say classing it as a "Rare mineral" is kinda ridiculous considering you can buy it by the ton.
NeilFarbstein
1 / 5 (3) Dec 07, 2008
Its a big cycle; people build up civilization to the point of creating a greenhouse crisis and runaway greenhouse effect. Famine and starvation lead to barbarism which destroys the industrial complex and then a new cycle of industrialism appears and the whole thing happens again and again. Read the novel.
aufever
5 / 5 (2) Dec 07, 2008
What is Earth's Normal Climate? I have yet to see anyone Identify what Earth's Normal Climate is!
Roach
5 / 5 (3) Dec 10, 2008
aufever, inhospitible, too hot for comfort driving selective survival or too cold leading to mass extinctions, or for those lucky few somewhere in between while it changes. For the truely unfortunate, those caught in a magnetic polar shift, an unbearable hell of scorching uv light. So basically we've landed in the most opportune time in the history of the earth and are pissed it's not staying that way.

The easiest summary of the earths climate for me is to put it in Engineering terms.
h0-h1 != 0 Change in Heat does not equal 0
T0-T1 != 0 Same for Temperature
u0-u1 != 0 Same for Energy
s1-s0 > 0 We lose, always, everything changes and nothing ever can go back. We can change the change but we can never stop the change. maybe best phrased in the Laymans 2nd law of thermo,

1. You can't win.
2. You can't break even.
3. You can't quit the game.

Who ever said life would be fair.

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