Skip to comments.James Hansen Says Coal Is Greening The Planet!?! ( Isn't tht a Good Thing?)
Posted on 03/30/2013 1:15:07 PM PDT by Ernest_at_the_Beach
Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach
Theres an interesting measure of atmospheric CO2, called the airborne fraction. The airborne fraction is the fraction of the CO2 emitted each year which remains in the atmosphere. When humans emit say 9 gigatonnes of carbon, only about half of that remains in the air. The other half of the emitted carbon is absorbed, sequestered in some semi-permanent fashion, by various carbon sinks in the land and the ocean.
Dr. James Hansen of NASA, another in the long line of climate alarmists who dont mind shafting the poor with expensive energy, has come out with a most surprising statement in his latest paper, Climate forcing growth rates: doubling down on our Faustian bargain, hereinafter Hansen 2012. The statement involves Hansen et al.s explanation for a claimed recent decrease in the airborne fraction. Heres their graphic showing the changes in the airborne fraction since 1960.
Figure 1. Hansen 2012 Figure 3. Ive added a vertical line highlighting June 1991.
[ORIGINAL CAPTION] Fossil fuel CO2 emissions (left scale) and airborne fraction, i.e., the ratio of observed atmospheric CO2 increase to fossil fuel CO2 emissions. Final three points are 5-, 3- and 1-year means.
I do wish people would show the underlying data and not just averages, but setting that aside, here are the authors claims about the drop in the airborne fraction (blue line) post 2000:
We suggest that the surge of fossil fuel use, mainly coal, since 2000 is a basic cause of the large increase of carbon uptake by the combined terrestrial and ocean carbon sinks. One mechanism by which fossil fuel emissions increase carbon uptake is by fertilizing the biosphere via provision of nutrients essential for tissue building, especially nitrogen, which plays a critical role in controlling net primary productivity and is limited in many ecosystems (Gruber and Galloway 2008). Modeling (e.g., Thornton et al 2009) and field studies (Magnani et al 2007) confirm a major role of nitrogen deposition, working in concert with CO2 fertilization, in causing a large increase in net primary productivity of temperate and boreal forests.
This is an interesting argument, but it has a few moving parts. Let me list them.
1) Increased coal use leads to increased net primary productivity (NPP) .
2) Increased NPP is evidence of increased carbon absorption.
3) Increased carbon absorption leads to increased biologically driven carbon sequestration.
4) Increased biologically driven sequestration explains the post-2000 decrease in airborne fraction.
Im good with claims number 1 and number 2, but from there they get increasingly unlikely for various reasons. Ill go get the data and show the actual airborne fraction, but first, let me quote a bit more from Hansen 2012, this time regarding Pinatubo.
Remarkably, and we will argue importantly, the airborne fraction has declined since 2000 (figure 3) during a period without any large volcanic eruptions. The 7-year running mean of the airborne fraction had remained close to 60% up to 2000, except for the period affected by Pinatubo.
Thus we see the decreased CO2 airborne fraction since 2000 as sharing some of the same causes as the decreased airborne fraction after the Pinatubo eruption (figure 3).
I looked at the chart, and I looked at the dates. Pinatubo was in June of 1991. Heres what I get from the data:
Figure 2. Annual airborne fraction (red line), along with 7-year average (blue). Green line shows theoretical airborne fraction assuming exponential decay of excess CO2.
So to start with, from both his graph and mine Im saying absolutely no way to Hansens claim that there was a decreased airborne fraction after the Pinatubo eruption. Hansen seems obsessed with Pinatubo. He previously has claimed (falsely) that it represented a successful test of his GISS climate model. See here, here , and here for a discussion of how poorly the models actually did with Pinatubo.
He is now claiming (again falsely) that there is some drop in the airborne fraction after Pinatubo. Im sorry, but thats a totally false statement. Theres no sign of any unusual drop post-Pinatubo in this record at all, neither in the annual data nor in the average data. The majority of the drop he seems to be pointing to occurred well before Pinatubo occurred
In passing, let me comment that any reviewer who let any of that Pinatubo nonsense past them should resign their commission. It was the first thing I noticed when I looked at the paper.
Theres a second problem with what Hansen et al. have done. They say regarding their 7-year average (blue line) that: Final three points are 5-, 3- and 1-year means. Sadly, this means that the final point in the 7-year average is forced to be equal to the last point in the raw data easily the worst choice of ways to handle the final points of any average, almost guaranteed to have the largest error.
But that method does have one advantage in this case. It greatly exaggerates the amount of the recent drop. Note for example that had the data ended one year earlier, the final point in his average would have had a value 60% heres what the 7-year average figured their way would have looked like if the data had ended in 2010.
Figure 3. As in Figure 2, but with the 7-year average ending in 2010 using their method. Note that the final point is forced to equal the 2010 value.
As you can see, their curious treatment of the 7-year average at the end of the data is the only thing that makes the trend look so bad. When changing the data length by one year makes that kind of change in an average, you can assume that your results are far, far from robust.
But neither of those is the main problem with their claim. The main problem is that the general slight decrease in the airborne fraction is an expected result of the exponential decay of the excess atmospheric CO2. As the green line shows, the actual results are in no way different from the value wed expect to see. The green line shows the result of the exponential decay of the excess CO2 if we assume a half-life of about 46 years. The expected value decreases slightly from 1970 to 2011.
Its worth noting that if CO2 emissions leveled off entirely, the airborne fraction would gradually decay to zero. This is because if emissions level off, eventually the excess CO2 level will be such that the annual sequestration will equal the annual emission with nothing to remain airborne.
To close, let me return to their claim:
We suggest that the surge of fossil fuel use, mainly coal, since 2000 is a basic cause of the large increase of carbon uptake by the combined terrestrial and ocean carbon sinks.
I must confess that I hadnt looked at fuel use by type in a while, so I was unaware of a large spike in coal use.
Figure 4. Carbon emissions by fuel type. Note the steady rise of natural gas, which will only increase with the advent of fracking.
So yes, coal use has indeed spiked since 2000, with a jump in coal emissions putting it back out in front of oil. I assume, although Ive not checked, that this is the result of the huge increase in coal for electricity generation in India and China. And good on them, the folks in that part of the planet desperately need cheap energy.
Returning to the claims in Hansen 2012, it is true that the carbon uptake by the various sinks has constantly increased over time. This increase, however, appears to be much more related to the exponential decay of the CO2, and has less to do with the changes in the biosphere. We know this because the change in the amount sequestered is much larger than the change in the NPP.
Here are the figures. In 1960 the natural sinks were sequestering about 1 gigatonne of excess carbon annually. By 2011, this had risen to 4.5 gigatonnes annually. I agree that CO2 fertilization is real, but clearly this 4.5-fold increase in total tonnage of excess carbon sequestered cannot all be the result of increased NPP from CO2 fertilization.
So while Im glad to hear that Hansen thinks that coal is good for something, I fear his explanation for the increase in the amount sequestered is not correct. The increases in the amount sequestered have been much, much larger (450% since 1960) than the increase in the amount of sequestration due to greater NPP.
Before I leave, let me remind folks what cheap electricity and energy from coal does for us all, rich and poor alike, every day of the year.
Figure 5. Daily output of coal energy. SOURCE
That huge benefit to the poor and the rich is what Hansen is trying to get rid of but he and others have very little with which to replace it. So all that happens is that the price of energy goes up, and the poor once again are impoverished the most.
Brilliant plan, that fellow Hansen truly cares about the future he just doesnt seem to care if he hurts people in the present.
My best to everyone,
So mold is a good thing?
And I thought Dan Gulden was a criminal. This guy could be worse.
Old flatulating windbags like Hansen are the reason that the American landscape is being destroyed by those unsightly “windmills” built by foreigners.
I’ve been saying all along that CO2 means more life, and it looks like this study just proved it. Plants have become very efficient at pulling CO2 out of the air. All this carbon locked away under the Earth until men bring it up is literally giving new birth to life thanks to our need for gas oil and coal.
Hansen want another “Study Grant” from the feds....the never ending story needs some financing.
James is a stinking liar.
We're fighting that fight in Central Indiana right now.
Industrial Turbine Tax Credit Farms.
Paying enormous amounts of Tax dollars to the richest 5% in the country who already recieve tens of thousands each in farm Subsidies
Organizing Communities against each other
Out here it is the ranchers. They are cleaning up right now but I expect the feds to come in someday soon and tell them that the government is taking control of all energy producers AND THE LAND THEY ARE BUILT UPON. Those ranchers are going to have their ranch land taken away from them and they won’t have any chance of holding on to it. Serves them right.
What freak can honestly believe these eco-nazis like Hansen?
So, Global Warming was due to the Industrial Revolution. All those smokestacks and coal-fired plants coming online.
Then the great Global Warming Hiatus - due to more coal-fired plants coming online.
the one they want to build here will be the highest concentration of windmills with the highest population in the footprint of any Tax Credit farm in the country.
some people will have 500’ industrial turbines surrounding their homes at 1250 feet.
Verily I say unto you. Why is this Hansen criminal character still not behind bars. :)
After years of increasing population due to plentiful fossil fuel energy and increased food production, guess what happens when you suddenly cut back on the fuel and fertilizer?
President Bush tried to remove him from his government job,...but his protectors fought it off.
Perhaps someone from Goldman Sachs or JP Morgan had a little phone talk with the pres.
Ditto; been saying this for years. (A ceramic engineering B. S.; Ph. D. in essentially physical chemistry; we should be using the heat from making steel, refractories, cement, and structural clay products to generate electrons’ and improve plant growth with more CO2)