Sunday, May 19, 2019

Higher, Hotter, Faster, More Acid: Climate Change is Speeding Up

The Mauna Loa Keeling Curve, which indicates how much carbon-dioxide is in the atmosphere, has crossed into new high territory—more than 415 parts per million.

But perhaps more dangerously, the rate of rise has locked in a new trajectory—meaning itʻs going higher faster.

Climate researchers are seeing all the secondary impacts of that—rising temperatures, rising seas and rising ocean acidity are also going up.

Climate change is coming far faster than we ever anticipated. It used to be that activists could guilt us by saying we were leaving a climate mess to our grandchildren. But it appears most of us will see dangerous changes not in our grandchildrenʻs lifetimes, but in our own.

The Keeling Curve is a measurement that started being taken at Hawai`iʻs Mauna Loa Observatory in 1958 by Charles Keeling, and it has been taken steadily since then. It is a jagged line because the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere goes up and down with the seasons. But the overall path has been up.

And more worrisome, it is angling steeper with time. We have long known that an atmosphere with higher CO2 and other greenhouse gases traps more heat than one with lower levels.

The image to the upper right is from the latest Keeling Curve (May 18, 2019) from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California at San Diego. The colored lines are my alteration, showing how the trajectory has changed. The lower orange line is the rate of rise during the 1960s. The upper red line is the rate of rise during recent years. 

It means weʻre still dumping fossil fuel emissions into the atmosphere, and despite all the talk about conservation and efficiency and renewables and electric cars, weʻre doing it at an increasing rate.

Is there a statistic for that? Of course there is. World oil production 50 years ago—when the Keeling Curve was young—was way under 50 million barrels a day. Now itʻs 100 million barrels a day, and rising. 
Temperatures are going up with the increased production of greenhouse gas. If you look at this NASA chart, and check the graph from 1960 onward, you can see that temperature trends follow the Keeling Curve. The source of this graph is this NASA site

Live near the ocean? In Hawai`i we all do. If itʻs not your home that will be threatened, it may be your work place, but it will certainly be your beach park and your coastal roadway. Like temperatures, sea levels are rising and seem to be rising faster in recent years.  

If you look carefully, youʻll see that it also has that increasingly upward slant in recent years, suggesting that sea levels are coming up way faster than it seemed they would a few years ago.

Ocean acidity changes the fundamental chemistry of the seas. Increasing acidity dissolves the shells of marine mollusks, weakens reefs and has all kinds of other global impacts. The acidity of the ocean is rising, along with sea levels and temperatures and carbon-dioxide.

Here is a great resource, aimed at students in grades 10-12, on understanding the chemistry and impacts of acidification of our seas. 

So with all that additional carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere, some of it dissolves into the ocean. Here's an EPA graph from 2016 showing carbon dioxide dissolved in ocean water in Hawai`i, Bermuda and the Canary Islands. And here's where that came from, another resource for students. 

Scientific American reviewed some of the latest data, which indicates that climate change is coming faster than was anticipated. It’s a sobering outlook. 

It can be useful to remember that every time you take a trip to the West Coast or Vegas, your portion of the fuel required represents roughly a full 55-gallon barrel, and burning it produces about half a ton of carbon-dioxide.

Every time you take an extra drive to the store, or fly to another island to shop, or go cruising in your pickup, you're choosing to add to the problem.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2019

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