Of Trees, Volcanos, and Pond Scum

Perhaps it’s all about the trees and pond scum…

There have been several anecdotal reports of trees with larger leaves this year or of increased crop yields (up to 20%) being attributed to the larger CO2 fraction of the air giving us CO2 fertilization of plants (this effect is known to exist – greenhouses will run the ppm of CO2 up to about 1000 to enhance growth).

http://www.soils1.cses.vt.edu/djp/4344hp/4344handout/unit2/photolimit.pdf has a few nice notes about CO2 fertilization.

http://www.soils1.cses.vt.edu/djp/4344hp/4344handout/unit2/photoplant.pdf has detailed description and a couple of graphs.

http://bomi.ou.edu/luo/pdf/sensitivity_and_acclimation.pdf has a more detailed look with partial pressures instead of ppm.

http://scholar.simmons.edu/bitstream/handle/10090/4026/145.pdf?sequence=1 is an interesting honors paper that looks at peat and the response to fertilization (not just CO2) but includes a CO2 response plot down at the very bottom. It gives an idea how complex it can be to try and figure out where all the carbon goes and why.

A couple of other interesting charts and a photo showed up on WUWT:

http://www.oism.org/pproject/Slides/img23.html

http://www.oism.org/pproject/Slides/img24.html

http://i32.tinypic.com/nwix4x.png

Are We Short of CO2?

This lead me to wonder if there might be a CO2 shortage in the air at 350 ppm which lead me to wonder just how fast an acre of forest might be able to pull the CO2 out of an acre of air. Forests are pretty good at putting up mass on an acre of dirt (though algae in pond scum can do it about 10 times faster…) so I thought I’d use a forest as my muse.

The Forest

“Fast growth” species can yield up to 50 tons per acre (those are ‘wet tons’ – it’s about 25 tons of dry carbohydrate per acre as a mix of lignin, cellulose, etc. in the wood component. I’m ignoring the fraction in leaves because it’s wood that I have the statistic for. Just remember that the actual total biomass is significantly higher since we’re ignoring the leaves and roots… but conservative estimation is your friend.)

I must admit, my initial guess was “way off” in that I thought it would be something like 2 or 4 years for a forest to scrub the air above it. (Though I had the worry that it might be more like 10 or more…) The reality is a bit different.

I’ll be doing this in acres, feet, pounds, etc. because I happen to know key numbers in those units. Those of you who live in metric land, well, when we get to the end it’s just ratios and those don’t care what units you started with. At some point I may come back and turn this all into those weird seized metric units. (Tea takes two teaspoon of sugar, not 10 ml after all… since I don’t have an ml spoon nor the patience to put 10 of them in my tea 8-)

An acre is a little less than 209 feet by 209 feet ( 66 x 660 was the traditional measure – which makes more sense as one “chain” by 10 “chains” or 1 chain x 1 furlong or what an ox could reasonably plough in a day) , more or less. A common shorthand is to say that an acre has about 44,000 square feet minus 1% (43560 square feet). An acre is about .4 or 40% of a hectare. Since I’m only interested in a single unit of precision (years) having a bit of fuzziness in the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th digits doesn’t matter.

Now at 25 tons (figure 2000 lb tons, not the 2200 Tonnes that match the metric ton, again, just to put in a 10% conservative fudge – if you are estimating, you want all the errors to go against your thesis. Then if shown true, the thesis will only get more support as you ‘tighten up the numbers’…) that will work out to be 50,000 lbs per acre per year of carbohydrate.

So what’s that carbohydrate as CO2?

Carbohydrate is a repeating unit of a carbon and a “hydrate” or H2O so it’s molecular structure is made of H2CO repeating units. We’re going to skip a bunch of fine detail about end of carbohydrate chains and the presence of some nitrogen and a few other things. (We do, after all, have some “fudge” the other way built in all ready with 2000 lb tons and such). At the first digit of precision, you can estimate a tree (dry tree) as being made of H2CO monomers. But air has CO2. So how to convert?

Take your CO2 and figure it’s weight: C is 12 and O is 16, so it’s molecular weight is 44. (12 + 2 x 16) H2CO is made of hydrogen at 1 and the same C and O but only one O (the other one went into the air for us to breath). So the monomer molecular weight is 2+12+16 = 30. So for every 30 of dry tree we pulled 44 of CO2 out of the air. Our “carbohydrate” conversion factor is about 1.46 which means that for each ton of dry tree we pulled about 1.46 tons of CO2 out of the air.

That 50,000 lbs / acre-year of dry tree is 73,3333 lbs / acre year of CO2.

Divide that by 43,560 and you get 1.68 lbs of CO2 pulled out of the air per year for each square foot of forest.

What’s in the air?

So how much CO2 is on a square foot?

Well, we have about 14.7 lbs / sq. inch of air pressure, so that’s, about 2117 lbs / square foot. But only 350 or so parts per million of that is CO2, so we need to multiply that 2117 by 350/ 1000000 to get about 0.74 lbs / sq.ft of of CO2 in air. (Assuming ppm by mass, if ppm volume it will be different by the ratio of 44/28 or 1.5 times that much, roughly)

So a Forest scrubs how much air?

OK, so we’ve got 1.68 being pulled out, but only 0.74 available. I make that a ratio of 2.27. Lets just call it “2” so we don’t have a lot of False Precision, OK?

So a “fast forest” species like Poplar or Eucalyptus can completely deplete about twice as much volume of air as sits above that forest (all the way to space) and a fertile pond growing pond scum could completely deplete about 20 times the volume of air as sits above it. In one year.

Golly.

So let me think about this for just a minute… If I grow a fast forest for 50 years, it will completely deplete 100 times the volume of air that sits above it. So 1% of the planet surface being these fast species would completely scrub all present CO2 from the air in one lifetime… 75 years in the PPM by volume case.

And pond scum could do it in 5 years. 7 and a bit years if CO2 is ppm volume. (Which I think it is, per wiki).

My Surmise

I think I know now why plants are CO2 limited in their growth. They have scrubbed the CO2 down to the point where they are seriously unable to grow well. Otherwise they would have removed it all not very long ago in geologic (or historical) time scales.

I come to 4 conclusions from this:

1) We desperately need more CO2 in the air for optimal plant growth. Plants must have depleted the air to the point of being seriously nutrient limited.

2) Any time we want to scrub the air or CO2, we can do it in a very short period of time using nothing more exotic than trees and pond scum on a modest fraction of the earth surface.

3) Biomass derived fuels will be CO2 from air limited in their production, especially if we start some kind of stupid CO2 “sequestration” projects. Siting biofuel growth facilities near CO2 sources (like coal plants) ought to be very valuable.

4) Any CO2 sequestration project that does get started by The Ministry of Stupidity needs to allow for CO2 recovery in the future. Things like ocean iron enrichment that sink it to the “land of unobtainable ocean depths” are a very bad idea. We are one generation away from CO2 starvation for our crops at any given time.

Not quite where I’d expected to end up, but enlightening all the same. Not only is CO2 increase not a problem, it is a valuable feature. And not only could we use plants to reduce CO2 in the air (if we wanted to), but we are in danger of them overdoing it all by themselves. Our biosphere is limited by the CO2 in the air and probably has been for some time.

One could speculate that the historical CO2 levels would indicate when CO2 was rate limiting for life and tell us when it was not; and thus indicate when plants were less stressed and growing much faster. It would be interesting to see if these times were followed by CO2 crashes to lower “modern” levels. I would further speculate that we all owe our lives to vulcanism dumping lots of CO2 into the air globally, because without it, the plants would have had a CO2 crash some time ago…which implies that when the planet U and Th runs down and vulcanism slows, we’re in a world of hurt…

Some words on Volcanos

It would also seem that in the midst of all the “settled science” the AGW True Believers like to talk about, we’ve just learned that we might not actually know how big various eruptions have been in the past. In discussing Chaitén (the volcano that gave the lightening rich eruption in the picture up top), some new research shows old estimates of eruption size can be very wrong; so we don’t really have a good estimate of past volcanic impacts…

Chaitén is still being active, and the pictures are nice too; but there are a bunch of other volcanos active right now. More than I’d expected… With a fair number of them in Ecuador.

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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22 Responses to Of Trees, Volcanos, and Pond Scum

  1. pyromancer76 says:

    It’s about time that someone not only did serious numbers about the essential nature of CO2 to the plant life that nurtures humans, but also asks for serious studies re “when CO2 was rate limiting for life” and when it was/is adequate. This is what we should demand to know about CO2 rather than putting up with its demonization. Thanks for your consistently stimulating and intelligent efforts.

  2. Dennis Elliott says:

    A useful point for you to consider is that young trees respire faster than old trees (to feed rapidly growing sites such as branch tips and diameter). In temperate U.S. forests that would mean trees in the 20 to 100 year old cohort. Old growth, ancient forest, sacred grove forests need not apply.

    In the U.S. we have 504 million acres of sawtimber which can conflate with older, slower respiring trees and 260 million acres of poletimber/seedling/sapling stands which are the faster respiring trees. Balancing those can then be considered a patriotic duty. tot arboreus, tantillus dies.

    Also useful to consider is that trees harvested and put into houses ties up that carbon for decades which should make builders and carpenters eligible for carbon offsets.

    My daughter (a teacher) has a mimeo picture of John Wayne on her bulletin board and under it it says “Life is tough. It’s even tougher when you’re stupid”. That seems to fit here as regards environmentalists and the logical extension of the majority of their pronouncements.

  3. Jeff Alberts says:

    There have been several anecdotal reports of trees with larger leaves this year or of increased crop yields (up to 20%) being attributed to the larger CO2 fraction of the air giving us CO2 fertilization of plants (this effect is known to exist – greenhouses will run the ppm of CO2 up to about 1000 to enhance growth).

    Unless any of those folks took measurements of leaves over several decades, I’d pretty much ignore those reports.

    You can’t tell me that you can look at the leaves of a tree on year, then the next and honestly say “Hmm, those are bigger this year.” And unless you’re comparing them to the exact same TIME each year, well, you get the idea.

  4. E.M.Smith says:

    @Jeff:

    Well, yes and no… to some extent it depends on just how much difference there is to the size. It’s pretty easy to see when the corn is runted from planting out late or rootbound. It’s also pretty easy to see when a squash has monster leaves compared to the “typical” (I’ve had both. The squash was an interesting “sport” that I’ve propagated… grows well, lots of production, but has a spiny stem good for deterring rodents and farmers ;-)

    If you’re talking 5% on an apple leaf, you are absolutely right. If you’re talking 20% on a tree you’ve raked up for 30 years, well, it’s not that hard to notice ;-)

    Personally, I put much more store in the known impact that has been measured in formal studies. We know that CO2 is higher by about 380 / 240 ths or so. And we know that percentage change has a significant impact on plant growth. There is no question about that (it’s been written up in lots of peer reviewed papers and is part of standard operations of greenhouses. You simply MUST make sure CO2 does not drop below about 220 ppm or you lose production fast; enrichment up to 1000 ppm raises yields a lot.)

    Because of that, I have little grounds to discount someone saying “golly, my tree has bigger leaves”. Now, if it happened all in one year… that’s more likely because more birds pooped from the limbs because the cat died last year ;-) IMHO, of course…

    @Dennis:

    Spot on! Heck, homes ought to stay standing for 100 years plus! And when torn down, the scrap is typically reused or put in a dry landfill where it will be sequestered for another 100 years plus. So I’d say any lumber maker / user ought to get carbon credits galore.

    The more rapid growth of small trees is interesting in that it is an essential result of the nature of fractal growth patterns. (Interesting show on fractals on Discover I think it was…). Paper makers figured this out some time ago, so now most paper comes from “forests” of trees about 2 inches in diameter! A big mower just mows ’em down…

    I don’t know if I ought to laugh or cry, but when some eco-weenie tells me to save the old growth forest by reusing grocery bags it’s everything I can do to stay polite and not launch into a discussion of paper products “forests” being more like a giant sized lawn or overgrown shrub thicket… and deliberately so to maximize yields.

    I’m all for saving the 5% or so of old growth forest we have left, but paper bag recycle is not going to do it… I was in Australia and New Zealand a few years back. Forget which one it was, but in the middle of nowhere I ran into a giant redwood tree farm. Neat rows of trees all exactly the same age (about 20 years, I think). Farmed at optimal yield to optimal size for optimal lumber production. THAT is how to save the wild bits for parks. By just out producing them.

    We need to set aside some space for all the wild things and nature to be preserved, but we need to produce all we need at the same time. These do not have to be in conflict (and there are plenty of greens and lumberjacks who know this); but the debate got polarized some time ago into an “all or nothing” mindset of scarcity that is just not helpful. To either side.

  5. Jeff Alberts says:

    But you’re adding more data than has been provided in these anecdotal stories. You said Trees. I have plenty of different types of trees on my 2.5 acres. I don’t see any difference from previous years, end of story. If others do, maybe it’s due to differences in temps or precip rather than 1ppm more CO2 than last year. I doubt one could see a difference of even 10ppm in plant growth just by casual observation. Several hundred PPM, maybe.

  6. Roger Sowell says:

    True story on trees, growth rates, and leaf sizes. When I was a kid in the 60’s in Houston, Texas, we had a home with a large back yard that had two oak trees, same age, roughly the same size, approximately 6 inches trunk diameter. Post oaks were/ still are (Quercus stellata) The trees were approximately 50 feet apart, trunk to trunk.

    Dad connected a garden hose to the condensate formed by the air conditioner, and let the condensate drip next to one tree trunk for a year. Then the next year, he switched to the other tree. No other changes. Houston is quite humid, so air conditioners produce quite a bit of water as condensate from the air. We ran the air conditioner almost year-round.

    The tree that received the condensate drip grew about a foot taller and had much larger leaves, as I recall from raking and bagging each winter. The larger leaves were about 30 percent larger.

    I’m not convinced larger leaves are solely due to CO2.

  7. peter_dtm says:

    surely the whole point is :

    a non-scientific observation was reported (leaves bigger)

    that got some one ( E M Smith) thinking

    That resulted in a new thesis.

    The who/what/why/where/when of the original report is totally irrelevant.

    The thesis says absolutely nothing about whether or not bigger leaves have (or have not) been observed; and does not attempt to explain why such a size difference may occur.

    Do we have any indication of what a tree would find to be an optimum concentration of CO2; and what would be a minimum to allow non-starvation levels of growth ?
    And would O2 based animals be viable in such concentrations ?

  8. E.M.Smith says:

    @peter_dtm

    You got it!

    The optimum level of CO2 from greenhouse studies seems to be about 1000 ppm to 2000 ppm.

    Growth slows consistently from that level (in a “rolling off” accelerating curve) down through our present level to about 220 ppm where it is “way slow”. The actual cut off of growth depends on several things (C3 vs C4 metabolism, other nutrient levels, specific species) but by 120 ppm or so everything is halted. There was one paper I found that measured CO2 partial pressure in live leaves and stated flatly that it could never be measured as below 100 so 100 ppm is the start of a ‘death zone’ for plant metabolism.

    O2 based animals are happy at any level of CO2 from low tens of thousands down to zero. While at zero you get some plural effusion if you breath too fast, you can breath more slowly and keep a livable level of CO2 in your lungs. (You must have a surprisingly high CO2 concentration at the lung tissue surface or Bad Things Happen…)

    Don’t have the links at hand right now, but a google of “CO2 enrichment plant growth” ought to turn up a bunch. I think I also used “limitation CO2 growth graph” too.

  9. Jeff Alberts says:

    Well, fortunately this is an experiment we can conduct ourselves. Anyone want to do this with me? I’ve got some trees in my yard, which do not get supplemental water.

  10. E.M.Smith says:

    Jeff, feel free.

    I’m not particularly interested in the truthyness of Big Leaves. It was just a trigger, a predicate, that got me thinking about the global CO2 level and what it would take to suck it dry.

    The part that woke me up was the fact that the biosphere is large enough to suck CO2 “way low way fast” and only the roll off in plant growth stops that.

    This has two essential conclusions:

    1) We are at CO2 way low limiting plant growth levels.

    2) We can suck CO2 down, fast, with bamboo, poplars, and Eucalyptus if ever we want to in just a few years without much land. 10 times that fast with algae…

  11. Jim Papsdorf says:

    Congratulations on this article Mr. Smith-this is one of the most original-thought articles I have ran into in a long time !!!!
    I especially like your aknowledgement of the contribution that volcanoes make to everyday life via upping CO2 levels.As you have pointed out elsewhere, with our moving into grand Solar Minima we should be seeing more volcanicity and , hopefully, even higher levels of atmospheric CO2. I now have a real good reason for going out and buying that Hummer :) .

  12. E.M.Smith says:

    @Jim:

    One of the traders on “Fast Money” (a great CNBC show with real folks who trade for a living – one of my “must watch” shows. They know their stuff and are doing real trades, not just talk.) just bought a Hummer. Got a 30% discount!

    So use that as your benchmark for a “good deal”. Ask for 1/3 off sticker and Do Not Budge (at least not until they sweat blood…)

    Thanks for the compliment! I just see things that don’t fit the pattern of everything else in my head, or look “odd”, then follow them where the facts lead me. I can’t stop it or change it, it’s what my mind insists on doing. (Part of being high function borderline Aspergers I think…)

  13. Colin MacDonald says:

    You could approach it from another angle. I calculate that all the atmosphere’s Co2 turned into elemental Carbon would give a layer 1mm deep. By way of contrast to the grass in my back garden which can easily grow a meter in 1 year (And often does).
    I think the biosphere has been neglected by climatoligists; it seems to me that the whole system is designed to maintain constant oxygen rather than constant CO2. The precision required to maintain CO2 at exactly 0.027% when there are such huge inputs is surely beyond Mother Gaia and she’s probably fairly indifferent to the rather small increases we’ve seen.

  14. Have you calculated the effect of 1,000 ppm CO2 on ocean ph?

    REPLY: [ Nope. Nor has anyone else. There are so many unknowns in such a calculation that it would be, substantially, just a very bad joke. I’ll give you two: What is the change in deposition rate for “manganese nodules” on the ocean floor from any attempted change of pH?” and “What is the change of ‘gut rock’ production in fish from any attempted change of pH?”. If you can’t have the slightest clue about what species (chemical, not biological) are involved in an equilibrium equation, you can’t have any clue where the pH will go. BTW, since “Ocean pH” tends to result in pointless thread wars, the discussion of it is discouraged here. THE most important point about it is simply this: The ocean species (biological, not chemical) evolved rather a long time ago when CO2 was much higher than now. It’s just not going to be a problem. Also, aquarium operators ADD CO2 so their shelled invertebrates do better and recent (peer reviewed) papers have shown the response of invertebrates to elevated CO2 varies, but many make MORE shell, not less. So rather than getting a religious war started here over ocean pH, please explore it on some other site. Though you might find it interesting to read this article:

    https://chiefio.wordpress.com/2009/02/25/the-trouble-with-c12-c13-ratios/

    where fish “gut rock” production is discussed or this one:

    https://chiefio.wordpress.com/2009/05/08/there-is-no-shortage-of-stuff/

    where there is a nice description of the manganese nodule precipitation in oceans. (Basically, the oceans are incredibly heavily buffered against pH change and on the alkaline side of neutral and you will NOT be able to make it ‘acidic’, ever. The quantity of limestone in the world assures that. Look at the “black smokers” on the ocean floor. Pumping who knows how many megatons of CO2, SO2, and other acidic species into the ocean, and the result is the deposition of mineral columns…)

    If you would like to discuss CO2 in the ocean, please do it on the CO2 thread.

    -E.M.Smith (occasional aquarium operator and aquaculture fan) ]

  15. Russ Taylor says:

    This ‘trees per square foot’ explanation could be one of the reasons why CO2 levels were much lower when the planet was covered with jungles and rain forests not too long ago. After clearing vast areas of forest we sit and wonder why the CO2 is now rising steadily. We chopped all the efficient CO2 absorbers down, which we then made into thousands of ships, most of which were burned in battle…. We have also exchanged much of this tree covered land for crops and hay which mostly have limited growing seasons and a far smaller uptake of CO2 than trees.
    Yes Mr Smith, you certainly have a solid theory, and maybe all those tree hugging hippies back in the day, bemoaning the wiping out of forests, were making a valid point, they are still moaning today but adding “we told you so”, to their rhetoric!
    The tree canopy would also keep the ground cooler so the self regulating effects of trees on the atmosphere could be very far reaching and not fully understood….or maybe this knowledge is being ignored?

  16. Francisco says:

    “So 1% of the planet surface being these fast species would completely scrub all present CO2 from the air in one lifetime… 75 years in the PPM by volume case.” — E. M. Smith.
    ——————-
    So, since annual human CO2 emissions are about 0.85% of the total CO2 in the atmosphere, that would mean such a forest could consume the entire annual human emissions in about 8 months???

    I’ve read somewhere that the climate models consider the biosphere as a kind of inert system that always takes the same amount of CO2, no matter how much is there for the taking. I don’t know if this is true, but it sounds preposterous. It’s like suggesting that a cow will refuse to eat an extra blade of grass beyond some predetermined (pre-industrial) amount.

    I think the carbon cycle is one of the aspects of this house of cards that does not get nearly the attention it deserves. Its uncertainties are huge. In one IPCC chart I’ve seen they state that the uncertainties in the annual carbon flows between the different parts of the system are more than 20%, which by itself buries the human contribution.

    If you now add the ocean’s capacity to take CO2, it does appear that the human contribution is minuscule in comparison with the other flows. I recently wrote to a friend my impressions on these matters, with the following comments:

    The proportion of CO2 in the oceans with respect to the atmosphere should in the long run be roughly constant (at roughly constant temperature) according to Henry’s law. It has to be, or the law is not true. So in order to (permanently) double the amount of atmospheric CO2, the ocean CO2 must also be doubled. The proportion now is slightly above 50 to 1 if you calculate from the following NASA chart that shows total carbon in the system. In other words, about 98% in the oceans and 2% in the atmosphere. This means that at constant temperature the oceans must (eventually) take 98% of any additional CO2 released by us in the atmosphere, to regain partial pressure equilibrium. The question is how long the process would take. And you are right that those who imagine a runaway feedback where temp increases lead to ocean degassing which lead to temperature increase which lead to more degassing etc, need to explain how the system managed to avoid such vicious circles up to now.

    The NASA chart is here, in petagrams of carbon.

    http://nasascience.nasa.gov/earth-science/oceanography/ocean-earth-system/ocean-
    carbon-cycle

    and gives the following totals for carbon in the system:

    the atmosphere 760 PgC (increasing at a rate of about 3 PgC per year)
    the ocean surface layers 800 PgC
    the deep ocean 38,000 PgC
    plants and soils 2,000 PgC

    We see that the human contribution of 6.5 Pg per year is a very small fraction of the total turnover between the atmosphere and the soil/plants and between the atmosphere and the oceans, according to the chart.. And it is only 0.015% of the total carbon in the system.

    Further, if the total amount of available fossil fuels (gas, oil and coal) is 5,000 Pg (according to the same chart), one wonders where the extra 39,000 Pg of carbon needed to double the amount in the oceans are going to come from, if the atmospheric concentration is to be permanently doubled.

    The way I see this, we are talking about a small trickle of CO2 being added to the vast pool of the whole system (actually being recycled back into the system) and we are going hysterical with fear that this dripping human faucet may be too much for the huge drains of that vast pool to handle. The way I see it, the soil and the plants and the oceans just take that extra few drops with the same insouciance as one of those long-tongued insect-eating animals swallow a mosquito. And I suspect that the current observed increase in atmospheric CO2 may well be due in part to variations in the natural cycle.

    And see this:
    Earths’ Biosphere is Booming, Satellite Data Suggests CO2 the Cause

    Lawrence Solomon
    June 07, 2008

    GPP is Gross Primary Production, a measure of the daily output of the global biosphere –the amount of new plant matter on land. NPP is Net Primary Production, an annual tally of the globe’s production. Biomass is booming. The planet is the greenest it’s been in decades, perhaps in centuries.

    Until the 1980s, ecologists had no way to systematically track growth in plant matter in every corner of the Earth — the best they could do was analyze small plots of one-tenth of a hectare or less. The notion of continuously tracking global production to discover the true state of the globe’s biota was not even considered.

    Then, in the 1980s, ecologists realized that satellites could track production, and enlisted NASA to collect the data. For the first time, ecologists did not need to rely on rough estimates or anecdotal evidence of the health of the ecology: They could objectively measure the land’s output and soon did — on a daily basis and down to the last kilometer.

    The results surprised Steven Running of the University of Montana and Ramakrishna Nemani of NASA, scientists involved in analyzing the NASA satellite data. They found that over a period of almost two decades, the Earth as a whole became more bountiful by a whopping 6.2%. About 25% of the Earth’s vegetated landmass — almost 110 million square kilometres — enjoyed significant increases and only 7% showed significant declines. When the satellite data zooms in, it finds that each square metre of land, on average, now produces almost 500 grams of greenery per year.

    Why the increase? Their 2004 study, and other more recent ones, point to the warming of the planet and the presence of CO2, a gas indispensable to plant life. CO2 is nature’s fertilizer, bathing the biota with its life-giving nutrients. Plants take the carbon from CO2 to bulk themselves up — carbon is the building block of life — and release the oxygen, which along with the plants, then sustain animal life. As summarized in a report last month, released along with a petition signed by 32,000 U. S. scientists who vouched for the benefits of CO2: “Higher CO2 enables plants to grow faster and larger and to live in drier climates. Plants provide food for animals, which are thereby also enhanced. The extent and diversity of plant and animal life have both increased substantially during the past half-century.”

    From the 2004 abstract: Our results indicate that global changes in climate have eased several critical climatic constraints to plant growth, such that net primary production increased 6% (3.4 petagrams of carbon over 18 years) globally. The largest increase was in tropical ecosystems. Amazon rain forests accounted for 42% of the global increase in net primary production, owing mainly to decreased cloud cover and the resulting increase in solar radiation.

    Lush as the planet may now be, it is as nothing compared to earlier times, when levels of CO2 and Earth temperatures were far higher. In the age of the dinosaur, for example, CO2 levels may have been five to 10 times higher than today, spurring a luxuriantly fertile planet whose plant life sated the immense animals of that era. Planet Earth is also much cooler today than during the hothouse era of the dinosaur, and cooler than it was 1,000 years ago during the Medieval Warming Period, when the Vikings colonized a verdant Greenland. Greenland lost its colonies and its farmland during the Little Ice Age that followed, and only recently started to become green again.

    This blossoming Earth could now be in jeopardy, for reasons both natural and man-made. According to a growing number of scientists, the period of global warming that we have experienced over the past few centuries as Earth climbed out of the Little Ice Age is about to end. The oceans, which have been releasing their vast store of carbon dioxide as the planet has warmed — CO2 is released from oceans as they warm and dissolves in them when they cool — will start to take the carbon dioxide back. With less heat and less carbon dioxide, the planet could become less hospitable and less green, especially in areas such as Canada’s Boreal forests, which have been major beneficiaries of the increase in GPP and NPP.

    Doubling the jeopardy for Earth is man. Unlike the many scientists who welcome CO2 for its benefits, many other scientists and most governments believe carbon dioxide to be a dangerous pollutant that must be removed from the atmosphere at all costs. Governments around the world are now enacting massive programs in an effort to remove as much as 80% of the carbon dioxide emissions from the atmosphere.

    If these governments are right, they will have done us all a service. If they are wrong, the service could be all ill, with food production dropping world wide, and the countless ecological niches on which living creatures depend stressed. The second order effects could be dire, too. To bolster food production, humans will likely turn to energy intensive manufactured fertilizers, depleting our store of non-renewable resources. Techniques to remove carbon from the atmosphere also sound alarms. Carbon sequestration, a darling of many who would mitigate climate change, could become a top inducer of earthquakes, according to Christian Klose, a geohazards researcher at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Because the carbon sequestration schemes tend to be located near cities, he notes, carbon-sequestration-caused earthquakes could exact an unusually high toll.

    Amazingly, although the risks of action are arguably at least as real as the risks of inaction, Canada and other countries are rushing into Earth-altering carbon schemes with nary a doubt. Environmentalists, who ordinarily would demand a full-fledged environmental assessment before a highway or a power plant can be built, are silent on the need to question proponents or examine alternatives.

    Earth is on a roll. Governments are too. We will know soon enough if we’re rolled off a cliff.

  17. Pingback: DOOM From CO2 Pollution « Another View on Climate

  18. Aha!, being yourself an economist, it seems that you have been exploring the CO2 market…just in case “Al fat baby succeeds” ☺

  19. E.M.Smith says:

    As a trader, you never pick sides. It’s all about the “point spread” ;-)

    So I don’t really care who wins (in terms of trading), just can I beat the spread?

    FWIW, the ability of algae to suck down astounding quantities of CO2 does mean 3 things to me:

    1) CO2 is not a problem.

    2) Algae scrubbing is a viable market.

    3) Growing oil via algae farming is a viable process.

    So I’d place my bets on 2 & 3 when the time comes. But i would not let the bet ride for long because once 1 is widely understood, the market is going to “have issues” ;-)

  20. Ryan Durkin says:

    im not clever or wise like you guyz but could plane cemtrails have some affect the co2 ????

  21. Pingback: Got Wood? | Musings from the Chiefio

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