Errors in CO² Emissions?

Is the Climate Change CO² Science Right?

A section of this post dealing with an alternative theory on how the Earth warms and cools naturally by re-radiating greenhouse gases was originally included in this post.  It attracted sufficient interest to warrant it’s own post here: Alternative Greenhouse Theory.

Science has historically not always got it right despite any “overwhelming proof” in their day.

For almost three decades the IPCC and its advocates have been saying that their scientists are right in declaring human kind responsible for causing dangerous global warming aka AGW – Anthropogenic Global Warming.   Not proven, but so near that they agree it IS indeed right. So right in fact that they are squandering literally trillions of dollars around the world still trying to prove it. They believe implicitly that excess CO² greenhouse gases (GHG) produced by mankind are warming the planet higher than natural processes.

According to climate alarm sceptics which include thousands of eminent scientists among them, they believe there is sufficient evidence to at least cast some doubts on the accuracy of many of the IPCC pronouncements, if not throw out the case for AGW completely.

The question is – could the IPCC actually be right?  This article will take a look at just a few of the disputed issues that relate to CO² emissions.

The Current Warming Trend

The mainstay of the IPCC argument is that mankind is responsible for the late 20th century warming trend.  But it’s important to understand that there is a natural warming phase going on right now anyway.

As we know, the planet goes through cyclical periods of warming and cooling. The Earth is currently on a natural warming trend following on from the last Little Ice Age.  Hypothetically, how long this warming cycle  would  have lasted without mankind’s contributions is anybody’s guess.

A Caution About Global Averages

The term “global average” is often used in public discussions of climate change to demonstrate negative trends such as rising global temperatures or the amounts of global CO² in the atmosphere.  But at the end of the day it is merely a statistical figure usually based on different specimens of different data from several different sources. Data is collected and manipulated in any number of legitimate methods by different people with different statistician skills to produce different outcomes – just select the one that suits your argument best.

Images from IPCC Summary for Policy Makers AR5 showing a 0.8°C global surface temperature rise since 1850 and a 0.2mm global rise in sea levels since 1900

The IPCC in their Fifth Assessment Report of 2014 (AR5) continuously mentions global averages  in respect of temperatures, CO² emissions, sea level rises, precipitation and so on.

To be fair they do acknowledge that temperatures etc at any given region may experience more, or less, or no effects of increased global warming in the future.  But it’s a passing sentence and you need to actually read the document rather than just skim through it. It really ought to be flagged more prominently.

But of course temperatures vary widely around the Earth depending on time of year, latitude, ocean and wind currents,   For example, the coldest inhabited place on Earth is arguably the village of Oymyakon in Russia where it can reach -45ºC, and the hottest inhabited is probably Death Valley in California USA where it can get up 56.7ºC.

Whether people could actually live independently of outside sources in places like these is another story. But in general, any given place will usually have a hotter or colder climate than the stated global average.

But let’s get back to the overuse of global averages … professional writers know that the written word (and diagrams etc) are often interpreted differently depending on the reader or their level of focus at the time of reading.

It’s not likely to be stretching things too far to say that the constant use by alarmists in using global average figures can lend itself to misconceptions in some lesser educated or inattentive people that it is going to get hotter where they actually live – or that extreme weather events are going to happen in their own region.

The bottom line is that if a media presentation keeps blathering about global averages and how negative it’s going to be, and which does not relate it to your geographical region then please let me suggest you turn it off. Such stuff is neither scientific or even sensible and is more about devotion to an quasi-religious eco-alarmism … or headline seeking.

Uncertainty Errors in CO² Emission Calculations

Scientists generally refer to an “error bar” or “uncertainty range” where an exact figure is not known.

So let’s take a common method of measuring an unknown distance by asking a group of people to give a visual distance estimate and call it a range of uncertainty or as in science, an error bar.  Now remove the highest and lowest distances and what’s left is your error bar or range.  Somewhere within that range the real distance should be located – hopefully. Now either centre or else average out between the highest and lowest to find what you hope is close to the real distance or to provide a baseline point.

Average atmospheric CO2 concentrations measured in the 19th and 20th century. Encircled are the values used by Callendar (1958). Redrawn after Fonselius et al. (1956).

In a very basic sense this is how scientists originally estimated the pre-industrial levels of CO² in the atmosphere as being 280 ppm. And that’s ignoring the many scientifically recorded measurements taken during the 19th and 20th centuries which indicated higher readings. And so it’s been used during pre-industrial times and then accepted by the IPCC when it first formed.

Obviously the methodology was more calculated than that but the principles were most likely basically the same.  But let’s stick with 280 ppm because it at least provides a kind of baseline.

If we assume the GHG theory as being correct, there can be little argument that humans have contributed to the current estimate of about 400 ppm of  CO² in our atmosphere.  Nor do scientists necessarily argue that CO² is at the very least a mild GHG – though of course there is diligent argument whether it is more than that.

Yet doubts have been cast on the previously accepted levels. Examination of glacier data has often been used to determine the levels of CO² concentrations in the atmosphere during the pre-industrial era, and they are also used for important calculations in climate change research.   For example, Messrs Jaworowski, Segalstad & Hisdal in their 1992 paper discussed this in their paper, “Atmospheric CO2 and Global Warming – A Critical Review, 2nd Revised Edition 1992″.

The report is believed to be the first critical review of CO² trapped in air bubbles in glaciers.   It reveals several errors in methodology and incorrect scientific assumptions which question the very validity of the AGW hypothesis. Some of the issues discussed include:

  • the subjective manner in which the value of 290 (sic) ppm was originally decided;
  • the siting of some of the observatories near volcanic activity and the methods used to edit the results;
  • the instrumentation and methods used to record historic thermometer temperatures; and
  • a new discovery of liquid found still trapped in air bubbles in ice under -73C that can significantly enrich or deplete CO² compared to an original atmosphere.
The projections of man-made climate change through burning of fossil carbon fuels (coal, gas, oil) to CO² gas are based mainly on interpretations of measured CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere and in glacier ice. These measurements and interpretations are subject to serious uncertainties…
Jaworowski 1992

The Uncertainty Range of Volcano Effects

There have been some very big volcanic eruptions in recent decades causing all sorts of problems spewing out volcanic dust and CO². Major fractures, hot springs and geysers also vent CO². Over the last 10,000 years or so there have been around 1500 land volcanoes active.

The Kilauyea Volcano in Hawaii

Let’s take just one example. The Kilauyea Volcano in Hawaii has been active for a long time erupting on average about once per three years or so and is among the most watched in the world. Until recently it was thought to be emitting around 2,800 tons of CO² per day. In 2001 it was thought to be more accurately amended to 8,800 tons/CO2/day. In 2008 the USGS – the US Geological Survey changed it again to 4,000 tons/CO²/day.  That all makes for an uncertainty error bar of between 100% to 300%.

But compared to land volcanoes, not so much is known about sub-sea volcanoes which make up the majority on the planet. There are literally  thousands of them. CO² is the most common gas found in their volcanic hydro-thermals but rarely is it found in liquid form as well.

White smoking vents at the Champagne sub-sea volcano

In 2006 the Champagne volcanic site in the Mariana Trench was found to be discharging a 103°C gas rich fluid and droplets at less then 4°C of mainly liquid CO2 were also discovered. The hot fluid at a molecular level of 2.7 moles/kg of CO² was the highest ever reported. The droplets contained 98% CO². All of this CO² was being absorbed into the ocean before it had risen less than 200m. This site alone is estimated to be contributing 0.1% of the “global carbon flux” i.e. from all natural sources being sent into the atmosphere – and that’s a lot.

An example of a “global carbon flux”

See: Submarine venting of liquid carbon dioxide on a Mariana Arc volcano

Following the Champagne discovery there have been suggestions that perhaps sub-sea volcanoes may be contributing more to the global carbon flux than previously realized.  With so much uncertainty on volcanoes generally and other forcing (CO² adding) agents, how can the IPCC be so certain on the extent of mankind’s contributions of CO² compared to natural sources?

The bottom line is they can’t really know.  Very little of it is yet known. They are forced to make calculated, educated guesses and produce results that include error bars of uncertainty about accuracy. And the ranges of those error bars are also under attack by sceptics.

CO2 “Residence” Time in the Atmosphere

As of 2010 there was an estimated  780Gt of CO² of which about 210 Gt (25%) was believed to be exchanged between the oceans and land “sinks” e.g. plants etc. So how long does the remainder stay up there?

The IPCC estimates the “residence time” i.e. the time that CO² elements remain in the atmosphere before being reabsorbed or emitted to space is anywhere between 5 and 200 years or more. That’s quite a error bar range of uncertainty.  I have read where one alarmist advocate stated that the rates of absorption of CO² into the Earth varied widely depending on how it’s being absorbed e.g. by the oceans, land or sea biota.  Maybe that is possible.
See also: Working Group I: The Scientific Basis:

IPCC AR5 2014 CO2 residence time chart

Other non-IPCC aligned scientists generally estimate a CO² residence time of between 5 to 10 years.

And the observed decrease in the radioactive carbon 14C in the atmosphere following the cessation of atmospheric nuclear testing in 1963 has confirmed the half life of CO² in the atmosphere at less than 10 years.  Incidentally, the 14C radioactive element can also be present naturally.
Source: Environmental Effects of Increased Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide

Unfortunately the IPCC tends to rely on a longer residence time in their computer models which consistently produce a higher global average temperature result by a given time e.g. 2020.
Also read:
Don Aitkin – How Long Does Carbon Dioxide Remain in the Atmosphere.

So if the non-IPCC aligned scientists and educated others are right, then the future temperatures following the currently observed trend is going to be more likely correct?


Both the sceptic and alarmist sides of the climate change debate are prone to making exaggerated and implausible claims. So much so that it’s sometimes difficult to find the real truth about the alleged dangerous global warming being caused by humans aka AGW.

This site is about trying to find that truth.  However, these pages may at first appear to be on the sceptic side – but that is not entirely true. Information in support of AGW that can be proven from sources outside the IPCC will be accepted.

The information here is believed to be correct at time of writing. Comments to the contrary which can prove otherwise are welcome.   Only comments from rational people who can discuss AGW issues dispassionately and with common courtesy will be considered.


1. Climate: The Counter Consensus, Professor Robert M. Carter 2010.
2. IPCC Fifth Assessment Report 2014
3. Other Links as indicated in the text.

Greenhouse Gases – A Perspective

We’re always hearing about greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide (CO2) and how they are causing warming of the Earth that will be dangerous to life on the planet.

But is it all rhetoric?

What this post is about, is to try and put some perspective on the issue of carbon dioxide, and whether or not it is the big bad demon or not that alarmists are saying it is.

A “Normal” Climate

Our atmosphere is made up of molecules of which about 99% is radiatively inactive. Greenhouse gases make up the remaining 1%.  Under ideal “normal” circumstances suitable for life, the combined greenhouse gases increase the Earth’s temperature from a theoretical -19⁰C to an average of around +15⁰C i.e. 34⁰C of warming.

Example of a “balanced” greenhouse system.

Typical estimates of the proportions of the greenhouse warming gases are around 78% water vapour, 20% carbon dioxide and around 2% from methane, nitrous oxide and other minor compounds. However estimates of the amount of water vapour can differ significantly from 60% less to 88% higher than 78%.

Source: “Climate: The Counter Consensus” by Prof. Robert M. Carter 2010

 What exactly are Greenhouse Gases?

Greenhouse gases absorb infra-red thermal radiation and hold the heat for a period of time in the atmosphere before being eventually re-absorbed back into the Earth or escapes into space.  It’s like a blanket that effectively keeps heat trapped near to the Earth.

Low vapour = higher CO2 levels = higher temperatures. High vapour = lower CO2 levels = lower temperatures.

The more important ones are water vapour, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and ozone, in decreasing order of effectiveness mainly because of their concentrations.

Source: “Energy & Environment Vol 16 No 6 2005” by Jack Barrett

The Kyoto Protocol recognizes six greenhouse gases. The numbers in brackets are the IPCC’s estimate of the warming potential of each compound compared to carbon dioxide e.g. methane has 21 times warming effect than 1 part of carbon dioxide:

  • CO2 – carbon dioxide(1)
  • methane (21),
  • nitrous oxide (310),
  • hydroflurocarbons (140 to 1,700),
  • perflurocarbons (6,500 to 9,200) and sulphur hexafluoride (23,00).

On the surface it makes CO2 look positively benign and might be the sort of thing a sceptic could say, except that the non-CO2 gases are only in very small percentages as to be almost negligible by comparison.

But you might notice the most prominent agent of water vapour is missing from the IPCC list. They say it is a “feedback” not a “forcing” agent and that it only lasts in the atmosphere for a few days as opposed to CO2, which they say lasts for more than 100 years. Therefore they don’t use it for the purpose of arguing the AGW – human caused warming case.

Feedback and Forcing Agents

Estimates taken from ice cores in Antarctica and Greenland up to 1 million years ago.

It’s a given scientific fact that the Earth’s global temperatures throughout its history has ranged widely from hot to cold.   At any given time when the temperature was fairly steady, the atmosphere has been “balanced” i.e. the incoming energy from the sun was equalled by outgoing energy in some form from the Earth.

Then along came forcing or feedback agents to tip the balance and warm or cool the Earth respectively. The various cycles of warming and cooling has continued from the beginning, mostly due to how far the Earth orbits around the Sun.

Forcing agents created by mankind according to the IPCC

Forcing Agents: These can be external e.g. the Sun, or internal e.g. material which absorbs heat such as aerosol dust from natural sources such as volcanoes or human sources such as aerosol spray cans, CO2 – carbon dioxide emissions and so on. According to the IPCC, CO2 is believed to account for the majority of the radiative forcing that keeps the greenhouse effect going.

See also :

Feedback Agents: These can change the effects of Forcing either positively and/or negatively. For example an increase in temperature causes more evaporation which causes higher temperatures, but at the same time creates more low clouds which reflect solar radiation back into space and rains to cause cooling.

An agreed scientific fact is that water vapour is not a forcing agent in its own right. It requires a rise in temperature to first create evaporation and more clouds. This causes an initial and temporary increase in temperature, but as the warm air rises, cooler air is sucked in from surrounding regions.

It then it becomes a feedback agent. The tops of clouds reflect incoming energy from the sun. The warm vaporous air is cooled in the upper altitudes and condenses. Rainfall then cools the earth.  Cooler air under these clouds are drawn away to other warmer areas.

Water Vapour

Even though water vapour is the most dominant in its ability to absorb heat, the IPCC does not include it as a greenhouse gas as previously mentioned. So let’s look at why they should include it in their calculations.

There is considerable overlap in absorption qualities between water vapour and other greenhouse gases.

The CO2 absorption rate increases 1.5% in the absence of other greenhouse gases which causes temperature to rise. But when put together with other greenhouse gases its absorption rate drops down to 0.5%. In other words it’s much less effective in taking up heat.

Water vapour has about 5 times the ability to absorb heat as CO2, however the cooling effect mainly happens in the first 100m of the atmosphere, and gets less and less effective in comparison to CO2 as altitude increases.

Trade winds are classic examples of air moving from colder to warmer areas.

Yet even if water vapour only lasts in the atmosphere for a few days, there is always rain happening somewhere on the planet every day. Cumulatively it must have at least some contributing cooling effect on a regional, if not global scale?

Further, with the water vapour in the higher altitudes being almost ineffective in absorbing heat,  it would be expected that more CO2 would have a greater effect on atmospheric warming. But this does not seem to be occurring in spite of the predictions of most GCMs.

So the real question is whether water vapour is a more powerful forcing or cooling agent?  And if so, by how much?

The question of climate feedback systems is a highly complex subject. Scientists don’t yet know all the feedback systems that affect climate and maybe never will. It’s one of the reasons why computer modelling might be considered unreliable by some.

With all the uncertainty about feedback effects, not to mention outright scientific disagreements, it has to be wondered for example if this overlap of absorption rates has been built into the computer modelling on which the IPCC relies and which must give cause for some scepticism.

See also:

Health Effects of CO2

 The level of CO2 in our atmosphere is at 0.04% (?)  which today is about 400 ppm (parts per million). The level considered safe is 600 ppm for indoors.

In low concentrations e.g. less than 1% there is little noticeable effect. Inside a building without a fresh air supply then 1% (10,000 ppm) of CO2, some occupants might feel drowsy.

It usually needs to be over 2% or so before most people become aware of it without something to alert them e.g. some form of smell. An acid condition of the blood “acidosis” may form after several hours at that level. At 5% the breathing rate doubles and above that level it becomes toxic. Prolonged exposure creates various noticeable symptoms, which if left untreated can cause unconsciousness and even death.

However it should be understood that adding a given amount of CO2 to a contained space correspondingly reduces the amount of oxygen available. Any health issues as a result of exposure to CO2 could likely be as much due to a lack of oxygen as to the CO2.

Source: InspectAPedia article, “Toxicity of Carbon Dioxide Gas Exposure, CO2 Poisoning Symptoms, Carbon Dioxide Exposure Limits”.

How Much CO2 Is Up There?

Estimations about how much CO2 is present in the atmosphere are up to 780 Gt of total carbon.  About 7 Gt is estimated to be added each year from all sources, of which the IPCC argues about 3.5 Gt (half) is man-made.  Since pre-industrial times the total amount has risen from about 280 ppm – parts per million to 400 ppm.

You may remember the IPCC believes CO2 stays up there for about 100 years, but there are other scientific calculations based on carbon isotope evidence and a much shorter time that the CO2 stays up there i.e. five to 10 years. They suggest that only four to five percent – about 0.05 Gt  of the total 780 Gt is derived from fossil fuel burning.

Note: The whole paper is an interesting read but page 13 lists the scientists who have published shorter “residence” time of CO2 in the atmosphere.

But even if that is not true or even near it, if we use the IPCC figure of 3.5 Gt per year being added each year because of humans, it’s still only 0.45% of the total carbon count. (780 Gt divided by 3.5 Gt).  In other words, 99.55% of greenhouse gases has nothing to do with human CO2 emissions, and the remaining 0.45% just happens to be equivalent to the 0.1⁰C warming which other non-IPCC aligned scientists have come up with.

See also:

Another relationship between water vapour and carbon dioxide

Despite how much water vapour dominates the greenhouse gases as a primary factor, and the IPCCs own estimations about how much CO2 is actually being added each year to the total atmospheric content, carbon dioxide still remains the centre of attention.

One of the reasons would have to be the continued focus of the IPCC on promoting AGW – Anthropogenic Global Warming instead of looking at the whole of the climatic systems. Until they are removed as the leading authority on climate change and the matter placed back into the hands of actual scientists, the matter will continue to be political.