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Rudimentary climate science; the role of CO2, oceans and volcanoes

I am posting here a brief summary that I just sent to a Mises Blog contributor, in response to an inquiry I received:

Thanks for your email. 

First, I’m no expert but simply read. With that as background, let me respond on a few points.
  • I think that the general scientific view is that CO2 is a GHG, so that increases in atmospheric CO2 increase the radiative forcing effect of CO2.
  • In the pre-industrial past,  warmings were typically initiated by other factors – chiefly wobbles of the Earth on its axis and in its solar orbit – but as these other factors warmed the oceans, that led to greater releases of CO2 from the oceans and an increase in atmospheric CO2, which reinforced the warming initiated by other factors.  The CO2 warming led to further warming of the oceans, etc., until other factors kicked in that initiated a cooling, which led to an uptake of CO2 by the oceans, etc.  Thus, in the past CO2 had a supportive (but still important) role.
  • Occasional volcanoes (either land or submarine) do not appear to release enough CO2 or warmth to significantly affect the climate, other than the short-tern (one – two year) cooling effect of dust and aerosols.
  • Presently, CO2 releases by volcanoes is orders of magnitude less than releases from fossil fuel combustion – volcanoes like Pinatubo do not even make a blip on the charts of climbing CO2 levels (which clear show season cycles), and there is no evidence of any general increase (or decrease) in volcanic activity.
  • However, there does seem to be evidence of rare cases in the past where massive and long-lasting vocanic eruptions (the Deccan traps and the Siberian traps) have severely affected climate – even being closely related to mass extinction events.
  • Presently, the oceans are absorbing carbon, leading to increase in ocead acidity (reduction of alkalinity).  This will eventually slow the further ocean uptake of CO2.  In the meanwhile, scientists are very, very concerned about the effect that relatively rapid pH change will have on corals and other critters that use calcium (including diatoms).
Here are a few links that might be helpful.







“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.”
Richard Feynman


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