Archive for the ‘Revkin’ Category

Robert Sohn of Wood’s Hole: the 1999 Arctic seafloor volcanic explosions are NOT responsible for rapid sea ice melting

July 2nd, 2008 2 comments
In personal email correspondence with me, geophysicist Robert A. Sohn, the lead scientist on the international team that reported last week about powerful explosive volcanic activity in 1999 in the deep Arctic Ocean seafloor has strongly rejected the wild speculation – thrown up by Investors Business Daily (“Are Volcanoes Melting Arctic?“) and  rapidly picked up by the gullible “skeptical” blogosphere – that such volcanic activity has any responsibility for the recent disturbingly rapid summer melting and thinning of the Arctic Ocean sea ice.
Science journals and other news services last week ran stories last week about the June 26, 2008 report in prestigious Nature magazine about the July 2007 Arctic Gakkel Vents Expedition (AGAVE), financed by the U.S. National Science Foundation and NASA, to explore a region of the deep (4 kilometers below the Arctic Ocean) and remote Gakkel Ridge, a portion of the largely unexplored mid-ocean ridge system that runs through the Arctic Ocean and which was the site of seismic activity in 1999.  Rob Sohn, of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, led the expedition and was lead author on the paper, along with 21 co-authoring scientists from nine institutions in four countries. 
The expedition found evidence of apparently “spectacularly” large explosive volcanic eruptions, at depths previously thought impossible.  According to one report, Sohn said that “These are the first pyroclastic deposits we’ve ever found in such deep water, at oppressive pressures that inhibit the formation of steam, and many people thought this was not possible,” and that “This means that a tremendous blast of CO2 was released into the water column during the explosive eruption.” 
According to another report, Sohn, who is an expert on mid-ocean ridges, said: “The scale and magnitude of the explosive activity that we’re seeing here dwarfs anything we’ve seen on other mid-ocean ridges,” that the volume of gas and lava that appears to have blasted out of the Gakkel volcanoes is “much, much higher” than that seen at other ridges (“Jets or fountains of material were probably blasted one, maybe even two, kilometers up into the water”), and that “it is a good thing there is four kilometers of seawater on top of the Gakkel Ridge as the eruptions would have been ‘highly problematic’ had they occurred on dry land”.
This is the information that has quickly been spun rather wildly – especially as some noted that Arctic sea ice began to thin more rapidly since 1999 –  even though a responsible observer would have noted that the international team stated that such explosions have been part of “a widespread, and ongoing, process”, and “The scientists say the heat released by the explosions is not contributing to the melting of the Arctic ice, but Sohn says the huge volumes of CO2 gas that belched out of the undersea volcanoes likely contributed to rising concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. How much, he couldn’t say.”
In response to queries by commenters at the New York Times “Dot Earth” blog, an July 1 Andy Revkin posted a brief survey of scientists regarding what Andy called an “eruption of assertions” that the recent startlingly rapid summer melting and thinning of Arctic Ocean sea ice might be due not to climate change but to “all the heat from the recent discovered volcanoes peppering the Gakkel Ridge, one of the seams in the deep seabed”. 
Andy’s post (“What’s Up With Volcanoes Under Arctic Sea Ice“) and the questions of commenters prompted me to do a bit of digging on my own.  Fortunately, I was able to get ahold of Rob Sohn, to whom I directly the following questions
Perhaps you might care to weigh in on the discussion re: the 1999 eruptions?
In particular:
  • how much CO2 was released? 
  • would any/a significant portion of the CO2 released gone directly to the surface?
  • was the release reflected in atmospheric CO2 measurements?
  • how high did the debris column likely go?
  • would it be possible that any of the heat released would have created a column of hot water significantly light enough to rise to the surface?
  • even if not, could such a below surface hot spot have slowed downward heat flux, producing a greater upward heat flux?

 In response, Rob stated:

Tom, we are still trying to figure out how much CO2 was released – not an easy question given that we got to the scene of the crime long after the CO2 was gone. We are also still trying to understand the dynamical aspects of the explosions in terms of what happened in the overlying water column.

We doubt that the events perturbed the overlying pack ice because of the incredible damping from 4 km of water between the volcanoes and the ice. At most we believe the explosive plume reached about halfway through the water column, but there may have been some transient heat flux to the underside of the ice right above the volcanoes.

One thing that is certain, however, is that these events were not capable of causing any significant melt-off on the basin scale. Some have asserted that these events are linked to the diminishing ice cover in the Arctic, and that simply cannot be true.  Wishful thinking, perhaps, but not grounded in scientific fact.

In any case we need to do a lot more work to understand these explosions and their impact on the water column and surrounding seafloor, and the fact they are located in the remote Arctic is a big problem.

Thanks for your interest in my research.


(emphasis added)

Personal communication; July 2, 2008.

It sounds to me that Rob, while noting that this and other deep sea volcanic activity is CANNOT be responsible for any significant melting of Arctic sea ice, that it might be possible that the massive 1999 eruptions had a “transient” local effect.

[UPDATE:]  In a follow up email, I asked Rob “What do you think happened to the CO2 though – could a substantial portion have bubbled directly to the surface?  I imagine this is a question that you’ll get from others, too.”

Rob responded:

Tom, unfortunately it takes a while to answer these questions. The first step is to estimate the amount of CO2 that was discharged. We are working on that, and I hope to have decent estimates by end of summer. Then we have to try and understand how this CO2 (and other volcanic products) interacts with the overlying water column. …. Our paper last week has touched off a lot of interest inside the scientific community, and I believe it will help stimulate the necessary research. But it will all take time.

I can see how it would be frustrating for the public because it takes a lot longer to answer the key questions than it does to formulate them. Federal funding for this kind of basic research has been stagnant and in many cases declining, which makes it all the harder to advance the field.  One possible positive side effect of all the interest we’ve generated
would be to increase awareness about the need for this kind of research.

Best regards, Rob

Peabody Coal is VERY concerned about how Jim Hansen is "cheapening the dialogue"

June 28th, 2008 No comments

In response to Jim Hansen’s recent expressed desire for “public trials” for fossil fuel executives if, despite being “aware of long-term consequences of continued business as usual,” they continue their “campaigns” “to spread doubt about global warming” in order to “blocked [the] transition to our renewable energy future”, Andy Revkin of the The New York Times has received and posted on the NYT’s “Dot Earth” blog a note from Vic Svec of Peabody Energy, which Revkin notes is the largest private coal producer in the world.

Vic Svec’s note at “Dot Earth” is here.

In response, I posted a few comments to Mr. Svec on the Dot Earth blog thread, which I copy below [with some links added]:

Vic Svec
Senior Vice President, Investor Relations and Corporate Communications
Peabody Energy
(314) 342-7768
[email protected]

Dear Vic:

Nice try with your letter addressing Jim Hansen’s criticism of fossil fuel firms such as yours.

1.  You say that Hansen’s “Holocaust analogies [are] outrageous and demeaning.”

Hansen’s latest criticism of coal and oil firms contains ZERO Holocaust analogies.  So who is it who prefers not to address his actual remarks, but to “cheapen the dialogue and invite ridicule”?

Yes, Hansen did warn last year that rapid climate change may very well threaten the extinction of many species – a claim supported by many prominent biologists – and in that context said that further increases in coal plants could in effect be “death trains … loaded with uncountable irreplaceable species”.  You obviously don’t like his rhetoric, but do you care to explain why either his facts or his imagery are wrong?

2.  “The suggestion that a dissemination of ideas be criminalized –- coming from a government employee no less –- does hearken back to World War II.”

First, what was that you just said about cheapening debate?

Second, Hansen has not said that the speech of any fossil fuel executives should be restricted or criminalized.  Rather, he is making a stronger version of the argument that the British Royal Academy made last year to Exxon, when it sought to clarify if Exxon was going to continue to provide support to groups that deny what EXXON itself has conceded: that human GHG emissions present sufficient worry for public policy action now.

Like Exxon, your firm has publicly acknowledged that concerns about climate change are legitimate and, indeed, that massive investments are needed in new infrastructure to ensure that coal is burned more cleanly and that CCS (carbon capture and storage) technologies are employed (as you note in the projects listed in your item 4).  The only real differences between your firm’s position and Hansen’s is that you think that the government should subsidize your change in business model by (a) having Uncle Sam pay the bulk of capital costs for IGCC (integrated gas combined cycle plant) [something like $1 billion for the first one with CCS] and (b) giving you a further break (reduced royalties) on the sweet deals you already have for stripping coal from public lands, while Hansen proposes a carbon tax (rebated to citizens) to motivate changes in demand and a moratorium on new coal plants until CCS is in place.

While Peabody has every right to conduct its business as it sees fit, so does Hansen have the right to hope that fossil fuel firms will be called to public account for the years of delay that they have purchased, not by openly arguing with the science, but by back door channels/contributions and third-party proxies – tactical activities that are hardly subject to dispute.  THAT, and not open disputes on science or policy, is what Hansen is criticizing.

3.  “Blaming big oil and big coal for the broad array of opinions about climate change is disingenuous.”

Is that at all what Hansen has done, or do you just find strawmen to be irresistible?

“If he would imprison those who don’t march in lockstep with his views, the jails would be very, very big.”

Ahh, here we go with more cheap and shameful metaphors of the very type that you yourself decry, plus another great strawman.  Hansen hasn’t suggested jailing anyone who disagrees with him, as I previously noted.  He’s just castigating the fossil fuel firms for what is rather pedestrian (and undeniable) in the modern world – that powerful economic interests have no qualms about ignoring public and common interests for the sake of private gain, or about employing whatever tool they can to influence government action via both politicians and public opinion.  Hansen, whose views on science you conspicuously refuse to address, is now obviously trying to play the same game of influencing political discourse by putting pressure on you.  As a scientist, Hansen obviously has only a political bark and no formal bite.

Your aim now is simply to discredit the barker, the better to get government subsidies, cheaper coal from the government by lowering royalties, and to continue commercial activities that shift the costs and risks of GHG emissions to others and to the future.  That, of course, is the “serious work” for which Peabody employs you as SVP of Investor Relations and Corporate Communications.

As for the “thousands of scientists and university professors” who have opinions that differ from Hansen’s, I’ll wager that, like Exxon, your scientists tend to agree with Dr. Hansen and that your only connection with any of the other thousands is via funding for PR efforts.  Maybe you could clarify this?

Thanks so much for your sound bites.