NASA: ‘CO2 causes climate change’

Posted on October 20, 2010



Yes, this is the breaking news that NASA has found out, about two millennia later than the rest of the world, that carbon dioxide is a massive factor within climate change.

The report has come after research into greenhouse gases. Water vapour and other condensing substances within the atmosphere make up around 98% of the stuff, but it’s the two per cent that doesn’t break down naturally, instead relying on being absorbed by other sinks or stores, that has a larger impact.

The research is neither groundbreaking nor important, in all fairness, as this stuff has been well documented for decades, but ne’ertheless it’s still a worthwhile validation for the subject and perhaps gives further insight into where we stand.

Ocean-circulation and atmospheric currents play an important role in distributing energy, but the findings suggest that they alone cannot account for the rapid rise in the planet’s temperatures, as a global average, over the past couple of centuries.

The research involved recreating a Gaia-like environment, removing aerosols and other non-condensing gases, and showed that in time the water vapour, the most abundant greenhouse gas, evaporated and condensed depending on the temperature.

In the opposing experiments, addition of the aerosols meant that there was no breakdown of greenhouse gases at any temperature, meaning that where water vapour had previously evaporated in warm temperatures, the carbon dioxide prevented similar processes from taking place.

Graph illustrating the feedbacks and forcings of condensing and non-condensing greenhouse gases

Impacts of condensing and non-condensing greenhouse gases in terms of feedback and forcing mechanism towards climate change (Lacis et al., 2010)

So where water vapour etc. followed patterns and cycles of evaporating and condensing, and accordingly fluctuating the amount of energy retained in the atmosphere, the non-condensing gases went as far as preventing many of these processes from taking place.

As I said at the start, this is not shocking. But that 20% of greenhouse gas effects can be attributed to 0.04% of the atmosphere (and less than 2% of all the greenhouse gases), and that without them the climate would fluctuate more regularly, is the interesting part of the research.

When I first read this, I didn’t think there was a story there either, but on closer inspection it’s just not a very exciting one. This is an invaluable piece of critical research in helping us understand the severity of the issue facing us in the modern world, and as we’ve been told before, tipping point is quickly approaching.

However much you blame, or discount, human activities on climatic change across the globe, this should prove to show that carbon dioxide, methane and other gases (from all points of origin, natural, extra terrestrial and anthropogenic) is having an effect. How we live with, attempt to treat and hopefully reduce that threat is what will define us over the next generation or three.