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All IPCC definitions taken from Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Working Group I Contribution to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Annex I, Glossary, pp. 941-954. Cambridge University Press.

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CO2 is coming from the ocean

What the science says...

Measurements of carbon isotopes and falling oxygen in the atmosphere show that rising carbon dioxide is due to the burning of fossil fuels and cannot be coming from the ocean.

Climate Myth...

CO2 is coming from the ocean
 

"The solubility of carbon dioxide in water is listed in the Handbook of Chemistry and Physics as a declining function of temperature. ... The rising values of atmospheric carbon dioxide during the time of the Mouna Loa measurements could clearly be a function of reduced solubility of CO2 in the oceans of the Planet." (Watts Up With That)

 

We can be confident the extra CO2 in the atmosphere has come from the oxidation of fossil fuels and not from outgassing from the ocean or from soil/land sources by using two key observations.

1. Oxygen decrease

Atmospheric oxygen is going down by the same amount as atmospheric CO2 is going up. Oxygen is so abundant at about 21% (209,500 ppm) that we are in no danger of running out; the change in oxygen simply shows that whatever the source of CO2 in the atmosphere, the carbon part of it has come from the oxidation of reduced carbon compounds and the oxygen has come from oxygen gas in the atmosphere. That is, the extra CO2 was not released in the form of CO2 from an unknown source but instead some reduced carbon compound was burnt in the atmosphere to produce CO2. See: AR3WG1 Section 3.5.1, especially Figure 3.4.

2. Known fossil fuel CO2 emissions

Most obviously, any alternative explanation for the source of the CO2 in the atmosphere has to also come up with where the 30 billion tonnes of CO2 known to be released by fossil fuel burning each year goes.

Atmospheric CO2 is currently increasing at about 2 ppmv per year (or 16 billion tonnes). That is, only around half of the CO2 we release remains in the atmosphere. The pH decrease in the oceans corresponds to most of the “missing” CO2, so we can also be confident that land use changes etc are not a major source/sink. Caveat: Land use and biomass changes certainly soak up a lot of CO2, some it simply regrowth of forests etc, but the point is that the increasing CO2 in the atmosphere clearly demonstrates that they do not soak up enough.

In summary:

Amount of increased CO2
in the atmosphere
 + Amount of increased CO2
in the oceans
  =    Amount of known fossil
fuel emissions of CO2

Acknowledgements: this post was written by New Zealand chemical oceanographer, Doug Mackie.

Last updated on 26 June 2010 by Doug Mackie.

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Comments

Comments 1 to 5:

  1. Nice article. This one and "CO2 Pollution and Global Warming" by Barbalace represents real science. This really shows where the carbon is coming from. Since O2 has decreased, then the oceans have not warmed very much (O2 should be out gassed as well as CO2). So, the 100 ppm increase in the atmospheric CO2 may really be from fossil fuel burning from the industrial age. Nice work everyone.
  2. This is a great argument.

    The two IPCC URLs have expired; here's the new URLs:

    AR3WG1 Section 3.5.1
    Figure 3.4
  3. Could you possibly include some more info/links for the "Measurements of carbon isotopes ........ show that rising carbon dioxide is due to the burning of fossil fuels" statement please?
  4. David: Keeling, C.D. et al (2001), Exchanges of Atmospheric CO2 and 13CO2 with the Terrestrial Biosphere and Oceans from 1978-2000.

    I. Global Aspects
    II. Three-Dimensional Tracer Inversion Model to Deduce Regional Fluxes
    III. Sensitivity Tests
    IV. Critical Overview

    SIO Reference Series, Scripps Institute of Oceanography, 88 pages
  5. But Oceans outgas co2 also where does this fit in the equation?

    Response:

    [TD] The exchange rates of CO2 going in and coming out of the oceans are known, along with the factors that influence those two rates.  The net effect currently still is much more going in that coming out.  See installment 9 of the OA is Not OK series.

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