Humans Release 40 to 100x More CO2 Than Volcanoes, Major Study Reveals
Scientists have done the math, and human activities like burning fossil fuels and clearing forests generate as much as 100 times the carbon emissions of volcanic eruptions every year, AFP reported Tuesday.
The findings are part of a 10-year study by the Deep Carbon Observatory (DCO), a global team of around 500 scientists. In a series of papers released in the journal Elements on Tuesday, the team produced an in-depth account of the Earth's carbon.
In a DCO news release out today, scientists quantify global volcanic CO2 venting and estimate total carbon on Earth… https://t.co/y9yF7E8zjL— Deep Carbon Obsrvtry (@Deep Carbon Obsrvtry)1569942204.0
While volcanoes and other natural processes release 0.28 to 0.36 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide per year, DCO said, human activity released more than 37 gigatonnes in 2018 alone, according to AFP. In total, annual human emissions are 40 to 100 times greater than those of volcanoes, DCO explained in a press release.
"Climate sceptics really jump on volcanoes as a possible contender for top CO2 emissions but it's simply not the case," Professor of Volcanology and Petrology and Ron Oxburgh Fellow in Earth Sciences at Queens' College, Cambridge Marie Edmonds told AFP.
The studies didn't just focus on anthropogenic carbon releases. They provided a general account of where all of the Earth's carbon is stored and how it moves through the environment, as BBC News explained. What they found is that the vast majority of Earth's 1.85 billion gigatonnes of carbon is below ground, with two thirds in the core. Only 43,500 billion tonnes (approximately 47,951 U.S. tons) are above ground in the oceans, land and atmosphere. This represents just two-tenths of one percent of Earth's carbon.
The researchers also investigated geological history in order to understand how carbon has moved through the Earth's systems over time. They found that, for the most part over the past 500 million years, the planet has drawn down as much carbon into the ground as it has released, maintaining balance. However, there were a few notable exceptions, as Eos explained:
In the past 500 million years, four volcanic eruptions created large igneous provinces (LIPs) that each released massive quantities of CO2 over tens of thousands of years. These LIPs caused the above-ground quantity of CO2 to spike to about 170% of its steady state value, which led to warmer surface conditions, more acidic oceans, and mass extinctions.
Likewise, large impact events, including the Chicxulub impact 65 million years ago, released large quantities of carbon from the subsurface into the atmosphere.
The Chicxulub impact is the event that likely drove the dinosaurs to extinction, and what's worrying is that human activity is actually releasing carbon dioxide at a slightly higher rate today, Eos reported.
"It's really revealing that the amount of carbon dioxide we're emitting in a short time period is very close to the magnitude of those previous catastrophic carbon events," Dr. Celina Suarez from the University of Arkansas told BBC News. "A lot of those ended in mass extinctions, so there are good reasons why there is discussion now that we might be in a sixth mass extinction."
While Earth's systems did eventually rebalance after past catastrophic carbon releases, that did not happen quickly.
"Climate deniers always say that Earth always rebalances itself," Suarez told AFP. "Well, yes it has. It will rebalance itself, but not on a timescale that is of significance to humans."
While the research is another sobering reminder of the severity of the climate crisis, it did uncover some potentially life-saving information: Volcanoes often discharge certain gasses before they erupt.
"A shift in the composition of volcanic gases from smelly (akin to burnt matches) sulphur dioxide (SO2) to a gas richer in odorless, colorless CO2 can be sniffed out by monitoring stations or drones to forewarn of an eruption—sometimes hours, sometimes months in advance," DCO explained. "Eruption early warning systems with real-time monitoring are moving ahead to exploit the CO2 to SO2 ratio discovery, first recognized with certainty in 2014."
- 'Carbon Threshold' Could Lead to Mass Extinction Event ›
- Mass Extinction Event 2 Billion Years Ago Killed 99% of Life on ... ›
- CO2 Emissions Caused Earth’s Largest Mass Extinction, Study Confirms - EcoWatch ›
A tornado tore through a city north of Birmingham, Alabama, Monday night, killing one person and injuring at least 30.
- Tornadoes and Climate Change: What Does the Science Say ... ›
- Tornadoes Hit Unusually Wide Swaths of U.S., Alarming Climate ... ›
- 23 Dead as Tornado Pummels Lee County, AL in Further Sign ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By David Konisky
On his first day in office President Joe Biden started signing executive orders to reverse Trump administration policies. One sweeping directive calls for stronger action to protect public health and the environment and hold polluters accountable, including those who "disproportionately harm communities of color and low-income communities."
Michael S. Regan, President Biden's nominee to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, grew up near a coal-burning power plant in North Carolina and has pledged to "enact an environmental justice framework that empowers people in all communities." NCDEQ
- Report Urges Biden to Reverse Trump's Environmental Rollbacks ›
- US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ›
- Biden's EPA Pick Michael Regan Urged to Address Environmental ... ›
- Biden Faces Pressure to Tackle 'Unfunded' Toxic Waste Sites ... ›
By Katherine Kornei
Clear-cutting a forest is relatively easy—just pick a tree and start chopping. But there are benefits to more sophisticated forest management. One technique—which involves repeatedly harvesting smaller trees every 30 or so years but leaving an upper story of larger trees for longer periods (60, 90, or 120 years)—ensures a steady supply of both firewood and construction timber.
A Pattern in the Rings<p>The <a href="https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/coppice-standards-0" target="_blank">coppice-with-standards</a> management practice produces a two-story forest, said <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Bernhard_Muigg" target="_blank">Bernhard Muigg</a>, a dendrochronologist at the University of Freiburg in Germany. "You have an upper story of single trees that are allowed to grow for several understory generations."</p><p>That arrangement imprints a characteristic tree ring pattern in a forest's upper story trees (the "standards"): thick rings indicative of heavy growth, which show up at regular intervals as the surrounding smaller trees are cut down. "The trees are growing faster," said Muigg. "You can really see it with your naked eye."</p><p>Muigg and his collaborators characterized that <a href="https://ltrr.arizona.edu/about/treerings" target="_blank">dendrochronological pattern</a> in 161 oak trees growing in central Germany, one of the few remaining sites in Europe with actively managed coppice-with-standards forests. They found up to nine cycles of heavy growth in the trees, the oldest of which was planted in 1761. The researchers then turned to a historical data set — more than 2,000 oak <a href="https://eos.org/articles/podcast-discovering-europes-history-through-its-timbers" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">timbers from buildings and archaeological sites</a> in Germany and France dating from between 300 and 2015 — to look for a similar pattern.</p>
A Gap of 500 Years<p>The team found wood with the characteristic coppice-with-standards tree ring pattern dating to as early as the 6th century. That was a surprise, Muigg and his colleagues concluded, because the first mention of this forest management practice in historical documents occurred only roughly 500 years later, in the 13th century.</p><p>It's probable that forest management practices were not well documented prior to the High Middle Ages (1000–1250), the researchers suggested. "Forests are mainly mentioned in the context of royal hunting interests or donations," said Muigg. Dendrochronological studies are particularly important because they can reveal information not captured by a sparse historical record, he added.</p><p>These results were <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-78933-8" target="_blank">published in December in <em>Scientific Reports</em></a>.</p><p>"It's nice to see the longevity and the history of coppice-with-standards," said <a href="https://www.teagasc.ie/contact/staff-directory/s/ian-short/" target="_blank">Ian Short</a>, a forestry researcher at Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority in Ireland, not involved in the research. This technique is valuable because it promotes conservation and habitat biodiversity, Short said. "In the next 10 or 20 years, I think we'll see more coppice-with-standards coming back into production."</p><p>In the future, Muigg and his collaborators hope to analyze a larger sample of historic timbers to trace how the coppice-with-standards practice spread throughout Europe. It will be interesting to understand where this technique originated and how it propagated, said Muigg, and there are plenty of old pieces of wood waiting to be analyzed. "There [are] tons of dendrochronological data."</p><p><em><a href="mailto:email@example.com" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Katherine Kornei</a> is a freelance science journalist covering Earth and space science. Her bylines frequently appear in Eos, Science, and The New York Times. Katherine holds a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.</em></p><p><em>This story originally appeared in <a href="https://eos.org/articles/tree-rings-reveal-how-ancient-forests-were-managed" target="_blank">Eos</a></em> <em>and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.</em></p>
Earth's ice is melting 57 percent faster than in the 1990s and the world has lost more than 28 trillion tons of ice since 1994, research published Monday in The Cryosphere shows.
By Jewel Fraser
Noreen Nunez lives in a middle-class neighborhood that rises up a hillside in Trinidad's Tunapuna-Piarco region.