Sunday, 3 November 2013

Can we increase the amount of CO2 in the air?

The quick answer?  No.    We cannot increase the proportion of CO2 in the air.  This is proportion of CO2 is controlled by well known physical chemistry.     In an equilibrium, the ratio of concentrations on both sides of a gas/liquid boundary is fixed at a given temperature and pressure.    This is well known.   Make a change on one side only and the system quickly reacts to restore the status quo.

Now the logic behind man made global warming has two parts

  1. The CO2 increase is created by man through the burning of fossil fuels
  2. The CO2 increase and the CO2 increase alone causes (catastrophic) global warming

These blog posts address the first argument, one which seems self evident to the layman.   It is self evident simply because most people do not understand equilibrium.

The primary and essential argument behind Man made Global Warming is that CO2 generated from fossil fuel has increased our CO2 in the air, like tipping water into a bucket.   Has anyone actually proved this? Can it be established?    The answer is that it can be utterly disproven by examining C14 levels.

If the CO2 increase is not due to the burning of coal, oil and wood, there is no man made global warming, regardless of any computer models and climate scientists.   The whole chain of logic collapses.  I must say any suggestion that this is not true meets with stiff opposition.

With this as a premise, people then start to work out where the CO2 goes including the plant absorption, plant decay and burning and breathing ocean exchanges and perhaps more.

However they are wrong.   CO2 is in balance, in chemical equilibrium.    In equilibrium, you can add a great deal to the air and the proprition of CO2 will not change.   This is simple chemical physics, the science of equilibrium which is rarely mentioned.   In the real world of physical chemistry, if you add CO2 to the air, a lot of it goes into the water.    The question is, how much?

The simple fact is that there is 50x as much CO2 dissolved in the oceans as exists in the air above.   This is very odd.    Why does the CO2 in the ocean stay there?    Why doesn’t it just bubble into the air, like CO2 from lemonade when you take the top off?    Is there some policeman controlling all this with the name of Henry?   Is there some reason that gases in solution under pressure do not obey the long established simple rules for gases in solutoin under pressure?

Actually CO2 bubbles freely out of the water the whole time.   CO2 also enters the water from the air. This process of bubbling, outgassing and reabsorption depends on the air pressure and the temperature of the air and water but over time these processes eventually settle down to a balance where the number leaving exactly match the number going.     All systems where the rate of decay is proportional to amount act in the same way, decaying rapidly to the equilibrium balance after a perturbation.

This process of gaseous exchange does vary dramatically with temperature so in the arctic, more CO2 goes into the water than at the tropics and v.v.   This continual process has observable rules and Henry observed the simple rule.  You can measure and absolute predict the vapour pressure of any dissolved gas with the air above.  Everything is in equilibrium although the ratios will vary with temperature across the planet.

For example if we consider surface sea water a 10C, we know exactly what the vapour pressure of CO2 should be.   Then if CO2 is added to the air, increasing the vapour pressure, more CO2 dissolves in the water until the balance is restored.

On a world scale, even if CO2 is captured in wood or other plants, calcium carbonate, caught in the rain, or released by burning, the partial pressure of CO2 is maintained by the huge reservoir in the oceans.   It can respond in a very short time to all these rather longer time frame exchanges.   This huge and ongoing worldwide exchange involves the entire surface of water across the entire planet, every drop, stream, river, sea and ocean.    Even inside our lungs as we exchange old CO2 for new O2.   It is the core exchange which allow us and all life and fish to breathe and live.   It does not stop and the balances always have to be observed.  Everyone of these exchanges obey's Henry's law which dictates the concentrations on both sides to a strict and known ratio.

So man cannot just tip CO2 into the air and expect it to stay there as an excess.   This excess CO2 normally goes into the huge oceans over time.     Every cm2 of the ocean surface is in active interaction with the air above it with CO2 going both ways.   Attempts to perform a carbon balance without recognition of this essential equilibrium are utterly flawed.   The unspoken question here is how fast the CO2 goes into the sea in practice.

If CO2 cannot be changed, why is CO2 increasing?   The answer is simple and nothing to do with fossil fuel.
As said, the amount of CO2 dissolved at any given temperature and under a given pressure is sensitive to both.     If the average temperature of the oceans, the vast storehouse of CO2 has increased about 1C, the fact that it contains so much more CO2 than the air will dramatically amplify even the tiniest release of CO2 as with increasing temperature.  

People have created quite complex models the fate of carbon.   These Carbon cycles attempt to reconcile CO2 like an accountant, dependent on numerous observations and calculations like an accounting system.  However  models which ignore the fundamental rule of gaseous exchange and equilibrium are doomed to failure.   

This known fact of equilibrium means that man made CO2, whether C14 free CO2 like the result of burning really old fossil fuel or the C14 rich CO2 from the atom bombs will quickly find its way into the vast ocean resevoirs.   The perturbation of the C14 by the atom bombs even shows how quickly this process occurs.   There is no other explanation which fits the facts.

What is quite contradictory in the whole idea that the extra CO2 comes from fossil fuel, is that scientists acknowledge the exchanges between the air and the biosphere and the water, but who determines how much CO2 stays in the air?    Why should the extra CO2 not vanish in the oceans or at least a large part of it?   Why should our addition of CO2 just stay there even while they are being swapped out for other CO2 molecules?  How can anyone say that man has caused the 50% increase and accept massive CO2 exchanges which have no reason or logic to maintain this increase.    Why shouldn't the extra CO2 just vanish and the old level remain?   What sets the level of CO2, a trace gas in the atmosphere?    For some reason the increase is assumed to be preserved, by rules and forces and for reasons no one has explained.    All the existing body of physical chemistry controlling these exchanges tell us the proportion of CO2 in the air should be set by temperature and pressure and nothing else.    Could it be that scientists are deliberately ignoring the science because the public does not understand the principles of equilibrium?

I did find this good diagram with a graphical illustration of equilibrium.    In this model, if you were dump a bucket of water into the stable system on the RHS, it would quickly return to the equilibrium level where the amount coming in equalled the amount going out.    Yes, the total amount of water in the system would increase, but the ultimate level would stay the same.

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