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A Hidden Loop In the Carbon Cycle Discovered

samzenpus posted more than 6 years ago | from the hot-and-heavy dept.

Earth 310

Googlesaysmysiteisdangerousanditisn't! writes "A recent article in Science says that researchers in China and the US have found massive carbon uptake in the world's deserts. The effects of this are huge. 35% of the Earth's land surface is desert, and the uptake equates to 5.2 billion tons of carbon sequestered each year. This is more than half of the carbon released by humans. In these 'dry oceans,' the grains of sand allow the carbon dioxide to enter and react with alkaline soil to become carbonates. Another scientist suspects that biotic desert crusts, alkaline soils, and increased precipitation may be driving the uptake."

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Obviously (5, Funny)

mnemocynic (1221372) | more than 6 years ago | (#24505195)

The solution is obviously to cut down more trees and make more deserts, right?

Re:Obviously (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24505375)

Only if trees are less efficient than desert to sequester carbon.

Not just a joke (4, Interesting)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | more than 6 years ago | (#24505453)

Forests soak up a lot of carbon, but then drop a lot of leaves. When the leaves rot they give off CO2 and methane. Methane is far worse as a green house gas than CO2 - by a factor of over 20.

South Park Did It (4, Funny)

Nymz (905908) | more than 6 years ago | (#24505675)

"Each year, the Rainforest is responsible for over three thousand deaths from accidents, attacks or illnesses." - Rainforest Schmainforest [wikipedia.org] and now forests are rotting and giving off greenhouse gases. We must act to stop these forests from further encroaching upon our Earth-friendly deserts, it is time we cleaned them up.

Not the whole story (2, Insightful)

edalytical (671270) | more than 6 years ago | (#24505863)

Methane doesn't stay in the atmosphere as long as CO2.

Re:Not the whole story (2, Informative)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 6 years ago | (#24505949)

Yes, but unfortunately one of the byproducts of methane decomposition is CO2.

Re:Not just a joke (1)

TheLink (130905) | more than 6 years ago | (#24506115)

So chop trees down, make furniture, paper, packaging out of them, landfill the discards then grow more trees.

Simple :).

Not so simple - work out a way to do it efficiently so that you only need to use the equivalent of a small percentage of trees chopped down to provide energy and resources for all that.

Once you worked that out, you're carbon negative.

Re:Not just a joke (4, Insightful)

Max Threshold (540114) | more than 6 years ago | (#24506231)

Trees are still much better CO2 scrubbers than other plants. Rush Limbaugh is fond of pointing out how much CO2 is absorbed by suburban lawns, but most of it goes back into the atmosphere when the lawn is cut. By contrast, most of the carbon sequestered by trees is not in the leaves, but in the woody parts. And it remains sequestered for hundreds of years, or longer depending on what happens to the tree when it dies.

Re:Not just a joke (3, Funny)

fredmosby (545378) | more than 6 years ago | (#24506681)

... but most of it goes back into the atmosphere when the lawn is cut.

That really depends on what the homeowner does with the grass after it is cut. If it goes in a land fill most of the carbon probably stays underground. If if goes into a compost heap then more of the carbon goes back into the atmosphere.

Although I personally think laws waste a lot of resources (especially in LA where I live).

Re:Not just a joke (3, Informative)

MrCreosote (34188) | more than 6 years ago | (#24506425)

http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2008/08/05/2324476.htm [abc.net.au]

Wild untouched forests store three times more carbon dioxide than previously estimated and 60% more than plantation forests, a world-first study of "green carbon" and its role in climate change shows.

Re:Obviously (4, Informative)

Captain Splendid (673276) | more than 6 years ago | (#24505759)

The solution is obviously to cut down more trees and make more deserts, right?

Sure, as long as you don't skimp on the sandworms.

Re:Obviously (1)

jo42 (227475) | more than 6 years ago | (#24506497)

cut down more trees and make more deserts

And what is going to product the oxygen [that we need to exist]?

PDF (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24505209)

How about a PDF warning on that link, editors?

Re:PDF (4, Insightful)

MyLongNickName (822545) | more than 6 years ago | (#24505315)

It is called the status bar. It shows you what a link is pointing to.

Safari (1)

tknd (979052) | more than 6 years ago | (#24506429)

If he uses a mac, safari doesn't show the status bar by default.

Re:Safari (1)

bucky0 (229117) | more than 6 years ago | (#24506439)

And if you're using a mac and sticking to the defaults, the default pdf viewer doesn't crap out and lock your browser process while loading.

Re:PDF (1)

kayditty (641006) | more than 6 years ago | (#24506707)

Not if the link redirects or the server sends a MIME type other than what you'd expect for a PDF extension. But, then again, it would only matter if you had some sort of PDF reading browser plug-in that sucked all the resources out of your system. Any other situation would be a 5 second inconvenience. I don't see the problem.

Re:PDF (0, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24505337)

OSX/Safari/Preview doesn't have problems with PDFs. Maybe you should stop using Windows and Adobe Acrobat Reader.

Re:PDF (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24505713)

Flamebait because it doesn't point out that Linux is fine as well? Or....flamebait because the mods are suffering with Windows+Reader, and hate having their inadequacies pointed out?

Re:PDF (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24506035)

...and Firefox and Opera with the appropriate plugin don't have problems either. Maybe you remove your lips from Jobs's arse for a moment.

Re:PDF (0)

NemosomeN (670035) | more than 6 years ago | (#24506179)

I'm writing this from a Mac. PDFs piss me off. Continue.

Re:PDF (1)

zobier (585066) | more than 6 years ago | (#24506151)

You can set Firefox to prompt you to save a PDF instead of opening it with a plugin.
Flash I will sometimes tolerate, but I won't let Acrobat Reader any where near my browser.

Tools > Options > Applications > Adobe Acrobat Document > Always ask

Re:PDF (0)

Amorymeltzer (1213818) | more than 6 years ago | (#24506609)

Sorry AC, but it's 2008 - what the fuck kind of brower are you using that can't handle a PDF?

So, deserts are good? (3, Interesting)

PC and Sony Fanboy (1248258) | more than 6 years ago | (#24505215)

Does this mean that all the salinization that has been going due to irrigation because america grows FRUIT in the desert is actually a good thing?

Does this mean that scientists now think that we don't have enough deserts?

I'm all for global warming (it is cold up here in canada), but I'm pretty sure we've got enough desolate landspace...

Re:So, deserts are good? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24505523)

Maybe this is why deserts have been expanding these years? We are feeding them too much?

Re:So, deserts are good? (5, Funny)

Profane MuthaFucka (574406) | more than 6 years ago | (#24505695)

If it gets too hot in the USA, guess where we're going to move to. That's right, and we're bringing our army too. Don't be wishing for global warming until you've thought the whole thing through.

Re:So, deserts are good? (3, Funny)

n dot l (1099033) | more than 6 years ago | (#24506333)

Usually this would be where someone makes a sarcastic comment about you liberating the polar bears...but if you could just kill Celine first then I swear we really would welcome you as liberators.

Re:So, deserts are good? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24506663)

There's oil in our now temperate arctic territories. However, the Inuit don't know what a WMD is so you're going to have to come up with a novel reason to invade....

Oh, I'm sorry... too many properly spelled, multi-syllable words?

Re:So, deserts are good? (1)

Profane MuthaFucka (574406) | more than 6 years ago | (#24506761)

I know many more words than that. I'm a sexual deviant, not an idiot.

so...the MVP is... (2, Funny)

MoFoQ (584566) | more than 6 years ago | (#24505217)

so the MVP is not Kobe...but Gobi?
(or the sahara if u'r in africa)

Re:so...the MVP is... (1, Funny)

Alsee (515537) | more than 6 years ago | (#24505459)

Im in ur africa eating ur CO2

-

Create more deserts? (1)

KnowledgeEngine (1225122) | more than 6 years ago | (#24505227)

So if I am reading this right, we could reduce global warming by creating more deserts around the world?
Now that just doesn't sound right at all.

Re:Create more deserts? (3, Insightful)

perlchild (582235) | more than 6 years ago | (#24505441)

How about we say the deserts allow the earth's thermal system to reach a balance? We have more deserts, which sequester more carbon, which makes us cooler, which sequesters less carbon, which makes us hotter, which makes more deserts.

We shouldn't worry about global warming, we should worry if we can survive global warming...

Re:Create more deserts? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24506023)

We shouldn't worry about global warming, we should worry if we can survive global warming...

Why; is the 0.5 degree of warming bothering you?

Re:Create more deserts? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24505601)

Not only that but the higher albedo of desert over green forest means that more light is reflected away as light before becoming heat. That could balance some o' them glaciers we're losing.

The real problem with global warming is all that energy the Sun showers down on us. Some think it's been getting cooler but that's sheer speculation.

Re:Create more deserts? (1)

marco.antonio.costa (937534) | more than 6 years ago | (#24505619)

No, it means that global warming isn't the disaster the proponents would have us believe.

I'll take it with a grain of salt, of course, this is slashdot. But I did take 'an inconvenient truth' with some skepticism too. ;-)

Re:Create more deserts? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24505935)

No, it means that global warming isn't the disaster the proponents would have us believe.

What? Why? Deserts haven't suddenly started doing this now that we've found out, it's been happening the whole time and yet climate change is still happening. If anything this just highlights how far beyond the Earth's capacity to handle our greenhouse gas emissions we've already gone, and continuing on in anything like our current rate will result in far worse problems than previously believed.

Re:Create more deserts? (2, Insightful)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 6 years ago | (#24506093)

"No, it means that global warming isn't the disaster the proponents would have us believe."

You need to think that through a little deeper, nothing in this discovery changes existing observations of the upward trend in GHG concentrations, nor does it change the observed temprature trends, nor suddenly refreeze the Artic, reverse the melting of glaciers, fill the dams of SW Australia, restore the oceans ph balance, etc, etc.

There is nothing wrong with being skeptical but be aware that skepticisim is a skill [wikipedia.org] , not an instinct.

Re:Create more deserts? (1)

marco.antonio.costa (937534) | more than 6 years ago | (#24506185)

No it doesn't. But it does show that there is MUCH we don't know about the issue.

Also I've heard no hard evidence - unless you count a consensus of scientists as evidence - of the scenarios being predicted by mostly people with a vested interest in spending billions and billions in order to DO something about it.

I guess skepticism comes as an instinct to me, but that looks like a great read, I'll be sure to pick it up, thanks. :)

At what point does ythis break down? (5, Insightful)

Dripdry (1062282) | more than 6 years ago | (#24505265)

Ok. So they've found a massive carbon sink that was unaccounted for. Great!

They also say that due to changing conditions, including increased precipitation, there is more uptake occurring.

Does this process ever reach a point where it stops? Is there only so much carbon that can be converted/sequestered? If conditions change enough, will this huge carbon sink disappear rapidly, adding a HUGE amount of carbon to the atmosphere?

This is fascinating, but it still feels to me like this situation could be as fragile as any others we've discovered around the globe.

Re:At what point does ythis break down? (3, Insightful)

zappepcs (820751) | more than 6 years ago | (#24505349)

I think that this is just an indication that we TRULY do not understand how the global climate actually works. There have been billions of years of fluctuations and change to get the Earth to where it is now. We have no idea how most of that worked and only a vague idea of what is happening now. In the search to figure out why temperatures are rising globally, several things have been named as contributory causative factors. There is NO definitive proof that x, y, or z has caused global warming, only that it is probable that all three have contributed. BTW, we also don't fully and empirically understand what caused past global cooling periods either. We have some good ideas, and some evidence that supports those ideas, but no true and complete understanding.

There is in fact little understanding of how the position of the Earth/solar system in the plane of the Milky Way affects solar radiation et al and thus how it affects planet temperatures. Desert sand is not the cure, it is a possible cure. There are others, like cutting down on human CO2 emissions etc.

Call me paranoid if you like, but implementing all the efforts we can to stop global warming may indeed have detrimental effects on the climate as a whole. Until we know *MUCH* more about global climate control knee jerk reactions should be kept to a minimum.

Yes, cutting carbon emissions is good, but lets not throw the baby out with the bath water or look for silver bullet cures. Mother nature works slowly so I'm reasonably certain that slow but sure methods will help where drastic measures (such as volcanic eruptions) are just another way to toss global climate on it's ear. The knee jerk reactions are probably what will suddenly dump HUGE amounts of carbon into the atmosphere.

Re:At what point does ythis break down? (-1, Troll)

Goaway (82658) | more than 6 years ago | (#24505367)

We have no idea how most of that worked and only a vague idea of what is happening now.

You mean, you have no idea. Don't project your own ignorance onto others.

Re:At what point does ythis break down? (1)

elysiuan (762931) | more than 6 years ago | (#24505395)

You mean, you have no idea. Don't project your own ignorance onto others.

Please explain and cite any published work that conclusively shows a complete theory of the environment.

Re:At what point does ythis break down? (5, Insightful)

cunamara (937584) | more than 6 years ago | (#24505507)

Why are you wasting your time with this lame argument? There is no human field of study that has comprehensive knowledge about its subject. Acknowledging that fact does not excuse people from taking whatever steps are available to them to reduce, stop or reverse damaging the only environment they have in which to live. If you wait for conclusive knowledge before acting, you'll never get out of bed.

Re:At what point does ythis break down? (4, Insightful)

pallmall1 (882819) | more than 6 years ago | (#24505999)

Acknowledging that fact does not excuse people from taking whatever steps are available to them to reduce, stop or reverse damaging the only environment they have in which to live.

Well, that's really the problem, isn't it? Knowing what steps to take. Solutions implemented based upon incomplete and politically motivated science may actually make a "problem" worse.

Re:At what point does ythis break down? (2, Funny)

Archangel Michael (180766) | more than 6 years ago | (#24506145)

Yeah, lets replace a one dangerous but naturally occurring substance (oil) and replace it with man-made and potentially even more hazardous material (lead acid batteries).

Makes sense to me.

Re:At what point does ythis break down? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24505551)

Please explain and cite any published work that conclusively shows a complete theory of anything.

Re:At what point does ythis break down? (1)

Goaway (82658) | more than 6 years ago | (#24505557)

I never claimed there is any such thing. I merely claimed that "zappepcs" up there has no business making claims about what other people do or do not know about any topic which he himself is not an expert in.

It is quite presumptuous and downright insulting of him to make claims about "we" don't know, if he is not actually part of that "we".

Re:At what point does ythis break down? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24506269)

You're a fucking idiot.

Re:At what point does ythis break down? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24505579)

why should I have to explain a published work to you? Read it yourself lazy ass.

Re:At what point does ythis break down? (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 6 years ago | (#24505417)

There is in fact little understanding of how the position of the Earth/solar system in the plane of the Milky Way affects solar radiation et al and thus how it affects planet temperatures. Desert sand is not the cure, it is a possible cure. There are others, like cutting down on human CO2 emissions etc.

While there's definitely a lot of things that affect us directly which we know very little about (such as gravity), I really don't think the position of our solar system within the Milky Way has much effect on solar radiation or planet temperatures. Maybe if some other galaxy was colliding with us, and the core of that galaxy was passing very close to our sun, we might have an effect from that. But as it is, we're out on one of the spiral arms of the MW, in place that is not very dense with stars. The thing that affects planet temperatures the most, by a giant margin, is the Sun itself, and the Sun just isn't close enough to anything else to be affected by it significantly.

Re:At what point does ythis break down? (2, Interesting)

zappepcs (820751) | more than 6 years ago | (#24505527)

I've heard one theory (no citation, sorry) that as the solar system moves in alignment with the acretian? disk of the Milky Way this affects solar sunspot activity. That would affect global climate. The thought was changes in space radiation hitting the sun affects it's activity, much as radiation is believed to cause lighting in storms. It's a theory, and sounds plausible. There just is no evidence as yet as to whether this is true and how much it would affect global climate.. The Sun has been quiet lately? There is clearly a LOT of things that we are not taking into account yet.

Re:At what point does ythis break down? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24505721)

There has been a fair bit of work looking at how very minor changes in the earth's orbit around the sun can change the amount of sunlight hitting the earth and therefore drive climate changes.

One theory is that the changes are actually due to sweeping out a region of space that is clearer or less clear of dust than normal, depending on how recently the earth last went through that precise part of space. The acreeting dust changes the reflectance of the upper atmosphere and is a driving force on precipitation as it seeds clouds. One of the factors in determining how much dust is in the vicinity of the earth is how much the sun is moving relative to the interstellar dust, and, therefore it's position relative to the galactic ecliptic. It is entirely possible that the position of the solar system relative to the Milky Way does, indeed, affect our climate.

References? There was a great pair of papers in Science that appeared simultaneously, one arguing the first theory (insolation) and the other arguing the second theory (dust) about 10 years ago. My understanding is that the matter has still not been laid to rest.

Re:At what point does ythis break down? (3, Insightful)

Aphoxema (1088507) | more than 6 years ago | (#24505639)

I think a large part of greenhouse emissions being the blame is people want something they can point their finger at and put it on with the belief there is something they can do to change it.

The real problem isn't nature, and to your point, the real solution isn't changing anything, it's dedicated research.

Unfortunately, awareness isn't a terribly useful thing especially for the masses. When people learn part of the information, the wrong parts of the whole idea gets heavily associated and then it becomes misinformation.

Ironically, we need less Al Gores and interest groups and treehuggers trying to get 'the word out', we need more university graduates being interested in the study.

Since people can't simply be told there's nothing to worry about yet, they're going for second worst and being fed and recycled the idea that it is everyone's responsibility to ... and that by doing ... it will make things better.

Re:At what point does ythis break down? (1)

Splab (574204) | more than 6 years ago | (#24506739)

Wouw, so you are saying that since we can't prove we are the ones causing climate changes we should just keep on burning coal, wasting resources etc?

How about, yes we don't know whats causing it, but the amount of crap we are emitting into the atmosphere can't be good, so perhaps - just perhaps - it would be smart to live a bit cleaner, take the bike rather than car, turn of those items on stand by. If we are lucky; being a bit cleaner about our living could potentially help down the road.

Re:At what point does ythis break down? (0, Flamebait)

Profane MuthaFucka (574406) | more than 6 years ago | (#24505671)

I think we all get the TRUE meaning of your little posting here. "Vote for Bush, er, McCain"

You say that we should keep on dumping trillions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, and if we stop something bad might happen. Excuse me, but that's backwards. It's a little like shitting in the corner every day, and when someone objects you say that you've been shitting in the corner for 10 years. If you stopped shitting in the corner, something bad might happen, so we'd better keep shitting in the corner to avoid rocking the boat.

That view seems awfully convenient and self-serving.

Re:At what point does ythis break down? (1)

ralphbecket (225429) | more than 6 years ago | (#24506237)

I think we all get the TRUE meaning of your little posting here. "For the LOVE OF GAIA, we must all stuff corks up our bums!"

While we're talking about self-serving, you have seen the paleo research pointing out
(a) that there have been times in the past with wayyy higher CO2 concentrations and
(b) that historically CO2 raises happen *after* temperature raises and
(c) some of the measured temperature rise (of course, you are suitably sceptical about those measurements as well, aren't you?) can be explained by the fact we're coming out of an ice age and
(d) the fact that the Earth is neither a boiling Hellhole nor a ball of ice suggests that fairly effective negative feedback is at work in the climate?

Re:At what point does ythis break down? (2, Insightful)

Profane MuthaFucka (574406) | more than 6 years ago | (#24506771)

I like the first suggestion, except I'd amend it to say that we must all stick *another* cork up our bums.

The rest of your comments all have excellent responses, which you can find for yourself. It's really easy to look these things up, why don't you do that rather than just pick the answers which agree with your degenerate politics?

Re:At what point does ythis break down? (4, Insightful)

YttriumOxide (837412) | more than 6 years ago | (#24506851)

(a) that there have been times in the past with wayyy higher CO2 concentrations and

Yes, and it would have been pretty unpleasant for human beings had we been around at the time.

(b) that historically CO2 raises happen *after* temperature raises and

Yep, which just goes to show that if CO2 also causes temperature rises (pretty fairly conclusive that it does), that we'll end up in a rather painful positive feedback loop (CO2 goes up, causing temperature to go up, which causes CO2 to go up more)

(c) some of the measured temperature rise (of course, you are suitably sceptical about those measurements as well, aren't you?) can be explained by the fact we're coming out of an ice age and

I think that's pretty well accepted also, but historically there's nothing similar to what's happening now - we're rising MUCH faster than we should be.

(d) the fact that the Earth is neither a boiling Hellhole nor a ball of ice suggests that fairly effective negative feedback is at work in the climate?

No, that suggests that the Earth is (surprise surprise) a pretty good place for people to live in general. The concern is that it may not stay that way.

The concern is not that temperature is rising - that happens. It rises, it falls - there are perfectly normal cycles to all of this, and as long as we can learn to understand it, we can learn to live with it. What the concern IS is that we appear to be having an effect on our climate and we don't understand enough about what we're doing to it. It currently appears as if our effect is speeding up the "natural" warming quite significantly, and we're having a very hard time trying to figure out what the consequences of this will be. Maybe our effects will be nullified by natural processes and we can just carry on, but maybe they won't be and we'll end up killing ourselves (or just making life extremely unpleasant).

Because we're sitting here at "don't know", we have the choice of either ignoring the situation or trying to do something about it. I UNDERSTAND the arguments for both, but I don't agree with the argument for doing nothing.

The argument for doing nothing basically says, "well, we don't understand it, and doing something could cause economic problems. Because we don't understand it, we can't necessarily do anything about it.".

The argument for doing something goes, "We don't understand it, but we are certain that we are having an impact of some kind, and that has the potential to be very bad (it also has the potential to not be bad, but we're pretty sure it will be bad, and we don't want to take the gamble). So, what we'll do is try to reduce the factors that cause our effect."

We may not completely understand our climate, but:
1) We CAN see we're having an influence on it
2) We aren't 100% certain, but are pretty sure that our influence on it will cause long term bad effects
3) We are quite confident we know the cause of our effect on the climate (CO2 amongst many other things)

Because of this, the sensible choice seems to be "let's try to reduce or negate the effect we're having on the environment, because we can't be sure if that effect is going to cause us serious problems or not".

Car analogy time: I know very little about cars, and have to rely on what others tell me. I'm driving my car, and the oil light comes on. I recently changed the oil, and I haven't noticed any leaks, although honestly I wasn't paying much attention before now. My passenger suggests that maybe it's just that a circuit going to the oil light indicator is shorted somewhere, which is why it's showing that, and I really needn't worry - my car will be fine. Now, I can not be certain if he's right or wrong without investigation. So, I take my car to a mechanic, who checks only the circuitry going to the light. He says it's okay. At this point, I can choose to continue driving my car, thinking the mechanic missed something and it really is just a problem with the light, or I can ask the mechanic to check the oil system, even though I know there's going to be a larger financial cost involved in doing so. What should I do?

Re:At what point does ythis break down? (4, Insightful)

mmurphy000 (556983) | more than 6 years ago | (#24505775)

Until we know *MUCH* more about global climate control knee jerk reactions should be kept to a minimum.

Depending on how you define "knee jerk", I disagree.

Reducing overall usage of oil is a good thing for many reasons outside of the potential environmental benefits, including:

  • Reducing the world's dependency on a non-renewable resource that, depending on who you ask, may be running out (or at least getting increasingly difficult to extract in the desired quantities for reasonable costs)
  • Reducing the world's dependency on a resource that, in many cases, lies in areas with political turmoil (e.g., Middle East)
  • For the countries that establish relative expertise, serving as a source of innovation-based new jobs

So, if it's "knee jerk" for the US to ratchet up CAFE requirements (and the equivalents for trucks and trains) so we become best-in-breed at fuel efficient transportation, or for the US to increase investing in alternative energy sources, then I'm all for "knee jerk" reactions.

Re:At what point does ythis break down? (4, Interesting)

demonlapin (527802) | more than 6 years ago | (#24505857)

CAFE is crap for really reducing emissions; it gave us the SUV as family vehicle (because station wagons, the former family machine, were subject to CAFE as cars, but SUVs, as light trucks, were not). You want higher fuel efficiency, tax the hell out of gasoline and diesel the way the Europeans do. Simple and easily enforced.

CAFE is just another bureaucratic boondoggle, though it does have the merit that those who can afford larger cars subsidize the purchase of econoboxes.

Re:At what point does ythis break down? (1)

zappepcs (820751) | more than 6 years ago | (#24505923)

Please don't misunderstand me, reducing usage of fossil fuels (if they are still classified as fossil fuels) is absolutely a good thing, but it will NOT fix global warming and should not be thought of as THE cure. It hurts us all to pay higher taxation to fix something tomorrow that is not really broken when we can slowly fix it over 10-15 years at a much reduced cost and more sustainable pace. One recent headline statement I saw was "Why are we supposed to believe that 31 mpg is awesome?" There are many things we can do to reduce dependency on non-renewable resources, I just don't think we have to complete the changes before the 2010 games.

There is also a problem with say, North America makes changes, but growing nations like China and India do not. They will replace our former gas guzzling ways and the sum total is a zero balance. The changes have to be slow and sure enough to be sustainable by all cultures, not just 1st world. If the first world spends trillions with a kneejerk plan to reduce to near zero the use of fossil fuels in the next 5 years, it will break us and the end will be a zero sum for carbon output reduction by the global community. That is the gist of what I mean.

Re:At what point does ythis break down? (1)

YttriumOxide (837412) | more than 6 years ago | (#24506881)

There is also a problem with say, North America makes changes, but growing nations like China and India do not. They will replace our former gas guzzling ways and the sum total is a zero balance.

There's a problem with that logic. Let's say we can define it as some figures (pulled out of a hat) like so:
Current:
US: 500 units
EU: 480 units
China: 100 units
India: 80 units
Total: 1160 units
Your concern is that if we reduce, and they increase, it'll be zero sum, like this: US: 300 units
EU: 300 units
China: 280 units
India: 280 units
Total: 1160 units
MY concern is that if we don't reduce, and they increase, it'll be much worse!: US: 500 units
EU: 480 units
China: 280 units
India: 280 units
Total: 1540 units
While it's not good that they're increasing so much, and we do need to consider how to reduce everything GLOBALLY, not just in certain countries, it makes NO sense to say that just because someone else is increasing that we shouldn't reduce.

It's also worth keeping in mind that there are many environmentally positive things that can be done that do NOT have a huge economic impact. We don't have to "break" ourselves in our efforts to reduce our impact on the environment. Yes, it will cost, but it needn't cost to such a level that we really suffer from it.

Re:At what point does ythis break down? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24506021)

Like a growing democracy, earth's natural systems appear to have evolved as an (extremely complicated) series of ongoing checks and balances. Now that we're doing our thing, we're seeing some of the balances pushing back.

At the end of the day though, this doesn't change what is happening. We've recorded the CO2 levels in the atmosphere increasing for decades. Whatever balances we find in the earth, they're failing to stop us from standing the whole system on its head.

Re:At what point does ythis break down? (1)

zappepcs (820751) | more than 6 years ago | (#24506157)

Apparently, this topic is important to me. While what you say makes sense logically, it is stated with ignorance of other facts. I'm not talking about facts about human activity, but facts of the universe and solar system that we are truly not yet understanding. The rise in global temperature is coincident with a rise in CO2, and the causal link is unproven. While it is a logically good idea to not contribute, your assertion that human activity has caused the 'whole system to stand on its head' is fallacious, because it asserts that humans are the cause without evidence that nothing else is NOT the cause. We do NOT know at what level of CO2 the Earth begins heating up, only that CO2 will help to heat the Earth. To prove a causal link between human activity and global warming, you must first also prove that global warming is NOT caused by other factors. That is to say that very few people will argue that human activity is not contributing, there just is no proof that it is the cause. While all the information is still under investigation it's probably wise to just assume that it is caused by a group of contributing factors, then begin studying all that we can to "actually figure out how global climate" works. When we know that, the answers get a bit easier to figure out.

As a ferinstinse: What happens if you magically manage to reduce the global atmospheric CO2 content by 98%? or even 48%? What happens? Does the world get a new ice age? If your model of how CO2 is causing global warming is correct, what happens if that much CO2 is removed? How much do we need to remove? Got any information on that?

Actually we do... (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 6 years ago | (#24506153)

Quote: "There is in fact little understanding of how the position of the Earth/solar system in the plane of the Milky Way affects solar radiation et al and thus how it affects planet temperatures. Desert sand is not the cure, it is a possible cure. There are others, like cutting down on human CO2 emissions etc."

On the contrary. We know that there is an extremely strong correlation -- geologic and historical -- between earth temperatures and solar flares. Inverse correlation, actually.

Re:At what point does ythis break down? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24506181)

Mother nature works slowly so I'm reasonably certain that slow but sure methods will help where drastic measures (such as volcanic eruptions) are just another way to toss global climate on it's ear.

The climate change is like a steamroller. You can see it coming a mile away and it's slow as a turtle, but will destroy most anything in its path.

We've accidentally put Mother Nature's steamroller into gear... but you say we shouldn't turn it off or hit the brakes just because we don't have a class 2 rating for heavy machinery?! Worse, we've gotten out and lined up some polar bears, oceanfront property, etc right in front of it just to see what happens when they get run over. What madness is it that sees catastrophe brewing and does nothing about it?

We need to turn off the steamroller. Maybe we'll hit the wrong button, but we have to do something because even though it plays out in slow motion the inertia is so massive that by the time we see what happens it will be too late to do anything about it.

Re:At what point does ythis break down? (1)

Magic5Ball (188725) | more than 6 years ago | (#24506391)

Yes, but what else is the steamroller doing, and what else is it connected to?

As a system, the earth is at least as complicated as a human body, and instantaneously reversing the state of any component of the system results in interesting and often unpredictable effects throughout the entire body (see cold turkey, flu virus, temporary organ failure, allergies, seizures). The earth undoubtedly includes much more complicated interactions.

Returning to your almost car analogy, a single human with good shoes and gloves can stop an unaccelerated steamroller moving at maximum speed in at least two ways: As a dead speed bump under the vehicle over a very small distance, or as a sore but alive bookend in front of the vehicle over a longer distance. In either case, it might be a bad idea to stop the steamroller over the air intake vent for the building, and preventing the steamroller's fissile engine from effectively discharging its heat may or may not kill you in a different way.

NO NO NO! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24506183)

The debate on global warming is over! Didn't you hear our politicians and celebrities say so? Everyone still looking for evidence is a neocon.

Re:At what point does ythis break down? (1)

llZENll (545605) | more than 6 years ago | (#24506415)

We don't have to understand how the global climate works to realize humans are adding gases to the atmosphere and chemicals to the water that wouldn't be there otherwise. There is no point in tring to reverse what is happening, I don't think that is even possible, and warming may not even be due to us. But trying to work toward a lifestyle which does as little as possible to the environment should be on everyones mind.

Re:At what point does ythis break down? (1)

Atario (673917) | more than 6 years ago | (#24506909)

Call me paranoid if you like, but implementing all the efforts we can to stop global warming may indeed have detrimental effects on the climate as a whole. Until we know *MUCH* more about global climate control knee jerk reactions should be kept to a minimum.

And yet, somehow, digging up massive quantities of sequestered carbon (coal, gas, oil) that got there over millions of years, and burning it all in the open atmosphere in a couple hundred years, is perfectly fine?

If you're wanting everyone not to touch the machine till we know how it works, you're about 150 years too late.

Re:At what point does ythis break down? (1)

larry bagina (561269) | more than 6 years ago | (#24505355)

Yep. It's been working that way for billions of years, but now that the secret's out, it will immediately stop.

Re:At what point does ythis break down? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24505379)

haven't you ever seen "The Day After Tomorrow"?

Re:At what point does ythis break down? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24505443)

"Does this process ever reach a point where it stops? Is there only so much carbon that can be converted/sequestered? If conditions change enough, will this huge carbon sink disappear rapidly, adding a HUGE amount of carbon to the atmosphere?"

Stop? Not really. Deserts are prone to formation of soils with plenty of carbonate precipitation occurring in the sediment. I suppose there's a limit if you completely cement the sediment, but then there's usually new sediment being deposited on top. One of the main types of these soils is called calcrete or caliche [wikipedia.org] .

There is (inevitably) a return part of the cycle, and that one is pretty simple to understand: erosion of the relevant sediments and dissolution of the carbonate they contain. Will it disappear rapidly? Not likely. Is the rate likely to change? Not really at human timescales. These sorts of things are controlled by long-term geological processes at a multi-million year scale. For example, if we go into an episode of tectonic uplift and mountain building across a major desert area that could change the balance. It wouldn't be fast.

Hmmm... although I don't expect acid rain would be good. It might also matter if desert areas become wet and vegetated rather than arid.

Re:At what point does ythis break down? (1)

kesuki (321456) | more than 6 years ago | (#24505451)

carbonates, like calcium carbonate, don't worry we'll mine it all up and feed it to feed lot cattle while we double their size in 6 months.

rain moves the carbonates, and makes more room for further carbonation, so more rain increases the capacity of this heat sink, to a point. if the rain is intense and short followed by weeks of heat, it works best for this process.

it's the heat of the desert that drives the chemistry that allows formation of carbonates. and rain that refreshes the availability of oxygen and stuff that will bond to oxygen, while flushing the carbonates into ground water, so they can make limestone formations.

Re:At what point does ythis break down? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24505457)

I use to say that the next element of the carbon cycle revealed by contemporary "researchers" that doesn't cause a net increase in CO2 will be the first. I guess I'll have to temper that. Someone fell off the bandwagon and disclosed a large natural carbon sink.

If the ecosystem was as biased against carbon sinks as the omission of their existence in the contemporary debate would have us believe the planet would have Venused itself long before megafauna evolved. We have a few billion years of evidence that this isn't likely to happen.

Anyhow, this is an easy one to deal with; discredit the "researchers" (as the GP has already attempted to do) fund a competing study of the same phenomena that concludes the opposite (paid for with tax money and blessed by the UN) and never speak of it again.

Re:At what point does ythis break down? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24505481)

No this isn't great news. This is bad news. Every hidden loop like this indicates that the water vapor and CO2 are stronger drivers towards global warming that we thought. What we want to find is some easy way to increase ocean pH and sequester CO2 that could happen, but just needs some insignificant push on our point. Or that a large influx of fresh water from glaciers would some how strongly drive sequestration or what have you.

Re:At what point does ythis break down? (1)

Qzukk (229616) | more than 6 years ago | (#24505947)

including increased precipitation

Does this process ever reach a point where it stops?

Personally, I'd say it stops when it rains enough to make it not a desert anymore.

Something is not quite right here... (5, Insightful)

BlueParrot (965239) | more than 6 years ago | (#24505393)

If this is indeed the case it would seem a bit strange that it has not been detected before. I mean with all the climate change debate going on there has been quite close scrutiny of the estimates of CO2 going into and out of the atmosphere, so if this is as big a carbon sink as described it would have to mean that the other sinks ( i.e the ocean and the biosphere ) are less potent than previously assumed.

Re:Something is not quite right here... (4, Funny)

Aphoxema (1088507) | more than 6 years ago | (#24505659)

You'd think that exactly what you're looking for wouldn't be right in front of you until you find it is.

Now, where the Hell are my keys...

Re:Something is not quite right here... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24505681)

Its been well known for a long time that the CO2 levels in the atmosphere don't track with the CO2 being released... The carbon has obviously been going somewhere. I'd be interested in seeing the numbers, and if this is *the* missing carbon sink, or if it is just one of them.

Re:Something is not quite right here... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24506363)

But finding carbon sinks doesn't contribute to hysteria, which, in turn, doesn't contribute to further funding. Science is a business, make no mistake.

Re:Something is not quite right here... (1)

Amorymeltzer (1213818) | more than 6 years ago | (#24506631)

You would, indeed, think that. I think the issue is that perhaps the close scrutiny of CO2 levels has unfortunately not been so close, at least up until now (or however long this paper took). The whole Climate Change/Greenhouse Gas debate is drawing so much attention and so many funds away from the work itself that it's making most of either side a moot point - we're getting close to when we'll just find out *when* it happens.

This isn't good news for us Climate Change folks. Not only does this show that things are possibly not nearly as worse as we thought they were, but that our understanding is potentially flawed, perhaps very flawed. It's cool and awesome, but it sure as hell doesn't convince the naysayers.

Re:Something is not quite right here... (1)

JordanL (886154) | more than 6 years ago | (#24506921)

I'm fairly certain that there have been two sets of numbers:

1. The carbon levels projected by global warming researchers.
2. The carbon levels actually measured.

It's my understanding that these two have not matched up properly at all, which was why for the longest time global warming wasn't shiek or mainstream as it is now. However it eventually was supplanted by anecdotal accounts of temperature, which were then used as evidence for global warming despite there being no measureable link.

It's scary actually, because what we have here is human arrogance. We had one heavily studied model that projected increased temperatures, so of course we attributed any increased temperatures to it without the ability to relate the two.

So I guess what I'm getting at isn't so much that the question is "how could we miss this much carbon" but rather "is our understanding of cause and effect relationship flawed".

Sooo... (1, Interesting)

bsDaemon (87307) | more than 6 years ago | (#24505591)

Is this why all the oil is in the middle east?

Re:Sooo... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24505637)

No, that's because Allah clearly planned the Muslims to be his chosen people and live on an ocean of black gold.

Re:Sooo... (1)

corychristison (951993) | more than 6 years ago | (#24505991)

Dunno what that has to do with it...

Living in the Canadian Prairies, we have more oil than a lot of places in the world. Considering it's 'winter' here for 9 months of the year (according to Californian standards).

My response to you is: what? *blink*

Re:Sooo... (1)

Jorophose (1062218) | more than 6 years ago | (#24506057)

No, that's an exageration in the wrong direction.

Alberta has more oil than the next biggest reserve (all the Saudi oil) and even maybe a few after. That's not counting arctic reserves, and from the other praries, or the maritimes.

Re:Sooo... (1)

corychristison (951993) | more than 6 years ago | (#24506241)

I'm in SK.

We have more than AB... much more.

Re:Sooo... (2, Funny)

bsDaemon (87307) | more than 6 years ago | (#24506561)

I was trying to be funny, but obviously failing

Re:Sooo... (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24506117)

No, the prolific amount of oil in the Middle East is mainly related to organic carbon [wikipedia.org] in source rock [wikipedia.org] deposits that formed in the marine environment. The source rocks in the Middle East are particularly widespread and productive.

The article is talking about carbonate [wikipedia.org] (i.e. minerals with CO3 in their structure), which is completely different and is often referred to as "inorganic carbon". It's as different as algae (organic carbon) and sea shells (carbonate). They both involve carbon and both can have biological origins, but you can't generate oil from carbonate. You need molecules with plenty of H and C for that (i.e. hydrocarbon molecules).

You can, however, find holes in carbonate rocks. In the right setting these can contain oil that has migrated into the porous rock from organic-rich source rocks nearby. Such rocks are known as petroleum reservoirs. Again, the Middle East has some spectacular reservoirs with very high porosity and permeability, allowing for plenty of space to hold the oil and to allow it to flow out. For example, the Ghawar field [wikipedia.org] , which is the biggest oil field in Saudi Arabia and the world, has limestone reservoirs with up to 35% porosity by volume -- i.e. 35% of the volume isn't rock, but open spaces filled with fluid (either oil, gas, or water). That's extraordinarily high porosity. It's full of holes like a sponge.

So, if you want the short answer to why there is so much oil in the Middle East: 1) spectacularly prolific and widespread organic-carbon-rich source rocks, 2) highly porous and permeable reservoir rocks (some of which are carbonates, some of which are other rock types), and 3) large "trap" structures, which I haven't discussed, but basically refers to the geometry of the porous reservoir and an impermeable seal that keeps the oil/gas from leaking out.

It has very little to do with the modern deserts that are widespread in that part of the world today. Many of the conditions necessary for the large oil deposits were set up far enough back in geological history that today's climate is mostly irrelevant.

of course you realize ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24505645)

... that what's being done here is our first real attempt at terraforming. There are some scientists who believe the climatic change we are seeing is not a by product of man's industrial activities but part of a natural cycle. It all depends on whether you believe that CO2 increases precede or follow temperature change.

If the climate change is actually a natural process then the attempt to control it has become our first great terraforming project. How convenient that we're trying this on the only planet we have and not some spare planet that wouldn't matter if it went awry.

Re:of course you realize ... (2, Funny)

cryptoluddite (658517) | more than 6 years ago | (#24506235)

If the climate change is actually a natural process then the attempt to control it has become our first great terraforming project. How convenient that we're trying this on the only planet we have and not some spare planet that wouldn't matter if it went awry.

And if the rapid climate change is not a natural process then we have already not just attempted but are in the middle of an effective terraforming project where the only definition of 'success' must be some form of 'not at all like what we had before'. That sounds much worse to me than your what-if.

The environmental people are either saying:

1) our climate is changing, lets make it like it's always been before

-or-

2) we've changed our climate to something different and unknown, lets change it back again.

Either way sound better to me that living in a completely unknown new climate. If our previous climate was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for us.

Co2 is unimportant (0, Troll)

attag (1273830) | more than 6 years ago | (#24505795)

Study's have show that CO2 is irrelevant as a greenhouse gas.

I've said it before and I'll say it again (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24505849)

We [all of humanity, as in not one single person on the planet] do not even understand 1/100th of 1/100th of 1% of how our planet works. A lot of people believe that we are making a huge impact, but if you really do look at the big picture, we [all of humanity] actually take up a very small percentage of the planet. There is a lot of uncovered ground and water that works to clean up after itself and us.

The planet is not out of balance, we are not causing that much damage and in most places where we have caused damage if we stopped it would be cleaned up all by itself in 5 to 15 years. Some of the more damaged places would self-heal in 15 to 50 years.

Yes, there are things we should be doing to reduce our impact. But this whole global warming, global climate change thing happening now is NOT caused by us. Well, some of it might be, but we cannot possibly know that. We have so few years of records in the history of the planet it's not even funny. How far back do ACCURATE temperature readings go back around most of the globe? 50 to 60 years. How many years do we have accurate temperature readings for what are now populated areas? Maybe 200, at most.

We cannot even begin to understand what is happening now. For all we know it's going to be getting very cold in the next 5 or 10 years. We don't know what kind of cycles the earth or sun have. We should just do what we can, do not do anything extreme in any direction, just recycle, use glass and paper instead of plastic. Don't go out buying a new car every 2 to 5 years, drive it til it dies, then replace it with an electric, hybrid, or high mileage car. Use recyclable and recycled materials. Boycott products, companies and events that "offset" their carbon usage by buying "carbon credits", that's only a money making scheme and nothing more, it's doing nothing for the planet. Go plant a few trees yourself and tell Gore's companies and new industry to go fuck itself.

Our scientists are smart, yes, but they have so much to learn and much, much more to teach us.

2 major coal producing nations.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24505875)

Conincidence that this was discovered by 2 major coal producing nations?

Jflatnote (926337) | more than 6 years ago | (#24505975)

I don't get how restating something we already know (that cryptogamic crusts and alkaline soils are part of the carbon cycle, and that deserts, which often have both soil crusts and alkaline soil in abundance, are an important contributor), is discovering some "hidden loop." More likely is that some shmo left out or undervalued the importance of arid systems in their model.

Something to note... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24506081)

This is more than half of the carbon released by humans.

And since its scientific fact that Humans only provide 3% of the total carbon output per year, that means its only sequestering 1.5%.

Very interesting.

Yay! Create more deserts! (1)

gweihir (88907) | more than 6 years ago | (#24506099)

A nice littlle nuclear war plus aggressive deforestation should do it!

Misleading Summary (4, Informative)

Conspicuous Coward (938979) | more than 6 years ago | (#24506285)

TFA is far more cautious about these findings than the summary suggests. Also, no scientists are currently suggesting that these findings are likely to have a significant impact on the level of anthropogenic global warming.

The effect could be huge: About 35% of Earth's land surface, or 5.2 billion hectares, is desert and semiarid ecosystems. If the Mojave readings represent an average CO2 uptake, then deserts and semiarid regions may be absorbing up to 5.2 billion tons of carbon a year.

Also...

For now, some experts doubt that the world's most barren ecosystems are the longsought missing carbon sink. "I'd be hugely surprised if this were the missing sink. If deserts are taking up a lot of carbon, it ought to be obvious," says William Schlesinger, a biogeochemist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York, who in the 1980s was among the first to examine carbon flux in deserts. Nevertheless, he says, both sets of findings are intriguing and "must be followed up." Scientists have long struggled to balance Earth's carbon books. While atmospheric CO2 levels are rising rapidly, our planet absorbs more CO2 than can be accounted for.

and...

Provided the surprising CO2 sink in the deserts is not a mirage, it may yet prove ephemeral. "We don't want to say that these ecosystems will continue to gain carbon at this rate forever," Wohlfahrt says. The unexpected CO2 absorption may be due to a recent uptick in precipitation in many deserts that has fueled a visible surge in vegetation. If average annual rainfall levels in those deserts were to abate, that could release the stored carbon and lead to a more rapid buildup of atmospheric CO2--and possibly accelerate global warming.

This is not, as some posters are implying, published science that concludes the IPCC predictions are in any way likely to be inaccurate, or that carbon is accumulating in the atmosphere at a rate lower than previously thought.
This is a news article in science detailing some interesting research showing that deserts may be absorbing more carbon than was previously thought, and that this may account for the fact that atmospheric measurements show the earth is absorbing carbon at a higher rate than can be accounted for by currently known sinks. The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is known from atmospheric measurements, and is higher than at any time in the last 650,000 years.

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