Where Does All That Carbon Dioxide Go To? (Part 2)

Posted on Sun 01/18/2009 by



So then, just where does all that Carbon Dioxide (CO2) go to and is the thinking that we may be approaching saturation close to the mark?

In the previous post I mentioned that the amount of Carbon atoms at the formation of Planet Earth is the same as what exists right now. They have just moved around somewhat.
That large CO2 content in the early Millennia just after the formation of the Planet was around 7000 Parts per million, 18 times the level it sits at today, that being 380 parts per million. As the Earth formed that carbon part of that CO2 content was fixed into green matter as jungles and forests started to proliferate with nothing to hamper their growth.
As the Planet evolved, I mentioned that all that green vegetation rotted down and in the numerous upheavals, eruptions, earthquakes, the normal movement of the Planetary position, the long ice ages, and other upheavals, that green matter then changed to oil, peat, and then further compressed into coal.

In the recent centuries, we have found that peat and coal can be used as a good source for sustaining fires, for heating and cooking. As we as humans have developed even further, those resources of coal have been used starting at the Industrial revolution, for Industry, and then for electrical power, that coal being used in high temperature high pressure furnaces to boil water to steam to drive a turbine which drives the generator which produces that electrical power.
Then, that other source, oil, was refined for its many uses that we now have for that in everyday life.

So, effectively, what we are doing is removing that carbon from where it has been sequestered for Millennia as carbon, and in the process of burning it in the numerous ways we do, converting it back to CO2, and then putting that back into the environment.

So, can this be sustained, and just where does it go?

Considering it took those Millennia to rot down and change to peat, oil and coal, that won’t be happening any time soon.
This is probably where the argument originates. Can we sustain digging it all back up, and then emitting it into the atmosphere.
The Science is not settled on that. The most strident voices have latched onto the Greenhouse Gas theory, but this has to be tempered with the full story of greenhouse gases.
Of the full 100% of those greenhouse gases, water vapor makes up 98% of them, and Carbon Dioxide only makes up 1.5% of that overall total, and that mix of percentages has changed very little, considering the amount we are told that we are emitting, around 150 Billion tons each and every year, and that word billion looks like a word, but carries greater significance if the number is actually written. That’s 150,000,000,000 tons and that’s for each and every year.

So that greenhouse ‘blanket’ sits way out there in the far upper atmosphere keeping the heat from the Earth’s surface from escaping. Again, see how one side of the argument is selectively quoted when the other side of the coin tells us that without it, the Earth would be literally freezing as the cold from outside the Earth gets in, and this would lower the Earth’s average temperature by 18C, which would effectively have us in the same position as during those Ice Ages of the Planet’s early history, incidentally when airborne CO2 concentration was up to 14 times what it is now, and in the middle of a major Ice Age.
If those greenhouse gases are in the upper atmosphere, then what we are effectively talking about is the level of CO2 actually at the surface of the Planet. Keep in mind also what I mentioned in the previous post about CO2 being heavier than air, and as it rises, the air temperature decrease as it rises cools that CO2, and it would then fall back towards the surface.
That being the case, then is the conjecture that we are emitting more than can be soaked up correct?
So, then, where does it go?

The carbon content of CO2 is sequestered in numerous ways, and each of these are called ‘carbon sinks’.

We are aware that all plants of every kind ‘breathe’ in CO2 during daylight hours, and the carbon content of that CO2 is fixed forever in that plant. So, on the larger scale then it stands to reason that trees would be the greatest storage for that carbon, and trees as forests are probably one of the most emotive points in the environmentalists argument.
Just for the U.S. alone, and remember that the US is the second largest emitter of CO2 on Earth, (having recently been surpassed by China) those U.S. forests soak up around 12% of all the CO2 emitted from all sources in the US. Urban trees soak up a further 2%.
The harvesting of trees is often emotively quoted as destroying the ability of them to act as a carbon storage facility, and that this is lost if those trees are harvested. However, most harvested wood is used as wood products, and kept as wood, the carbon is still stored within that wood. What destroys the carbon sequestering ability is fire. If the wood is destroyed by fire the carbon in that wood is lost, as CO2 into the environment. The same might be said for all other green matter. You mow your lawns and trim your plants. All of that green matter soaks up CO2, and as you cut it, those clippings etc go into landfill. The carbon sequestering ability of that is not lost, unless you actually burn it, but that rarely happens these days.

When environmentalists stridently claim that destruction of the Planet’s forests are destroying that capacity of theirs to act as carbon sinks, what they don’t say is that if the wood is kept as wood products, then the carbon is still held in the wood, which effectively encompasses most of the World’s harvested wood. In the 70’s Brazil was slashing the Amazon jungle to make greater areas for farming and more importantly for grazing cattle for the huge ground beef industry. Brazil’s economy was a basket case, and they could not even afford to pay the interest element of the Country’s borrowings. Those Countries owed enormous amounts by Brazil all agreed to forego the debt in whole if Brazil would cease destroying the Amazon jungle as considerably as they were, the Amazon jungle called at that time ‘The Lungs Of The Earth’. Obviously, Brazil agreed to this, and for some years stopped clearing the jungle. Government changed hands to a more militant party, who then viewed that jungle as a resource that they could use to raise money for an economy, still floundering. They resumed clearing the jungle, the wood being used as a resource, and the cleared land now used for grazing cattle for that huge ground beef trade, especially in the U.S. Even though this was peceived as failure, the wood was still used as wood product, so the carbon was still sequestered in that wood, The same applies in recent times, especially in South Eastern Asia, where a lot of those Countries are fiercely clearing what was once jungle for farming land to grow food for their own people and for exporting to support that Country’s economy. The wood from the trees in those forests is still being used as wood products, so the carbon is still sequestered in that wood. True, some is lost as remaining unused wood is burnt, but in the main, that is only part of the wood being lost to fire.

Oceans also act as huge carbon sinks, and one third, that’s 33.3%, of all anthropogenic CO2 emissions on the Earth are soaked up by the World’s oceans. This does not really cause much harm, as oceans have been doing this since they formed, and I don’t mean to sound like I am trivialising that in any way. That carbon is stored in the ocean in numerous ways, and what is often forgotten is that the World’s oceans are also one of the large emitters of CO2 on the Planet, and this occurs naturally, hence the title of oceans as a vast CO2 pump.
One thing also not well known is that the colder the ocean, the more CO2 is absorbed into it, and here I would like to mention this fact in conjunction with the previous absorber of carbon I mentioned, that being trees.
During Winter in the Northern hemisphere, vast areas are covered by snow, stretching down to the lower regions of Russia. Nearly all of this area, especially in Siberia, is covered by vast forests. During Winter, those tress do not die, but lie dormant. With the approach of Summer, they again spring into life, and that greenness again starts to absorb CO2 from the air. I saw one of those BBC documentaries narrated by David Attenborough, the voice of British natural history, and the program dealt with this vast Northern Tundra area. That vast forested area acts as a huge carbon sink, and it was mentioned that it amounts to 5 times that of the Amazon jungle, which addmitedly operates as a sink for the whole year, but this is still quite a considerable carbon sink of itself. So, in the Summer months in that area, you have the forests acting as a huge carbon sink. Consequently, during the Winter Months, that vast Northern Ocean is extremely cold, and sometimes frozen, and during its thawing adds extended time to keeping that Ocean cold, hence also acting as a large carbon sink for a longer time. Great store has been made that the North Pole Ice coverage is shrinking and that soon, it will be completely ice free during Summer months. However, this year, the coverage of ice has been more extensive than it has for decades, that ice coverage extending farther South than it has for a long time now. The cause of this is less snow. That snow acts as a huge insulator on top of the ice, and with less snow, the cold freezes more water to ice. This vast extent of frozen ice further extends the time that Ocean remains cold, and its ability to act as a carbon sink is also extended.

Soils also as carbon sinks. As green matter decays in those forests and jungles, it is absorbed into the soil where it is sequestered forever. Keep also in mind that as those forests and jungles grow taller, it also lessens the ability of the under storey of plant life to absorb carbon, because it is the light from the Sun that activates the process, so shade lessens their ability to absorb carbon from the air.

Farming also sequesters carbon. The crops grown absorb CO2 from the air, and farming processes further sequester carbon into the soil. In the U.S. preparation of the soil alone just for farming farming absorbs around 2% of emitted CO2, storing the carbon in the soil, not counting the crop’s absorption of carbon which goes into the cyle. Farming practices within the U.S. are more advanced than for other areas on Earth, and this percentage is gradually increasing.

As to the talk that we can artificially sequester the CO2 emissions from those coal fired plants, I have in great detail explained that this is virtually a pipe dream that cannot currently be done on even the tiniest scale, and even if there is a way to remove that CO2 from the exhaust gases, and then pump it back into the ground, then that is decades away from being done. It is still a theory now, and what needs to be considered is that the amount emitted from power plants just in the U.S. alone is around 4 Billion tons a year, and extrapolated out to a whole of World scenario, that amount then approaches 15 Billion tons a year. These amounts involved are positively astronomical, and decades away, if at all.

So, getting back to the comment from my earlier post, what I have attempted to do in these two posts is not to debunk or even to prove any arguments, but to respond to them. In that response, what I have tried to do is to put before you more sides to the argument than some biassed commentators have when they selectively quote some statistics that might look like favouring their side of the argument, but not telling the full story.

In closing, I’ve mentioned that CO2 makes up 1.5% of the overall greenhouse gas totals. However, that CO2 in the total content of gases in the air is an even smaller percentage. The air content comprises Nitrogen, (76.55%) Oxygen, (20.54%) Argon, (0.91%) Water Vapor, (1.96%) CO2, (0.03%) and Miscellaneous gases. (0.01%)
So, the amount of CO2 in the air for the whole of the Atmosphere surrounding Planet Earth amounts to an almost insignificant amount, and even with the monumentally huge amount we add to it each year, that amount will always remain insignificant.

So, Richard, I thank you for your comment, and apologise that it took so long to come to my notice, and for me to craft a reasonable reply. I also thank you for the opportunity to add to my knowledge base, and to be able to then bring that to the notice of readers who might now have further information as well.