The Carbon Cycle and Climate Chaos
Nearly all elements, especially those involved with life, go through numerous molecular associations as they continuously circulate among the earth’s atmosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere and biosphere (air, water, soil/crust and life). Carbon is one of earth life’s basic building blocks, but in the atmosphere, largely as carbon dioxide and methane, it appears to be causing problems for release of the heat gained from sun light’s constant bathing of the planet.
Human exploitation of fossil fuels and changing land use have significant impacts on both where the earth’s carbon is stored and the constant flows of carbon within the entire earthly system. (One often ignored but highly significant storage reservoir for carbon is in soil organic matter. ( See Agricultural Systems.)
Methane (CH4) is a major focus of this site. “Natural” gas extracted from within the earth is generally greater than 90 % methane (but as low as 50 % in some regions). Methane is, and was produced by the anaerobic bacteria-like microbes providing the last step in the process of anaerobic decomposition of organic (i.e., at least once living) materials. (See Agricultural Systems.) Methane is 20 times more effective than carbon dioxide at holding heat in the atmosphere – in the short-term, i.e. the first couple hundred years. Upon combustion or oxidation methane produces heat, water, and carbon dioxide. That carbon dioxide was originally taken in by the plant during photosynthesis, and is available to be reincorporated into other plants. (This is how anaerobic digestion can remain carbon neutral.)
It is worth noting that the permafrost regions of the world hold untold quantities of slowly decomposing organic materials. If those regions warm, they will become more and more biologically active with anaerobic microbes producing more and more methane. This is one of the most significant of the positive feedbacks affecting climate chaos.
While there has been a great deal of new information collected over the past fifteen years, my discussion for a high-level seminar still does well as an introduction to the issues surrounding research into and understanding of climate change.
As a final point, it should be recognized that the more energy held within a system, the more chaotic it may become. Build-up of greenhouse gases is keeping more and more energy within the atmosphere. It should come as no surprise that the atmosphere is manifesting greater and greater levels of chaos, and this is why I choose to use the term Climate Chaos rather than mere “change.”