Human Domination of Today's Carbon Cycle

Friday, 19 December 2014: 8:01 AM
Pieter P Tans, NOAA/Earth System Research Lab, Boulder, CO, United States
Observations of isotopic ratios show that the seasonal cycle as well as interannual variations of atmospheric CO2 are caused primarily by the response of terrestrial ecosystems to short-term variations of climate. Multiple lines of evidence demonstrate that the ongoing multi-decadal increase is 100% due to human activitites, and thus we are collectively responsible for the enhanced greenhouse effect, accompanied by acidification of the oceans, that is expected to last hundreds, and likely thousands, of years. Potential carbon cycle climate feedbacks, such as emissions of CH4 and CO2 from Arctic permafrost warming, are still difficult to quantify, so that in the forseeable future the emissions from fossil fuel burning will continue to dominate. CO2 removal from the atmosphere, which is energetically expensive, will cause the rate of transfer into the oceans to slow, and eventually to reverse. Managed carbon storage in the terestrial biosphere has very limited potential compared to current fossil fuel emissions. The primary imperative of climate change mitigation is to remove reduced carbon entirely from our sources of primary energy at the greatest possible pace.