Another hot model: Forest emissions, wildfires explain why ancient Earth was so hot

The release of volatile organic compounds from Earth’s forests and smoke from wildfires 3 million years ago had a far greater impact on global warming than ancient atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, according to a new study by researchers at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. The research provides evidence that dynamic atmospheric chemistry played an important role in past warm climates, underscoring the complexity of climate change and the relevance of natural components.

Yale study: Forest emissions, wildfires explain why ancient Earth was so hot


Nadine Unger with Yale’s omega supercomputer.

The release of volatile organic compounds from Earth’s forests and smoke from wildfires 3 million years ago had a far greater impact on global warming than ancient atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, a new Yale study finds.

The research provides evidence that dynamic atmospheric chemistry played an important role in past warm climates, underscoring the complexity of climate change and the relevance of natural components, according to the authors. They do not address or dispute the significant role in climate change of human-generated CO2 emissions.

Using sophisticated Earth system modeling, a team led by Nadine Unger of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES) calculated that concentrations of tropospheric ozone, aerosol particles, and methane during the mid-Pliocene epoch were twice the levels observed in the pre-industrial era — largely because so much more of the planet was covered in forest.

Those reactive compounds altered Earth’s radiation balance, contributing a net global warming as much as two to three times greater than the effect of carbon dioxide, according to the study, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

These findings help explain why the Pliocene was two to three degrees C warmer than the pre-industrial era despite atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide that were approximately the same as today, Unger said.

“The discovery is important for better understanding climate change throughout Earth’s history, and has enormous implications for the impacts of deforestation and the role of forests in climate protection strategies,” said Unger, an assistant professor of atmospheric chemistry at F&ES.

“The traditional view,” she said, “is that forests affect climate through carbon storage and by altering the color of the planet’s surface, thus influencing the albedo effect. But as we are learning, there are other ways that forest ecosystems can impact the climate.”

The albedo effect refers to the amount of radiation reflected by the surface of the planet. Light-colored snowy surfaces, for instance, reflect more light and heat back into space than darker forests.

Climate scientists have suggested that the Pliocene epoch might provide a glimpse of the planet’s future if humankind is unable to curb carbon dioxide emissions. During the Pliocene, the two main factors believed to influence the climate — atmospheric CO2 concentrations and the geographic position of the continents — were nearly identical to modern times. But scientists have long wondered why the Pliocene’s global surface air temperatures were so much warmer than Earth’s pre-industrial climate.

The answer might be found in highly reactive compounds that existed long before humans lived on the planet, Unger says. Terrestrial vegetation naturally emits vast quantities of volatile organic compounds, for instance. These are critical precursors for organic aerosols and ozone, a potent greenhouse gas. Wildfires, meanwhile, are a major source of black carbon and primary organic carbon.

Forest cover was vastly greater during the Pliocene, a period marked not just by warmer temperatures but also by greater precipitation. At the time, most of the arid and semi-arid regions of Africa, Australia, and the Arabian peninsula were covered with savanna and grassland. Even the Arctic had extensive forests. Notably, Unger says, there were no humans to cut the forests down.

Using the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies Model-E2 global Earth system model, the researchers were able to simulate the terrestrial ecosystem emissions and atmospheric chemical composition of the Pliocene and the pre-industrial era.

According to their findings, the increase in global vegetation was the dominant driver of emissions during the Pliocene — and the subsequent effects on climate.

Previous studies have dismissed such feedbacks, suggesting that these compounds would have had limited impact since they would have been washed from the atmosphere by frequent rainfall in the warmer climate. The new study argues otherwise, saying that the particles lingered about the same length of time — one to two weeks — in the Pliocene atmosphere compared to the pre-industrial.

Unger says her findings imply a higher climate sensitivity than if the system was simply affected by CO2 levels and the albedo effect.

“We might do a lot of work to reduce air pollution from road vehicle and industrial emissions, but in a warmer future world the natural ecosystems are just going to bring the ozone and aerosol particles right back,” she said. “Reducing and preventing the accumulation of fossil-fuel CO2 is the only way to ensure a safe climate future now.”

The modeling calculations were performed on Yale University’s omega supercomputer, a 704-node cluster capable of processing more than 52 trillion calculations per second.

###

===========================================================

I had to chuckle about the last line, because the Yale writer of the press release, Kevin Dennehy, ascribes importance to the speed of the “omega supercomputer”. This is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is the assumptions that went into the model’s parameters. If they are rooted in reality and measurement, then the model has a chance of being accurate, assuming it is programmed properly. If it is not, then it is simply an exercise in GIGO, and the speed of GIGO is immaterial to the conclusion.

About these ads

55 thoughts on “Another hot model: Forest emissions, wildfires explain why ancient Earth was so hot

  1. “Reducing and preventing the accumulation of fossil-fuel CO2 is the only way to ensure a safe climate future now.”

    WOW. And this lady is supposed to be a scientist? I guess she is just another victim of Yale education.

  2. B. Strayer
    So the forests in the arctic came 1st then it got warmer? This is some very stressed logic.

    Barry Strayer

  3. Yale study: Forest emissions, wildfires explain why ancient Earth was so hot
    Nadine Unger with Yale’s omega supercomputer.
    “The release of volatile organic compounds from Earth’s forests and smoke from wildfires 3 million years ago had a far greater impact on global warming than ancient atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, a new Yale study finds.”

    Have Paradigm Shift, will Revise History to Suit.

  4. The kicker is that while it may be the only way, it’s still an immaterial and ineffectual way. I.e., there is no way to “ensure a safe climate”. You takes what you gets, and CO2 has Sweet Fanny Adams to do with it.

  5. ““Reducing and preventing the accumulation of fossil-fuel CO2 is the only way to ensure a safe climate future now.” The modeling calculations were performed on Yale University’s omega supercomputer, a 704-node cluster capable of processing more than 52 trillion calculations per second.”

    I know someone who can do that with a Raspberry Pi.

    Yet if we face cold, and volcanic amplification of the cold, then the advice is bad.

    This would be the equivalent of ripping out the plumbing and electricity for a remodel just before a polar vortex wobble in Montana. But progressives scientists always love to make sweeping, top-down reforms of that on which others’ lives depend on.

  6. Just did a quick google search on Pliocene era. Seems this was a COOLING period. So her whole study is mute. If forests worked the way she describes, then it should have warmed, not cooled. Of course other factors came into play, the closing of the Panama Isthmus, India connecting to Asia, polar ice accumulation, North American, European, Asian mountain ranges appearing.

    Maybe she meant Miocene era.

    http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/tertiary/pliocene.php

  7. Super-Computer or not, it’s still just another scientific wild-assed guess that no one can prove or disprove.

  8. This is going to require some pretty strenuous re-writing of geology and paleontology, since the Pliocene has always been characterized as a time when grassland biomes dominated the Earth like never before or since. For example from University of California: “The Pliocene Earth” (http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/tertiary/pliocene.php):
    “The Pliocene, 5.3 to 2.6 million years ago, was a time of global cooling after the warmer Miocene. The cooling and drying of the global environment may have contributed to the enormous spread of grasslands and savannas during this time.”
    Also the usual claim about geography being identical to the present has some rather important exceptions. The Panama Isthmus didn’t exist during most of the Pliocene and neither did the Bering Strait.

  9. Ronald Reagan was ridiculed for asserting that trees cause pollution. Maybe he just needed a degree from Yale instead of Eureka College.

  10. The paper raises more questions than it answers. How did all those forests grow? If CO2 was barely above sustainability levels, the forests would not have had the CO2 in order to thrive. And you can burn forests for only so long before you have no more forests.

  11. Hm, dividing up causation of a known quantity up amongst more causes, somehow increases the magnitude of the effect of one such cause.

    Riiiiiiight.

  12. Jim Norton:

    Yes, the last paragraph does seem to contradict the study. The study implies that reducing CO2 is not the only way to prevent a warmer planet: reducing vegetation and forests will also help. “Save the planet, clear-cut a forest today!” Or, “Have you thanked a real estate developer today?”

  13. I had to chuckle about the last line, because the Yale writer of the press release, Kevin Dennehy, ascribes importance to the speed of the “omega supercomputer”. This is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is the assumptions that went into the model’s parameters. If they are rooted in reality and measurement, then the model has a chance of being accurate, assuming it is programmed properly. If it is not, then it is simply an exercise in GIGO, and the speed of GIGO is immaterial to the conclusion.”
    ____________________
    Perfect strike of hammer on nail.
    I used to be a real gearhead and even played a key role in the successful build of vendor components for a couple of Cray Research models. I also built my own TFLOPS+ machine at one point. After I got past my hotrodder outlook, the only important thing about supercomputers became the programming. That’s where the perceptions of the physical realities of the world are bent by mental manipulations.

  14. yeah, yeah, when you don’t have fossil fuels to blame you resort to bio mass.

    As long as CO2 remains the culprit of unbearable heat.

    Another worthless piece of crap to fill the paper bin.

  15. Alan Robertson says:
    February 6, 2014 at 10:11 am

    “After I got past my hotrodder outlook, the only important thing about supercomputers became the programming.”

    “Programming – Modelling the World inside a Computer.”
    with apologies to Larry O’Brien

  16. “The modeling calculations were performed on Yale University’s omega supercomputer, a 704-node cluster capable of processing more than 52 trillion calculations per second.”

    It takes a human to make a mistake.

    It takes a computer to make it really quickly.

  17. Just another GIGO report produced with the assistance of a super computer operated by a member of the Dorkus Maximus family.
    This is the only species that visits a university like Yale to study themselves plain stupid.
    They should issue a restraining order to keep them away from supercomputers and the plain paper stacks for that matter.
    What a terrible waste of time and money.

  18. An photo of a botokwoman next to a computer and the words moddeling made me go off. It is that far now that they say oke it is happening becaus the model says so. But nobody seems tho think oke lets look of the model is correct.

  19. Utter rubbish.

    The evolution of trees caused a dramatic fall in both CO2 and temperature.

    http://www.pnas.org/content/102/5/1302.full.pdf

    Trees and vegetation in general cool the planet due to water transpiration. The earths surface in the Proterozoic, before plants covered the land, was hot and arid. Trees also made soil and brought the hydrological cycle onto land.

    Why do these studies focus on minor greenhouse gasses e.g. volatile compounds and ignore the mother of them all, water vapour? These computer models only show what they are politically programmed to show. Everyone knows they are total crap. Why do they bother?

  20. No doubt the Yale “Models” are callibrated by reference to the CMIP5 (IPCC AR5) models’ performance against measured data?

  21. “Even the Arctic had extensive forests. Notably, Unger says, there were no humans to cut the forests down.”

    Wait, so the reason the tundras of the world are not covered in forest is because we cut down all the trees?

    Or did we cut down the forests?

    Much like Ms. (Dr.?) Unger, I’m having a hard time distinguishing one from the other…

  22. “The answer might be found in highly reactive compounds that existed long before humans lived on the planet, Unger says. Terrestrial vegetation naturally emits vast quantities of volatile organic compounds, for instance. These are critical precursors for organic aerosols and ozone, a potent greenhouse gas. Wildfires, meanwhile, are a major source of black carbon and primary organic carbon.”

    So tree do cause smog after all. I remember when they made fun of Reagan for saying this.

  23. Does anyone know who you have to write to get these grants? I got some fantasy ideas that I can “research” that can hang the blame on CO2 as well, and since there really is no real need to have a gigaflop machine to turn out rubbish, I’ll just program my model is basic on my old TRS-80 and save a little extra for the “researcher’s salary.” Probably have about the same scientific value.

  24. A.Watts & al

    If this is true, it is another positive and longtime feedback to CO2, in addition to the known effect of H2O.

    My idea of the Pliocene is that the atlantic broke up, a quite enormeous vulcanism ov CO2 made the worlds temperature “skyrocket”. the way we now get more and more aquainted to. Pissing and raining and quite warm up here. Growth accelerates quite clearly and we exel in hydroelectric power. Apples and oaks spread naturally northeastwards into the Taiga.

    An enormeous lot of geen weeds grew up in that “greenhouse”, and Megafauna grew up as well to eat it. It ate the CO2 down again and settled it worldwide as the extreemly fameous brown coal layers of the pliocene until it was cool enough for Milancovic to carry on with his fameous ice ages.

    Kaolin sediments worldwide from the same period is next proof. That takes pissing and raining for millions of years under rather warm conditions to develop. Also Bauxit.

    This is rather orthodoy that I am satisfied with.

    But that Eau de cologne- argument of volatile organic molecules in the air also under such conditions, does rather entail the early Hansen- ideas of Delta T / Doubbling of CO2.

    My private set rule is 3 deg/ doubbling…. and waiting,…. and be aware of short time medium time and longtime effects. That are low, medium and high.

    The political shortsightedness of a person disputing climate is directly proportional to his/ her ideas of “Climate sensitivity”.

    5 year span is a STALIN 5 year plan for steel and electricity production. 70 Years is Salomos number and eventual storms of ones grandchildren. 700 years is the age of an oak or of a proper empire, and 7000 yeas is the world record of an old tree set in Jämtland in Sweden, beat that!

  25. they said:
    During the Pliocene, the two main factors believed to influence the climate — atmospheric CO2 concentrations and the geographic position of the continents —
    were nearly identical to modern times. But scientists have long wondered why the Pliocene’s global surface air temperatures were so much warmer than Earth’s pre-industrial climate.
    =========================================================================
    In the 1930s, New Zealand planted forests in its North Island where there
    had been just alpine tussock grass. As the forest grew and changed so did
    the clouds. Go there and you see what looks like a large thunderhead.
    Because the nearest town is Tokoroa,, the cloud is called the `Tokoroa
    Cloud.’ It’s pretty much a permanent fixture, now. How it alters the local
    radiation budget to cause warming or cooling is unknown (to me) and
    whether Tokoroa is warmer or cooler, dryer or wetter than it was B.F.
    (Before Forestation) I don’t know, because I’ve never lived there. The cloud
    is the result of the well-known release of volatile organic compounds by
    every forest. Man is not the only lifeform to `pollute’ the atmosphere.

    There’s another factor affecting climate the `sophisticated’ model doesn’t
    account for, and that’s the Solar System’s position in its galactic orbit. This
    affects the cosmic ray exposure/density (Svensmark’s hypothesis). The solar
    system started to enter the Orion Spur (spiral arm) about 2.5 MYA which
    coincides with the Pliestocene Ice Age start. Now, we all know that coincidence
    is not causation but Shaviv’s paper is illuminating.

  26. Unfortunately, even if the study is accurate, to claim that it explains all climates the Earth has
    experienced (since the prescription for a guaranteed “good clmate” is simple :CO2 reduction)
    is pure fraud. The point about the speed of the computer illustrates that we are dealing with non-scientific, non-logical folks here. And what happened to the usual claim of “sophisticated computer modelling” ?

  27. Fair enough. What they say is forest infestation is the real enemy, which emits vast quantities of volatile organic pollution, critical precursors for organic aerosols and ozone, a potent greenhouse gas.

    Therefore arid and semi-arid regions of Africa, Australia, and the Arabian peninsula should be kept in their pristine, desolate condition. Trees in general are to be cut down wherever they are found, then buried deep underground in abandoned coal mines to prevent wildfires, a major source of black carbon and primary organic carbon.

    Reducing and preventing the accumulation of fossil-fuel CO2 is the only way to ensure a safe climate future, that is, one hostile to life with a diminished net primary production, hopefully followed by frost and famine, wiping the human mold off of the face of Mother Gaia.

    Excellent green agenda, let them popularize it.

  28. I think I have seen the stupidest waste of tax payer money and then Anthony shows us another one!

    Newest US war: The War on TREES

    Time for new bumper stickers.

  29. Very sorry about this.

    Using sophisticated Earth system modeling, a team…,,,Using the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies Model-E2 global Earth system model, the researchers were able to simulate…..The modeling calculations were performed on Yale University’s omega supercomputer, a 704-node cluster capable of processing more than 52 trillion calculations per second.

    The IPCC was able to simulate the climate back during AR1 and made some temperature projections for our present time. The results show complete success and everyone is happy.

  30. “Reducing and preventing the accumulation of fossil-fuel CO2 is the only way to ensure a safe climate future now.”

    We were informed of this wonderful fact back in 1988. Today, we have had 17 years of safety with a booming biosphere and great agricultural yields. It’s a good thing we acted to dramatically reduce our co2 pollution.

  31. What type of trees? what predators/diseases? what genomes? what biochemistries were dominant? what quantities of isoprenes were these plants pumping out to block/react with what amounts of UV? questions questions

    • @michael hart
      You can count on that it was rather very similar to what we have today. Pharmacological and toxicological properties rather follows the families of both animals and plants.

      For things to evaporate , think in terms of light terpenes and most of all in terms of CH4 I think.

  32. I suppose there were no big herds of herbivorous cleaning up one place before moving to the next spot leaving nothing to burn and most natural forest are also clean of low vegetation. There is not enough sunlight reaching that part.

  33. I have found evidence of a “safe climate“. I hear the climate was so safe during the Little Ice Age that they literally carried out witch hunts.

    Abstract
    Christian Pfister et. al. – 1999
    Climatic Variability in Sixteenth-Century Europe and its Social Dimension: A Synthesis
    Peasant communities which were suffering large collective damage from the effects of climatic change pressed authorities for the organization of witch-hunts. Seemingly most witches were burnt as scapegoats of climatic change.
    doi:10.1023/A:1005585931899
    —————————————
    Abstract
    Christian Pfister – 2012
    Climatic Extremes, Recurrent Crises and Witch Hunts
    Strategies of European Societies in Coping with Exogenous Shocks in the Late Sixteenth and Early Seventeenth Centuries
    Finally, by confirming the thesis advanced by Wolfgang Behringer relating extensive witch hunts during that period to climatic change and recurrent subsistence crises, this article makes a plea for bridging the gap separating studies of climate from those of culture.
    doi: 10.1177/097194580701000202

  34. Carbomontanus, if vegetation cover, temperature, humidity, methane, aerosols, ozone and C02, were all different, why should we assume that other things remain constant? (I don’t necessarily buy the concept of climax ecosystems which never change.)

    • M. Hart
      I don`t quite understand your question.

      You should perhaps try and immagine a real and relevant situation of the period that we are talking about, and think out what decides and determines it first of all.

      And if you want to discuss factors and vectors and parameters, have some elementary matematical ideas of how they possibly moove and may be connected.

      ( I do nactually try and immagine the smell of that atmosphere)

  35. The author appears to have left out a word in the last paragraph, one that would have made the entire article more plausible. Isn’t it proper grammar to alway follow the word “cluster” with the descriptive synonym (v.) of coitus, especially when presenting research on climate models.

  36. Unger says her findings imply a higher climate sensitivity than if the system was simply affected by CO2 levels and the albedo effect.

    “We might do a lot of work to reduce air pollutifon from road vehicle and industrial emissions, but in a warmer future world the natural ecosystems are just going to bring the ozone and aerosol particles right back,” she said. “Reducing and preventing the accumulation of fossil-fuel CO2 is the only way to ensure a safe climate future now.”

    The authors actually realise the monstrous idiocy that peeps through these lines so that even they are shy to speak it out even indirectly. They have woken up to the idea that plants use CO2 in photosynthesis and that more CO2 means more trees. In war the friend of your enemy is your enemy – so these blindly obedient drones have nowhere to go other than to regard trees now also as the enemy.

    What contorts Unger with embarrassment to even try to indirectly say is that Mat Ridley’s discovery of global geeening due to CO2 forces them to accuse trees as new enemies of the people. If water cant be relied on to amplify puny CO2 warming then maybe trees can. Odd that the word water did not appear once in this article. Airbrushed out already.

    • Mr.Longlegs

      Yes, your last remark makes me think a tiny bit more.

      I hae tried to interprete it and some of the ideas may be interesting in any case, but not mentioning water…. that shuld be mentioned together with necessary drought for possible enormeous fire at least,……..

      may entail that we have to put that Studio on the waiting list…

      We have techniques so we avoid getting cheated more than necessary 1st of April, Haven`t we?

  37. I lived as a child in Kuantan, Malaysia. In the monsoon season every afternoon the rain came at the same time. We heard it advance through the forest toward our house with the same slow crescendo day after day.

    The same sound, the same time and … the same water. The same few hundred cubic meters of water which rained down each afternoon would be transpired by the trees back into the atmosphere.

    The cooling role of the thunderstorm thermostat has been well described by Willis in numerous posts. If one chemical on earth is responsible for climate heat dynamic, regulation and controlling feedback it is WATER. The hydrological cycle in the atmosphere and, even more importantly in the ocean with ocean circulation.

    The word “water” is conspicuous by its complete absence in the above article.

  38. Carbomontanus on February 6, 2014 at 3:59 pm

    @ berenyi Peter

    Are they Mad over there?

    Odd question coming from you.

  39. I ran a model once years ago over a weekend when the computer resources were available. The model ran for 2 and a half days, but was unable to complete the task before the computer was required for other tasks. A few years later, I ran the same model on a system twice as powerful and the model run finished in half an hour. It wasn’t the speed of the system that mattered but rather the memory resources. Having to swap data from memory to a hard drive greatly slowed down the model run.
    If the computer system that you are using to run a model is at its limit of resources, adding just one more parameter could bring the model run to a condition similar to my first model run and has to be abandoned.
    I will be putting in thousands of hours of work studying, coding and researching climate models over the next few years.
    Any and all software I develop related to climate science will be made freely available. Free to your, very costly for me. I do this because 4 years ago, almost to the day, I began my research on the internet to see what I could find was available on the topic of climate science. What I quickly found so appalled me, the sloppiness of climate science, how little evidence there was, the climate gate emails. In my world, I was used to professional science. I worked for companies that built scientific instruments, robotics, under water remotely operated vehicles and even autonomous ocean devices. Companies that designed and built the communications system for Vancouver’s first sky train system. I was used to applied science and high technology.
    At first I was training for electrical engineering, then switched to computer science. Took a break for several years to become a mathematician.
    When climate gate broke, I had no interest in reading the personal emails of climate scientists. I had no idea of the controversy surrounding climate science. I had no preconceived opinions of global warming or climate change. I even believed in global warming at one time. With the background I have, when I started my research, as I have stated, I was appalled, so much so that for 4 years now, this climate change / global warming thing is the first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning, and the last thing I think about when I go to bed at night. It invades my thoughts throughout the day, even when I am far away from home on a bike ride in the countryside. I might as well spend my time trying to defeat this scam, by studying and researching, and developing new tools for the skeptics…
    I will have much, much more to contribute as the months and years progress.

  40. But, but…butttttttt – for YEARS now we’ve been told all we have to do to offset global warming is plant enough trees and keep deforestation from occurring!!! Who’s gonna break the news to Al Gore and everyone who’s ever bought climate offsets? This will break their poor little blessed hearts. /sarc

    “…the speed of GIGO is immaterial to the conclusion.” Great line, love it!

  41. ““We might do a lot of work to reduce air pollution from road vehicle and industrial emissions, but in a warmer future world the natural ecosystems are just going to bring the ozone and aerosol particles right back,” she said. “Reducing and preventing the accumulation of fossil-fuel CO2 is the only way to ensure a safe climate future now.””

    So she implies that in a warmer, more CO2 rich world ecosystems will thrive.

    Please inform the Green shocktroops. I hear they pretend to like thriving ecosystems.

  42. Actually, they do mention water- the period was warmer and had GREATER Precipitation. Makes sense- forest fires do well with more precipitation (sarc). Is there any evidence of these fires in deposits?

  43. R2Dtoo says:
    February 6, 2014 at 6:49 pm
    Actually, they do mention water- the period was warmer and had GREATER Precipitation.

    Yes “precipitation” was the closest they came.

    Atmosphere only explanations of global climate on long time scales ignoring ocean currents, continental configuration etc. are vacuous and pointless.

  44. “I see.” (Michael Hart) — LOL.
    *********************************************

    1. as we are learning, there are other ways that forest ecosystems can impact the climate… .

    AS WE ARE LEARNING — what, in Intro. to Intro. to Science class?

    2. The following appeared to have been written by our fine host, so, to edit it for him (as per what I’m sure he meant to say — he is a very busy guy, thus, sometimes in a hurry…):

    “They do not address or dispute the significant {speculated} role in climate change of human-generated CO2 … .”

Comments are closed.