Laughable AGU Claim: 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami 'spurred global warming'

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Buildings destroyed by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake released thousands of tons of climate-warming and ozone-depleting chemicals into the atmosphere, according to a new study.

New research suggests that the thousands of buildings destroyed and damaged during the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan four years ago released 6,600 metric tons (7,275 U.S. tons) of gases stored in insulation, appliances and other equipment into the atmosphere.

Emissions of these chemicals, called halocarbons, increased by 21 percent to 91 percent over typical levels, according to the new study accepted for publication in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.

First look

The study is the first to look at how the Tohoku earthquake affected the release of halocarbons into the atmosphere and likely one of the first to examine emissions of these gases following a natural disaster, according to the study’s authors.

“What we found is a new mechanism of halocarbon emissions coming from the earthquake,” said Takuya Saito, a senior researcher at the National Institute for Environmental Studies in Tsukuba, Japan, and lead author of the new paper.

Halocarbons released as a result of the earthquake include chemicals that deplete the ozone layer and contribute to global warming – including some gases that are no longer used because of those harmful effects on the environment. These include chlorofluorocarbons like CFC-11, a powerful ozone-depleting chemical used in foam insulation until it was phased out in 1996, and hydrochlorofluorocarbons like HCFC-22, an ozone-depleting refrigerant that is also a powerful greenhouse gas and is in the process of being phased out of use. Among other halocarbons released by the earthquake were hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, and sulfur hexafluoride, both potent greenhouse gases.

The emissions of the six halocarbons released from Japan in 2011 are equivalent to the discharge of 1,300 metric tons (1,433 U.S. tons) of CFC-11 alone — equal to the amount of CFC-11s found in 2.9 million refrigerators manufactured before the chemical was banned. The total emissions of the six chemicals are also equivalent to the release of 19.2 million metric tons (21.2 million U.S. tons) of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere – an amount equal to about 10 percent of Japanese vehicle emissions in 2011, according to the study’s authors.

Post-quake surprise

Saito and his colleagues decided to investigate halocarbon emissions and their relationship to the earthquake after ground-based air monitoring stations in Japan recorded surprising high levels of these chemicals. The stations are on Hateruma Island, east of Taiwan; Cape Ochiishi, on the east side of Hokkaido; and Ryori, north of Tokyo on Honshu.

The study’s authors combined these measurements with an atmospheric model and other mathematical methods to figure out that increased emissions from the earthquake were involved, how much of the emissions could be attributed to the disaster and how they compared to previous years.

They found that emissions of all six halocarbons were higher from March 2011 to February 2012, following the earthquake, than they were during the same time the year before the event and during the same period the year after it.

About 50 percent of the halocarbon emissions after the earthquake were of HCFC-22, likely due to damage to refrigerators and air conditioners. Emissions of the gas were 38 percent higher than the years before and after the earthquake. Emissions of CFC-11 were 72 percent higher than emissions before and after the earthquake, likely due to damage to insulation foams used in appliances and buildings, according to the study. Emissions of two types of HFCs — HFC-134a and HFC-32 — rose by 49 percent and 63 percent compared to the years before and after the disaster.

Impacts assessed

The new study also calculates the total impact of the increased emissions on ozone depletion and global warming. The earthquake-triggered surge of halocarbons increased ozone loss from Japanese emissions of those six gases by 38 percent* from March 2011 to February 2012 compared to the same time period in the years before and after the event. The amount of heat trapped in the atmosphere because of Japan’s emissions of those six gases rose 36 percent from March 2011 to February 2012 compared to earlier and later years because of the extra emissions from the earthquake, according to the new study.

Saito said the new study shows the importance of including the release of gases from natural disasters in emissions estimates. Although the global effect of one event is small — emissions associated with the Tohoku earthquake accounted for 4 percent or less of global emissions in 2011 — the cumulative effect could be larger, he said. Natural disasters accelerate the release of halocarbons and replacement of these gases could lead to the use of more halocarbons, according to the study.

National halocarbon emissions estimates by the Japanese government did not factor in the release of the chemicals due to the earthquake and are likely underestimating the amount of these substances in the atmosphere, according to Saito. Governments rely on inventories of chemicals and generic data about how they are used to estimate their amounts in the atmosphere – called a “bottom-up” approach” — whereas the new study uses actual measurements of the gases – called a “top-down” approach. “It is apparent that there are unreported emissions,” Saito said.

The new study shows that there could be a need to include the amount of halocarbons released by catastrophic events in emissions estimates, said Steve Montzka, a research chemist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder, Colorado, who was not involved in the research. It also highlights the need for more measurements of halocarbons in the atmosphere, he added, rather than relying on bottom-up emissions estimates from inventories.

“Atmospheric scientists often say that relying solely on bottom-up inventories to tell you how greenhouse gas emissions change is like going on a diet without weighing yourself,” Montzka said.


*Note: This value has been corrected from the accepted manuscript posted online.

The American Geophysical Union is dedicated to advancing the Earth and space sciences for the benefit of humanity through its scholarly publications, conferences, and outreach programs. AGU is a not-for-profit, professional, scientific organization representing more than 60,000 members in 139 countries. Join the conversation on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and our other social media channels.

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March 26, 2015 11:45 am

You can’t be too careful though. We should outlaw earthquakes.

Harry Passfield
Reply to  ShrNfr
March 26, 2015 12:13 pm

Be a win-win if we just taxed ’em, surely.

Reply to  Harry Passfield
March 26, 2015 2:50 pm

Just make sure that pollutants are released – ONLY – in pats per trillion, per the graphs.

Stephen Richards
Reply to  Harry Passfield
March 27, 2015 2:49 am

March 26, 2015 at 2:50 pm
Is that cow pats / million. That’ll great a stink.

Eyal Porat
Reply to  ShrNfr
March 26, 2015 9:41 pm

“We should outlaw earthquakes.”
No no! Not outlawed – we must TAX the earthquakes.
And to make sure tax revenue flows in, tax also the prospect of earthquake – just in case.

Jon Lonergan
Reply to  ShrNfr
March 27, 2015 12:46 am

Pope Pius XII excommunicated all Italians who vote for communists to save Italy for the establishment, so why can’t the modern-day Pope excommunicate all Catholics who breathe out more than they breathe in? It’s the out-breath that releases CO2, not the in-breath. It’s about time the planet was saved from those dirty Out-breathers! start with one group of people and spread the new planet-saving regime! Another plus would be politicians [and alarmists] who spoke less would be showing their genuine commitment to saving the planet!

carbon bigfoot
Reply to  ShrNfr
March 27, 2015 5:24 pm

Did that researcher did anywhere near the FUKI reactors?

Rob Dawg
March 26, 2015 11:46 am

A little help here. What are “7,275 U.S. tons?” There’s English and metric and some others but “U.S.?”

Reply to  Rob Dawg
March 26, 2015 11:56 am

Those there are Yankee tons, equivalent to 232,800,000 Yankee oz.

Alan the Brit
Reply to  Paul
March 27, 2015 4:17 am

There is very little difference between a metric tonne & an Imperial ton, around 16kg more for a metric tonne. 1 tonf (force) = 1.016 tonnes f (force). Personally I wouldn’t worry which landed on me, the outcome would be the same, a rather slimmer AtB! 😉

Tom in Florida
Reply to  Rob Dawg
March 26, 2015 12:16 pm

“Ton and metric ton are weight measure units. However, there is a difference. Metric ton is equal to 1000 kilograms and is SI unit. Hence, it is a megagram as it contains 1 million grams. The term ton is comes from Latin word tunna which means cask and in the past a cask filled with things usually weighed almost a metric ton.
A metric ton is not the same as short ton which is used in the United States. Ton used in the United States equals to 2,000 pounds, or approximately 907 kg. The long ton (tonne) is equals to 2240 pounds. However it is not commonly used in the United States.”

Reply to  Tom in Florida
March 26, 2015 11:43 pm

Exactly so. Just for interest the ;long ton; is the original British ton which at 1016kG is closer to the metric ton.

Jon Lonergan
Reply to  Tom in Florida
March 27, 2015 12:49 am

But would a ton of any description weigh less at the equator because the of the greater centrifugal force working against gravity?

old construction worker
Reply to  Tom in Florida
March 27, 2015 2:18 am

“…at the equator…”
That is how a long ton becomes a short ton. LOL

Reply to  Rob Dawg
March 26, 2015 6:04 pm

One (1) Short Tons (US) = ‪0.892857 Long Tons(UK)
One (1) Long Tons = 1.12 Short Tons, or about 0.25 elephants. ‬

carbon bigfoot
Reply to  garymount
March 27, 2015 5:19 pm

Is that a ton equivalent to a ton of sheet?

Janice Moore
March 26, 2015 11:51 am

“… the effect they are claiming is miniscule compared to business as usual emissions in the USA.”
An-thony W-atts
Uh, An-thony?
1. China would be the country to finger, here… .
{China} emits nearly twice the amount of greenhouse gases as the United States, which it surpassed in 2006 as the top emitter of carbon dioxide. China accounts for about 30 percent of global emissions.”
{Source: }
2. MOREOVER, there is, so far, NO CO2 “effect” proven. CO2 (from the U.S. or anywhere else) has no proven effect on the climate. What is up with that line?? Are you being bl@ckmailed into writing warmist propaganda???! (your title about the “Greenland climate myth” was also such a weirdly warmist bit of writing… what is up??)

Somebody else
Reply to  Janice Moore
March 26, 2015 10:38 pm

Are you suggesting the greenhouse effect is not real? It most certainly is… Even the notorious mr watts knows that. That’s what’s up.

March 26, 2015 11:55 am

Everything causes global warming and global warming causes everything (bad)! It’s a problem in search of a solution and a solution in search of a problem! It’s a cost center and a profit center!

Les Francis
Reply to  PiperPaul
March 27, 2015 4:23 pm

Now Climate Change is causing long term catastrophic variation to beer taste!!
see :

March 26, 2015 11:56 am

I thought it was global warming that caused earthquakes, not the other way around. You know, all that warming which causes the crust to expand, thus causing earthquakes??? /sarc

Reply to  Kamikazedabve
March 26, 2015 12:18 pm

Me too. For some reason I reversed the cause and effect in the blog post title. I thought it was coming back to something from a few years ago claiming the force exerted by typhoons downward via storm surge on the seafloor could trigger earthquakes and global warming IF it was found to produce increased cyclonic storms COULD, POSSIBLY, MAYBE with a 97% confidence level trigger more earthquakes & tsunamis IF that effect were true.

Reply to  Paul in Sweden
March 27, 2015 4:17 am

As with most man made global warming scenarios it is not the direct emissions that is of importance. Obviously the direct input of greenhouse gases was very small in this case. It is the positive feedback that is an issue. The emissions from this earthquake will trigger another which will trigger another at an ever increasing rate, finally reaching the point it will tear the Earth apart. 🙂

Pamela Gray
March 26, 2015 12:00 pm

As a comparison, equatorial volcanic eruptions can, if explosive enough, cause robust, season-dependent distinctive weather patterns across Europe. Compare that observed and modeled phenomenon to the present study and one might determine the voracity of this earthquake-linked claim.

Reply to  Pamela Gray
March 26, 2015 2:09 pm

So you have a voracity for veracity??

Pamela Gray
Reply to  ShrNfr
March 26, 2015 5:57 pm


March 26, 2015 12:02 pm

The way the AGU behaved over Mr Fraud , showed very clearly how in future its views should be consider. That its own honoured son should act in the way he did but still cause this organisation no concern , indeed he remains an honoured son, show they have no concern with to the need for honesty or for doing good science.

March 26, 2015 12:19 pm

Anthony: You’ve failed to convert the 6,600 metric tons of emissions into CO2 equivalents. The press release does this for you. It says these 6,600 metric tons translate into 19.2 million metric tons CO2 equivalent (the IPCC assigns these gases very high global warming potentials). That’s roughly the same amount of CO2 about a half dozen coal plants would emit in a year. So the amount released during the earthquake is, on a CO2 equivalent basis, quite a bit larger than you suggest, but it is still very small in the grand scheme of things.

Reply to  Saint
March 27, 2015 8:40 am

OMG, @Saint your response is weaker than the weakness of the CO2 equivalent effect

Brandon Gates
Reply to  Rhee
March 27, 2015 3:06 pm

True, there’s no need to get the numbers correct when they’re all made up to begin with. Well, except for these numbers:comment image
First, this plot from NOAA and endorsed by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) shows no uptick in CFC gases in 2011, suggesting that the effect of the Earthquake and Tsunami had no measurable global effect in atmospheric concentrations in 2011 or years afterwards through 2013.
Here’s some other stuff endorsed by the WMO:
This may or may not be a crowd-pleaser:
The main greenhouse gases include:
Water vapour. The most abundant greenhouse gas (GHG), however because it spends just a short time in the atmosphere, and humans have a very impact on the amount of water in the atmosphere, it is not considered the most important GHG.

Not so sure about the rest of it though.

Reply to  Saint
March 27, 2015 3:32 pm

@ Saint…in the last 18 years atmospheric co2 has increased around 36 ppm, which equals 30% of the 120 ppm increase since the late 1700s. If the Tohoku Quake could cause a change that science was able to detect due to this tiny release, wouldn’t you think that science could detect the affect on the climate system from this enormous record setting addition of co2 over the last 18 years?

March 26, 2015 12:19 pm

There seems to be a meme developing where Carbon[Anything] is bad for CAGW. So chloromethane is now “halocarbon”. Since when, precisely? Speaking as a graduate chemist, I have to say “WTF?”. When will it be deemed that HydroxyCarbon (formerly known as ethanol a.k.a. ethyl alcohol) is bad for the environment?

Reply to  Admad
March 26, 2015 1:00 pm

Already happened . The US banned it for, what ,13 ? years , and unleashed a decade of crime and corruption on a scale not seen before or since.

Louis Hooffstetter
Reply to  mikewaite
March 26, 2015 2:54 pm

And now they subsidize its production from corn to fuel our cars. There’s probably some corruption behind that too.

Reply to  Admad
March 26, 2015 9:09 pm

Admad, please get with the programme. In descending order of concentration, the atmosphere now comprises of Hydro-CARBON-ogen, Ox-CARBON-ygen, Argo-CARB-on, Carbon Di-CARBON-CARBON bloody CARBON dioxide, etc, etc. (sarc/).
I see a Monty Python ‘spam’ song coming on here . . . .

Reply to  Admad
March 27, 2015 12:36 am

Just be glad we’re not silicon-based life forms they could tax every rock and pebble as evil silicates.

March 26, 2015 1:26 pm

I am more worried about the radio-isotopes leaking from the Fukashima plant than a relatively small amount of inert gasses.
Billions of Becquerels of bio accumulating iodine-131, cesium-134.

michael hart
Reply to  J
March 26, 2015 1:47 pm

J, You’ve been sold a pup.
Cesium 134 is water soluble monovalent alkalai metal (which mitigates against bio-accumulation), and only has a half life of 2 years.
Iodine 131 has a half life of 8 days. Bio-accumulation is a ridiculous scare story with these isotopes.

Reply to  michael hart
March 26, 2015 2:03 pm

Interesting you should say that. Out here on the northern Oregon coast, there has been a die-off of starfish. Everyone in my universe blamed Fukushima (read: man). Subsequently a virus has been deemed responsible. It doesn’t matter, though; in peoples’ minds, it’s still ‘man.’
Scientists Solve Mystery Of West Coast Starfish Die-Off

Just an engineer
Reply to  michael hart
March 26, 2015 2:21 pm

Yes, but of a considerably greater concern than that posed by the “global warming” release.

Reply to  michael hart
March 26, 2015 2:49 pm

Half Life of 8 days. Earthquake happened in 2011. That’s a whole lot of halfing. Still we started with J’s Billions of Becquerels.
… so just what is a Becquerel when it’s being stored in a Mason jar? Can we get a conversion? And would that be a mililitter thing or a ‘banana equivalent’ thing?

Reply to  michael hart
March 26, 2015 2:53 pm

OK, so those are not the worst (unless you are close to Japan).
Cesium-137 has a half-life of 30 years.
Strontium 90 levels are 100X clean sea water, and it also has a long half life.
And a few billion Bq of plutonium isotopes, and other assorted goodies.
Just saying, a few inert fluorocarbons are minor compared to the radioactive stuff.

Janice Moore
Reply to  J
March 26, 2015 3:45 pm

Dear J,
Tonight you can enjoy your first really good night’s sleep in years!
Re: “… the radio-isotopes leaking from the Fukashima plant” (you at 1:26pm today)
Here are the facts about Fukushima and nuclear radiation:
“At Fukushima a couple of weeks ago, some mildly radioactive water leaked into the sea. The volume of water was about equal to a dozen home swimming pools. In the ocean this really is a ‘drop in the ocean.’
The radiation content was so little that people could swim in the ocean without the slightest cause for concern. Any ocean naturally contains some radioactivity all of the time anyway. There is natural radiation around us all of the time and has always been there since the birth of the earth. ***
The water which is currently in the new Fukushima storage tanks has already been filtered to remove radioactive Cesium. All that is left is a bit of radioactive Tritium. Tritium is actually part of the water molecule. …
A rare hydrogen variation is … the Tritium form of hydrogen which has one proton plus two neutrons. … water molecules in which the Tritium isotope of the hydrogen atom is found are molecules referred to as ‘Heavy Water.’ … The Tritium heavy water is very mildly radioactive and is found normally in the sea all over the world all of the time. This Tritium concentration in the one thousand storage tanks at Fukushima is higher than that found naturally in the sea, but is still so low as to pose no real danger at all.”
“Physicist: There Was No Fukushima Nuclear Disaster,” Kelvin Kemm, PhD., October 12, 2013:
Pleasant dreams,

Stephen Richards
Reply to  Janice Moore
March 27, 2015 2:51 am

Or they could you it to control a new uranium fueled power station.

Bohdan Burban
March 26, 2015 1:34 pm

There was obviously a very large and un-reported release of N2O that didn’t make it into this release.

March 26, 2015 1:38 pm

Here’s the AGW money quote:
“The amount of heat trapped in the atmosphere because of Japan’s emissions of those six gases rose 36 percent from March 2011 to February 2012 compared to earlier and later years because of the extra emissions from the earthquake, according to the new study.”
But the heat isn’t quantified, so I have to assume that normally Japan’s emissions of those gasses cause 100 joules of heat to be trapped in the atmosphere but in the critical period 136 joules were trapped.
The horror!

March 26, 2015 1:38 pm

Their language becomes more and more detached. No wonder people stop paying attention.
Global warming will collapse like the Tower of Babel.

Reply to  Scarface
March 26, 2015 1:56 pm

Esperanto X Ido = CAGW

March 26, 2015 1:50 pm

There was a time when it wasn’t embarrassing to be a geophysicist.

March 26, 2015 1:53 pm

Why would insulation ‘give up the gas’ after the quake? Is the point that water is the agent?

Andrew N
March 26, 2015 1:57 pm

The earthquake also caused ~16,000 deaths. But that’s not important. A tiny amount of gas causing a far greater effect in a computer model is.

Reply to  Andrew N
March 26, 2015 2:10 pm

I was (and still am) absolutely captivated by the great earthquake and tsunami. I watched zillions of hours of video. In all that viewing what stood out the most was that, while most of the video was shot by Japanese speaking Japanese, there is one video taken by some Americans from up high on a point in one of the big inlets, and as an entire city is being washed out to sea, with houses and cars and people trapped inside of cars being swept away right below them, a young woman breaks the awe-inspired silence with, “Oh my God, look at all of that pollution.”

Reply to  Max Photon
March 26, 2015 3:07 pm

You’re making that up.
…right? Please?

Reply to  Max Photon
March 26, 2015 5:00 pm

I kid you not.

Reply to  Max Photon
March 26, 2015 8:37 pm

It is pretty surreal but I’d bet that there would have been plenty of Japanese exclamations to the effect of “Oh no! There goes my favourite Sushi restaurant”.
Truth is thousands die in anguish everyday and we still live for our latte.

empire sentry
Reply to  Max Photon
March 26, 2015 8:48 pm

breaks my heart. The Climate Nazistas have really taken hold of people’s grasp on reality.

Reply to  Max Photon
March 27, 2015 1:32 am

I remember. The end of an age of reason is inevitable and ugly, it would seem.

March 26, 2015 5:00 pm

April 1 is just around the corner!

March 26, 2015 5:12 pm

Rising greenhouse emissions could tip off aliens that we are a rapidly expanding threat, warns a report

This article was amended on 19 August 2011. The subhead said the report was “for Nasa”. This has been corrected.

Tom in Florida
Reply to  clipe
March 26, 2015 7:18 pm

Klaatu barada nikto
(whew, that was a close one)

Henry Bowman
March 26, 2015 5:39 pm

As a long-time AGU member, I can attest to the simple fact that AGU has become a laughingstock of a so-called scientific organization. It embarrasses me to admit that I am a member.

Reply to  Henry Bowman
March 26, 2015 7:26 pm

How are you feeling these days about the Journal of Geophysical Research (JGR)?

Stephen Richards
Reply to  Henry Bowman
March 27, 2015 2:52 am

Perhaps it’s time you were not? Henry

Reply to  Henry Bowman
March 27, 2015 3:03 am

The “funny thing” is that the AAPG was ridiculed for awarding a literary award to Michael Crichton.
The AGU actually appointed the scientifically illiterate Chris Mooney to their board…

Joel O’Bryan
March 26, 2015 9:41 pm

I thought anthropogenic CO2 caused Earthquakes*? If so, the for the alarmist crowd, the causality arrow is such:
human CO2 —> Earthquakes —> Global warming.
*CO2 can do anything.

Joel O’Bryan
March 26, 2015 10:15 pm

Sort of on-topic/off-topic. OCO-2 Level 2 data is now available at:
Since this is NH winter time data, expect to see lots of CO2 NH natural Source emissions. The real carrot is what and where the sinks kick in the summer June, July August, that comes close to offsetting the NH fall-winter-Spring rise.

James Bull
March 26, 2015 10:59 pm

I’m sure the EPA in the US will find a way to use this study to ban/tax or regulate something as they like this type of SciFiance.
James Bull

March 27, 2015 1:31 am

The AGU is becoming indistinguishable from the political lobbying group, the Union of Concerned Scientists.

March 27, 2015 7:02 am

Well, look at what NASA turned into! (I was raised by NASA scientists)

David Bennett Laing
March 27, 2015 10:11 am

FYI, “minuscule” is spelled with a “u,” as in “minus.” I used to write it as “miniscule,” too, until someone corrected me. Just passing the favor along!

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