Fa2010_Eskalac_CO2a

NASA photo



Eric Skalac/MEDILL

Scientists at the Comer Abrupt Climate Change Conference talk about the role of carbon dioxide in global warming. Geochemist Sidney Hemming of Columbia University kicks off the discussion of the fundamental physics you can use to make your own decision about climate change. The earth's atmosphere, stunning from on high, is none-the-less collecting greenhouse gases that drive up global temperatures. The NASA photograph above was taken over the Hawaiian Islands from the  International Space Station.  

  


The fundamental physics of carbon dioxide

by Eric P. Skalac
Nov 09, 2010

Human-driven climate change remains a controversial topic, but some scientific facts about it are beyond controversy. At the recent Comer Abrupt Climate Change Conference, three scientists stressed the importance of understanding one such fact: the proven greenhouse effects of carbon dioxide (CO2) collecting in the Earth’s atmosphere. The greenhouse effect means that CO2, emitted in large quantities by burning fossil fuels, traps heat and is raising temperature across the globe.

"I think one thing that escapes common attention, is that it is warming because there are more greenhouse gases, CO2 in particular, and that those essentially trap infrared radiation. they prevent heat from being radiated out," said atmospheric physicist William Boos of Yale University. 

Klaus Lackner, physicist and a professor of geophysics at Columbia University, is developing technology that would remove carbon from the atmosphere. 

“The remarkable conclusion is that no matter how you look at it, sooner or later you will have to stabilize the CO2 in the atmosphere at some level. It practically means that we have to drop back in CO2 emissions to practically nothing,” he said.   

Like Lackner, Columbia geochemist Sidney Hemming believes that rising levels of carbon dioxide are an obvious and serious problem. 

“It’s physics. It’s not arguable that CO2 isn’t a greenhouse gas. It seems to me that there’s no question that CO2 is rising," she said. Once you understand the physics of the gas, “then you pretty much have to accept that raising the constituent is going to raise the temperature," she said.