Earth Can't Absorb Greenhouse Gases Indefinitely

By Lippsett, Lonny | Oceanus, December 2005 | Go to article overview

Earth Can't Absorb Greenhouse Gases Indefinitely


Lippsett, Lonny, Oceanus


Earth's land and oceans have been soaking up the excess carbon dioxide that humans have pumped into the atmosphere through smokestacks and tailpipes. But there are limits.

A newly developed computer model indicates that the capacity of land and ocean to absorb and store the heat-trapping greenhouse gas will reach its peak by the end of the century. Without that sponge, carbon dioxide could accumulate faster in the atmosphere and accelerate global warming.

"Time is of the essence in dealing with greenhouse gas emissions," said Scott Doney, a WHOI geochemist and member of a team that created the new computer model to analyze the workings of Earth's climate system. "We can start to address the issue now, or we can wait 50 years; but in 50 years we will have missed our best opportunity for remediation."

The team reported its findings in the Aug. 9 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Five years ago, Doney and colleagues--Inez Fung and Jasmin John of the University of California, Berkeley, and Keith Lindsay of the National Center for Atmospheric Research--set out to create a new climate model that included important missing pieces of the puzzle: the roles that living things, ecosystems, and ocean circulation play in cycling carbon around the planet. …

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