Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Pre-industrial emissions still causing temperatures to rise

Date:
July 4, 2012
Source:
Carnegie Institution
Summary:
When evaluating the historic contributions made by different countries to the greenhouse gasses found in Earth's atmosphere, calculations generally go back no further than the year 1840. New research shows that carbon dioxide contributions from the pre-industrial era still have an impact on our climate today.

When evaluating the historic contributions made by different countries to the greenhouse gasses found in Earth's atmosphere, calculations generally go back no further than the year 1840. New research from Carnegie's Julia Pongratz and Ken Caldeira shows that carbon dioxide contributions from the pre-industrial era still have an impact on our climate today. Their work is published in Environmental Research Letters.

Related Articles


The burning of fossil fuels that came with industrialization released massive amounts of carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere, which has caused global warming. But clearing forests and other wild areas for agricultural purposes also contribute to atmospheric carbon dioxide, and that has been happening since before industrialization.

When unmanaged land is cleared for farming, part of the carbon is released immediately into the atmosphere as a result of burning. The rest of the carbon, including that from roots and wood products, releases carbon as the wood decays over years and centuries, meaning that carbon from pre-industrial activities is still being emitted into the atmosphere. Furthermore, a part of carbon dioxide emissions remain in the atmosphere for many centuries, because the ocean and vegetation on land absorb carbon dioxide only slowly over time. As a result, there is a warming effect long after the initial clearing of land.

"The relatively small amounts of carbon dioxide emitted many centuries ago continue to affect atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations and our climate today, though only to a relatively small extent," Pongratz, who is now at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, said. "But looking into the past illustrates that the relatively large amount of carbon dioxide that we are emitting today will continue to have relatively large impacts on the atmosphere and climate for many centuries into the future."

Moreover, the effect of accounting for pre-industrial emissions can have important consequences for the amount of climate change attributed to certain regions. In some regions, such as North America, preindustrial clearing is only a small part of the total carbon picture because such massive quantities have been released by burning fossil fuels. But in other regions, particularly China and India, the ratio of preindustrial to industrial emissions is high.

The world's population increased about five-fold between 800 and 1850 AD and half that growth occurred in China and India. This led to substantial deforestation in the preindustrial era. On the other side of the coin, cumulative post-industrial fossil fuel carbon emissions for these nations are relatively low, only reaching substantial levels in recent years.

Using advanced models, Pongratz and Caldeira determined that accounting for pre-industrial emissions shifts attribution of global temperature from industrialized nations to developing nations by up to 2 to 3 %. For example, the study found that considering emissions from pre-industrial land-use change increases the amount of total global warming that can be attributed to emissions from South Asia (a region that includes India) from 5.1% to 7% -- an increase of 37% in the amount previously attributed to this region. Emissions from North America, Europe, and the former Soviet Union have caused more than half of all global warming, even though fewer people live in those regions combined than live in India alone.

The researchers note that their work is not intended to increase the blame on people living in the developing world today for our current climate problems based on what their ancestors did centuries ago, particularly considering the much larger climate impact being made by modern industrialized nations on a daily basis.

"Accounting systems are not natural facts, but human inventions," Caldeira said. "Once an accounting system is defined, it becomes a matter of scientific investigation to determine what numbers should go in the ledger, but broader questions of who is responsible for what and who owes what to whom are judgments that lie outside the scope of science."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Carnegie Institution. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Julia Pongratz, Ken Caldeira. Attribution of atmospheric CO2and temperature increases to regions: importance of preindustrial land use change. Environmental Research Letters, 2012; 7 (3): 034001 DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/7/3/034001

Cite This Page:

Carnegie Institution. "Pre-industrial emissions still causing temperatures to rise." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 July 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/07/120704021730.htm>.
Carnegie Institution. (2012, July 4). Pre-industrial emissions still causing temperatures to rise. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/07/120704021730.htm
Carnegie Institution. "Pre-industrial emissions still causing temperatures to rise." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/07/120704021730.htm (accessed October 24, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Friday, October 24, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Dances With Wolves in China's Wild West

Dances With Wolves in China's Wild West

AFP (Oct. 23, 2014) One man is on a mission to boost the population of wolves in China's violence-wracked far west. The animal - symbol of the Uighur minority there - is under threat with a massive human resettlement program in the region. Duration: 00:41 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
San Diego Zoo's White Rhinos Provide Hope for the Critically Endangered Species

San Diego Zoo's White Rhinos Provide Hope for the Critically Endangered Species

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Oct. 22, 2014) The pair of rare white northern rhinos bring hope for their species as only six remain in the world. Elly Park reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Trick-or-Treating Banned Because of Polar Bears

Trick-or-Treating Banned Because of Polar Bears

Buzz60 (Oct. 21, 2014) Mother Nature is pulling a trick on the kids of Arviat, Canada. As Mara Montalbano (@maramontalbano) tells us, the effects of global warming caused the town to ban trick-or-treating this Halloween. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Traditional Farming Methods Gaining Ground in Mali

Traditional Farming Methods Gaining Ground in Mali

AFP (Oct. 20, 2014) He is leading a one man agricultural revolution in Mali - Oumar Diatabe uses traditional farming methods to get the most out of his land and is teaching others across the country how to do the same. Duration: 01:44 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins