Friday, November 13, 2009

Blame It on the Volcano

dsc00696 Louise Gray at the Telegraph (U.K.) clears it all up for us:

Professor Ian Plimer, a geologist from Adelaide University, argues that a recent rise in temperature around the world is caused by solar cycles and other "extra terrestrial" forces.

Extra terrestrial? That sounds like fun. But it turns out Professor Plimer has a specific villain in mind here and it’s not extra-terrestrial:

"We cannot stop carbon emissions because most of them come from volcanoes," he said. "It is a normal element cycled around in the earth and my science, which is looking back in time, is saying we have had a planet that has been a green, warm wet planet 80 per cent of the time. We have had huge climate change in the past and to think the very slight variations we measure today are the result of our life - we really have to put ice blocks in our drinks."

Whew! Good to know. Hey, wait – volcanoes? They’ve been around for a pretty long time – we’ve seen them in pictures with dinosaurs – so surely they’ve been doing volcano-like things over the epochs. We took a look over at the U.S. Geological Survey. Here’s what it says about volcanoes and gaseous emissions:

Scientists have calculated that volcanoes emit between about 130-230 million tonnes (145-255 million tons) of CO2 into the atmosphere every year (Gerlach, 1999, 1991). This estimate includes both subaerial and submarine volcanoes, about in equal amounts. Emissions of CO2 by human activities, including fossil fuel burning, cement production, and gas flaring, amount to about 27 billion tonnes per year (30 billion tons) [ ( Marland, et al., 2006).

All right, so 255 million tons for volcanoes, 30 billion tons for human activity. In fairness, volcanoes also throw out SO2 – think acid raid – but in any event, Professor Plimes’ volcano theory seems to depend on people not visiting the USGS or their national equivalent. This is odd, since Professor Plimer, trained as a mineralogist, might be someone to make an interesting argument involving volcanoes.

In our reading, we found that Guardian writer George Monbiat has engaged Plimer’s climate change work for awhile, not usually to Plimer’s benefit. Start here for that and then search for Plimer for a lot more.

Now, we’re always reluctant to say that the Plimers of the world are 100% wrong and the Monbiats are 100% right. As say, Galileo showed, you can be a severe outlier – and right. But if the arguments on one side are notably fact-free, that’s a problem and throws credibility into doubt. It’s really a risk on either side of a debate, but this time, the burden of proof is on Ian Plimer.

Advice from personal experience: If you overdo the vinegar in your tabletop volcano, you’ll get to watch your mother turn into a living volcano – and not a notably benign one either.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a worthwhile subject for a Blue Ribbon Panel to study... oh wait, they're still solving the spent fuel issue... but where exactly did Chu's Blue Ribbon Panel run off to? I'll get right on that after I get back to whatever that McChrystal guy wanted...