ISIS Report 19/08/09
O2 Dropping Faster than CO2 Rising
Implications for Climate Change Policies
New research shows oxygen depletion in the atmosphere accelerating since
2003, coinciding with the biofuels boom; climate policies that focus exclusively
on carbon sequestration could be disastrous for all oxygen-breathing organisms
including humans Dr. Mae-Wan
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Threat of oxygen depletion
Mention climate change and everyone thinks
of CO2 increasing in the atmosphere, the greenhouse effect heating
the earth, glaciers melting, rising sea levels, floods, hurricanes, droughts,
and a host of other environmental catastrophes. Climate mitigating policies
are almost all aimed at reducing CO2, by whatever means.
Within the past several years, however, scientists have found that oxygen (O2)
in the atmosphere has been dropping, and at higher rates than just the amount
that goes into the increase of CO2 from burning fossil fuels, some
2 to 4-times as much, and accelerating since 2002-2003 [1-3]. Simultaneously,
oxygen levels in the world’s oceans have also been falling  (see Warming
Oceans Starved of Oxygen, SiS 44).
It is becoming clear that getting rid of CO2 is not enough; oxygen
has its own dynamic and the rapid decline in atmospheric O2 must
also be addressed. Although there is much more O2 than CO2
in the atmosphere - 20.95 percent or 209 460 ppm of O2 compared with
around 380 ppm of CO2 – humans, all mammals, birds, frogs, butterfly,
bees, and other air-breathing life-forms depend on this high level of oxygen
for their well being  Living with Oxygen (SiS
43). In humans, failure of oxygen energy metabolism is the single most important
risk factor for chronic diseases including cancer and death. ‘Oxygen deficiency’
is currently set at 19.5 percent in enclosed spaces for health and safety ,
below that, fainting and death may result.
simultaneous decrease in ocean oxygen not only threatens the survival of aerobic
marine organisms, but is symptomatic of the slow-down in the ocean’s thermohaline
‘conveyor belt’ circulation system that transports heat from the tropics to
the poles, overturns surface layers of into the deep and vice versa, redistributing nutrients and
gases for the ocean biosphere, and regulating rainfall and temperatures on
the landmasses. This dynamical system is highly nonlinear, and small changes
could make it fail altogether, with disastrous runaway effects on the climate
 (Global Warming & then
the Big Freeze, SiS 20). More importantly, it could wipe
out the ocean’s phytoplankton that’s ultimately responsible for splitting
water to regenerate oxygen for the entire biosphere, on land and in the sea
Measuring O2 to better understand the earth’s carbon budget
CO2 records go back more than 50 years , but O2 measurement
in combination with CO2 goes back barely two decades , and is
already giving important information on the size of the carbon sink in the
ocean relative to the land. For one thing, O2
have very different solubility in seawater; while 99
percent of the O2
remains in the atmosphere, 98 percent of the CO2
is in seawater.
are exchanged in different processes on land,
each having a different O2:CO2molar exchange ratio and thus distinguishable from
one another. Fossil fuel combustion has a global average O2:CO2exchange ratio of about 1.4 moles of O2consumed per mole of CO2produced,
whereas land plant photosynthesis generates an average net ratio of about
1.1 moles of O2 for
These ratios can vary over spatial and temporal scales, depending on whether
photosynthesis produces more oxygen than is consumed by respiration, and on
the precise fossil fuel burnt (see later). The linkage between CO2
and O2 is broken, however, at the
air-sea interface, where substantial O2
fluxes may be unaccompanied by fluxes of CO2
and vice versa.
knowing the fossil fuel emissions and the exact value of the exchange ratios,
one can separate the total CO2 uptake into land and ocean components
on timescales of a few years. This has led to estimates of the land and ocean
sinks to be 0.5 and 2.2 GtC/year respectively for the periods 1993 to 2003,
with a fossil fuel increase rate of 6.5 GtC/y . (see Box 1 for details
on the calculations.)
A new atmospheric station has been established on the North Sea oil and gas
production platform F3, 200 km north of the Dutch coast, which measures both
CO2 and O2 continuously using the latest fuel cell and
infrared technologies , and more precise data on sea-air exchanges are anticipated.
Measuring O2 and calculating
land and ocean carbon sinks
is difficult to measure changes in O2
because there is so much of it in the atmosphere compared with CO2.
So a proxy is used instead. Changes are measured as differences in O2/N2
ratios expressed in “per meg” units against the ratio
in a standard mixture kept at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, La
Jolla California in the USA, which pioneered the measurement.
per meg = 106[(O2/N2)sam - (O2/N2)]ref/
difference is used to define O2 concentration:
4.8 per meg are equivalent to 1 ppm (i.e., 1 mmole
O2 per mole of dry air). By making
the assumption that atmospheric N2
concentrations are constant, this definition of O2
concentration can be applied to derive O2
fluxes as follows [9, 10].
An Atmospheric Potential Oxygen (APO) is defined, also in per meg units,
as the sum of oxygen as determined n eq. (1) and the oxygen that went into
producing the CO2 in
APO per meg = D(O2/N2)
+ aB 4.8[CO2]
exchange ratio for land photosynthesis and respiration; and [CO2] is
the concentration of CO2
in the atmosphere. This assumes that variations in APO can only be caused
by air-sea exchanges of O2,
and by combustion of fossil fuels.
uptake of atmospheric CO2,
however, reduces the observed upward trend in atmospheric CO2
concentrations, but has no effect on the observed downward trend in O2/N2
ratios. Thus the global budgets for atmospheric CO2and O2can
be respectively represented by eqs (3) and (4).
= F – O – B
is the globally averaged observed change in atmospheric CO2
is the globally averaged observed change in atmospheric concentration, F
is the source of CO2 emitted
from fossil fuel combustion (and cement manufacture), O is the oceanic CO2 sink, B is the net land biotic
(including biomass burning, landuse change and land biotic uptake); aF
are the global average O2:CO2
exchange ratios for fossil fuels and land biota respectively, and Z is the
net exchange of atmospheric O2 with
the ocean. All except exchange ratios are in units of moles per year.
eqs 2, 3 and 4 gives:
DAPO = (-aF
+ Z (5)
DAPO is the globally averaged
observed change in APO. Eq. 5 is used to obtain the oceanic sink, and then
eq 3 is used to obtain the land biotic sink. This gives less uncertainty,
as APO is less variable than the O2/N2 ratios.
Large decreases in atmospheric oxygen detected
Decrease in atmospheric O2
has been detected in stations around the
world for the past decade, a consistent downward trend that has accelerated
in recent years.
The largest fall in O2
was observed in the study of Swiss research team led by Francesco Valentino
at University of Bern, for data collected at high altitude research stations
in Switzerland and France. The Jungfraujoch (JFJ) station in Switzerland (3
580 m above sea level, 46o 33’N, 7o 50’E) is located
on a mountain crest on the northern edge of the Swiss Alps. The Puy de Dôme
station (1 480 m above sea level, 45o46’N, 2o 58’E)
is situated west of the Alps at the summit of Puy de Dôme.
research team confirmed the general upward trend for atmospheric CO2
and a downward trend in atmospheric O2.
But since 2003 for JFJ, and mid 2002 for at Puy, there is a significant enhancement
of O2 and
compared to previous years. At JFJ, the rate of CO2
increase shifted up from 1.08 ppm (parts per million) for the years 2001-2002
to 2.41 ppm/y for 2003-2006; while the increase in D(O2/N2)
and APO (measures of oxygen concentration, see Box 1) shifted downwards to
greater extents from –2.4 ppm/y and -1.5 ppm/y to -9.5 ppm/y and -6.9 ppm/y
For Puy, CO2 increase changed from 2.43 ppm/y for 2001-2002 to 1.07
ppm/y for 2003-2004, followed by 2.4 ppm/y for the years 2005-2006; while the
changes in D(O2/N2) and APO
were -6.1 ppm/y and -3.7 ppm/y for 2001-2002, to -10.4 ppm/y and -7.6 ppm/y
for the years 2002-2006. Averaged over all years – by removing the trends and
plotting correlations between CO2 and O2, an O2:CO2exchange
ratio of -1.9+0.7 is found for JFJ, and -1.8+0.5 for Puy; both
significantly different from the 1.1 assumed for land photosynthesis and respiration
i.e., 1.1 mole of O2 generated per mole of CO2
fixed, and -1.4 for burning fossil fuels, or 1.4 mole of O2 used
up when one mole of CO2 is produced.
Over time, the O2:CO2exchange ratio for JFJ, which is much less exposed
to local or regional anthropogenic influence because of its elevation and
location, was -2.1+0.1 for the years 2001-2002 and -4.1+0.1
for the years 2003-2006. At Puy, the ratio was -4.2+0.1 for the period
2001-2003, and -7.3+0.1 for 2003-2006. These ratios are completely
out of line with what could be expected from fossil fuels, and other data
indicate that there has been no significant change in fossil fuel emission
rates during the period 2003-2006.
The researchers speculated that the large
decrease in atmospheric oxygen since 2003 could have been the result of oxygen
being taken up by the ocean, either due to a cooling of water in the North
Atlantic, or water moving northwards from the tropic cooling, both of which
would increase the water’s ability to take up more oxygen. However, it would
require unrealistic cooling to account for the change in O2concentration. And all the indications are that the
ocean waters have warmed since records began .
In a second study, atmospheric O2
and CO2 data
collected from two European coastal stations between 2000 and 2005 were analyzed
. Mace Head Ireland (53o20’N
9o54’W, 35 m above sea level), which serves
as the marine background, relatively free from local fossil fuel consumption,
and Station Lutjewad (53o24’N, 6o21’E) on the northern
coast of The Netherlands 30 km to the northwest of the city of Groningen,
which serves as a continental station receiving continental air with northerly
winds. Similar trends were detected. Over the entire period at Lutjewad, CO2 increased
by 1.7+0.2 ppm/y while oxygen decreased at -4.2+0.3 ppm/y; the
corresponding figures for Mace Head were 1.7+0.1 ppm/y and -4.0+0.3
ppm/y. O2 is
decreasing faster than can be accounted for by the rise in CO2.
Furthermore, the decrease is not uniform throughout the entire period; instead
it is much steeper between 2002 and 2005 at both stations, and is not accompanied
by any change in the trend of CO2
increase. This sharp acceleration in the downward trend of atmospheric O2
from 2002-2003 onwards in Ireland and The Netherlands is in accord with the
findings in Switzerland and France . And this cannot be explained by a
realistic increase in fossil fuel use, or oxygen uptake by cooler ocean waters;
if anything, oxygen level in the oceans has also been falling . So where
and what is this oxygen sink that is soaking up oxygen?
Mystery of the oxygen sink
One distinct possibility that has been considered is
that an extra oxygen sink has opened up on land as the result of human activities.
James Randerson at University of California
Irvine was lead author on a report published in 2006  pointing out that
a decrease in atmospheric O2
could result if carbon within the land biosphere becomes more oxidized (sequestering
more oxygen) through disturbance of natural ecosystems. This has changed the
natural land cover, replacing it with plants that effectively remove more
oxygen from the atmosphere.
Atmospheric exchange of O2 with
land ecosystems is commonly expressed in terms of a net carbon flux from the
atmosphere to the ecosystem (Fnet) and the net O2:CO2exchange ratio (Rnet):
dO2/dt = - Rnet Fnet
By convention, positive sign indicates release into
the atmosphere and negative sign sequestered in the land biosphere. The net
rate is really a difference between two processes, one moving from atmosphere
to biosphere, and the other in reverse, from biosphere to atmosphere, so eq.
(6) can be written as follows.
= - (Rab Fab + RbaFba)
where Fab is the atmosphere to biosphere
carbon flux (the same as net primary productivity, NPP), Rab is
the oxidative ratio related to NPP (moles O2 released per mole
CO2 fixed), Fba is the biosphere to atmosphere return
flux (a combination of respiration, fires and other losses), and Rba
is the oxidative ratio related to the return flux (moles O2 consumed
per mole CO2 released).
In an ecosystem at steady state
(in dynamic balance), Fab and Fba will have the same
magnitude. But the carbon in Fba is always offset in time from
newly assimilated carbon in Fab because of carbon storage in the plant, dependent on plant
tissue lifetimes, rates of litter and soil organic matter decomposition, and
so on. Changes in Rab and Rba have the potential to
cause relatively large changes in atmospheric O2, basically because
of the time delays between fixation and the return flux due to carbon storage.
The longer the carbon storage (turnover) time, the larger the effective offset
between Fab and Fba; so O2 is consumed at
a slower rate, and more of it remains in the atmosphere
Randerson and colleagues hypothesize that
increasing levels of disturbance across natural ecosystems in recent decades
has decreased Rab. This includes wide-spread deforestation and
replacement of woody vegetation with pastures and crops in the tropics, an
increase in fire activity and tree mortality and increasing the abundance
of deciduous tree species and herbaceous plants in the boreal (northern) regions.
Globally, this includes an increase in invasive species and increased disturbance
of agricultural soils by plowing and grazing during the 20th century.
All these activities increase the oxidation state of carbon in plant and soil
organic matter. The increases in oxygen content of the resultant biomass causes
a small sink for atmospheric O2 that has not been accounted for
in atmospheric budgets.
Within a plant, lipids and lignin compounds
have carbon that is more reduced,
i.e., with more hydrogen and less oxygen; they have and large R values of
1.37 and 1.14 respectively, and are energetically more costly to build than
compounds such as cellulose and starch, which have less hydrogen, more oxygen,
and R value of 1.0. Thus, the expansion of agriculture and grazing during
the 20th century has probably caused a decrease in the oxidative
ratio of the plant biomass within these disturbed ecosystems. Using several
simple models, the researchers showed that, indeed, small changes in Rab
could lead to substantial decreases in atmospheric O2.
research team has raised the possibility that reactive nitrogen produced in
making artificial fertilizers for agriculture could also be tying up more
oxygen in plant tissue, soil organic matter and oceans in the form of nitrates
The importance of oxygen accounting
in climate policies
Change in land use, and increased oxidation of nitrogen
could explain the long term steady decline in atmospheric O2, and
may well also account for the sharp acceleration of the downward trend since
2002 and 2003.
These years happen to coincide
with record rates of deforestation. In Brazil, 10 000 square miles were lost
mainly to pasture land, soybean plantations and illegal logging, a 40 percent
rise over the previous year . Massive deforestation has continued in the
Amazon and elsewhere, spurred by the biofuels boom ; it is estimated that
nearly 40 000 ha of the world’s forests are vanishing every day.
The crucial role of forests
and phytoplankton  in oxygenating the earth shows how urgent it is to take
oxygen accounting seriously in climate policies. Reductionist accounting for
CO2 alone is insufficient, and even grossly misleading and dangerous.
A case in point is the proposal of the International Biochar Initiative (IBI).
‘Biochar’ is charcoal produced to be buried in the soil that IBI has been promoting
worldwide over the past several years  as a means of sequestering carbon
from the atmosphere to save the climate and enhance soil fertility. It involves
planting fast growing tree and various other crops on hundreds of millions of
hectares of ‘spare land’ mostly in developing countries, to be harvested and
turned into charcoal in a process that could produce crude oil and gases as
low grade fuels. There are many excellent arguments against this initiative
, but the most decisive is that it will certainly further accelerate deforestation
and destruction of other natural ecosystems (identified as ‘spare land’). In
the process, it could precipitate an oxygen crisis from which we would never
recover  (Beware
the Biochar Initiative, SiS 44).
There are 43 comments on this article so far. Add your comment
|Su Comment left 21st August 2009 10:10:12|
Tried locating the Green Farm 2 but couldn't find it, could you perhaps send me a link?
|mae-wan ho Comment left 21st August 2009 10:10:16|
It is Dream Farm 2, not Green Farm. here is one link, but there are others:
|Julian Rose Comment left 29th August 2009 13:01:16|
What I think we can all agree upon is the fact that 'grand schemes' (like biochar, ocean dumping of iron chips and reverse osmosis sea funnels) are, as Einstein once pointed out 'using the same kind of thinking that produced the problem in the first place'.
We have to change that way of thinking all together and move into a fourth dimensional understanding of the subtle interrelationship that exists between all living matter - of which we are also a part.
Eve Balfour (a soil scientist) pointed out back in 1947, that the robust natural 'health' of man and the soil depended upon a perpetuation of the dynamic cyclic interrelationship and subtle symbiosis of soil, plant, animal and man. Break or upset this chain at any one point and the other three dimensions will be thrown out of line.
We can only respect this simple wisdom by refinding our (human's) place in nature and re-attuning ourselves to the universal forces that gave birth to us in the first place. All other approaches will only serve to further perpetuate the problem.
|James A Robey Comment left 30th August 2009 18:06:17|
Interestingly, one of the most outspoken early proponents of concern over dropping O2 levels was Stanley Meyer, who developed an efficient way to convert water into hydrogen fuel. He proposed that an immediate conversion of carbon fueled cars, trucks, etc., to hydrogen fuel made from water would attend this problem. On page 108 of the book "Water Car - How to Turn Water into Hydrogen Fuel!" is a copy of page 2 of his US Patent # 4,936,961. You will notice on lines 22-23 of this patent reference that he makes mention of "other gases...formerly dissolved within the water..." One of these is O2, which means that when you convert water to fuel and burn it, a small amount of excess O2 is released to the atmosphere! Now multiply that times the number of fuel burning devices worldwide. Get the picture?
|Gary Kirkland Comment left 31st August 2009 10:10:31|
I would really like to see the EPA-OBD II Annual Vehicle Emissions Inspection Law closely examined, and changed.As it stands right now, it is entirely possible for any Gasoline powered Vehicle, from 1996 to the present, to fail it's Emissions Inspection, for not emitting enough polluting Exhaust Emissions ! All such Vehicles have on board Oxygen [O2] Exhaust Sensors.These O2 Sensors are set up to detect a level of polluting Exhaust Emissions that would indicate that Gasoline is being consumed by an Engine at 14.7 parts of Air to 1 part of Fuel.If there is a low level of Oxygen, and a high level of Pollution, a Vehicle will fail it's Emissions Inspection, as well it should.But, Gasoline can be safely vaporized into a mixture that is 100 parts of Air to 1 part of Fuel.With this, even the largest SUV could easily get 50 + MPG, and emit a fraction of the Emissions of a conventional 14.7/1 Fuel System, with an increase in Power, and much longer Engine life.I'm not the first to figure this out.Far from it ! For proof, do a search on [the late] Tom Ogle, and Charles Nelson Pogue.Then, go to http://energy21.freeservers.com/bookrep.html, and scan down the page to just before the update.But, even if it is not to be believed that Fuel Vaporization is entirely possible, it's illegal to even attempt to do so, with any Vehicle, 13 years old, or newer.O2 Sensors are set up to detect that Fuel is being consumed at 14.7/1. A mixture of 100 / 1 will not emit enough Polluting Exhaust Emissions to register on O2 Sensors.When such a Vehicle is connected to an OBD II Emissions Inspection Analyzer, an O2 Sensor Failure Code will be generated, which will result in a failed Emissions Inspection.O2 Sensor Exemptions are permitted for Vehicles that have been legally converted to operate on Natural Gas, Propane, or Hydrogen, and are Registered as such.But not for vaporized Gasoline.Thus, it is entirely possible, under this EPA-OBD II Vehicle Emissions Inspection Law, for any Gasoline powered Vehicle, 13 years old, or newer, to fail it's Emissions Test, for not emitting enough polluting Exhaust Emissions ! As long as this insane 14.7/1 Law that only benefits Big Oil remains in effect, the only way to make Vehicles more "efficient" will be to make them lighter, and smaller.This has got to change ! I have asked the Question many times ; "Why is it illegal for any Gasoline powered Vehicle, 13 Years old, or newer, to emit too little polluting Exhaust Emissions"? So far, not one Big Oil Executive, Politician, or Concerned Environmentalist can, or will answer the Question.Those that have replied can't seem to come up with an Answer either.Can you ?
|Erich J. Knight Comment left 4th September 2009 06:06:44|
I agree with Ken,
Also,This person totally misrepresents Biochar soil systems.
Biochar viewed as soil Infrastructure; The old saw;
"Feed the Soil Not the Plants" becomes;
"Feed, Cloth and House the Soil, utilities included !".
Free Carbon Condominiums with carboxyl group fats in the pantry and hydroxyl alcohol in the mini bar.
Build it and the Wee-Beasties will come.
Microbes like to sit down when they eat.
By setting this table we expand husbandry to whole new orders & Kingdoms of life.
It's hard for most to revere microbes and fungus, but from our toes to our gums (onward), their balanced ecology is our health. The greater earth and soils are just as dependent, at much longer time scales. Our farming for over 10,000 years has been responsible for 2/3rds of our excess greenhouse gases. This soil carbon, converted to carbon dioxide, Methane & Nitrous oxide began a slow stable warming that now accelerates with burning of fossil fuel. Agriculture allowed our cultural accent and Agriculture will now prevent our descent.
Wise Land management; Organic farming and afforestation can build back our soil carbon,
Biochar allows the soil food web to build much more recalcitrant organic carbon, ( living biomass & Glomalins) in addition to the carbon in the biochar.
Another significant aspect of bichar and aerosols are the low cost ($3) Biomass cook stoves that produce char but no respiratory disease. http://terrapretapot.org/ and village level systems http://biocharfund.org/ with the Congo Basin Forest
Fund (CBFF). The Biochar Fund recently won $300K for these systems citing these priorities;
(1) Hunger amongst the world's poorest people, the subsistence farmers of Sub-Saharan Africa,
(2) Deforestation resulting from a reliance on slash-and-burn farming,
(3) Energy poverty and a lack of access to clean, renewable energy, and
(4) Climate change.
Carbon to the Soil, the only ubiquitous and economic place to put it.
|Mae-Wan Ho Comment left 4th September 2009 06:06:20|
Ken, Unfortunately, the acid ocean is interfering severely with deposition of CaCO3 by calcifying organisms(see Shutting Down the Oceans Act 1. Acid Oceans).
As for Biochar, Eric, look out for Beware the Biochar Initiative on Monday.
|Mae-Wan Comment left 20th August 2009 07:07:03|
Earl Davis, why yes, this possibility has been raised in the earlier article Warming Oceans Starved of Oxygen.
|Helen Thornton-Mutiso Comment left 20th August 2009 07:07:49|
In Kenya we are starting to make bio-fuels from the seeds of Indigenous Hardwood TREES, Croton megalocarpus and calodendrum capenses. A mature Croton tree drops about a tonne of seed a year, and they are already all over the country. A tree strated producing seed in year three... Each tree can give a revenue of around $50 per year to a rural farmer. This helps more trees to be planted and protected. BioFuels themselves are not bad, only when they are made from agricultural crops or Jatropha....
|andré Comment left 19th August 2009 15:03:25|
it is time to think systematically instead of our reductionistic way of thinking.......
|Tom Blakeslee Comment left 19th August 2009 17:05:47|
Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) may be a disaster for Oxygen becaise more Oxygen than carbon is buried when CO2 is sequestered. The US is spending billions to develop this disastrous approach that sequesters twice as much oxygen as carbon.
|Ninette Comment left 19th August 2009 16:04:07|
A lack of o2, so is that why people have been so easily dupped into thinking change is something to get from a political party agenda--Hello wake up and breath folks change comes from within...
|mindor Comment left 19th August 2009 17:05:33|
How will this trend affect cabin O2 tensions when at 35,00 to 40,000 feet?
Do the aircraft that daily travel these circumpolar route every keep records?
|Jon Anderholm Comment left 19th August 2009 17:05:12|
A definite reason to reforest the planet...
Restoration of the Earth's forest cover...
Wouldn't this address this O2 dilemma???
|Mae-Wan Ho Comment left 19th August 2009 17:05:13|
andre, spot on. ISIS is dedicated to promoting holistic joined up thinking.
Tom Blakeslee, that's a good point, but there is no evidence the CO2 will stay stored, and more fossil fuels will be burnt, which is also bad for oxygen,
Mindor, cabin O2 pressure should not be affected, but it may be kept too low anyways
Jon Anderson, Yes, but we have to firmly reject monoculture forest plantations or fast growing softwoods
|Earl Davis Comment left 19th August 2009 18:06:11|
I once wrote a script for a disaster type movie about a Gaia catastrophe cascade (in an effort to get the positive Gaia science into general circulation). It began with a generator shutting down at an Antarctic research station for lack of oxygen - the reason being a massive die-off of ocean phytoplankton due to combination of uv increase (from ozone hole) and ocean acidification. Any chance some real phytoplankton die-off might be responsible now? And are there any chart projections of decreasing o2 rates as with co2?
|Donald Leenknegt Comment left 26th August 2009 16:04:55|
Carbon is the element from which life, and ultimately the Earth's life support system, spiralled into existence. If Carbon is the element of life, Photosynthesis is the engine of life. And there is no other real source of atmospheric oxygen than Photosynthesis, "Photosynthesis is the source of all the oxygen in the atmosphere." It was Photosynthesis which created the Earth's climate. Without Photosynthesis there wouldn't be a climate on Earth - the Earth would be dead like Venus and Mars. Photosynthesis is the crucial element in the Earth's life support system and the key means of stabilizing the Earth's climate.
Without Carbon, there would be no Photosynthesis, but without Photosynthesis there would be: no oxygen in the atmosphere, no stratospheric ozone layer, no hydrogen, no water, no oceans, no continents, no Carbon burial, no Carboniferous rock formations, no layers of coal, nor oil deposits, no Plants or Trees, no food, no soils, no Wildlife habitats, no Wildlife, no climate, and no stable climate. In sum, no life.
Satellite measurements have shown that in the last 20 years biomass on earth has increased with 6%, probably due to the increased carbon content of the atmosphere. Life was most prolific in the distant past when there was 5 to 10 times as much CO2 in the atmosphere as now, with very little influence on the temperature of the planet. A little bit more CO2 in the atmosphere can not be the cause or the problem we are facing. So, I agree: let us look for other causes linked to the human activities on this green planet earth.
|Su Kahumbu Comment left 20th August 2009 13:01:50|
Sadly Mae, your suggestion of 'firmly rejecting monoculture forest plantations or fast growing softwoods'would really only be practical in a developed nation that is not dependent on charcoal as a fuel source.
In Kenya we are currently struggling with failed rains, no water in the dams, thus no hydro electricity. This has lead to a national rationing of electricity that is crippling the country . The cause.........decimation of our forests.
Everywhere you turn people are being told to plant trees, literally any type of trees. Naturally folk will choose the quickest growing and most readily available which is probably blue gum. (and of course cheapest)
In its simplistic form we are planting to get water and fire wood (and funnily enough, electricity poles) .
Will poverty stricken nations ever be convinced to plant slower growing less available and probably more expensive trees because of the complexities between o2 and co2 levels? Somehow I doubt it. Ironically, we would need to be in some sort of 'comfort zone' before this would be a priority. And even more ironically the 'comfort zone' will probably never become a reality .
|Mae-Wan Ho Comment left 20th August 2009 13:01:20|
Su Kahumbu, in a forth-coming report, we shall present evidence that soot from making and burning charcoal contributes as much to global warming as greenhouse gases, and there are many solutions to that, by providing better stoves and most of all by using anaerobic digestion to generate methane that's the cleanest fuel around. Please look up "Dream Farm 2" on this site. All these should be part of the climate negotiations, free technology transfer and clean, green development for developing countries. My name is Mae-Wan, not Mae.
|Pierre-Louis Lemercier Comment left 21st August 2009 09:09:38|
And soon, I believe that we will find many more missing/overlooked links in a near future.
It is my humble opinion that the whole system
has not been designed on the reality of a life cycle, wherein people, who are parts and parcels of the environment, hence depend on it, know
it and therefore should have a say.
A system wherein everything is linked and important (not only the CO2
issue), nothing is lost but everything transformed (output from one
side becoming input to another side -like sustainable amount of CO2
recycled into sugar through photosynthesis) to form a perfect sustainable cycle.
The CC response is being presently designed in the ether by people who lost tough with the real nature of a sustainable environment and some
who just use this opportunity to create useful loopholes. Hence they just work on the GHG air content (as GHG alone is the problem) outside
its framework, which is the life cycle, hence overlooking many important intervenient and factors in the big environmental equation.
As the latter could be simplified to the point that X CO2 amount reduced=saved planet while this is never going to happen if the whole unsustainable present system is not reviewed, scale down into a low carbon system, which can fit again into the environmental cycle.
The only way to succeed this is to see the big picture, simplify the “recovery system” by just making (by whatever ways) people/companies
decrease their unsustainable inputs as well as outputs (not only GHG). But certainly not allow them to burry their mess and/orpay their way
out. Or imagine unsustainable system to pull energy, water, mineral, food and other resources from the other side of the world just to keep their comfort, their easy virtual ways to make big bugs and avoid having to depend on their own local resources.
Narrow concepts promote bad projects. The CDM funding f.e will finance a huge monoplantation of eukalyptus in DRC. Yes we have to move fast as people are hungry but we could, with a broader vision remain flexible and also replant on the side local and slow glowing trees.
In short, our tunnel vision is killing us as it prevents us to see the big picture and recognize the reality and the condition of our survival. Yes this is a tall order now that we went that far badly but I am don’t think we have any other alternatives. This will require a lengthy re adaptation to a world with little or no petrol, which may not necessarily be painful if it is initiated rapidly (as the Transition Culture movement suggests).
Regards PL Lemercier – Renewable Energy Centre – Port Elizabeth
|Ben Comment left 22nd August 2009 06:06:58|
Pardon me, but I seem to be missing something. O2 is apparently dropping at a rate of less than 10 ppm per year. This means after 1,000 years at this rate, we will have reduced Oxygen by a single percent. This is, of course, ignoring that there aren't that many fossil fuels in the world! It also ignores the fact that plants would grow exceptionally well in an atmosphere with 50 times the CO2 that they evolved in.
I have rarely seen such a sophomoric analysis. Very detailed, but leaving out small and extremely basic facts that show the problems are orders of magnitude too small to have effects on ANYTHING.
|Mae-Wan Ho Comment left 22nd August 2009 06:06:43|
Ben, you are missing something. First, O2 is there principally because of carbon storage time,its rate of drop currently is ~10 ppm, but it could well swing further downwards. Second if increase in CO2 is so good for plant growth it could have compensated for O2 falling, but it hasn't. There is also evidence that increase in CO2 does not translate into increase in carbon fixation; instead it could merely speed up the carbon cycle, making forests and other ecosystems less effective in sequestering carbon, thereby making things worse (see previous article More CO2 Could Mean Less Biodiversity and Worse, http://www.i-sis.org.uk/LOG7.php). Speeding up the carbon cycle in the current context is certainly decreasing the carbon storage time. The devil is in the detail and the connections.
|Donald Patriquin Comment left 22nd August 2009 18:06:33|
So why do we not see this vital information in the headlines of our daily newspapers? Are we lemmings? Where is the interface between science and politics, between scientists & politicians?
Keep speaking out - but louder!!!
|Tim Loncarich Comment left 24th August 2009 18:06:42|
Since most deforestation is done to grow grain to feed to animals which are fed to humans wouldn't it make sense to switch to a healthier plant-based diet and reforest the land no longer needed?
Since humans don't require meat in their diet to be healthy, adopting a vegan diet is one quick and easy solution anyone can put into action. It costs nothing and the benefits are immediate.
|Ken Griffith Comment left 26th August 2009 07:07:07|
The suggestion that faster growing plants lock up oxygen from the atmosphere is amazingly ignorant.
In photosynthesis water molecules, H2O, are split, the hydrogen is joined to the CO2 from the air and the excess O2 is released. This increases O2 in the air.
In respiration, the Oxygen is rejoined with hydrogen, forming water. Therefore increase in plant biomass locks up hydrogen derived from WATER, and increases atmospheric O2.
Plants take up water not O2!
"In the process, it could precipitate an oxygen crisis from which we would never recover."
Before making such wild claims, one should measure the amount of hydrocarbons in the biosphere and compare it to the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere.
If 100% of the world's biomass were to be oxidized in one second, it would use less than 1% of the oxygen from the atmosphere, because there isn't very much biomass compared to Oxygen.
Some more realistic oxygen sinks would be:
A. Release of un-oxidized iron from the earth and groundwater, oxidizes on contact with air and locks up oxygen in the form of rust.
B. A pathway where O2 -> respired with fossil fuel -> C02 -> CO2 dissolves in Seawater and precipitates as CaCO3. Now this is a pathway where Oxygen in the air gets locked up as limestone through biological means.
So a more realistic correlation to look for would be precipitation rates of CaCO3 in seawater.
Whoever wrote this article proves that academic degrees are not worth the paper they are printed on!
|Ken Griffith Comment left 26th August 2009 07:07:34|
Correction to my last comment:
The pathway of CO2 dissolving in seawater and precipitating as CaCO3 does not convert any O2 from the air into CO2.
However, the respiration side of that reaction, which combines O2 with the hydrogen in the starchy plant fuel, produces water vapor. Therefore this pathway leads to conversion of atmospheric oxygen to water.
If the carbon dioxide is locked up in limestone or other deep storage, then there has been a net loss of atmospheric oxygen converted to water.
The only way to reverse this process is to introduce new carbon into the atmosphere as CO2 to enable photosynthesis. This new carbon comes from surface erosion of limestone and fossil fuel bearing rocks.
Some think burning Coal reduces O2 because it is 95% Carbon. This is true. However, at some time in the past coal was biomass, so the oxygen was released when the coal was formed. This oxygen has usually combined with other elements such as sulfur so that when mining coal carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide must be vented from the mine. Therefore when coal is returned to the biosphere through mining or through natural erosion, the oxygen that was originally in the plant material has also been re-introduced to the atmosphere. This is also true of natural gas, where methane is usually found with sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide gas.
Carbon dioxide is the "substrate" on which photosynthesis and respiration occur, splitting water in photosynthesis and recombining it in respiration.
Therefore to reduce oxygen in the atmosphere all you have to do is to steadily remove carbon dioxide - not because of the O2 in carbon dioxide, but because of the O2 that is now locked up as H2O.
Clearly, there is not enough carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to produce a major effect. Plant life would starve of CO2 before the oxygen concentration of the atmosphere declined by even 0.5%.
However, the natural release of iron from the earth, forming iron oxide, is a process that is only reversible by mankind (producing iron from ore), and possibly by biological activity.
Therefore, iron released from groundwater, and calcium carbonate precipitation in seawater, are the most likely causes of the small oxygen decrease you speak of here.
However, the human production of metal from ore reverses the process.
So the question is whether the production of metal releases oxygen in an amount similar to the amount being locked up by the two oxygen sinks listed above.
The idea that rapidly growing plant-mass locks up oxygen is completely wrong. I would be very embarrassed if I had published a paper like this.
|Tim Watson Comment left 20th October 2009 22:10:16|
From a layman's perspective, the less global bio-mass production, the less oxygen...
|Patruick Foster Comment left 3rd July 2010 06:06:52|
My concern was over a recent flight on BA when symptoms of hypoxia developed while flying at 39,000 feet (cabin display)over Atlantic. I understand that cabin air circulation uses external air compressed to 8,000 ft equivalent pressure to raise oxygen partial pressure to an acceptable level which should be routinely checked by flight crew (with routinely calibrated meter?). Does a decline in atmospheric oxygen tension mean that this standard practice be modified?
|Mae-Wan Comment left 8th July 2010 10:10:57|
Hi Patrick, You raise a very important point. Commercial jets are supposed to be pressurised to an altitufe of 5000 to 8000 ft, reducing oxygen pressure by 1/6 from 150 to 125 Torr. This greatly exceeds the safety limit of 19.5 percent oxygen partial pressure in confined spaces at sea level. Recently, I passed out briefly from hypoxia on a transAtlantic flight. The air stewardess (ex-nurse) who attended to me said passengers are passing out on average every one in ten flights.
Oxygen partial pressure has not decreased to that extent yet. But the safety limit on commercial jets is clearly inadequate.
|oneshotal Comment left 7th April 2010 09:09:13|
interesting article. no doubt it will generate debates for years before anything is done.
|Raimund J. Krob Comment left 23rd February 2011 22:10:22|
I have 4 comments, one for each leg of the cat :)
I think it would be good thesis material for an Ecology-Major university student to develop an oxygen "bank book" for Earth, showing all the ways in which atmospheric oxygen is being liberated/created ongoing ("account deposits") and all the ways in which oxygen is being locked-up/depleted ongoing ("account withdrawals"), and the running total amount of oxygen in the atmosphere ("account balance").
I suspect that such an exercise would show that we are depleting atmospheric oxygen faster than the rate at which it is being replenished.
Earth's atmosphere contains approximately 79% gaseous nitrogen, 20% gaseous oxygen, and 1% all other gases. At sea level, this mixture of gases (commonly called air) exerts a combined pressure on us of approximately 14.7 pounds per square inch (or 1 ATM or 1 BAR). Of this, approximately 2.9 lbs per square inch (.2 ATM or .2 BAR) is due to oxygen. In a mixture of gases, the portion of the total pressure exerted by a single gas is referred to as the "partial pressure" of that gas. The generally accepted minimum partial pressure of oxygen required to sustain human life is 1.9 pounds per square inch (.13 ATM or .13 BAR). This means that it is in our best interest (pardon the pun in reference to comment #1) to ensure that we do not allow the partial pressure of oxygen in our atmosphere to drop more than 1 pound per square inch (or .07 ATM or .07 BAR) from the level it is at today. Interesting side-note: Today the maximum altitude humans can exist for extended periods of time is approximately 16,000' / 5,000m, but that is only for individuals whose bodies have adapted to the extremely low partial pressure of oxygen by creating more red blood cells. If atmospheric oxygen decreases, then the maximum altitude where humans can live will decrease as well. And if that trend continues unabated, then the last living mammals on the planet will only be able to get enough oxygen to breathe at or near sea level.
Much of what we as humans burn for energy is carbon (or hydro-carbon) based. The basic chemical process for combustion of carbon involves "igniting" one free carbon atom (atomic mass of ~12) with two free oxygen atoms (molecular mass of 2 x ~16 = ~32) creating a carbon dioxide molecule (molecular mass of ~44), and releasing the resulting difference in entropy as heat energy. In other words, every time we burn 1 ton of carbon, we consume almost 3 tons of oxygen and create almost 4 tons of carbon dioxide, and a large quantity of heat energy. Carbon dioxide is considered to be a greenhouse gas and it contributes to global warming and ocean acidification, among other problems, but let's not lose sight of all the life-giving oxygen that's also locked up in that gas.
So, rather than focus our energies on sequestering carbon dioxide in places where we can never recover it, I suggest we instead focus those same energies on figuring out how to cleanly convert carbon dioxide back to its constituent atoms of carbon and molecules of free oxygen.
We already know this is possible because plants have been doing this for millions of years, absorbing the sun's energy by day and then using chlorophyll and process called photosynthesis to separate the carbon from the oxygen, after which they use the carbon to make more plants and "exhale" the oxygen (a waste product)at night.
Surely if plants can do it, then we can figure out a way to do it too? (Even if it means planting more trees until we figure out how to :)
I don't know who said it first, but I really like the saying "the way we look at a problem IS the problem". Many of our reactions to problems we have caused, appear at first glance to fix the problem, but then with the passage of time only wind up making more problems.
I think we need to stop trying to hide the problems we have caused, and start bringing them out into the sunlight (literally) and undoing the damage we have caused.
My biggest wish in life is to contribute in some small way to that kind of undoing of damage to the world we all live in.
|Brent Boone Comment left 6th May 2011 14:02:29|
Phytoplankton which creates over 50%of our oxygen.40% has died . the ph of our planets waters has dropped from 8.0 to 7.8-- the die off of phytoplankton is increasing in rate. Coupled with the transition from rainforest to grazing lands, numbering in the millions of hectares and the great die off of forests in russia and canada, along with the demise of jungle for the plantings for palm oil etc etc--we will within the next ten years be only producing a small fraction of O2 that the earth is producing now. like how our government robbed social security for so many years and now it's running out--except you don't recover from oxygen deprivation.
|michael e branum Comment left 11th December 2011 13:01:46|
Darvaz Pit escalating oxygen depletion,earth may combat low oxygen levels with mini ice ages
|michael e branum Comment left 8th January 2012 22:10:55|
ocean oxygen levels have been falling ever since Darvaz Pit was ignited,backfill darvaz pit the worlds largest oxygen consumer
|Bhaskar Malimodogula Comment left 4th March 2012 07:07:06|
Carbon in atmosphere is only 800 billion tons at 390 ppm.
Atmosphere is about 21 % Oxygen, about 400,000 Billion tons.
ALL this is due to photosynthesis.
The corresponding amount of Carbon captured during photosynthesis is - 150000 billion tons, this would be on land and in water.
Where is all this Carbon ?
|Larry Roberts Comment left 25th March 2012 07:07:17|
Thank you Ninette, intelligence and foresight from almost 2 1/2 years ago. That is more time than since I woke up to our reality. And yes Jon Anderholm, it probably would help. But I respectfully suggest, our two biggest obstacles are: NIMBY (our human animal survival instinct counter-reaction resistance to change), and (lack of) 'political will' - aka 'balls', to tell us what we don't want to hear. All the technical discussion and theories, will continue to be repressed to the level of just so much 'verbal diarrhea', without political action. Everyone, like Mae-Wan Ho who has given so much of themselves to all this work to make the change to 'green', should be enraged at the lack of political action. If politics doesn't continue to evolve, as the 'Occupiers' are proposing and demonstrating a new model of, and as advocacy groups are showing some initial success, then, in addition to we humans re-involving ourselves in 'Participatory Democracy' to force our current political systems into action, we may have to make politicians obsolete, by following the Occupier's lead, and do as Iceland already is - government by 'crowd-sourcing' and referendum, and make changes ourselves, to save ourselves. All of our current problems come from what 'Big Business' (Big Money - the 1%) give us as choices to buy, do or use, and all that is required to give us these limited choices. And as Su Kahumbu in Kenya points out, we need "to plant trees, literally any kind of trees". As Brent Boone illustrates our problems, I apologize for my ignorance, for the part I have contributed to our problems. I now try to both make amends by trying to live a better example, and do my part to help, and wish Good luck to our kids and grandkids.
|Hermes Trismegistus Comment left 24th August 2012 11:11:20|
The Native Americans warned modern white men colonists not to cut all the trees down, pollute our waterways etc., to respect our Earth as a living entity of which we are a part of.
This Ancient Wisdom is common sense.
In Australia we now have a "CARBON" TAX (The IMF / WORLD BANK / ILLUMINATI / NEW WORLD ORDER / ONE WORLD GOVERNMENT'S source for revenue raising by the ELITE to impoverish the masses, whilst controlling all manner of wealth, power, energy, food production etc.)
THE REAL ISSUE SHOULD BE NOT A CARBON TAX, BUT AN "OXYGEN" TAX, paid by the multi- national corporations cutting down all the OXYGEN PRODUCING TREES AND FORESTS. Considering the OXYGEN production by mature trees, quantification of their life sustaining output, should be measured and then for every mature tree cut down determine how many new tree seedlings need to be planted to recover the losses from present and past deforestation of these OXYGEN PRODUCING MATURE TREES.
Meantime, much research and effort needs to be fast tracked to allow 'seeding' of other planets and moons in our solar system to support communities from our over populated Planet Earth.
|Haris Hukic Comment left 18th November 2012 14:02:55|
After teaching in elementary school for last 15 years and following climate changes in a free time, I am wondering if there is a job for me in research and measurement of this vital data for our living planet. I don't want to get rich, I just want to do something meaningful for the world. If someone can help, I would appreciate. I am willing to relocate anywhere. I am currently in USA.
|kirby van horn Comment left 3rd February 2013 23:11:25|
One thing that most people are missing in the o2 discussion is the impact of aircraft jet engines running in the upper atmosphere. As a retired airline captain, I can assure you that jet aircraft are responsible for burning huge amounts of oxygen every day. I have heard from reliable industry sources that one Airbus A380 flight across the Atlantic burns more oxygen than the whole human race uses in a 24 hour long day. It scares me to death!!!!
|Jack Mosel Comment left 24th February 2013 09:09:57|
It's a question of balance... We're overfed and out of balance.
Lake restoration and re-establishing beneficial microbial communities within the aquatic eco-systems is the ONLY way forward...
Question: How do you create Oxygen? ...
How do you create Photosynthesis?
Answer: Diatoms!!! Responsible for 30% of the CO2 Sequestration from atmosphere and PROVIDES 40% of the O2 (Oxygen) we breath...
We have proven we can bloom Diatoms with Biogenic silica fertilization (www.lake-savers.com)... This is huge. In fact its a game changer.
www.lake-savers.com (I love your work!)
|Catriona MacGregor Comment left 6th July 2013 08:08:18|
We must "partner" with plants to solve our atmospheric challenges caused by greenhouse gases, reduction of oxygen due to ocean acidification, and we MUST stop geo-engineering which is taking place globally - in an attempt to solve global warming artificially by pumping the skies with heavy metals like aluminum etc....
This is poisoning our soils and weakening trees and plants globally and we are seeing now - not just loss of trees from burning, forest fires, etc, and reduction in plankton - BUT - we are multiplying the harmful impacts to plant life through this terrible government program. It must be shut down and we must work with NATURAL PROCESSES _ ie planting trees and plants, protecting and reinforcing soils, switching to bio-fuels and solar, etc etc... The plants made our atmosphere - we MUST work with the amazing photosynthetic NATURAL capacity of plants to help heal the planet's atmospheric imbalance...
|Tina Dickey Comment left 13th February 2014 08:08:16|
O2 depletion causes Cerebral hypoxia: Mild symptoms include difficulties with complex learning tasks and reductions in short-term memory. If oxygen deprivation continues, cognitive disturbances and decreased motor control will result.
|gpac Comment left 13th February 2014 21:09:20|
Does anyone have a link for the new sat data on the Amazon.Its an article on African Diatoms in Dust storms & how it fertilizes the Rainforest, that the Amazon actually consumes most of the Oxygen it produces?It's a very interesting story Thx
PS-Are people getting Dumber?-I think the the evidence is already showing that :(Just watch J Springer for 2 minutes