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Long-Term Use of Fossil Fuels Could Raise Earth Temperature by 8º C

LLNL model shows a mean surface temperature increase to 7.8°C by 2300, with spikes in polar regions.

According to a recent modelling and simulation performed by scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, business-as-usual consumption of fossil fuels for the next few centuries would result in the depletion of the polar ice caps, a rise in ocean sea levels by seven meters, and an increase in the median air temperature of 8º C (14.5º F).

In the polar regions alone, the temperature would spike more than 20º Celsius (36º F), forcing the land in the region to change from ice and tundra to boreal forests.

The temperature estimate is actually conservative because the model didn’t take into consideration changing land use such as deforestation and build-out of cities into outlying wilderness areas.

—lead author Govindasamy Bala, LLNL Energy and Environment Directorate

Today’s level of atmospheric carbon dioxide is 380 parts per million (ppm). By the year 2300, the model predicts that amount would nearly quadruple to 1,423 ppm.

In the simulations, soil and living biomass are net carbon sinks, which would extract a significant amount of carbon dioxide that otherwise would remain in the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels. The real scenario, however, might be a bit different.

The land ecosystem would not take up as much carbon dioxide as the model assumes. In fact in the model, it takes up much more carbon than it would in the real world because the model did not have nitrogen/nutrient limitations to uptake. We also didn’t take into account land use changes, such as the clearing of forests.

—Govindasamy Bala

The model shows that ocean uptake of CO2 begins to decrease in the 22nd and 23rd centuries due to the warming of the ocean surface that drives CO2 fluctuations out of the ocean. The ocean takes longer to absorb CO2 than do biomass and soil.

By the year 2300, about 38% and 17% of the carbon dioxide released from the burning of all fossil fuels are taken up by land and the ocean, respectively. The remaining 45% stays in the atmosphere.

Whether carbon dioxide is released in the atmosphere or the ocean, eventually about 80 percent of CO2 will end up in the ocean in a form that will make the ocean more acidic. While the carbon dioxide is in the atmosphere, it could produce adverse climate change. When it enters the ocean, the acidification could be harmful to marine life.

The models predict quite a drastic change not only in the temperature of the oceans but also in its acidity content, which would become especially harmful for marine organisms with shells and skeletal material made out of calcium carbonate.

Calcium carbonate organisms, such as coral, serve as climate stabilizers. When the organisms die, their carbonate shells and skeletons settle to the ocean floor, where some dissolve and some are buried in sediments. These deposits help regulate the chemistry of the ocean and the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Earlier Livermore research, however, found that unrestrained release of fossil-fuel carbon dioxide to the atmosphere could threaten extinction for these climate-stabilizing marine organisms.

The doubled-CO2 climate that scientists have warned about for decades is beginning to look like a goal we might attain if we work hard to limit CO2 emissions, rather than the terrible outcome that might occur if we do nothing.

—Ken Caldeira, Department of Global Ecology, Carnegie Institution

The research appears in the 1 Nov issue of the American Meteorological Society’s Journal of Climate.




Well, thank goodness for peak oil making it extremely unlikely we'll be burning too many hydrocarbons past 2050 (well, maybe more like this century).

Harvey D

At current rates, conventional OIL wells may be pumped dry within 50 years but there's enough dirty COAL for power generation for another 200 + years. Crude OIL can be extracted from shales and tar sands for another 150 to 200 years. Deforestation will probably continue for 200+ years....etc. That will probably be enough to make the 8 C rise in temperature happen unless we switch from OIL and Gas energy to clean Wind and Solar energy and reduce deforestation before it is too late.


How helpless do you think people are? Honestly.
If we are in a dictatorship where one country rules the earth then yes, we will have a government that will not give a rat's ass about the environment. But if we are given a choice in a country where the poplulation's oppinions matter, then the earth will be just fine.

The real scare here is if science solves the earth's fossil fuel usage problem. And after dropping everyone's automobile down on average to 3l/100 they discover it was not our doing responsible for the global warming.
I smell mega cities in glass domes. :)

Also, by look of things, the temperature issue is the least of everyone's problems. Whats happening now with the environment with the likes of long dry spells, extremes in temperature and flooding will cause more harm financially then any rise in temperature.
I just hope agriculture learns to adapt. Paying $5 per head of lettuce is not something I'm willing to endure quietly.

richard schumacher

Unfortunately people often hold incorrect, unhelpful opinions, and can persist in holding them until it's too late. Climate change occurs too slowly to persuade the majority that they need to make economic and lifestyle changes now.

The world we were born into is hosed. We must save what can be saved and do what can be done to minimize the disruptions of the transition to an ice-free Hothouse Earth.


Climate change will occur. It has occured for millions of years before the event of man, and will occur millions of years after. It has changed drastically and quickly many times during that period without any contribution from Man. Trying to prevent it is an act of futility; assuming that we are somehow contributing to it is a hypothesis. Remember, this is a computer model.

That being said, I seriosly doubt that we can maintain the current demand for combustion-based energy over the period of several centuries. Our energy needs will simply be too great. One would hope that a more viable alternative would develop within the next fifty years. (C'mon fusion!)

Daniel Johnston

My God - Thanks everyone, for helping me see that my naturally optimistic view of humanity's ability to change their lifestyle in time to prevent disaster is wildly inaccurate! All the usual deniers' rubbish from 'we're going to run out of hydrocarbons anyway' to 'There's nothing we can do about it' to 'We're probably not even responsible for it' and of course 'all of the above at once'. Honestly, I'm going to buy myself a wind turbine and continue to purchase wind-generated electricity, get myself a reva and then I can exclusively blame the lot of you when the s*** goes down! This is serious and getting more so. The prospect of CO2 uptake cycles becoming CO2 putout cycles is going to make all your desperate certainties look like the a flapping and gasping of fish out of water. Thankyou, again, and goodnight

Harvey D

For some people (about 25% of us), smoking 25 to 50 cigarettes a day is still a good thing to do. However, about 75% of us now think otherwise. Let's hope that the latter group will grow to 100%.

For others (large cars and heavy 4 x 4 drivers, COAL electric generation plants owners, tar sands extraction groups, OIL producers and many other polluters) burning fossil fuel is still the right thing to do.

For many others, burning large quantities of fossil fuel is not healty and there are betters ways to produce and use energy.

Sooner or latter, as for cigarette smoking, the majority of us will realize that producing and using cleaner energy and re-forestation are esential to our survival.

The 'diehard' will resist a bit longer but the rise in weather extremes, costly oil wars, huge trade deficits, cancers and other pollution associated illness will convince them too.


Meh,.. to Daniel Johnson. Go smoke some weed.
You can make more energy out of the biodiesel created from all the dead birds the wind turbine killed.
The endangered birds also taste the best. >8)

My 10 bucks for the next decade goes on fusion. Its the only compact beast that can save our ass. The other alternatives are mainly dumb:
Wind turbines - kill things, and people hand gliding
Solar - takes too much space and is inneficient
Hydropower - kills entire bloody ecosystems

The good localised ones are geo and possibly wave.
Also fuel cells based on spent radioactive material seem promising. Nothing quite like a maintenance free fuel cell that works for a million years buried 100m underground. :)


Also, by look of things, the temperature issue is the least of everyone's problems. Whats happening now with the environment with the likes of long dry spells, extremes in temperature and flooding will cause more harm financially then any rise in temperature.


You say that rising temperature will be the least of our worries, but then go on to say that climate change is a bigger issue. Actually climate change, and the extremes we are experiencing are believed to be as a result of global warming.

Having read you follow up post I assume that you are mocking the issue and those who take it seriously.



Any reference on the radioactive fuel cell? And ask: will a fusion disaster annihilate the planet? Okay i may sound like an old man fear of learning computer and internet.

Daniel Johnston:

You are most welcomed, and i am pretty sure that you will not be very different from us when we become flapping and gasping of fish out of water if you think that a single wind turbine can save your day.


At first we solved the horse manure pollution, but in fact we just change a visible solid polution to a more deadlier invisible gaseous pollution. You see, the moral of the story is: it doesnt mean that there is no problem if you didnt see the problem.


To Peter.
Yes, the rise in temperature is responsible indirectly for what we are experiencing now. From reading some articles I've come to accept some people's opinions on the matter: The warming results in poles meting faster. And the extra fresh water being dumed into the ocean distrupts the salinity of the ocean resulting in a disruption of water cycle thingy who'se name I forget. The water cycle thingy regulates climate in a fine balance.
The main point I was making was that yes, temperature effects other things but for us people the actual rise in temperature is negligible.
And the reason I am moking the issue is because it is another y2k scare. People offer no solutions for it yet they cry to the sky that it has come to this.

And lowering greenhouse emmisions will do little because it woud be so gradual that effects from our efforts now would take decades to reverse. Or we could ship massive tanker loads of salt and dump it in the area where this salinity issue exists.
The truth of the matter is that industry produces an order of magnitude more waste then the citizens it serves and their cars. Additionally, one large volcano can spit out so much garbage into the atmosphere that it pales industry's pollution contributions. This is just my perspective on things and I may very well be wrong.

To Rexis
Here is a promising link of the radioactive cell
And t answer your question about the exploding planet, humans have been blowing up hydrogen bombs for ages. They make a very big boom. BUt in a fusion reactor all you have to do is vent some of the plasma to slow reaction down. Much safer then Fission.
Also google "Pebble bed reactor". This is a promising move towards making Fission much safer, cheaper and more efficient then today's plants. The Chinese are investing heavily in the development of this technology because it is their only salvation for the energy crisis for the next decade. I grew up in the nuclear age, so my faith lies in little particles colliding and splitting more then solar or wind like is the trend with the next generation. I believe self sufficient sealed nuclear fission/fusion reactors of 75-80% efficiency with a MTBF of 100-200 yrs are the future of humanity.

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