Sunday, November 27, 2016

Climate Change; Man Made or Assisted by Man?

Most of the debate around manmade climate change revolves around whether or not the activities of man are responsible for climate change. It would seem the whole discussion needs to be reframed to look at man assisted climate change. We also need to re-examine the presumed man assisted causes, as well as differentiate, symptoms, causes and ways to minimize, and in some cases reverse the symptoms.

For some reason most of those researching climate change (in any form) are concentrating on greenhouse gasses and carbon dioxide levels. The "solutions" rest on things like regulating emissions by prohibition, trading "carbon credits" or taxation. Even causes stemming from land use seemingly concentrate on more gasses, with no thought to the condition of the land contributing to either rising oceans. It seems as if little or no thought is given to the conditions of the earth's surface in contributing to warming, changing weather patterns, contributing to flooding,  nor to rising ocean levels.

The possibility of regenerating grasslands has been largely ignored,  even though it reduces heat reflected into the atmosphere, captures carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, returns rainfall to aquifers, while increasing wildlife habitat and providing animal protein for human consumption.

Desertification of land is looked at as a symptom of warming, when it is actually a symptom of misuse, while at the same time, a cause of both atmospheric warming, and rising oceans. Completely ignored is just how fast desertification has happened in some places.

 To keep historical perspective, lets look at history in the terms of lifetimes. There has always been a few people living over 100 years. This would mean that, by cherry picking the right people, it has only been 20 lifetimes since Jesus Christ walked the earth. On a more personal level, my Great Great Grandmother was alive at the time of the Civil War and died in 1963 when I was 9 years old. Between the beginning of her life, and my life of 60+ years, we have seen the vast grasslands of the southwest United States and northern Mexico become barren deserts.  There are actually ranchers alive today who remember harvesting native grass hay in areas which are now mainly brushy and bare ground. Just how much of a difference can this make in changing our climate?

To demonstrate just how much the lack of grass cover reflects heat back into the atmosphere, I checked the air temperature, then checked the temperature on a patch of grass, and also a path of bare ground.
  Notice that the grass covered area is approximately eleven degrees warmer than the air while the bare ground is twenty five degrees warmer than air temperature.

A couple of hours later, the air temperature was 95 degrees. Rather than checking the temperature of the grassy spot first, we checked that same spot of bare ground, which was hot enough that it broke the thermometer. That would mean that the ground temperature was actually a minimum of 25 degrees warmer than the air temperature.

Adding to the heat absorption/reflection difference between bare ground and grass covered ground is the difference in water absorption. Rather than rain water absorbing into the ground (as it does when grasslands are intact,) precipitation actually starts running off with as little as 0.2 inches of rain. This means that a thunderstorm dropping an inch of water, loses half of aquifer recharge to run off. This run off goes into gullies, into small streams, river and lost into the ocean. This amounts to  13,577 gallons per acre run into the ocean from a one inch rain. In a drought like our most recent, where some areas only received 4 inches of precipitation, they lost 54,308 gallons of water per acre. There is roughly 293,000,000 acres of desertified ground between the southwestern United States and northern Mexico which have been degraded to this point. This results in 15,912,244,000,000 gallons of water returning to the oceans rather than recharging aquifers, in a year of severe drought. In a year of 10 inches (still just below normal of 11 to 12 inches of precipitation) we are looking at 135771.4 per acre (or 39,781,020,200,000 gallons for the region) flowing into the ocean rather than recharging aquifers. Take into consideration, this 39,781,020,200,000 gallons is only part of the water flowing back into the ocean rather than the ground on part of ONE continent. This isn't even taking into consideration of the addition of paved ground. 
 The first mile of asphalt paving was laid out in 1920 on Woodward Avenue, in Detroit Michigan.  Since then, asphalt and concrete paving has covered an estimated 29,000 square miles, or 18,560,000 acres. Taking into consideration that there are some roads in the country which the water ists in the bar ditch without emptying into a creek or river which eventually ends in the world's oceans, lets (for the sake of a conservative estimate) assume that only a third of our paved areas are draining directly into the ocean. That still leaves us with 6,186,666 acres of paved ground sending water into the oceans at a rate of 27154 gallons per inch of rain. This amounts to 16,7992,728,564 gallons running straight into the oceans per each inch of rain falling on our paved areas. In a drought year of only 6 inches of rain average across the country that comes up to an astounding 1,007,956,371,384 from our country alone from the addition of paved surfaces.

The combination of these two sources of water returning to the oceans rather than into the soil and replenishing aquifers comes to  a "mere" 5,658,029,305,640 gallons of water returning to the oceans from the United States and Mexico alone. Some will be quick to point out that a more accurate figure would be achieved by subtracting the acres of paved acres from the total of desertified areas, but this total would still be low when one figures out what has been left out of these figures.
The grasslands in the rest of the western half of the United States, while not considered to be desertified, have less than half their grass cover compared to the late 1800's, which is adding an a untold amount of water to the oceans. This is still not taking into account flood control systems, like the levee system on the Mississippi River which are adding more water rather than allowing it to spread out and fertilize the delta lands.  The total would certainly be result in an increase to  the 5,658,029,305,640 gallons in these figures. The worldwide total of water running back into the oceans rather than aquifers would dwarf what runs off from North America... Yet this is seemingly not taken into consideration by scientists studying climate change and rising oceans. A very few scientists are actually looking at the either the warming affects of these two things, nor the ramifications of reversing desertification through regenerative grazing.

In order for science to really get a grip on solving the problems of climate change, they need to ask a few more questions.

  1. How much are precipitation flows being affected by the millions of acres of desertified land and the heat rising from them? 
  2. How would the precipitation patterns change if grasslands were regenerated worldwide?
  3. How much is atmospheric temperature being affected by the combination of paved surfaces and desertified land?
  4. How much atmospheric carbon in the atmosphere would be sequestered by regenerating grasslands worldwide? 
  5. How much water would flow into aquifers rather than the oceans if grasslands were to be restored?
  6.  How much more animal protein could be added to the food supply by the increase in animals needed to restore and maintain grasslands through the proper grazing methods needed to restore them?
Until the scientific community starts acknowledging these things, and using them in computer models, how accurate can they really be? How can these scientists convince climate change deniers unless they acknowledge and differentiate between those events occurring naturally which change change climate, and the manmade things which assist the acceleration of changing climate? Until such time as these questions are addressed, and so long as the majority of the "solutions" are based on taxation, fines, and other financially inert things such as  trading carbon credits, a true solution will not be found.


  1. Bob,
    This is an excellent description of the situation. Bravo!
    Walt Davis

  2. I asked Skeptical Science about the issues raised in your blog. Here is there answer

    "Climate change and desertification are a bit like the
    "chicken and egg" problem: which came first? In some instances, as the
    Bovine Blogger notes, misuse of land can lead to desertification; in other
    cases a changing climate can cause arid regions to become drier and grow
    into deserts. It is a two way street with both things happening at once.

    But can desertification lead to a changing climate. Yes, it can, but not
    in the way the blogger thinks. He assumes that with growing deserts there
    are hotter areas warming the atmosphere. That makes sense and generally
    speaking this is right, and the warmer and drier atmosphere can have
    knock-on affects beyond the desert area. But this is a change in the
    region's "microclimate" not in the climate of the whole globe.

    The climate change we are witnessing now is due to an energy imbalance in
    the entire climate system. Big picture, the Earth gets its energy from the
    incoming sunlight, that energy warms the surface which then radiates
    energy back out to space. This is the "Energy Budget" of the Earth.
    Energy-in = energy-out ---> a stable climate. If energy-in is more than
    energy-out then the climate system warms; or you can say, there is more
    energy in the system to power stronger storms, evaporate more water, melt
    more glaciers, etc. Right now there is less energy-out because there are
    more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere which are impeding the flow of
    energy out to space.

    Think of a desert area and an area of forest of the same size. Since each
    area is the same size they each receive the same amount of energy from the
    sun. But the desert area is much hotter than the forest. Why? Well the
    energy hitting the desert is in direct sunlight and the full force of the
    energy goes into heating the sand/soil, which in turn heats the air above.
    In the forest there are a lot of plants which deflect and scatter a lot of
    the sunlight, and a tiny fraction of the energy is used by the plants in
    photosynthesis. Sunlight hitting the forest floor will find a much wetter
    soil and some of the energy will go into evaporation. The forest still
    heats up but not as fast or as intensely as the desert.

    At night the dry desert air quickly cools and the sand/soil also releases
    much of its daytime heat. The forest also cools but probably not as much
    as the desert, especially if it is very humid (water vapor is a strong
    greenhouse gas)."

    1. .... Cont

      "I walk you through these scenarios to illustrate that within the Energy Budget there are also smaller, localized, daily "energy budgets" going on in every earthly environment. If deserts expand because of misuse of grasslands or forested areas, as the blogger notes, there are changes in the local microclimates, but the overall Energy Budget of the entire planet hasn't changed.

      Well, almost. Desertification can lead to climate change, not by making areas hotter, but by making areas more reflective. Albedo is what scientists use to measure an object's "reflectance", on a scale of 0 to 1. Whiter areas, such as snow have a higer albedo: 0.8 to 0.9, darker areas, like oceans are much lower: 0.06, desert sands are in the middle: 0.4, forests are dark: 0.08 to 0.15, grass is a bit lighter: 0.25. So if grasslands and forests are misused and become deserts their albedo increases and they reflect more of the sun's incoming energy than when the area was a forest. So desertification actually can cool the overall climate, not cause global warming.

      Carl Sagan was the lead author on a paper from 1979 which looked at man-made changes, including desertification, and how they may have influenced climate over the last few thousand years: They concluded that desertification over that time period may have caused a drop in overall temperatures by about 1 deg. C.

      Another good paper offers an overview of how climate, microclimates, and desertification are interrelated:

      This is already too long, but I wanted to just add that the Bovine Blogger's ideas about sea-level rise caused by more rain run-off are also not quite right. Again, think of the entire Earth system...where does the rain come from? Yes there is some evaporation of water from the land surfaces and lakes, etc. but the vast majority of precipitation originates from the evaporation of ocean waters. So more run-off from desert areas can't really affect sea levels since most of that water came from the oceans to begin with. The only way to really add water to the oceans is to melt more land ice. Which is what we are witnessing in Greenland and Antarctica."

    2. Simon James,
      I appreciate your rebuttal, however it is overlooking a couple of facts.
      1) The desertification of millions of contiguous acres is not a "micro climate," especially when it is happening simultaneously on nearly every continent in the world.

      2) When nature's system is working properly, the vast majority of precipitation goes back into the ground to recharge aquifers. As global desertification occurs, this is not taking place and the excess water is running back into the ocean.

  3. A lot of very good points in here wish lawmakers and scientist would bring all the things into some kind of a proposal, but you know how things go they get stuck on one or two very simple things that are easy to remember. They must think the public is still too ignorant to understand complex topics, so they stick too their silly talking points IE. of recent vintage no collusion no obstruction. Most politicians today, it seems, if you repeat something often enough, even when untrue, it will become "truth" in the minds of the public. I took a good watershed management course and we looked at increased runoff from development, how roads redirect water to streams without ground infiltration causing erosion and how road failures dump 100's of tons of plain dirt into streams. A little off topic sorry I'm on the fishes side. You are very right sea level is controlled by the supply of water stored as ice it's a closed system. It is my understanding that the desertification started with the Spaniards severely overgrazing the land especially the riparian zones. Hard to remember, but sometime after decades of overgrazing a series of big freak downpours happen in the region making stream beds down cut many feet(uplands) which dropped the water tables destroying riparian vegetation and more importantly stream side meadows. With no more vegetation to prevent erosion, the process has continued to today. And as you have pointed out without grasses the ground becomes compacted and hydrophobic leading to increased erosion a bad feed back loop. I just skimmed through so I can't comment on more. Off to the bank.