Stuffed settled science: Exhibit 4

With the advent of the Stuff “Quick save the planet” campaign wherein they forbid discussion and delete any comments that may question the “overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change is … caused by human activity”, we here at Whaleoil thought it might be instructive to review a few of the new scientific discoveries of 2018 that were clearly not known about five years ago when Al Gore declared, “The science is settled”.

Jumping forward to October we find that climate ‘scientists’ have not been properly accounting for what plants do at night. Just like the National party has not been properly accounting for what its MPs do at night. Quote.

Climate scientists have not been properly accounting for what plants do at night, and that, it turns out, is a mistake. A new study from the Department of Energy?s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has found that plant nutrient uptake in the absence of photosynthesis affects greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere.

In a study published today in Nature Climate Change, lead author William Riley demonstrates how to improve climate models to more accurately represent land biogeochemical dynamics. Using a new global land model they developed and integrated in DOE?s Energy Exascale Earth System Model (E3SM), Riley and his team found that plants can uptake more carbon dioxide and soils lose less nitrous oxide than previously thought. Their global simulations imply weaker terrestrial ecosystem feedbacks with the atmosphere than current models predict.

?This is goodish news, with respect to what is currently in the climate models,? said Riley, a scientist in Berkeley Lab?s Earth & Environmental Sciences Area. ?But it?s not good news in general ? it?s not going to solve the problem. No matter what, plants will not keep up with anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions; it?s just that they might do better than current models suggest.?

Humans have emitted a record-setting 34 gigatons of CO2 per year, averaged over the past decade. Roughly half of that remains in the atmosphere, while the rest is absorbed by oceans and land (through photosynthesis); the latter amount, called the terrestrial carbon sink, varies year to year depending on factors such as fires, drought, land use, and weather. End quote.

Wow! Scary big numbers with no context. The atmosphere contains around 3,000 gigatons of CO2 and humans have added around 17 gigatons per year. That is around 0.6%. Better get Shaw fired up about a zero carbon bill pronto because New Zealand’s contribution to this must be immeasurable unmeasurable. Quote.

Scientists are trying to understand how increasing global carbon dioxide emissions will affect the terrestrial carbon sink, which is estimated to currently be between 0 and 11 gigatons of CO2 per year, including land-use change, with large inter-annual variability. A further complication involves terrestrial nitrous oxide, which is a powerful greenhouse gas naturally released from land and by agricultural and industrial activities. In other words, to what extent will plants be able to ameliorate increases in anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions?

The new Berkeley Lab study found that by not properly accounting for what plants do at night and during the non-growing season, climate models may be underestimating the terrestrial carbon sink and overestimating nitrous oxide release, the latter by 2.4 gigatons of CO2-equivalent per year. ?This number is substantial compared to the current terrestrial carbon sink,? Riley said, anywhere from roughly one-quarter to more than 100 percent, depending on the year.

Plants? ability to take in carbon dioxide is limited by the availability of soil nutrients, especially nitrogen and phosphorous. The more abundant nutrients are, the more plants can take advantage of increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide. Microbes in the soil are a factor too because they compete with plants for nutrients.

Microbes, in fact, play an important role in the carbon cycle, and interactions between plants, soil, and microbes are complex, presenting a challenge to climate scientists. Most climate models assume that plants compete for nutrients in the soil only when they?re demanding it for photosynthesis, and not, for example, at night or in non-growing seasons.

?What most climate models have ignored is this pretty robust observational literature showing plants acquire nitrogen from soil even when they?re not photosynthesizing,? Riley said.

[…] [The researchers] found that a significant portion of nutrient uptake takes place in the absence of photosynthesis as plants and microbes compete for nutrients. ?The amounts vary a lot by latitude, but in the higher latitudes, such as the Arctic, roughly 20 percent of plants? annual nitrogen uptake occurs outside the growing season. That goes up to 55 percent for nighttime uptake in the tropics,? he said. ?That?s a huge deal for plants and will facilitate atmospheric carbon uptake, and it?s currently completely ignored in most climate models.?

?This type of model improvement will help us better understand implications of future CO2 emissions,? Riley said.

End quote.

One would expect that a ‘news’ source like Stuff would keep up to date with news about such an important topic. After all they are devoting a whole series to saving the planet. But, no. Stuck firmly in 2013 when the science was settled they are blinkered to any new truth that may emerge.