OAK RIDGE, Tenn., Oct. 9, 2009 -- For the first time, climate scientists from across the country have successfully incorporated the nitrogen cycle into global simulations for climate change, questioning previous assumptions regarding carbon feedback and potentially helping to refine model forecasts about global warming.
My own reaction: amazement. We are in the year 2009 and only now the nitrogen cycle gets added to climate models? What other important factors are not yet in climate models? Does anyone know? I'm looking for a knowledgeable reply, not a rant. What is the state of climate models? What are the prospects for more accurate models 5, 10, 20 years from now?
These scientists expect more rapid climate change as a result of adding the nitrogen cycle.
The results of the experiment at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory and at the National Center for Atmospheric Research are published in the current issue of Biogeosciences. They illustrate the complexity of climate modeling by demonstrating how natural processes still have a strong effect on the carbon cycle and climate simulations. In this case, scientists found that the rate of climate change over the next century could be higher than previously anticipated when the requirement of plant nutrients are included in the climate model.
ORNL's Peter Thornton, lead author of the paper, describes the inclusion of these processes as a necessary step to improve the accuracy of climate change assessments.
You might think climate models can be really accurate even without the nitrogen cycle. But recall a recent post I did about biofuels boosting nitrous oxide emissions and thereby causing big warming effects. Where the nitrogen goes and in what form is very important for the climate.
MBL, WOODS HOLE, MA—A report examining the impact of a global biofuels program on greenhouse gas emissions during the 21st century has found that carbon loss stemming from the displacement of food crops and pastures for biofuels crops may be twice as much as the CO2 emissions from land dedicated to biofuels production. The study, led by Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) senior scientist Jerry Melillo, also predicts that increased fertilizer use for biofuels production will cause nitrous oxide emissions (N2O) to become more important than carbon losses, in terms of warming potential, by the end of the century.
Fertilizer usage is going to rise anyway due to increasing human population and industrialization. So how much will nitrous oxide emissions increase in the 21st century? Also, how much will fertilizer run-off and phytoplankton blooms increase? Will the Antarctic continent become livable as a result? Always look on the bright side of life.
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