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Carbon usage in plant & animals?

From The Syllabus (4.5.14): Discuss how understanding the carbon cycle can lead to methods to reduce atmospheric levels of CO2 (including the use of biofuels and reforestation).

The Carbon Cycle

{Jan 2011 - Qu. 3}

{Jan 2011 - Qu. 3c}

Carbon Sinks
Carbon sinks are reservoirs of CO2 is 'locked up' inside organic or inorganic compounds. They absorb more carbon that they release. [A carbon source releases more carbon than is absorbed]. Forests, soils, oceans and the atmosphere all store carbon and this carbon moves between them in a continuous cycle

The quantity of carbon stored in each carbon sink is measured in petagrams. 1 Petagram = 1015 g (or 1 billion tonnes of carbon)

Carbon Sinks - Major stores

Soil organic matter (humus)

Abiotic or biotic?

Amount of carbon stored (in petagrams)

% of total


Oceans Atlantic Ocean Southern Ocean Marine sediments / sedimentary rocks Land animals & plants Marine Plants & Animals Fossil Fuels e.g. limestone &chalk

Animals = 0.5 Plants = 1.5, animals = 1.5 e.g. coal, oil & gas

{Jan 2011 - Qu. 3d (i)}

{Jan 2010 - Qu. 2}

{Jan 2010 - Qu. 2a (i)}

{Jan 2010 - Qu. 2a (ii)}

{Jan 2010 - Qu. 2b}

{Jan 2010 - Qu. 2b}

{Jan 2010 - Qu. 2b (ii)}

5 = good; 1 is poor!
* Could replace fossil fuels. * Growing plants (use CO2) & using products as fuels (produces CO2) is a 'CARBON NEUTRAL' SOLUTION. * However - Biofuels cause problems: What are they (see P.53)??


{Jan 2011 - Qu. 3d (ii)}

Types of Biofuel

Alternative Energy Sources

Alternative energy sources cause their own problems! What are they (see P.53)??

Reduced carbon dioxide production although building power stations and disposing of waste is very energy-intensive. About 50 years worth of nuclear fuel left in reserves. Produces large amounts of electricity from a single power station. Complex and expensive technology with a risk of explosion if mismanaged. Produces waste that is dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years. Can be used to create materials used in atomic bombs

A renewable fuel. Biogas is carbon-neutral it only replaces the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that was originally removed by the plants eaten by the cattle. Simple technology it requires very little technical knowledge or complex equipment. Small scale every village could have one (or two or three) Produces no waste the material left after the digestor has finished makes excellent fertiliser.

* Replanting trees means that wood becomes a 'Sustainable Resource'. * Removes CO2 from the atmosphere


Deforestation around Mt Kilimanjaro

1) Replanting After Harvesting 2) Selective tree-felling 3) Pollarding - leave truck / re growth 4) Harvesting on rotation 5) Coppicing - cut off at ground level & allow to re grow for 4-2 yrs 6) Plant fast growing tree species

Managing Forests Sustainably

The Human Influence? - The Industrial Revolution

Until the 18th & 19th Century, humans were essentially 'Carbon-neutral' There was a huge increase in CO2 production from the onset of the industrial revolution

How do these contribute to global warming?

Methane issues
* Less produced than CO2 * 72 x greater effect on Source 1- decaying organic material by bacteria GW than CO2 (in wet conditions). * Naturally breaks down in atmosphere to form Rice paddy fields are usually waterlogged. CO2 + H2O Bacteria in the soil release CH4 as they grow. Rice production levels have increased to feed * Risen by 150% since 1750. the worlds' population.

Source 2 - digestion by ruminant herbivores (e.g. deer, cattle). As human popn grows, so do the livestock numbers. The CH4 released from their digestive system clearly increase at the same time

Managing methane emissions

Managing methane emissions


Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that 16% of human produced CH4 comes from livestock. Diary cows produce 3x as much CH4 as other cattle and 12x as much as sheep! Research carried out into how to reduce dairy cow's CH4 emissions. Suggestions are:

1) Use older cows - they produce less CH4 2) Use GM grasses - easier to digest by cows 3) Using concentrates in cow's diets - easier to digest by cows & prolong cows' lifespan (BUT: concentrates emit CO2 during manufacture)

16 000

14 000

13 000

12 000

11 000 2.5 3 4 5 6 Number of lactations / cow

Methane Emissions (Kg / year / herd of 100 cows)

15 000

Graph showing that older cows produce less methane than younger cows

From The Syllabus (4.5.15):

Describe the effects of global warming (rising temperature, chang rainfall patterns and seasonal cycles) on plants and animals (distribution of species, development and life cycles).

One of the greatest environmental and development challenges in the twenty-first century will be that of controlling and coping with climate change. The overwhelming majority of scientists now agree that human activity is having a significant impact on the climate . Kofi Annan, In Larger Freedom. Towards Development, Security and Human Rights for All, 2005.

rising temperatures

Rising temperatures will increase enzyme controlled reactions - this could cause increased growth and reproductive rates. Could be an advantage though - more plants could reduce global CO2 levels.

Higher temperatures would exceed enzymes' optimum temperatures and cause enzymes to denature. This would mean organisms would die.

Species could migrate northward or move to higher elevations. The presence of humans, however, is making this option difficult for some species. Timing of natural events like flowering, migration, and egg-laying could shift. Ecosystems are intricately connected webs, and even if a species doesn't rely on temperature and daylight cues to trigger certain behaviours, it may interact with other species that do. Body size and behaviours of species may change in response to rising temperatures - in general, bodies become smaller in response to general warming and larger with cooling.

Insects are particularly vulnerable - as pollinators Lose the pollinators - insect pollinated flowers can't reproduce Less plants .... obviously various animal species numbers will be affected!

Seasonal Cycles can be affected in higher latitudes: Warmer climes - Plants may grow / flower earlier Insects (moths / butterflies) become active earlier Some birds can adapt:

E.g. British Great Tits - now lay eggs 2 wks earlier than 47 yrs ago. But, Dutch Great Tits populations are decreasing, since their food even earlier. The Great tits miss out on the caterpillars. (caterpillars) are breeding

Some animals breed earlier in the year and are able to fit in more than one breeding cycle. Some organisms really struggle with temperature changes - Reptile eggs are very sensitive to temperature changes. e.g. Only females crocodiles are hatched if eggs are not incubated between 32-33oC.

The same will happen to turtle populations

The breeding season of the Mexican jay advanced by an average of 10 days. Egg laying was also found to be closely related to spring monthly temperatures.

A 2003 study at the University of Michigan, looked at horse fossils from a warming period that occurred 55 million years ago. They found that as temperatures rose, the fossils shrank, from the size a small dog to a house cat. The dwarfing might have resulted from the horses eating plants whose tissues were low in protein but high in toxic compounds - plants that flourished in the CO2-rich environment of the time.

Species can undergo genetic changes. E.g. the red squirrel & the fruitfly Drosophila. Red squirrels are rapidly evolving in response to GW the first mammals in which such genetic changes have been seen. The driving force behind the evolutionary changes is that the warmer climate means that females with a genetic propensity to give birth earlier are more likely to have offspring that have a head start on their younger peers. They are bigger and more independent when autumn comes and it is time to store food.

A fruit fly gene normally associated with hot, dry conditions has spread to populations living in traditionally cooler southern regions. Populations of fruit flies on 3 continents have evolved identical gene changes (in just 20 yrs) to cope with GW. Fruit flies typically produce 4 - 6 generations per year, "so there is huge scope" for such genetic change. It means that organisms with such quick life cycles can adapt to GW.


However, species such as Sequoia trees (with 100s years between generations) may not have time to adapt to GW.

Given the rapid pace of ecological change in the Arctic, the long generation time, and the highly specialised nature of polar bears, it is unlikely that polar bears will survive as a species if the ice disappears completely as has been predicted by some. Derocher et al. (2004) "The polar bear as an ideal species through which to monitor human-caused impacts in the ecosystem including Climate Change. They note that sea ice (in Canada) is now melting early in the spring and forming later in the autumn and, therefore, the time that the bears have on the ice, storing up energy for the summer and autumn when there is little available food, is becoming shorter. The main cause of death for cubs is either an absence of food or lack of fat on nursing mothers (WWF - 2002).

Changing rainfall patterns

(Aug. 27, 2007) NASA scientists have detected the first signs that tropical rainfall is on the rise with the longest and most complete data record available. Climate scientists predict that a warming trend in Earth's atmosphere and surface temperatures would produce an accelerated recycling of water between land, sea and air. Warmer temperatures increase the evaporation of water from the ocean and land and allow air to hold more moisture. Eventually, clouds form that produce rain and snow.

Looking at the Evidence

Humans 'affect global rainfall'

July 2007

Human-induced climate change has affected global rainfall patterns over the 20th Century, a study suggests.

Green - increase in precipitation Yellow - decrease in precipitation Grey - disagreement between observed rainfall & climate models White - insufficient data

Humans 'affect global rainfall'

July 2007

Scientists compared monthly precipitation from 1925-1999 with complex computer models to see if they could identify if human activity was affecting rainfall patterns.

... natural factors, such as volcanic eruptions, had contributed to shifts in the global rainfall patterns but to a much lesser extent.

... has been a significant human effect on global rainfall patterns, with human influence causing a decrease in rainfall in some regions, and an increase in rainfall in others."

... human activity (e.g. burning fossil fuels), was likely to have led to a 62mm increase in the annual precipitation trend over the past century over land areas including Canada, northern Europe and Russia.

While our study shows a human influence on rainfall at the global scale, the role of human influence in the UK flooding remains uncertain Dr Nathan Gillett, Research co-author

July 2007

Looking at the Evidence

CO2 Levels / Mauna Loa Curve

Peat Bog Dating

Temperature Records Frozen Isotopes


CO2 Levels / Mauna Loa Curve

CO2 Levels All evidence

Causal Relationships

Causality is the relationship between an event (the cause) and a second event (the effect), where the second event is A Causal Relationshipconsequence of the first. understood as a is one where one factor
changes a second factor. In terms of global warming, the question is whether CO2 levels have had an effect on global surface temperatures. However, scientists have proposed that solar activity (sunspots & flares) may also have an affect on surface temperature.

Sun Activity vs Global Warming?

Is this a Causal Relationship?

Is there a clear correlation?

Is this a Causal Relationship?

From The Syllabus (4.5.16):

Explain the effect of increasing temperature on the rate of enzyme activity in plants, animals and micro-organisms.

{June 2011 - Qu. 2a (i)}

{June 2011 - Qu. 2a (ii)}

{June 2011 - Qu. 2a (iii)}

{ANSWERS - June 2011 - Qu. 2a (iii)}

{June 2011 - Qu. 2b}

Timeline on global warming and climate change: 1750s-1850s - Industrial revolution increases CO2 production 1827 - French scientist Jean-Baptiste Fourier is the first to consider the greenhouse effect. 1850s - Internal Combustion Engine Invented 1857 - John Tyndall tests the absorptive properties of atmospheric gases. 1896 - Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius blames the burning of fossil fuels (oil, gas and coal) for producing CO2. 1979 - Report by U.S. National Academy of Sciences pins the greenhouse effect to global warming. 1988 - U.N. sets up a scientific authority to vet evidence on global warming - Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). 1990 - First IPCC report says levels of man-made greenhouse gases are increasing in the atmosphere 1992 - Creation of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at the Rio 'Earth Summit'. 1997 - UNFCCC countries sign the Kyoto Protocol. Industrialised countries to reduce emissions of six key greenhouse gases to 5.2 per cent below th levels by the end of 2012. 2000 - 1990s are named as the hottest decade on record. 2001 - The US abandons the Kyoto Protocol. President George W. Bush questions scientific consensus on GW, says the treaty is too expensive for th economy and unfair as big developing countries escape binding emissions pledges. 2004 - The International Energy Agency (IEA) says China is now the world's second biggest carbon emitter. 2005 - Global warming takes centre stage at G8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, where leaders acknowledge climate change to be "a serious and lon challenge." Awareness, and concern, of global warming surges in U.S. after an exceptional season for tropical storms, punctuated by Hurricane Katrin 2006 - Former U.S. vice president Al Gore's docu-movie "An Inconvenient Truth" drives global warming up the U.S. political agenda. 2007 - IPCC publish a report on the impact of Global Warming 2009 - Copenhagen Summit - a rise of 2C was agreed as the maximum "safe" limit for global warming. 2010 - Global carbon emissions made their biggest leap ever

2041 - Global average temperatures have risen by 2C

It should be noted that 2C is merely the average global increase. In some regions such as the poles the rise has been substantially greater already.
The Arctic is now completely free of ice for several weeks a year. Greenland has reached a tipping point of irreversible melting. In America, the arid conditions have continued to get worse. Meanwhile, invasive species of insects are migrating to new latitudes, driven by warmer temperatures. Bark beetles, for example, are moving north and killing off huge areas of forest that provide food to grizzly bears and other fauna. In Europe, the Alps are becoming largely devoid of snow, for the first time in millions of years - having a substantial impact on water supplies. Major rivers have until now relied on snow and glacial melt from these mountains. Switzerland is being especially hard hit, with much of its electricity based on hydroelectric power. Record heatwaves are causing gigantic wildfires, the likes of which have never been experienced before. At the foot of the Alps, rockfalls triggered by melting permafrost have caused widespread destruction to villages and towns. Tourism has been decimated, with skiing impossible in many areas.

2041 - continued ...

In South America, a similar situation has occurred. Melting glaciers in the Andes have caused water shortages for tens of millions of people.
In Columbia, there has been a marked decline in coffee production - one of the country's main exports - accounting for a significant percentage of world harvests. In Asia too, there is a water crisis. Pakistan's major rivers - the Indus, Jhelum and Chenab - are delivering less than half of their historic supply. The nuclear-armed country is now at war with neighbouring India, following conflicts over resources. Monsoon rainfalls have become increasingly unpredictable in the region, while sea level rises are causing further devastation to Bangladesh, which has yet to recover from the disasters of the 2020s. Developing regions are disproportionately affected by climate change, and Africa is the worst-hit location of all. Biblical-scale droughts are becoming the norm here, with most of the continent seeing catastrophic declines in agricultural yields. In Mali, three-quarters of the population is starving. In the Western Pacific, Tuvalu is now sharing the same fate as the Maldives: most of the island nation has been washed off the face of the Earth, leaving its people effectively homeless.

Gulf Coast cities are being abandoned due to super hurricanes The growing concentration of atmospheric CO2 has led to rising sea levels, a warming of coastal waters and
a more volatile weather system. In the Gulf of Mexico, a new category of "super hurricane" has emerged. This is becoming a regular occurrence by now. These extreme weather events are nightmarish in scale and intensity. At their peak, winds of nearly 200mph bring untold devastation. Even some of the most heavily reinforced buildings are destroyed. Trees are uprooted and hurled around like matchsticks, while skyscrapers visibly sway. Storm surges and flash floods travel up rivers with almost surreal speed, overwhelming defences and bringing waves thirty feet high.

Global food and water shortages

The demand for food and fresh water is far outstripping the supply. Climate change is devastating entire regions, turning vast areas of farmland and forest into arid desert, creating literally tens of millions of refugees. There is a great deal of conflict across the Middle East, Africa, Asia, the southern states of America, South America, and parts of southern Europe during this time.

1. Surface currents carry warm, salty water from the tropics. 2. The water cools, its density increases and it sinks to the deep ocean. 3. The cold water flows back to the equator, driving the "ocean conveyor" which in turn contributes to the Gulf Stream that warms northern Europe. 4. As ice melts, freshwater dilutes the warm salty water from the tropics. 5. The water becomes less dense so does not sink as fast, weakening the "conveyor" and therefore possibly disrupting the Gulf Stream.