The Atmosphere’s Couplings

The Atmosphere’s Density

The Atmosphere as an Electromagnetic Barrier

The Atmosphere’s Layers and Temperature

Scientific Evidence (Increasing Temperatures & Greenhouse Gases)

Through the study of ancient ice cores from Antarctica it is possible to compare atmospheric concentrations of the dominant greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere with temperature variations over the past 400 thousand years of the earth's history. A visual comparison of the two trends indicates a very tight connection between their performance, with fluctuations in one plot almost exactly mirrored in the other for more than 400 thousand years. But suddenly in the 1800s, as the Industrial Revolution takes off, atmospheric CO2 concentrations begin an unprecedented upward climb, rising rapidly from 280 ppmv (parts per million by volume) in the early 1800s to a current level of 376 ppmv, 77 ppmv above the highest concentrations previously attained in the course of the preceding 400 thousand years.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (1988) (IPCC)

Noting these trends, and recognizing the potential for dramatic changes in the climate due to continued unchecked accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1988. The purpose of the IPCC was to objectively review existing and developing peer-reviewed scientific literature to form an objective evaluation about the risk of human-induced climate change.

“Concentrations of atmospheric greenhouse gases and their radiative forcing have continued to increase as a result of human activities.”
(Third Assessment Report of the IPCC, 2001)


Potential Outcome
(The following is an adaptation of the analysis of potential outcomes of climate change delineated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in their second assessment report).

Rising Temperatures Rising Sea Levels Intensification of the Hydrological Cycle Melting Ice Caps Mountain Regions (Altered Biomes) Changing Lakes, Streams & Wetlands Altered Coastal Systems Affected Fisheries Affected Food Production

The Global Warming Culprits
During the 1980's humans released 5.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually by burning fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas) for heat, transportation, and electricity. An additional 1.6 billion tons was released from anthropogenic (human-induced) changes in land-use (i.e. clearing land for agriculture, pastures, etc.) mostly through deforestation in the tropics. Where does that 7.2 billion tons of atmospheric carbon go? The ocean takes up approximately 2 billion tons a year. Around 2 billion tons are taken up by a presently unidentified "sink" or reservoir of carbon. This leaves a remainder of 3.2 billion tons of CO2, and global atmospheric measurements indicate that this amount is simply being added to existing concentrations already present in the atmosphere. The result is that the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide is increasing at a rate of approximately 1.5 ppm (parts per million) per year and overall it has increased about 30% since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. CO2 expelled into the atmosphere through these activities does not disappear immediately or even over the course of a year. As a matter of fact, the residence times of greenhouse gases (how long they remain in the atmosphere) are on the order of decades to centuries. This means that the CO2 we emit today will likely be affecting the climate well into our children's future and likely into the futures of our grandchildren.

Atmospheric increase


Emissions from fossil fuels


Net emissions from changes in land use


Oceanic uptake


Missing carbon sink

The Global Warming Culprits

Atmospheric increase


Emissions from fossil fuels


Net emissions from changes in land use


Oceanic uptake


Missing carbon sink

GAS Carbon dioxide (CO2) Methane (CH4) Nitrous oxide (N2O) Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs 11 and 12) Ozone and other trace gases SOURCE Fossil fuels, deforestation, soil destruction Cattle, biomass, rice paddies, gas leaks, mining, termites Fossil fuels, soil cultivation, deforestation Refrigeration, air conditioning, aerosols, foam blowing, solvents LIFE SPAN 500 years 7-10 years 140-190 years 65-110 years

Photochemical processes, cars, Hours to days in power plants, solvents upper troposphere

(Source: World Resources Institute, The 1994 Information Please Environmental Almanac (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1994), 344.)

Greenhouse and Related Gases
(Excerpted from the WMO WDCGG Data Summary (WMO WDCGG No. 27), March 2003.)

Carbon Dioxide (CO2)
The level of CO2, which of all the greenhouse gases contributes most to global warming, has been increasing since the pre-industrial period. Global mean concentrations reflect an annual increase. Amplitudes of the seasonal cycle are clearly large in northern high and mid-latitudes and small in the Southern Hemisphere. The northern seasonal cycle mainly reflects the seasonal variation in the absorption/emission in the biosphere there, while the southern cycle reflects oceanic variations and biomass burning in addition to the influence of the biosphere.

Methane (CH4)
CH4 is the second most significant greenhouse gas, and its level has been increasing since the beginning of the 19th century.

Nitrous Oxide (N2O)
Nitrous oxide is an important greenhouse gas, and its level is increasing on a global scale.

Halocarbons (CFC’s)
Halocarbons (CFC’s), most of which are anthropogenic, are effective greenhouse gases and some also act as ozone-depleting compounds. Levels of some of the halocarbons increased in the 1970s and 1980s, but have now almost ceased increasing due to the regulation of production and emission under the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer and its Adjustments and Amendments.

Surface Ozone (O3)
Ozone absorbs UV radiation in the stratosphere and IR radiation in the troposphere, thus is a greenhouse gas. While a part of the tropospheric ozone is transported from the stratosphere, the rest is chemically produced in the troposphere through oxidation of CO or hydrocarbons in the presence of rich NOx.

Carbon Monoxide (CO)
CO is not a significant greenhouse gas, but brings about changes in the concentrations of greenhouse gases by interacting with hydroxyl radicals (OH).

Nitrogen Monoxide (NO) and Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2)
Nitrogen oxides (NOx, i.e., NO and NO2) are not greenhouse gases, but bring about changes in the concentrations of other important greenhouse gases by interacting with hydroxyl radicals (OH). In the presence of NOx, CO and hydrocarbons are oxidized to produce ozone (O3), which affects the Earth’s radiative balance.

Sulfur Dioxide (SO2)
SO2 is not a greenhouse gas but a precursor of atmospheric sulfuric acid (H2SO4) aerosol. Sulfuric acid aerosol is produced by SO2 oxidation through photochemical gas-to-particle conversion. SO2 has been a major source of acid rain and deposition throughout industrial times.

Water Vapour (H2O)
Water vapour, as a result of evaporation, is a highly efficient conductor of infra red radiation in the troposphere. It is a significant greenhouse gas.

Carbon Dioxide (CO2), The Carbon Cycle

Methane (CH4), The Methane Cycle

Ozone (O3), The Ozone Cycle

Ozone (O3), Destruction

Ozone Depletion

Water Vapour, The Hydrological Cycle

Greenhouse Gases, Share of Effect

CO2 Trends

CH4 Trends

Global Warming - Trends

Global Warming - Trends

Global Warming - Trends

40% Probability

5% Probability

Source: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2001 Report

Global Warming – Country Trends

Durban’s Emissions
(Durban Metro State of the Environment and Development :1999)

Total Air Emissions

Particulate Matter
3.4% 69.4% 26.8% 0.4% 100%

Carbon Monoxide
3.3% 2.0% 94.6% 0.1% 100%

Sulphur Dioxide
0.0% 91.4% 6.9% 1.6% 100%

Nitrogen Oxides
0.0% 20.6% 74.7% 4.7% 100%

Organic Compounds
2.0% 27.3% 70.2% 0.5% 100%

Agriculture and Forestry Industrial Processes Motor Vehicles Other Mobile Sources Total

Growing numbers of motor vehicles and continued industrial development are placing increasing pressure on the DMA's air quality. Durban's calm winter weather conditions contribute to air pollution problems by preventing the dispersion of pollutants.

Global warming
Global warming will lead to a rise in sea-level which can result in the flooding of coastal areas and erosion of the coastal zone. In Durban, this could lead to a significant loss of beaches, as well as beachfront property and infrastructure. Increased temperatures can lead to the spread of diseases, as conditions become favourable for tropical viruses presently found north of Durban.

What To Do, What To Do ??
Limiting CO2 emissions
(1) Replace fossil fuels with energy sources that do not emit CO2. (2) Use fossil fuels more efficiently. (3) Alternative energy sources that do not emit CO2 include the wind, sunlight, nuclear energy, and underground steam. Devices known as wind turbines can convert wind energy to electric energy. Solar cells can convert sunlight to electric energy, and various devices can convert solar energy to useful heat. Geothermal power plants convert energy in underground steam to electric energy. Alternative sources of energy are more expensive to use than fossil fuels. However, increased research into their use would almost certainly reduce their cost.

Carbon sequestration
(1) Underground or underwater storage, injecting industrial emissions of CO2 into underground geologic formations or the ocean. Suitable underground formations include natural reservoirs of oil and gas from which most of the oil or gas has been removed. Pumping CO2 into a reservoir would have the added benefit of making it easier to remove the remaining oil or gas. The value of that product could offset the cost of sequestration. Deep deposits of salt or coal could also be suitable. The oceans could store much CO2. However, scientists have not yet determined the environmental impacts of using the ocean for carbon sequestration. (2) Storage in living plants, Green plants absorb CO2 from the atmosphere as they grow. They combine carbon from CO2 with hydrogen to make simple sugars, which they store in their tissues. After plants die, their bodies decay and release CO2. Ecosystems with abundant plant life, such as forests and even cropland, could tie up much carbon. However, future generations of people would have to keep the ecosystems intact. Otherwise, the sequestered carbon would re enter the atmosphere as CO2.

Delegates from more than 160 countries met in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997 to draft the agreement that became known as the Kyoto Protocol.

Emissions targets
Thirty-eight industrialized nations would have to restrict their emissions of CO2 and five other greenhouse gases. The restrictions would occur from 2008 through 2012, they would restrict their emissions to a yearly average of about 95 percent of their 1990 emissions. The agreement does not place restrictions on developing countries. But it encourages the industrialized nations to cooperate in helping developing countries limit emissions voluntarily. Industrialized nations could also buy or sell emission reduction units.

Approving the agreement
The protocol would take effect as a treaty if (1) At least 55 countries ratified (formally approved) it. (2) The industrialized countries ratifying the protocol had CO2 emissions in 1990 that equaled at least 55 percent of the emissions of all 38 industrialized countries in 1990. In 2001, the United States rejected the Kyoto Protocol. President George W. Bush said that the agreement could harm the U.S. economy. But he declared that the United States would work with other countries to limit global warming. Other countries, most notably the members of the European Union, agreed to continue with the agreement without United States participation. By 2004, more than 100 countries, including nearly all the countries classified as industrialized under the protocol, had ratified the agreement. However, the agreement required ratification by Russia or the United States to go into effect. Russia ratified the protocol in November 2004. The treaty was to come into force in February 2005.

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