by Jeffrey A. Glassman, PhD
Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is the product of oceanic respiration due to the well-known but under-appreciated solubility pump. Carbon dioxide rises out of warm ocean waters where it is added to the atmosphere. There it is mixed with residual and accidental CO2, and circulated, to be absorbed into the sink of the cold ocean waters. Next the thermohaline circulation carries the CO2?rich sea water deep into the ocean. A millennium later it appears at the surface in warm waters, saturated by lower pressure and higher temperature, to be exhausted back into the atmosphere.
Throughout the past 420 millennia, comprising four interglacial periods, the Vostok record of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration is imprinted with, and fully characterized by, the physics of the solubility of CO2 in water, along with the lag in the deep ocean circulation. Notwithstanding that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, atmospheric carbon dioxide has neither caused nor amplified global temperature increases. Increased carbon dioxide has been an effect of global warming, not a cause. Technically, carbon dioxide is a lagging proxy for ocean temperatures. When global temperature, and along with it, ocean temperature rises, the physics of solubility causes atmospheric CO2 to increase. If increases in carbon dioxide, or any other greenhouse gas, could have in turn raised global temperatures, the positive feedback would have been catastrophic. While the conditions for such a catastrophe were present in the Vostok record from natural causes, the runaway event did not occur. Carbon dioxide does not accumulate in the atmosphere.
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