A new global fixed point

James Lovelock’s most recent book – The Ages of Gaia, argues that the earth is headed for a new fixed point at a much elevated temperature. He cites several mechanisms that are providing positive feedback to rising temperatures. One example is the emission of dimethylsulfide (DMS) by ocean phytoplankton into the atmosphere. DMS is what makes the ocean smell like well the ocean. DMS also contributes to cloud cover which increases the albedo of the earth. For small temperature increases and increases in UV radiation, phytoplankton upregulate DMS release and provide negative feedback However, recent evidence (I must admit that I haven’t checked the primary source) suggests that for a very large increase in temperature, DMS release may actually decrease and lead to positive feedback. Lovelock also believes that the increased global temperatures will turn the Amazon rain forest into a savannah leading to even less carbon sequestration. Studies in the UK have found that as temperatures increase, CO2 is being released from the ground at a higher rate. Aquatic cyanobacteria (also known as blue-green algae), which are photosynthetic and may be the largest carbon sink we have, may also down regulate CO2 intake with increasing temperatures. The bottom line is that relying on Gaia to provide negative feedback to our fossil fuel use may not be a viable option. The earth may transition to a new fixed point where the temperature may be as much as 10 degrees warmer. This could turn much of the currently temperate zones into deserts. Lovelock believes it will end civilization as we know it. Even I think this is probably an overly bleak prediction but it is definitely something to think about.

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