Flooding at LaGuardia, related to Hurricane Sandy

A few photos showed up in my email, from somebody impressed by how LaGuardia Airport became a lake recently. I am inserting a couple of them into this post.

Those concerned about anthropogenic climate change believe that this late-season, higher latitude hurricane is just a precursor of more to come. They point to the fact that atmospheric CO2 monitoring since 1958 shows we have increased the CO2 level from around 315 ppm (parts per million) to a high of 397 ppm earlier this year. Their theory is this CO2 increase will intensify weather patterns: stronger, larger storms, extending into wider ranges, and more weather extremes.

Below is a copy of a key graphic known as the Keeling Curve.[1] This is data compiled high in a Hawaiian volcano, Mauna Loa; the objective was to sample air that would likely be representative of a ‘world trend’ and not locally polluted.20100412.. Keeling Curve
To me, the curve is astonishing. The measurements show an annual cycling (peaks in May, and valleys typically in December) conforming perfectly with the CO2 production/depletion cycles we expect from the annual growth cycles of land plants. Thus, the measurements are so detailed they even pick up on the botanical impact. This detail and regularity certainly undermine arguments that the data lacks precision. The values are ALL higher than all other values compiled for the past 400,000 years, when cyclical peaks were regularly around 300 ppm. And the curve has steadily climbed each year, since 1958.

Theory has it that our collective consumption of fossil fuels, which has greatly intensified in the past hundred years, is responsible. Hey, it is as simple as the fact that burning these fuels creates H2O and CO2, and these gasses have to go somewhere. Hence, the steady climb from 315 ppm to 397 ppm in 54 years. As a side note, theory way back in the fifties was that the added atmospheric CO2 would not stay in the air, but would be flushed into the ocean. Problem is, another theory from that time was (amazingly) that the oceans were SO BIG they can absorb any increase with no impact.

…well, that last theory has since been proven quite wrong. Some of the excess CO2 is being absorbed into the oceans, increasing acidity, factoring into the rapid destruction of tropical corals. And the related ocean temperature increases are intensifying weather, altering weather patterns, and contributing to the record Arctic ice melt-off discussed in the earlier post. In other words, our addiction to excessive fossil fuel consumption is causing BOTH the air and the water to absorb the excess CO2 we are creating.

For the record, 397 ppm is just a fraction of the content of the air we breath. This number means 0.0397% of the atmosphere is CO2; i.e., one molecule in 2,500 total molecules. Seems like so little CO2, why be bothered? But, we must be careful to not discount the impact of even small quantities in the chemical world. The important fact is that 397 ppm in 2012 represents an enormous change in a relatively short time period, in a system that is governed by physical laws to respond to that change. Time will tell if the theories are correct, if the impacts will continue to intensify. I, for one, believe they will.

As for those LaGuardia photos… funny thing is, when I posted earlier, I almost did not include LaGuardia on the list. The post was focusing on airports at 20-feet and below. This airport has an official elevation of 21-feet, and is substantially higher than most of the other listed airports. At any rate, after the recent hurricane, it seems fair to expect aviation itself will be impacted, especially at lower elevation airports. All the more reason to quit wasting time; accept the reality of climate change, and design and implement policies to start to resolve the CO2 problem. Some of these changes, such as higher fuel taxes, may also reduce other aviation impacts. Call it a win-win…


[1] this graph copied from Scripps Institution of Oceanography.