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Robin Wylie, an academic at University College London, has written a fascinating piece at Live Science on volcanic emissions of carbon dioxide, which is an area of geoscience that is, like so many others, characterised more by ignorance than understanding - only 33 of the known 150 "smokers" have been examined by scientists.

According to Wylie, the latest research suggests that volcanic emissions are many times what they were thought to be a couple of decades ago:

In 1992, it was thought that volcanic degassing released something like 100 million tons of CO2 each year. Around the turn of the millennium, this figure was getting closer to 200. The most recent estimate, released this February, comes from a team led by Mike Burton, of the Italian National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology – and it’s just shy of 600 million tons. It caps a staggering trend: A six-fold increase in just two decades.

More remarkably, Wylie notes that there may be hundreds more volcanoes that are technically inactive but which are still emitting substantial quantities of carbon dioxide.

Even more incredibly, it even seems that some volcanoes which are considered inactive, in terms of their potential to ooze new land, can still make some serious additions to the atmosphere through diffuse CO2 release. Residual magma beneath dormant craters, though it might never reach the surface, can still 'erupt' gases from a distance. Amazingly, from what little scientists have measured, it looks like this process might give off as much as half the CO2 put out by fully active volcanoes.

Even with these new sources accounted for, I think that known volcanic emissions will still be much lower than anthropogenic ones, but the very fact that we are uncovering new sources suggest that we still have a lot to learn about natural carbon dioxide emissions.

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Reader Comments (32)

Hopefully the new satellite will give some valuable information on the subject.

Jul 4, 2014 at 8:45 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoss Lea


But then this might be ahead of the new satellite, needing a bigger, newer satellite?

Jul 4, 2014 at 8:49 AM | Unregistered CommenterAnother Ian

I think we should tax such volcanos.

Jul 4, 2014 at 9:10 AM | Unregistered Commenteroebele bruinsma

The earlier Japanese satellite Gosat has already produced images of global CO₂ emissions as seen here.

Jul 4, 2014 at 9:19 AM | Unregistered CommenterBloke down the pub

I know volcanoes are always written off by the consensus as not being a major source of CO2 but I always wonder if we yet know the full extent of volcanoes in the world and whether they are all being taken into account.

For instance, there is the Mid-Atlantic Ridge: "Explosive eruptions at mid-ocean ridges driven by CO2-rich magmas"

And also hydrothermal vents: " Numerous hydrothermal vents in the crater of Kolumbo submarine volcano (Aegean Sea) are discharging virtually pure gaseous CO2"

Jul 4, 2014 at 9:22 AM | Unregistered Commentergraphicconception

We already know that manmade emissions are around 2 to 3% of the natural flux. If that had been understood at the time of Revelle then nobody would have bothered funding any CO2 measurements on Mauna Loa I suspect. However, despite this, the IPCC argument goes that nature only takes up half of manmade emissions and leaves the rest in the air.This is driven by a) Moana Loa rises, b) the assumption that pre-industrial levels were 290ppm, which comes straight from Callendars biased deselective statistics (that were savaged by Slocum at the time) and c) the Siple CO2 hockey-stick created by splicing high res and low res data (something that was universally accepted as wrong with Marcums hokey-stick). I corresponded with an Antarctic ice expert as to why this Siple bodge is accepted when geological, stomatal and Arctic ice core data all disagree with it, bearing in mind that everything else about the Antarctic is supposed to be unique (eg the current cooling) and I received the response that all the other data is unreliable for one reason or another. I replied that this was remarkably like choosing your data to suit your hypothesis and was then ignored.

However while b) and c) are most definitely dodgy methods to an objctive eye, Mauna Loa is widely considered as the smoking gun. At that height the CO2 should be well-mixed but unfortunately there seems to much rejection of data for my liking (80% I believe). The engineers way would be to keep all data and just draw a curve along the bottom to get the minimum, as for metal fatigue data. I suspect they reject the data so they can show the squiggly line that shows the Earth breathing, whcih was confirmation of a hypothesis made by Keeling. Hmmm! Well maybe I'm too much of a sceptic but I've seen so many hokey graphs to tell me that curve is jusrst too neat when compared to the hugely variant raw, unadulterated data that I've seen elsewhere. Alas the raw data for these CO2 collection sites are not available as far as I know so we can't do the engineers method.

But of course, according to several prominent skeptics we are all just supposed to accept that nature is not capable of absorbing mans piddling emissions, despite how illogical it would otherwise seem and we are also expected to believe that a warming sea is actually a sink rather than a source despite that notion contradicting basic physics.

Jul 4, 2014 at 9:27 AM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

I think that the original paper was written by Timothy Casey BSc. I have a copy.

His assessment was that volcanogenic CO2 was far higher than that of humans. But his real bombshell was that volcanogenic CO2 was isotopically identical to that produced by fossil fuel burning. So claims that 14C depletion can distinguish CO2 from volcanoes and humans is false.

There are over 3million volcanoes on the planet, many under the oceans and ALL produce CO2.

Jul 4, 2014 at 9:46 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Marshall

My introduction to scientific climate scepticism was in a cafe in Bristol around 1992 with some Rio Tinto geologists, for whom Objective, the company I founded, was charged with digitising, databasing and making available to experts, via a map-based interface, worldwide exploration info accumulated over more than a century. One of these two-PhD experts was incandescent about the anthropogenic global warming movement and its intolerance, even then, of all criticism. He said a lot I don't remember but one thing I do were his statements about Mount St Helens at that time belching out far more CO2 than man would ever manage for vast areas around it.

Ian Plimer has also got into trouble for his view that volcanos are producing far more CO2 than has been accounted for in calculations so far.

Respect is due to such men, in my view, but not to those who cannot even bother to fund careful measurements that would establish the situation much more fully.

Jul 4, 2014 at 10:32 AM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

Wasn't it Bob Carter who was claiming volcanic Co2 to be significantly higher than currently accepted? And for that he was excommunicated. Seems we are now getting to the point where there will be a lot of so called scientists having to apologise to him eh?



Jul 4, 2014 at 10:43 AM | Unregistered CommenterMailman

We mustn't forget that the measurement & production of the Hawaii CO2 data is overseen by an arch warmist.

Jul 4, 2014 at 10:47 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohnOfEnfield

Mailman: Almost certainly Bob Carter is in the same crew.

Jul 4, 2014 at 10:47 AM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

I am not sure how relevant volcanoes are.

The real question is are they a constant?

Obviously that can't be answered without first identifying them, but if volcanoes do what volanoes do, and if they do now what they always have done (and bear in mind that they have been doing this on the basis of geological time, not our short snapshot of the past 100 or so years), they are unlikely to be the explanation as to why CO2 levels are increasing (assuming that these levels are increasing - I am one who questions that validity of disregarding the 19th and 20th century chemical analyses).

The carbon cycle and its sink is not fully known and still less well understood.

Jul 4, 2014 at 10:53 AM | Unregistered Commenterrichard verney


Since when did not knowing the full picture ever stop so called climate scientists abs the likes of Anders from ever being so certain of themselves?


Jul 4, 2014 at 11:26 AM | Unregistered CommenterMailman

Re: JamesG

the IPCC argument goes that nature only takes up half of manmade emissions and leaves the rest in the air.

This is based upon the Berne model

At that height the CO2 should be well-mixed

The Berne model, however, does not allow for any mixing of anthropogenic generated CO2 once it has been added to the atmosphere and initially mixed.

This was not their intention, but it it what the equations they use represent. The equation is here. It has 6 terms with each term supposed to represent a carbon sink (one sink doesn't sequester any CO2). You can physically represent this equation with six of these set-ups having different flow rates and volumes. The water in each tube represents CO2. This perfectly replicates their equation so it must have the same characteristics as the system they are modelling. The water in each tube never mixes with water from other tubes which means their equations represents a system where the CO2 over each sink never mixes with other CO2.

Jul 4, 2014 at 11:46 AM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS

This is actually a very important number; at steady state influx must equal efflux, to the rate at which CO2 is added to the biosphere must match the mineralizaion rate.
The mass of carbon in the atmosphere is 720 gtC (up from 505 GtC), in the oceans 38,500 GtC and on land 2,000 GtC; a pre-Industrial total of 41,000 GtC. What ever the rate of volcanic addition to the biosphere, the (mainly) biotic mineralization of carbon has matched, keeping total carbon much the same.
If the annual rate of volcanic emission is 600,000,000 tons of CO2, 0.164 GtC, then the total turnover of carbon is only about once every 250,000; thus every 250,000 years about half the carbon atoms should be fresh, a quarter 500,000 years old, an eighth 750,000 years old and so on.
The bigger the natural input of volcanic CO2 is, then the faster must be the rate of biotic mineralization, at steady state, and thus, the higher the rate of mineralization of carbon when the steady state is elevated, as is the case now.
The 'Climate Scientists'TM would have it that the levels of CO2 are a chemical accident, where weathering of rocks provides the rate of carbon mineralization efflux and volcanoes the input into the system. The only way they can make fossil fuel derived carbon last for centuries in the atmosphere is to make the rate of natural carbon influx, from volcanoes, as low as possible.

Jul 4, 2014 at 12:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterDocMartyn

Once again skeptics are proven correct: geological sources of CO2 are much larger than the climate obsessed believe.

Jul 4, 2014 at 1:05 PM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

I remember reading T.Casey's review of the literature a few years ago at about the same time as the radio interview between Monbiot and Plimer. Casey's review concluded that the literature supports the notion of 3.5 million submarine volcanoes worldwide, and even with 4% active this implied a CO2 release greater than man's contribution. Never saw any response from proponents of AGW on that.

Jul 4, 2014 at 1:43 PM | Unregistered Commenterwormthatturned

That is going to be a poke in the eye for one vociferous (and rather unpleasant) commenter on one recently-linked-to blog by Ivo Vegter, who was adamant that human CO2 production exceeded that from volcanoes over 100-fold. Mind you, the commenter was equally adamant that sea-level rise was measured horizontally, not vertically, and, with logic like that, it is not possible to knock a chink into their mental armour of infallibility.

Jul 4, 2014 at 1:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterRadical Rodent

richard verney: I suggest that without such basic data as emissions from volcanoes we may get the carbon cycle wrong in significant ways. The apparent lack of concern about such fundamental things is what astounds me. I'd prefer money that might be spent on a bigger supercomputer for GCMs, as per the harmony-to-discord thread, to go into much more basic measurements, including CO2 fluxes in and out of vegetation.

Jul 4, 2014 at 2:57 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

This little globe has been burning lots of stuff for millions of years and with volcanic will do so for probably long after our grand children are dead living in the shaky isles all is normal earthquakes are normal weather changes who knows am not really worried as tomorrow the Bank will want me to pay more for something that does not make sense probably blamed on Global Cooling

Jul 4, 2014 at 3:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterMOCSNOR

Only some sources are estimated.
Bison turn up dead in Yellowstone;
Very likely because of CO2 suffocation.
Mentions of animals dead near other somnolent volcanoes from Alaska through Patagonia exist.

People within a large radius of a Lake Nyos suffocate from CO2;

It is very hard to estimate what alarmists prefer to deny as it makes their case for Man's evil CO2 emissions difficult.

An excellent description, "Robin Wylie, an academic at University College London, has written a fascinating piece at Live Science on volcanic emissions of carbon dioxide, which is an area of geoscience that is, like so many others, characterised more by ignorance than understanding - only 33 of the known 150 "smokers" have been examined by scientists", for evaluating volcanic CO2 emissions.

Since Robin Wylie's statement expressly refers to 'smokers' a term used extensively for rift and subduction sea vents; that leaves me wondering whether any surface tectonic or even hot spot vents have truly been examined? Surtsey, Loihi, Tambora...

Instead the so-called authorities ask us to accept their estimates, allegedly unbiased estimates. I have to assume that their 'estimates' are as accurate and unbiased as many of the other CAGW estimates. Meaning, absolutely biased and not at all accurate.

About that new satellite, you mean the one NOAA is responsible for and will oversee calibration?

Jul 4, 2014 at 5:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterATheoK

ATheoK wrote "Since Robin Wylie's statement expressly refers to 'smokers' a term used extensively for rift and subduction sea vents"

I don't believe this can be right. A quick look for references reveals there are tens of thousands of undersea volcanoes, but only 150 known "smokers"?

Jul 4, 2014 at 7:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterDaveJR

Following on from DocMartyn's comment, what this really means is that the flux of CO2 in the atmosphere is getting on for an order of magnitude higher than first estimated. This is a massive change and I think shows just how little we know of the carbon cycle with respect to magnitude of the different components.

So, what is taking up all of this extra CO2 which we now are pretty sure is entering the atmosphere? How are our estimates of the contribution to CO2 fixation going to have to change in light of this new evidence on emissions? Of the various sinks, which ones have the most accurate estimates currently, and therefore which ones are going to be revised upwards in light of this new evidence?

A lot of new numbers need to be generated here before any question of climate change mitigation through reduction of anthropogenic CO2 emissions can be addressed. To steal a quote from another thread recently "Don't do something, just stand there."

Jul 4, 2014 at 8:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterRob

It worth spending a few moments contemplating how that CO2 came to be in those volcanos.

Jul 4, 2014 at 10:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterTmitsss

Earth volcano estimate:

Lake Nyos is the only volcanic emission that is 100% captured. I derived the Lake Nyos CO₂ evolution rate based on Schmid et al, (2003) as 187 million SCF/Y. Assuming that is typical for a volcanic vent, and assuming 3 million such vents for the entire earth, I get possibly 5.6*10¹⁴ SCF/Y world-wide, or 29,500 million tons per year of CO2, equivalent to 8,000 million tons of Carbon, annually, swept under the rug by warmist science.

Jul 5, 2014 at 2:11 AM | Unregistered Commenterjorgekafkazar

Jul 4, 2014 at 9:27 AM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

Well said.
I sometimes wonder if ACO2 would fit inside the error range of the natural flux.

Jul 5, 2014 at 7:58 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlan Reed

BBC Uses Secrecy Rules To Hide Expensive Mistakes Says Audit Boss (Breitbart 4/7/14). Note the last para.

Sir Amyas Morse, the comptroller and auditor general of the NAO, told MPs that the BBC would use the tactics to ensure costly failures went unreported. He also claimed that his staff had been prevented from properly scrutinising the corporation by interfering bureaucrats that acted like "gatekeepers".

He said the NAO had struggled to get information about how the BBC was spending public funds, and whether it was providing value for money. He claimed that this was particularly bad when it came to gathering information on excessive payoffs for former executives. In some cases secrecy led to investigations being held up for months on end.

Sir Amyas told the House of Commons culture, media and sport committee: "There are an awful lot of gatekeepers in the organisation who feel that they can apply their judgement, rather than relying on our professionalism as to what we might or might not see."

Jul 5, 2014 at 8:38 AM | Unregistered CommenterEx-expat Colin

Soo..they're going to have to;

Clingfilm all the seas and oceans,

Put corks in all the volcanoes on Earth,

Kill any lifeform with a high Co2 output (termites generate ten times what we do),

Etc., wonder science is becoming a joke.

Jul 5, 2014 at 11:32 AM | Unregistered CommenterRightwinggit

Ignoring the amount of CO2 produced by burning carbon based fuels, and the corresponding reduction in O2 levels makes skeptics look stupid. The causal effect of CO2 increase from carbon fuels is very well and solidly established.

Jul 5, 2014 at 1:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterRedbone

Ignoring the fact that climate obsessed people keep making incorrect predictions and claims regarding material and significant issues makes the climate obsessed look like they do not care about the truth.

Jul 5, 2014 at 2:00 PM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

The mention of Mauna Loa Observatory caught my eye, it is of course situated next to Kilauea Volcano which is active. A year ago I looked up the details.
Measurements in summit lava tubes show CO2 concentrations up to 1%, well above the occupational TWA standard, and volcano speleologists have reported mental confusion and exhaustion whilst mapping these tubes. CO2 excursions measured in the entrance to a seismic vault located just below ground surface have been as high as 0.5%
At Mauna Loa Observatory (Hawaii) the measured carbon dioxide increased from 315 to 365 ppm, in the period
1958–2000 The volcanic areas are particularly rich in carbon dioxide; this is due to magma degassing in the summit
craters region of active volcanoes, and to the presence of fractures and active faults
Kilauea emits more than 700,000 tons of CO2 each year, less than 0.01% of the yearly global contribution by human
sources. For instance, this is about the same amount of CO2 emitted by 132,000 sport utility vehicles
I thought it rather a strange site for an observatory measuring carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. In asking questions about the validity of such measurements I ended up at 'Skeptical Science' where most comment was that the air was well mixed - whatever that means. Since then I have learnt that 'Skeptical Science' was responsible for the 97% hoax.

All the major environmentalist groups quote the Keeling curve against the 'hockey stick' and my objective was to see if in fact all this extra CO2 had increased the temperatures locally. So I looked up the temperature record for Hilo Airport, Hawaii: -
Unable to paste graphs and tables, can e-mail them.
Between 1973 and 2012 the average annual temperature at Hilo varied from 22 to 28.9 degrees C.
Honolulu international records going back to 1940 had the same spread

Not really any evidence of global warming or climate change in Hawaii. Syd Ashurst

Jul 6, 2014 at 2:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterS.H. Ashurst

Correction to last post.
The temperature range is 22 to 23.9 degrees C, which means the maximum spread is 1.9 degrees. It shows no warming whatsoever over 72 years at Honolulu.

Jul 7, 2014 at 2:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterS.H. Ashurst

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