Carbon (dioxide) is the life blood of all beings on earth — no ifs, buts, or maybes!
Journalists’ Tendencies to “Boil-over”
Feb 25, 2017 By Dr. Klaus L.E. Kaiser
Politics aside, there is a variety of “science news” that makes you wonder. A case in point is the news about a recent publication by scientists at the University of Royal Holloway London (URH) with headlines like:
A little visual display of one of those posts may help you along in understanding the grave danger from that sea of “boiling carbon.” Just look at the picture above.
Doesn’t that “warm your heart,” or, at least your stove? After all, carbon only MELTS at around 4000 ºC (much higher number in ºF), so that carbon must be BOILING at a yet higher temperature.
Well, the release by the URH itself is slightly more subdued, it only mentions “melting carbon.” But let’s forget about such minor details and get to the crux of the matter.
What’s the “melting or boiling carbon” finding all about?
It may be difficult to relate the media headlines or even the URH release to the paper by S. Hier-Majumder and B. Tauzin on “Pervasive upper mantle melting beneath the western US,” recently published in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 463 (2017) pp. 25-35. The lead author kindly provided me with a reprint and an explanatory comment as well, which states, inter alia:
“Regarding melting, figure 8(a) and the discussion around it might be helpful.
There isn’t a ‘lake’ or ‘boiling’ carbon in this reservoir. In fact, the amount of melt is only 0.5 vol%, the remaining 99.5% being solid. That said, the huge areal extent leads to the large mass of carbonate melt. Also, the figure of 100 trillion tons is based on the assumption that this reservoir is global.”
That figure, (Fig. 8 in the paper) shows an anomaly at approximately 400 km depth that may indicate the existence of various hydrogen- and carbon-CONTAINING minerals and rocks. You can see the figure below (Fig. 8) together with its original caption.
In reality, the paper does not show the existence of either melting or boiling CARBON at all. Rather it claims the existence of partially melted CARBONATES. Carbonates are minerals made up from metal salts with carbonic acid (carbon dioxide hydrate), like limestone (calcium carbonate) or dolomite (calcium/magnesium carbonate). At least in part, this is due to excess carbon dioxide (CO2) and some water in these parts of the earth’s mantle.
That’s also why most volcanic eruptions contain large amounts of CO2 that drives the volcanic ash plumes miles high into the atmosphere.
Similar to propane gas, CO2 (also a gas at room temperature) can easily be compressed to a liquid. In fact, such liquid CO2 is widely used in common handheld fire extinguishers in airports, on ships, at locations with sensitive electronic equipment, and in chemical laboratories. As a chemist myself, I have had first-hand experience in their use and efficiency.
Dear Reader, please note, the terms carbon, carbon dioxide, and carbonate(s) are not interchangeable. They describe entirely different materials. Their confusion was widely propagated by the past president of the U.S. who liked to talk about “carbon pollution” while actually referring to “carbon dioxide.” Of course, carbon dioxide is not a pollutant but a vital trace constituent (at 0.04%) of the atmosphere.
In fact, prior to the large scale photosynthesis in the natural environment that began approximately 2,000 million years ago, the earth’s atmosphere contained vastly higher levels of CO2 than today. In comparison to those times, the atmosphere now is rather starved of that vital constituent.
There really is no pool of liquid or boiling “carbon” deep down below the surface. Yes, there is carbon dioxide that is being released by volcanoes to replenish the atmospheric component. Without such CO2-spewing volcanoes, life on earth would have disappeared already millions of years ago. Really, we should be glad to have them, though not necessarily in your backyard.
It all “boils down” to a simple question, namely:
Question:Is the earth going to get warmer because of that “boiling carbon” deep down below?
Answer: No, it is not! If you want to read the full scientific paper, please contact me.
Otherwise, just relax and take things on a day-by-day basis. Don’t fall for some journalists’ claims that may be prophesizing the end of the world or something close to it.
Above all, please remember:
Carbon (dioxide) is the life blood of all beings on earth—no ifs, buts, or maybes!