You hear about so many Million tons of CO2 per year, does this make the atmosphere ‘heavier’? Does it float away or is it just a negligible amount?


You hear about so many Million tons of CO2 per year, does this make the atmosphere ‘heavier’? Does it float away or is it just a negligible amount?

In: 9

It does become heavier but negligible.

a) Millions of tons are emitted but millions are also recycled or removed. Plants and planktons use CO2 and convert to oxygen. Millions of tons more are converted or captured by the ocean.

b) CO2 concentration is about 0.04% (420 PPM) of the atmosphere. Pre-industrial age that was about 0.03% (280 PPM). This shows how delicately balanced this cycle is. Even a small shift might result in large climate impact.

The CO2 already exists, or at least it’s atoms do, either in pure for or trapped in a compound or resource. When you burn fossil fuels you are changing the chemistry and slitting the atoms up into new compounds, one of which is CO2. When permafrost melts, CO2 frozen as bubbles in the ground is released. In any case, the weight of the earth inclusive of atmosphere doesn’t change. The material was always there, and hasn’t left.

This is due to what we know as the laws of thermodynamics, and entropy. You cannot Create material or energy out of nothing – you can only move it between open systems. Ie the earth within the solar system is an open system where energy from the sun can enter the earth’s atmosphere and become trapped by CO2 buildup. Or you can think of a terrarium as a nearly closed system orher than the need for sunlight. All the atoms inside the glass transform cyclically but are never lost from the system.

The earth is basically a giant terrarium, but we need to have a way for energy received by the sun to vent back into space. CO2 is closing gaps in our glass cage and energy is entering faster than it is escaping. This causes an average increase in global temperature the upsets the system. A very delicate system that needs millions of years to slowly adapt. Global warming in of itself isn’t an issue. It’s how fast it is going that will cause horrific challenges for all current life on earth.

So to make a CO2 you need an oxygen molecule (O2). You take away an O2 and bring back a CO2. Which means that the whole mixture is indeed getting heavier but the extra weight is not the whole weight of CO2, only the C.

Now let’s see the ratios.
Currently, in every 1 million molecules in the air there’s 210 thousand oxygen (almost the whole rest is nitrogen).
So we have around 210000 vs 420.
To make a little more CO2, you take away from the oxygen. So to go to 421 from 420 of CO2 you will get 209999 oxygen. In the meantime you still have over 780000 units of nitrogen not affected.
As you see, the extra carbon weight in the whole mixture is indeed negligible.

But then what is the problem with CO2 you might ask, if it’s so few in the air? The problem is that before the industrial era, the amount of CO2 was about 300 parts per million. Now its 420, which is 140% of 300. That’s a huge extra. CO2 is so efficient green house gas that roughly all the job of keeping our climate at the warmth where it used to be, was done by this 300 ppm. And now we have 140% more.

Phew, I was worried the atmosphere was getting a bit thick around here! Glad it’s just negligible.