DATE: August 19, 2019
SNIP: Almost all scientists agree that burning fossil fuels is contributing to climate change. But agreement is less clear cut on how exactly it’s influencing rising global temperatures.
Burning fossil fuels doesn’t just produce greenhouse gases, it also generates a lot of heat, which leaks out to the atmosphere. Nuclear tests and volcanic eruptions are some examples of other large heat sources.
Back in 2009, two scientists in Sweden argued that thermal emissions were more important than CO₂ for raising global temperatures. A few years later, two Chinese scientists suggested that heat from the earth’s interior could be contributing to rising temperatures. They argued that fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas in layers and crevices beneath the Earth’s surface act as an insulating blanket, trapping heat from the planet’s interior. As these deposits have been emptied by fossil fuel extraction, more of that heat could be reaching the surface.
This idea is similar to how fat tissue under the skin prevents body heat from being lost to the surrounding air. To investigate this theory in the Earth’s crust, we looked at the figures for global fossil fuel production alongside data for temperature changes on the land and sea surface. Our research suggests that it is possible that temperatures may be rising faster in places where fossil fuels are being extracted from the ground.
Could higher rates of warming in these places be caused by the Earth losing its internal “heat shield”? The idea that some regions have a protective layer below the ground, stopping heat from the Earth’s interior rising to the surface, isn’t as strange as it may sound. After all, the ozone layer in Earth’s atmosphere protects against ultraviolet radiation, but it was only discovered in the 19th century. Astounding new findings about the Earth system emerge all the time.