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C12 makes up 99% of carbon in the atmosphere (nearly all atmospheric carbon is in the form of CO2). Plants don’t like the rarer C13 type as much; photosynthesis works best on the C12 -type -of-CO2 and not the C13-type when absorbing CO2 from the air.Prof Salby points out that while fossil fuels are richer in C12 than the atmosphere, so too is plant life on Earth, and there isn’t a lot of difference (just 2.6%) in the ratios of C13 to C12 in plants versus fossil fuels.Exactly how closely do we know the rate of soil evolution of CO2, for example?” Chiefio also found some interesting quotes pointing out that corn (a C4 plant) absorbs more C13, and our mass fields of corn might just muck up the stats… Suspiciously, when satellites record atmospheric CO2 levels around the globe they find that the sources don’t appear to be concentrated in the places we’d expect — industry or population concentrations like western Europe, the Ohio Valley, or China.(Fossil fuels are, after all, made in theory from plants, so it’s not surprising that it’s hard to tell their “signatures” apart).So if the C13 to C12 ratio is falling (as more C12 rich carbon is put into the air by burning fossil fuels) then we can’t know if it’s due to man-made CO2 or natural CO2 from plants.Word reached the Sydney Institute, which rushed to arrange for him to speak, given the importance of this work in the current Australian political climate.The ratio of C13 to C12 (two isotopes of carbon) in our atmosphere has been declining, which is usually viewed as a signature of man-made CO2 emissions.
Salby does not dispute that some of the rise in CO2 levels is due to man-made emissions, but found that temperature alone explains about 80% of the variation in CO2 levels.
The largest increases year-to-year occurred when the world warmed fastest due to El Nino conditions.
The smallest increases correlated with volcanoes which pump dust up into the atmosphere and keep the world cooler for a while.
Plants are ‘deficient’ in C13, and so, then, ought to be our fossil fuel derived CO2. We are 5.5 and plants are putting 121.6 into the air each year (not counting ocean plants).
The implication is that since coal and oil were from plants, that “plant signature” means “human via fossil fuels”. There is a lot of carbon slopping back and forth between sinks and sources.