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  • Writer's pictureSuzy Costello, workbooks

MFA, April 25 - May 1 2021

Continuing the stitch, Planning installation, Researching Earth's atmosphere and Climate Change, Writing my Mihi.


Carbon Dioxide, Greenhouse Gases and Ozone Depletion

The last few weeks I have found myself mermerised by the autumnal sunsets and the colour changes that occur in the atmosphere around dusk and into the night. Without clouds, the sky is filled with beautiful pinks, ochres, greens and a variety of blues as the sun sets and the darkness of night encroaches.

Recent media reports have highlighted new findings by scientists and their efforts to alert world governments and humanity to the impending degradation of the Earth's atmosphere.

Using a new model based on historical climate data, the scientific community is able to more accurately project the Earth's temperature until 2100. They found that we will cross the threshold for dangerous warming (+1.5 C) between 2027 and 2042, which is a much narrower window than the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s estimate of between now and 2052.

This is truly alarming. How will the world respond to these scientific predictions? Will governments ignore their pleas for urgent action just as they did the scientific community's warnings of a global pandemic? As I am stitching the artwork it is becoming apparent to me that it is an artwork about changes to Earth's unstable atmosphere brought about by humanity's global economies that are reliant on the burning of fossil fuels. The complex patterns and dynamics of earth's atmosphere are going to change dramatically. I can feel this in the non periodic patterns I am stitching - the fabric of our atmosphere, held together by the merest of threads is going to change.

This is supported by research conducted by NASA on changes in Earth's atmosphere over the last century. NASA's website has a series of essays titled The Atmosphere: Keeping a Weather Eye on Earth's Climate Instabilities - Sizing Up Humanity's Impacts on Earth's Changing Atmosphere​: A Five-Part Series. It is written by Alan Buis in 2019 and discusses findings from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The fifth article looks at greenhouse gases. These are comments by NASA atmospheric scientist Eric Fetzer -

  • I wouldn’t describe Earth’s atmosphere as fragile so much as I’d say our climate system is unstable. Climate is being changed by the addition of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

  • Humanity has pushed climate instability well away from where it has been for many millennia. We’ve had 8,000 years of pretty much the same climate, and only about a century where things have really started to change.

  • We found that Earth’s climate system has responded to increasing carbon dioxide concentrations as climate models predicted. Atmospheric water vapor is sensitive to the presence of carbon dioxide. The more carbon dioxide, the more the atmosphere warms due to the greenhouse effect. A warmer atmosphere holds more water vapor, which is itself a greenhouse gas. This is how water vapor triples the warming from increasing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

  • AIRS data have detected significant changes in the climate of the Arctic. We see increases in Arctic water vapor levels. The Arctic atmosphere is becoming more moist, adding to its warming, and the ocean is becoming more ice-free. These changes are happening more rapidly than scientists expected. I didn’t anticipate seeing them in a 17-year data record.

  • The AIRS team has also observed significant increases in the concentration of atmospheric ammonia in areas like northern India and eastern China due to agricultural activities. This has negatively impacted air quality in these regions.

  • While greenhouse gases are arguably the biggest driver of global climate change, other chemicals such as carbon monoxide and ammonia are also changing significantly, and AIRS is tracking those changes.

The following image is illustrates the amount of carbon monoxide released into the atmosphere as fires burnt in the Amazon basin in 2019.

The streak of red, orange, and yellow across South America, Africa, and the Atlantic Ocean in this animation points to high levels of carbon monoxide, as measured by the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument flying on NASA's Aqua satellite. Credit: NASA-JPL/Caltech/NASA Scientific Visualization Studio

The fourth essay in the series looks at Ozone depletion. Buis interviews atmospheric scientist Bryan Duncan of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Duncan states -

  • Aura’s Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) have observed stratospheric ozone since 1970. It has provided some of the first long-term observations of air pollutants around the world. These include chemicals such as sulfur dioxide, formaldehyde and nitrogen dioxide, which is primarily produced by burning fossil fuels in vehicles and power plants and contributes to surface-level ozone.

  • This information is helping scientists understand why the ozone layer is varying over time, including how human-produced ozone-destroying chemicals thinned the ozone layer and caused the “ozone hole” over Antarctica.

Ozone hole over Antartica, Credit: NASA

Here is an article on Bill Gates's ideas in his new book, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster. It is a guide to tackling global warming. Here are his comments -

  • Solving climate change would be "the most amazing thing humanity has ever done". By comparison, ending the pandemic is "very, very easy"... don't underestimate the scale of the challenge. "We've never made a transition like we're talking about doing in the next 30 years. There is no precedent for this."

  • Gates' focus is on how technology can help us make that journey - renewable sources like wind and solar can help us decarbonise electricity but that is less than 30% of total emissions.

  • We are also going to have to decarbonise the other 70% of the world economy - steel, cement, transport systems, fertiliser production and much, much more. We simply don't have ways of doing that at the moment for many of these sectors.

  • 'Governments must lead', the answer will be an innovation effort on a scale the world has never seen before.

  • At the moment, the economic system doesn't price in the real cost of using fossil fuels. Most users don't pay anything for the damage to the environment done by pollution from the petrol in their car or the coal or gas that created the electricity in their home. "Right now, you don't see the pain you're causing as you emit carbon dioxide". "We need to have price signals to tell the private sector that we want green products"

  • It's going to require a huge investment by governments in research and development, as well as support to allow the market for new products and technologies to grow, thereby helping drive down prices.

  • And, on the climate issue, it will be impossible to avoid a disaster, particularly for those who live near the equator, without governments around the world getting behind the effort.

  • The Republican Party in America needs to recognise the importance of tackling climate change. This needs to be a "constant 30-year push". "Business just can't change all that physical infrastructure unless the market signals are constant and very clear.""



Tēnā koutou e hoa mā. (Greetings to you (3 or more people) my friends.)

Ko Remutaka te maunga. (The mountain is Remutaka.)

Ko Te Whanganui a Tara te moana. (The river/sea/lake is [name of the river/sea/lake].)

Ko Ngāti Irish/English te iwi. (The tribal group is [name of the tribal group].

Ko Suzy Costello taku ingoa. (My name is [your name].)

Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa. (Greetings, greetings, greetings (to all of you).)


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