A Trillion Tons: Stabilization of Carbon Dioxide (5)

By: Dr. Ricky Rood , 11:21 PM GMT on December 17, 2010

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A Trillion Tons: Stabilization of Carbon Dioxide (5)

I have gotten off of my planned series on open communities because of meetings and the end of the semester. I am at the American Geophysical Union Meeting in San Francisco. This is one of the biggest regular collections of geophysicists – perhaps even a meeting of ritual. I have been told that there are more than 19,000 registered this year. I’ve had a couple of talks (uncertainty, heat waves), and I have had students making presentations. In terms of presentations of ongoing research about the Earth, about climate, this meeting is overwhelming. You could take a bunch of reporters and send them to a 1000 talks and poster presentations and not cover it all. And, of course, it is hard to pick out what will prove to be important. The sessions I attended have focused on improving the evaluation of climate models, better use of climate data by practitioners, and linking global and local information.

There was a talk by Ray Pierrehumbert that has changed the way I think about carbon dioxide and managing the future heating of the planet’s surface. This is one of those interesting results that come from putting together basic information that has, honestly, been around a while. It’s a result that demonstrates the importance of synthesis in scientific investigation.

Some background (here is a longish list from this blog): Stabilization is the idea of controlling, stabilizing, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at some concentration. Some commonly used numbers are that prior to the industrial revolution in parts per million (ppm) there were about 280 ppm. We are currently at about 390 ppm. Jim Hansen has argued we need to get back to 350 ppm. A number, more or less accepted as the lowest, reasonable target, is 450 ppm. And a number that has been used in many evaluations of the impact of global warming is doubled CO2, say, 560 ppm. Currently CO2 emissions are increasing at about 3% a year.

Pierrehumbert was giving his interpretation of a pre-publication report from the National Academy of Sciences, Climate Stabilization Targets: Emissions, Concentrations, and Impacts over Decades to Millennia. These reports are written by expert panels, and Pierrehumbert was on the panel, which was chaired by Susan Solomon. (with an innocuous registration you can download a .pdf for free.) A take away message from the report is that stabilization of the climate requires us to consider the total accumulated amount of carbon dioxide that we have released. That is, CO2 does not really go away, and that to think about simply controlling emissions is not enough. It just keeps building up, and in the end, carbon dioxide wins.

In January of 2009 Susan Solomon and colleagues published a paper called Irreversible climate change due to carbon dioxide emissions. The article appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. This paper focused specifically on carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and made the argument that the effects of man-made carbon dioxide on the climate would last more than 1000 years – their definition of irreversibility.

The lifetime of carbon dioxide in the climate system, specifically in the atmosphere is more difficult to calculate than for many greenhouse gases. This is because of the role of the oceans and the terrestrial ecosystems. A balance develops between the terrestrial carbon dioxide, the carbon dioxide in the ocean and in the atmosphere. While one can find citations that the lifetime of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is on the order of 100 years, Solomon and her co-authors point out that when one considers how long today’s “excess” carbon dioxide from industry influences the climate, it is in excess of 1000 years. It for this reason that if we stopped burning fossil fuels immediately, that the Earth’s surface would continue to warm and remain warm.

Thinking about this, at least for any amount of time relevant to humans, this suggests that the carbon dioxide that we put in the atmosphere will just build up over time. Pierrehumbert’s exposition of this issue comes to the conclusion that given our stated desire to limit surface warming to only 2 degrees on average, we are allowed to put one trillion tons of carbon in the atmosphere (I have revised this to take care of the difference between unit of carbon dioxide or carbon equivalent. A ton of carbon equivalent is 3.667 tons of carbon dioxide, see EPA definitions). On time scales of 1000 to 10,000 years, it does not matter a whole lot if we put that trillion tons in over 20 years or over 100 years. From the point of view of an inhabitant for the next few years, I would take issue with it not mattering how fast it comes in – it would affect the peak amount and the amount of warming in the short term. But, as Pierrehumbert presented the argument, it makes sense, and the time scales are all close enough to be relevant and have important implications. Again, long-term effects are determined by carbon dioxide, and it matters what we do in the short term to limit these effects.

Pierrehumbert takes issue with Ramanathan’s proposal that we can manage the composition of black carbon and methane to buy time. The point being that it does not really buy time if we don’t actually control the amount of CO2 emission – because in the end what matters is the total amount of accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere. Yes, the management of black carbon and methane makes a difference to temperature, but it is a relatively short blip even on a time scale of 100 years. It temporarily reduces the warming but does not exactly buy time, as CO2 continues to accumulate. Such a warming management tactic could be implemented at any time. (see Pierrehumbert on RealClimate, see also Hot the Brakes Hard).

This rethinking of the role of carbon dioxide challenges the standard stabilization curves that I and many others have used to discuss carbon dioxide balance. Here is that curve:




Figure 1: Stabilization of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide as a Function of Emissions (from IPCC).

This curve suggests that if we start to reduce emissions at a certain rate in, for example, about 2040 and then follow a reduced emissions curve that the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will decrease to some value. If you study the curve you will see the carbon dioxide decreasing significantly over 100 years. Pierrehumbert is essentially stating that this curve is not appropriate to reality, because CO2 is not leaving the atmosphere; it does NOT decrease significantly over 100 years. It, therefore, accumulates.

So I am going to try to read some graphs. According to this graph from Pierrehumbert’s blog on Realclimate, a total emission of one trillion tons of carbon would keep warming just below the two degree global average.



Figure 2: Warming based on accumulated carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (from RealClimate.org)

Then, according to Table 1 in Climate Stabilization Targets: Emissions, Concentrations, and Impacts over Decades to Millennia this trillion tons corresponds to about 430 ppm of carbon dioxide. This suggests that emissions reductions alone, no matter how drastic, will not get us back to 350 ppm. If this is the needed target, then we will have to learn how to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

So a question arises – over the past 150 years what is the accumulated carbon dioxide due to burning fossil fuels and how much do we have left? As I understand the emissions, we have used about half of our trillion tons, and we will get to our 1 trillion tons in 2040 with our current rate of emissions. Current reality suggests that we are increasing, not decreasing our emissions. It would be, therefore, an ambitious goal to limit our emissions to one trillion tons, and shift to non-carbon energy sources. We might buy some time by managing and reducing our carbon emissions, meaning to reduce the rate of emissions increase.

In a statement of what has been becoming more and more evident, the National Academy report "concludes that the world is entering a new geologic epoch, sometimes called the Anthropocene, in which human activities will largely control the evolution of Earth’s environment.” It will be ours to manage and engineer, either with knowledge and responsibility or without.

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Figure 3: A ton of carbon dioxide in Copenhagen.


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148. EnergyMoron
5:16 AM GMT on December 27, 2010
While the point about unknown persistance of CO2 is well taken...

I don't understand figure 1. All the numbers I have seen are about 30 gigatonnes (billion metric tonnes) per year.

Link
Member Since: December 8, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 3
145. sirmaelstrom
2:48 PM GMT on December 25, 2010
Merry Christmas to everyone!
Member Since: February 19, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 580
144. cyclonebuster
2:41 PM GMT on December 25, 2010
Quoting MichaelSTL:


You also make the same claim when you say that your tunnels cool the oceans by cooling the surface and then claim that the deep ocean can't warm so the heat just disappears (refuted by many studies that show otherwise, and I am talking about energy equivalent to some 15 times the surface warming).


That's a BIG negative Michael I have told you numerous times that the heat in the deep ocean rises from convection currents to the surface where some of it then escapes to space and the atmosphere and the deep water does not get warmed by the sun like the surface does.
Member Since: January 2, 2006 Posts: 127 Comments: 20470
142. ConnecticutWXGuy
2:06 AM GMT on December 25, 2010
I think man-made is 25% truthful, and 75% exaggerated. A lot of it is about money and power. We have seen much larger CO2 levels in the Earth's Atmosphere in several periods of Earth's history... and I simply can not see how the current pollution humans create can possibly cause anywhere near the effects of say... a super volcano erupting. So I think we should spend SOME money on lowering CO2 emissions, but all the talk about the world being in danger if that's all we do is BULL. We need to make modest adjustments and I really believe the long term effects will be more than satisfactory - that's assuming "global warming" is not simply being caused by natural influences. Maybe if it was natural it would be a bit more scary because we can't control it, and that's why people are so resistant to fight the political greed and anti-science known as "Man-made Global Warming." Getting rid of pollution is always good, taking drastic steps to reduce it at an unrealistic rate simply to transfer money into the hands of the greedy well... that's not good at all.
Member Since: November 17, 2010 Posts: 11 Comments: 527
139. idontknowforsure
1:07 AM GMT on December 25, 2010
Quoting JFLORIDA:


More like 60 and a net dimming over the last half century but other than having those details wrong, and your premise, you are 100% correct.

Remember we are discussing reasons for warming now. Unexpected increases in solar energy will make things worse.

Solar radiation travels to the earth in about 8 minutes and 19 seconds and its warming results are rather immediate. Its a direct source into the temperature energy budget.

There are no hidden sunlight sinks.

If after 60 years with a net dimming and rapid warming you are pretty much dead in the water claiming "cycles" or delayed action.

Energy does not magically appear and vanish.


Actually, even an amateurwould know how foolish your post is. Do you really expect anyone here to believe that the effect of the suns energy is instantly converted into changes in the climate? How ridiculous an idea that is. how deep the oceans, how high the atmosphere, how big the world is and how silly your post is.
Member Since: January 17, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 291
137. cyclonebuster
9:39 PM GMT on December 24, 2010
Quoting JFLORIDA:


More like 60 and a net dimming over the last half century but other than having those details wrong, and your premise, you are 100% correct.

Remember we are discussing reasons for warming now. Unexpected increases in solar energy will make things worse.

Solar radiation travels to the earth in about 8 minutes and 19 seconds and its warming results are rather immediate. Its a direct source into the temperature energy budget.

There are no hidden sunlight sinks.

If after 60 years with a net dimming and rapid warming you are pretty much dead in the water claiming "cycles" or delayed action.

Energy does not magically appear and vanish.


"Energy does not magically appear and vanish".

To the deniers it does!
Member Since: January 2, 2006 Posts: 127 Comments: 20470
135. cyclonebuster
7:20 PM GMT on December 24, 2010
Quoting idontknowforsure:


No, Mr. Buster. You're wrong. I posted a link that referenced a peer reviewed paper that says your information is incorrect. The energy from the sun is higher over the last 400 years. 30 years does not science make. Got it?


Don't tell me that tell that to NOAA! LOL!
Member Since: January 2, 2006 Posts: 127 Comments: 20470
134. idontknowforsure
7:17 PM GMT on December 24, 2010
Quoting cyclonebuster:


Nope the SUN is beaten like Kobyashi. Sorry but the deniers are wrong about this also so says NOAA.

Energy from the Sun has not increased

The amount of solar energy received at the top of our atmosphere has followed its natural 11-year cycle of small ups and downs, but with no net increase. Over the same period, global temperature has risen markedly. This indicates that it is extremely unlikely that solar influence has been a significant driver of global temperature change over several decades.

Link


Global surface temperature (top, blue) and the Sun's energy received at the top of Earth's atmosphere (red, bottom). Solar energy has been measured by satellites since 1978.


No, Mr. Buster. You're wrong. I posted a link that referenced a peer reviewed paper that says your information is incorrect. The energy from the sun is higher over the last 400 years. 30 years does not science make. Got it?
Member Since: January 17, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 291
133. cyclonebuster
7:01 PM GMT on December 24, 2010
Another reason why we need to cool it.

"While these hypoxic zones occur naturally in many areas of the world's tropical and equatorial oceans, scientists are concerned because these zones are expanding and occurring closer to the sea surface, and are expected to continue to grow as sea temperatures rise."

Link





Member Since: January 2, 2006 Posts: 127 Comments: 20470
132. cyclonebuster
6:08 PM GMT on December 24, 2010
Quoting MichaelSTL:


No it isn't; the scale is automatically set to whatever is necessary to plot the graph; if you follow the link (click the graph I posted), you can make your own graph using any time period (with decadal resolution; 10, 20, etc years) and any mean period down to 1 month; it also shows a pretty graph of the temperature anomalies by latitude and time.


GLOBAL MEANS on the left needs to be much taller. If you were to calculate out past 2010 you would see it is off the chart already.
Member Since: January 2, 2006 Posts: 127 Comments: 20470
130. cyclonebuster
5:41 PM GMT on December 24, 2010
BTW Michael this graph you posted needs to be revised because it is now off the scale. They have to rescale the darn thing.


Member Since: January 2, 2006 Posts: 127 Comments: 20470
128. cyclonebuster
5:01 PM GMT on December 24, 2010
Quoting idontknowforsure:


Mr. Buster, the bear vs Kobyashi is similar to this debate about the sun vs CO2. It certainly would have been a surprise if the bear, who eats about 60 lbs per day, couldn't have beat Kobyashi. Likewise, what a surprise it would be if the sun, a body that blows off mucho hydrogen bombs a day, couldn't beat CO2.


Nope the SUN is beaten like Kobyashi. Sorry but the deniers are wrong about this also so says NOAA.

Energy from the Sun has not increased

The amount of solar energy received at the top of our atmosphere has followed its natural 11-year cycle of small ups and downs, but with no net increase. Over the same period, global temperature has risen markedly. This indicates that it is extremely unlikely that solar influence has been a significant driver of global temperature change over several decades.

Link


Global surface temperature (top, blue) and the Sun's energy received at the top of Earth's atmosphere (red, bottom). Solar energy has been measured by satellites since 1978.
Member Since: January 2, 2006 Posts: 127 Comments: 20470
127. idontknowforsure
4:42 PM GMT on December 24, 2010
Quoting cyclonebuster:
img src="">


Mr. Buster, the bear vs Kobyashi is similar to this debate about the sun vs CO2. It certainly would have been a surprise if the bear, who eats about 60 lbs per day, couldn't have beat Kobyashi. Likewise, what a surprise it would be if the sun, a body that blows off mucho hydrogen bombs a day, couldn't beat CO2.
Member Since: January 17, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 291
126. idontknowforsure
4:00 PM GMT on December 24, 2010
Peer reviewed

I wonder how much time elapse from sun change to climate change. A day, a month a year, a decade...?
Or do you guys believe the sun really doesn't matter?
Member Since: January 17, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 291
125. cyclonebuster
3:28 AM GMT on December 24, 2010
img src="">
Member Since: January 2, 2006 Posts: 127 Comments: 20470
124. cyclonebuster
3:22 AM GMT on December 24, 2010
Quoting JFLORIDA:
Nothing happened to me and nothing ever will.

j/k I honestly dont know and I may have been overeating. Lets let the dust settle, and see


I overeat all the time too JFLORIDA. LOL!
Member Since: January 2, 2006 Posts: 127 Comments: 20470
122. cyclonebuster
3:13 AM GMT on December 24, 2010
Quoting JFLORIDA:
I am irritated about Dover being banned.

I wish admin advocated more for, and took the time in their decisions regarding people legitimately interested in this site, the material and reasonable referenced discussion.

Its really a no-brainer. Honestly and content is the product here in the end it is what makes this site unique; community is just the atmosphere.

Anyway, dont get me started. I am using this to go on a a bit of a break to get some projects underway and redo my format here probably - after I calm down a bit. lol.

Ill be checking in to read the blog updates of course too.

Happy holidays, Merry Christmas and a happy new year to Dr Rood, CB, STL, Mc Bill, biffers and everyone.

-john-




What happened to Dover? Likewise JFLORIDA.
Member Since: January 2, 2006 Posts: 127 Comments: 20470
120. cyclonebuster
2:40 AM GMT on December 24, 2010
Still going down.

Member Since: January 2, 2006 Posts: 127 Comments: 20470
119. cyclonebuster
11:29 PM GMT on December 23, 2010
BOINK! Still at record LOW level.

Member Since: January 2, 2006 Posts: 127 Comments: 20470
118. cyclonebuster
3:38 PM GMT on December 23, 2010
Unstable Antarctica: What's Driving Ice Loss?
12.15.10

When surface winds are strong, they stir the Southern Ocean and lift the warm water (red) onto the continental shelf where the additional heat contributes to melt of the ice shelf. %u203A View larger
When surface winds are strong, they stir the Southern Ocean and lift the warm water (red) onto the continental shelf where the additional heat contributes to melt of the ice shelf. Credit: Frank Ippolito Scientists have previously shown that West Antarctica is losing ice, but how that ice is lost remained unclear. Now, using data from Earth observing satellites and airborne science missions, scientists are closing in on ice loss culprits above and below the ice.

The findings, presented Dec. 15 at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in San Francisco, Calif., are expected to improve predictions of sea level rise.

Time Not Healing Glacial Wounds

A new analysis by Ted Scambos, a glaciologist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder Colo., and colleagues found that more than a decade after two major Antarctic ice shelves collapsed, glaciers once buttressed by the shelves continue to lose ice.

Changes are most evident in the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and along the Antarctic Peninsula. A spine of mountains forces passing winds to give up their moisture as snow, feeding glaciers that in turn feed the ice shelves that jut out into the Southern Ocean. More than a decade ago, dramatic changes started affecting a series of ice shelves, collectively called Larsen, along the Peninsula's northeast coast. In 1995, Larsen A was the first to collapse followed by a larger loss of Larsen B in 2002. Today, a small piece of the Larsen B and the entirety of the vast Larsen C hang on.

Investigating how the glaciers have responded to the loss of these ice shelf "dams," Scambos and colleagues tracked elevation information using data from satellites such as NASA's Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite (ICESat) and previous airborne missions. They show that between 2001 and 2006, glaciers feeding Larsen A and Larsen B lost 12 gigatons of ice loss per year, or 30 percent of all ice lost throughout the Peninsula.

Moreover, the continued draw down of glaciers, such as Drygalski Glacier, fifteen years after the loss of Larsen A, have set precedent for what to expect elsewhere. Losses by glaciers that fed the Larsen B, such as Crane Glacier, are likely to continue.

Scambos and a team of colleagues have now placed instruments on glaciers just south of the area where the shelves disintegrated, anticipating that further warming will lead to further glacier speed-ups. The instruments and new aircraft overflights will provide further insight into shelf break-up and the onset of ice acceleration.Wind Matters

Further south is West Antarctica's Pine Island Glacier, another site of major ice loss presently draining more than 19 cubic miles of ice per year from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. It continues to deteriorate rapidly and scientists want to know why.

By combining satellite and airborne data, Bob Bindschadler, a glaciologist with the Goddard Earth Sciences and Technology Center at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., has successfully gained more insight into interactions between the atmosphere, ocean and ice even though the data can%u2019t reveal these connections directly.

Bindschadler and colleagues looked at images from the Landsat satellite and spotted a series of large surface undulations on the ice shelf. Next they matched the undulations with the timing of warm water pulses in the waters adjacent to the ice shelf. When surface winds are strong, they stir the Southern Ocean and lift the warm water onto the continental shelf where the additional heat contributes to melt.

Airborne data showed the ice shelf was up to 150 meters (492 feet) thinner when the warmer water was present, allowing Bindschadler%u2019s team to establish a direct link between the rate of ice shelf melting and atmospheric wind speed. When the team accounted for the heat coming in and the ice lost, they concluded that only 22 percent of the heat is used in melting. Whether the remaining heat might melt additional ice is unknown, but it is clear that the atmospheric circulation has a strong role on the future of the ice shelf and the fate of the ice sheet inland. Stronger winds would lead to an acceleration of ice loss; weaker winds would have a stabilizing effect.

"In short, ice shelves are affected by what winds are doing," Bindschadler said. "As Antarctic Circumpolar winds continue to increase, ice shelves are at increasing risk."

Underwater Channel Promoting Melt?Taking a closer look at Antarctica's Pine Island Glacier is Michael Studinger, a glaciologist with the Goddard Earth Sciences and Technology Center at NASA Goddard.

Studinger is project scientist for NASA's Operation IceBridge mission -- an airborne science campaign that makes annual surveys of polar snow and ice -- that is helping researchers understand changes to Pine Island and other critical regions along West Antarctica and the Peninsula.

After analyzing data from the mission's first Antarctic deployment in 2009, the team revealed for the first time a curious feature below the Pine Island shelf: a sinuous channel that allows warm ocean water to reach the grounding line, leading to melting of the ice shelf from below.

More information will become available throughout Operation IceBridge, which sustains watch over Earth's poles until the launch of ICESat-2, scheduled for January 2016. In November 2010, teams concluded the second Antarctic campaign during which they flew over sea ice and key glaciers including a return mission over Pine Island Glacier. These data will be incorporated into the tools scientists use to refine estimates of future sea level rise.

Link


BOTTOM LINE IS WE ARE WARMING THE OCEANS WHICH WILL MELT MORE ICE FROM BELOW. GET IT!
Member Since: January 2, 2006 Posts: 127 Comments: 20470
113. cyclonebuster
5:08 AM GMT on December 23, 2010
That is weird 54 degrees and snow to the East. You would think the snow would be to the West after the front. Correct?
Member Since: January 2, 2006 Posts: 127 Comments: 20470
111. Dr. Ricky Rood , Professor
4:44 AM GMT on December 23, 2010
Have any of you noticed that there was a record high in Grand Junction, CO and about 6 feet of snow just to the east?
Member Since: January 31, 2007 Posts: 322 Comments: 273
110. cyclonebuster
3:50 AM GMT on December 23, 2010
Quoting MichaelSTL:
CB, I think this is what you want (ice area and not current, through October):



That's all years for a year cycle. I like that but it is hard to pick out what I want to see like each individual year and see how many record lows and highs it may have had if any. Then figure out a ratio : .
Member Since: January 2, 2006 Posts: 127 Comments: 20470
107. cyclonebuster
3:33 AM GMT on December 23, 2010
Quoting DoverWxwatchter:
I think cyclonebuster just wanted the complete period of record---maybe compare recent low years with the 1990s and 1980s.


And see if there are any record high extents over the same time period and compare to the lows.
Member Since: January 2, 2006 Posts: 127 Comments: 20470
105. cyclonebuster
3:29 AM GMT on December 23, 2010
Quoting MichaelSTL:


Oh, so you think that some year before 2002 had a lower ice extent?


No I wanted to see if a trend emerges and see if the ratios are getting worse since 1979.
Member Since: January 2, 2006 Posts: 127 Comments: 20470
103. cyclonebuster
3:13 AM GMT on December 23, 2010
Quoting MichaelSTL:


Well, you can, just look at the IJIS graph I posted; 2010 is currently so far below the next lowest year, currently 2008, that it is certainly a record low.

Also, when doing the monthly figures, NSIDC averages ice concentration, then counts the areas with a concentration above 15% for the whole month, so if an area was ice-covered for half the month and ice-free for the other half, that would mean 50% concentration (assuming it was at 100% when ice-covered) for the month and thus counted as extent. Therefore, the monthly values can be somewhat different from the daily values if you simply averaged them together.


I was thinking since 1979?
Member Since: January 2, 2006 Posts: 127 Comments: 20470
100. cyclonebuster
3:01 AM GMT on December 23, 2010
Then we can make some analogies between record High Temperatures and record low ice extents. Perhaps, a pattern may emerge. Probably not but you never know.
Member Since: January 2, 2006 Posts: 127 Comments: 20470
99. cyclonebuster
2:58 AM GMT on December 23, 2010
Quoting MichaelSTL:
The monthly record low for December occurred in 2006, and it looks like we have a good chance of breaking the record:





Also, the NSIDC themselves say that monthly trends are more important than daily trends, as far as climate goes, but the latter can be used to show short-term variations.


I would like to compare daily highs to daily lows and see what we get for the extent? I bet it is overwhelmingly LOW.
Member Since: January 2, 2006 Posts: 127 Comments: 20470

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About RickyRood

I'm a professor at U Michigan and lead a course on climate change problem solving. These articles often come from and contribute to the course.

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Clouds in the lee of the Rockies at sunset.
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