Daily Oil Production as Ice Melt


The old Humble Oil ad popped up again on my Twitter feed:

I used this image a few years ago in an undergraduate lecture for irony, and thought a quick update based on daily global oil production might be interesting. So, here goes:

  • 1 barrel of oil contains approximately 6 gigajoules of energy (6.1178632 × 109 J to be precise; Wikipedia)
  • The energy required to melt one kilogram of ice at 0C is 33,500 J
  • So one barrel of oil can melt 6.1178632 × 109/335000 = 18,262 kg of ice

Daily global oil production passed 97 million barrels/day in 2015, which means that you are looking at daily global icemelt totals of 1.771441 x 10^12 kg, or 1,771,440,986 metric tons. (Compare with Humble’s relatively humble 7 million tons.)

If you converted that to a volume of water, assuming an ice density of 917 kg/m3, you wind up with 1,931,778,611 m3 of water. I can already hear my brain – and yours – crying for an analog, so here’s the last conversion:

  • Average water flows at Niagara Falls are 168,000 m3/minute (during tourist season; lower in off-season)
  • This corresponds to nearly 8 days of continuous thundering outflow, and a whole bunch of Maid of The Mist rides.

[NB: this is all completely irrelevant, as it is not the actual energy in the barrel of oil that melts glaciers. Its the steady increase in climate forcing from the CO2 produced in combustion of fossil fuels that is resulting in the current global glacier mass loss. But thanks for reading to the end!]


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