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Climate Reporting in Physics World

Filed under: — rasmus @ 23 February 2007 - (Português)

PhysicsWorld cover, Volume 20, no. 2, February 2007 The February 2007 issue of PhysicsWorld contains several articles relevant to climate research, with a main feature article on climate modelling written by Adam Scaife, Chris Folland, and John Mitchell, and a profile on Richard Lindzen as well as an article on geoengineering in the ‘News & Analyses’ section. The magazine also contains an article (‘Living in the greenhouse’) under ‘Lateral Thoughts’ that brings up a bunch of tentative analogies to a wide range of topics completely unrelated to the greenhouse effect in a technical sense, and an editorial comment ‘Hot topic‘, arguing that it would be wrong of PhysicsWorld to ignore those outside the mainstream. To be more precise, the editorial comment devotes a few lines justifying the profile on Lindzen and the report on geoengineering, with a reference to a Feynman quote: “There is no harm in doubt and scepticism, for it is through these that new discoveries are made”. Wise words! Nevertheless, I cannot resist making some reflections.

One thought that immediately struck me was: has PhysicsWorld tried to make a ‘balanced report‘, or does the issue of doubt and scepticism by itself merit the profile article? Is the scepticism or doubt really genuine (doubt is the product)? To be fair, the article does bring up objections against some of Lindzen’s arguments (citing Gavin). However, I’d like to see a more consistent and critical article, as Lindzen’s arguments – at least the way they are echoed in PhysicsWorld – are in my opinion inconsistent.

Here is one example: Take Lindzen’s controversial claim that the good comparison between modelled and historical temperature evolution is an exercise in “curve fitting”. Written between the lines is the assumption that the climate models are driven with forcings based on historical GHG emissions. Later in the article Lindzen argues that the climate models used by the IPCC are far too sensitive to changes in the concentrations of atmospheric CO2. To me, these two statements say opposite things – and are thus in violation with each other. Because, either the models give a good description of the historic evolution or they don’t, given past GHGs, aerosol emissions and natural forcings (surely, Lindzen must have known about these simulations).

So, why didn’t the magazine ask critical questions about these conflicting views, or at least comment on what appears to be faulty logic? Or, perhaps Lindzen bases his claim on other aspects of model evaluation? Lindzen argues that the effect of CO2 on the temperature is small because the effect of additional CO2 molecule decreases as the concentration increases, but at the same time, Lindzen also seems to forget – just for a moment – all the feedbacks which can enhance the warming. Gavin confounds him with an objection on a different point – that Lindzen has not taken the delay response properly into account, for instance due to the ocean thermal inertia. In the next paragraph, however, Lindzen maintains that climate models do not replicate the feedback mechanisms in the climate system, and later on refers to his hypothesis, the ‘infrared iris effect‘, which more or less has been buried by the scientific community.

Gavin makes this point in the article (also see an argument for why it is wrong), but a final thought that dawned on me was that Lindzen is probably no better at calculating the feedback effects in his head than the climate models.


296 Responses to “Climate Reporting in Physics World”

  1. 251
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Re 250: Insurance companies avoid “studies” if they can help it. They prefer to use data, and that makes it difficult to insure rare events. Different insurance companies take different approaches. The run of the mill, will not even touch anything they can’t analyze with high confidence, and even then, they won’t take if one of the reinsurers (e.g. General Reinsurance, etc) won’t sell them a Supercat policy. This is exactly the same as what we saw after 9/11–insurers ran screaming, despite that fact that big terrorist attacks remain very unlikely events and damages were not uncapped. Can’t comment on the rest of your statement as you do not make the data available.

  2. 252
    Tony Edwards says:

    Ron Taylor # 21
    Just a thought, but shouldn’t we also hear about all of the funding from Government sources, etc., etc., that the proponents of APG are enjoying.

  3. 253
    Mark Bahner says:

    The article on climate modeling claims that the IPCC TAR concludes, “The most likely value for the global temperature increase by 2100 is in the range 1.4â��5.8 °C, which could have catastrophic consequences.”

    But the IPCC TAR does not have any quantitative or qualitative estimate of the likelihood that the warming will be within the range of 1.4 to 5.8 deg C. There could be a 99+% chance of warming of less than 1.4 deg C, or a 99+% chance of warming more than 5.8 deg C.

  4. 254
    Hank Roberts says:

    Mark Bahner, you write on your website that the IPCC “has no incentive to tell the truth in its projections. But they do have an incentive to lie…to exaggerate the amount of warming thatâ��s likely to occur. So thatâ��s what they do…they lie.”

    Then you claim to tell us what the IPCC’s terms mean.

    Funny.

  5. 255
    Ike Solem says:

    A few points about energy technologies are in order. First of all, investment in solar PV manufacturing will pay off far more just about anything else – the price tag on a new nuclear reactor is on the order of several billion dollars, while a solar PV manufacturing facility is on the order of $100 million for about 30 MegaWatts of PV produced per year; and all a nuclear facility does is produce power. You can even build ‘breeder’ solar PV manufacturing facilities that are capable of meeting all their energy needs with solar. It’s a far better use of resources to invest in new solar than in new nuclear.

    While it’s important to maintain existing nuclear power plants, what really matters is shutting down the coal-fired power plants and replacing them with true renewables, namely solar and wind. The solar resource is gigantic and largely untapped.

    RE#253, the IPCC is actually under a great deal of political pressure to keep its estimates on the conservative side, which is one reason why they don’t explicitly address issues like ice sheet dynamics and carbon cycle feedback effects – they use only the most robust science (meaning over three years old, apparently) and are certainly not ‘lying’, as you claim at your blog. You’re also missing the basic issue of how probabilistic estimates work in science; we’re already seeing significant warming at the poles, for example, and there’s no physical explanation as to why this warming won’t continue, particularly as CO2 emissions continue to rise year after year. It’s likely that the greatest uncertainty in temperature predictions over the next century will be dependent on human behavior, not on physics.

  6. 256
    Nick Gotts says:

    Re #249 “Extreme value theory requires large amounts of data, and no insurer would be willing to go out on a limb without determining at the very least whether the distribution were fat-tailed or not… The events are sufficiently improbable that it is difficult to get enough data to predict how often they will occur and what their consequences would be if they did. No insurer will touch that.”

    Quite. But you keep telling us we as individuals should be prepared to take these unquantifiable risks, when insurers won’t – even though we’re being asked to risk our lives, and our descendants’ lives and health, while they – qua insurers – are only risking money.

  7. 257
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Nick, Secular, Ike, et al. Let me state for the record that:
    1)I am not against solar energy. I’m all for it. I work with PVs as power sources for satellites on a regular basis, so I’m well aware of the amazing advances that have been made. I was also in Africa when a certain organization tried to introduce PVs as a way of providing electricity to rural villages. It was an ill thought out strategy, as they didn’t have any energy storage mechanism and the cover glasses became so scratched from the dust of Harmattan winds that efficiency degraded rapidly. Somehow we need to address the energy storage so we can make energy when the sun shines and use it at night. Also, manufacturing semiconductors is not a “green” industry–there will be environmental consequences. Beyond those two caveats, I say go for it.
    2)Likewise wind, hydroelectric geothermal, tidal. Go for it, but be aware of the environmental costs, storage issues, etc.
    3)The energy demand that cannot be made up with renewables (and I’ve outlined my reasons for thinking it will not be insubstantial) will be met with a)coal or nuclear energy. Pick one. I did based on my understanding of the relative risks. Given that a coal-fired power plant without fly-ash scrubbing will emit more radiation than a nuclear accident or a dirty bomb attack, the choice was easy.
    Proliferation concerns are real. However nuclear weapons are only one possible threat, and a more remote one than chemical or biological attack. We shouldn’t treat this risk any differently than we treat the others. A nuclear weapon with a return address is not a particular threat as long as the possessor of said weapon is not backed into a corner where it has nothing to lose.

  8. 258

    [[The energy demand that cannot be made up with renewables (and I've outlined my reasons for thinking it will not be insubstantial) will be met with a)coal or nuclear energy. Pick one.]]

    Fallacy of bifurcation. Plus, you’re assuming a certain curve of increasing demand, and one of the things on the table is decreasing the slope of that curve, which would mean less would be needed. Either way, I don’t believe in the “it has to be either coal or nuclear!” dichotomy.

  9. 259
    James says:

    Re 256: [But you keep telling us we as individuals should be prepared to take these unquantifiable risks, when insurers won't - even though we're being asked to risk our lives, and our descendants' lives and health, while they - qua insurers - are only risking money.]

    You’re still not seeing nuclear power plant insurance (henceforth NPPI, ok?) from the perspective of an insurance company making a business decision. I suggest you read up on the basics of insurance, here for instance:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Insurance

    It’s not that the risks involved are unquantifiable, or even particularly great; it’s that there’s an upper limit to how much insurance a company can handle. Suppose for instance your insurance company has a total capital of $1 billion, and you’re asked to write a policy for $1.5 billion – on whatever you like, not necessarily NPPI. Should you do it? Of course not, since you can’t cover the loss if it does occur, and you’ll find your company bankrupt and yourself probably facing criminal charges.

    You might even turn your argument on its head: insurance companies do offer quite large ($300 million, IIRC) NPPI coverage. I suspect that they’ve studied the risks, found them small, and so expect to make a good profit :-)

    This also applies to your claim that nuclear power risks your own & descendants’ lives and health. As far as I can tell from a quick search, insurance companies don’t seem to offer $300 million coverage on fossil fuel plants, on hydroelectric dams, or on anything else. Why are they willing to cover nuclear at all, if it’s so risky?

  10. 260
    Nick Gotts says:

    Re #259 “I suggest you read up on the basics of insurance, here for instance:…

    It’s not that the risks involved are unquantifiable, or even particularly great; it’s that there’s an upper limit to how much insurance a company can handle.”

    I suggest you look up the term “reinsurance” to find out why your argument’s nonsense. This will be my last contribution on the nuclear issue for now, so have the last word if you’re so inclined.

  11. 261
    Ike Solem says:

    To bring up a topic related to weather and climate instead of nuclear power, consider the weather risk management industry. (RE#250, #251, etc.) This is a very confusing issue, but it is a apparently an important motivator of government policy. What matters is that the foundation that this industry (in the US, at least) is based on is NOAA U.S. Climate Normals, 1971-2000: An Updated Baseline for Risk Management .

    This is a convoluted topic, but the industry revolves around hedging risk due to ‘abnormal weather events’, which calls into question what is meant by ‘normal’. For some time now, I’ve been trying to ascertain why NOAA changed from the 1961-1990 baseline to the 1971-2000 baseline. The difference in anomaly calculations is fairly striking: see the current anomaly relative to 1961-1990 vs. the one produced at NOAA relative to 1971-2000; the warm northern anomalies are much clearer when the earlier baseline is used, particularly around Greenland’s tip jet regions.

    Despite several requests for an explanation of the reasons behind the baseline switch to NOAA’s media relations office, I’ve yet to get a formal response to why the change was made. However, there are a whole host of companies now involved in the weather risk insurance business, and once central feature is their reliance on NOAA’s definition of ‘normal’. Now, there is an emerging market in “hurricane futures” set to open: Myra Saefong’s Commodities Corner: Hurricane futures: a new key to gauging energy risks, Mar 2 2007. The very notion of buying and selling ‘hurricane futures’ itself seems odd.

    This is the kind of thing that makes one wonder about NOAA’s priorities. A scientific basis for analyzing climate change seems like it should include an acceptance of a standardized baseline, just for comparison purposes (at the very least, the baseline used should always be clearly stated!) – but what effect has changing that baseline had on the weather risk insurance industry?

    To address the earlier posts, there’s no question that any risk associated with solar PV manufacture is far, far lower than the risks associated with nucler power generation and nuclear fuel issues.

  12. 262
    JohnLopresti says:

    Hank, et al., I appreciate the link to the physics page at ucr regarding graphing geologic time periods’ extinction rates for the various biota. Often what I wish most for here are the scientist links. Having met and worked with a few nuclear physicists, I would expect some of their own websites to favor a more rational view than the heated polemics evolving recently about the headlong rush to substitute radionuclide based power for fossilfuels. Sometimes it is easiest to begin with realclimate for bearings before launching the websearch. You do an excellent job of asking, and answering, the most provocative questions, as well as providing repartee to consumerist argumentation. Recently I was ploughing through some of the webpages at the new Fermilab, sifting for the latest grad student projects to enlighten the already visible contention about cutting to the chase, substituting radioactivity for mere carbon dioxide and other GHGs. I will report back if I find material suitably interrelated to the discussion in this thread.

  13. 263
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Re 258: Barton, I am open to suggestions as to what choices, other than coal or nuclear power, we will have to fill the gap that renewables and conservation do not fill. I had no intent to argue via a fallacy. I simply see no viable alternative to those two choices to make up the gap. Do you, or do you simply have faith that there will be no gap.

  14. 264
    Hank Roberts says:

    Companies selling power don’t focus on voluntary conservation any more than fast food companies focus on weight loss and nutrition, but when push comes to shove, people do:
    http://eetd.lbl.gov/ea/EMS/reports/49733.pdf

    More here, just a tidbit to say why it’s worth reading:

    “… Recurring electricity shortages and rolling blackouts were widely forecasted for summer 2001 in California. Despite these predictions, blackouts were never ordered â�� in large part, due to the dramatic reductions in electricity use throughout the state. Compared to summer 2000, Californians reduced electricity usage by 6% and average monthly peak demand by 8%. Our analysis suggests that these reductions were not caused by either the weather or the downturn in the stateâ��s economy; rather, they were the result of extraordinary efforts by Californians to reduce electricity consumption. Based on the California Independent System Operatorâ��s (CAISO) available operating reserve margin during summer 2001, we estimate that the peak load reductions, which ranged between 3,200 and 5,600 MW in the four summer months, potentially avoided between 50 and 160 hours of rolling blackouts. …

    “… energy efficiency and onsite generation projects that were initiated in 2001 will account for about 1,100 MW of customer load reductions, once all projects are installed. These savings represent about 25-30% of the observed load reductions and are likely to persist for many years. The persistence of the remaining savings, which were due to changes that customers made in their conservation behavior and energy management operations, will be heavily influenced by customersâ�� perception …

  15. 265
    Dan says:

    re: 261. The NOAA/NWS “30-year normals” follow the World Meteorological Organization’s (a part of the UN) definition. From the National Climatic Data Center:

    “WMO Normals: World Meteorological Organization Standard Normals

    Every 30 years the international meteorological community comes together to produce a document that summarizes the “normal” climate for all of the nations of the world. The effort was originated by the International Meteorological Committee in 1872 as an effort to assure comparability between data collected at various stations. International agreements eventually determined that the appropriate interval for computing a normal would be 30 years (Guttman, 1989). The World Meteorological Organization (WMO), which succeeded the International Meteorological Committee, defines normals as “period averages computed for a uniform and relatively long period comprising at least three consecutive 10-year periods” (WMO, 1984). The WMO defines climatological standard normals as “averages of climatological data computed for the following consecutive periods of 30 years: January 1, 1901 to December 31, 1930, January 1, 1931 to December 31, 1960, etc.” (WMO, 1984). Normals are computed every decade by individual countries to keep up with any climatic changes that may take place, but a coordinated international effort to compile global standard normals is undertaken only once every 30 years (Guttman, 1989).”

  16. 266

    Petroleum and natural gas are third and fourth options; expensive ones.

    Another nonrenewable is lifting or asteroidal material down to earth, or for a really big downhoist, down to the Sun.

  17. 267

    Lifting lunar or asteroidal material down …

  18. 268
    John L. McCormick says:

    RE # 258 Barton, cay you say electric vehicle…..

    [Plus, you're assuming a certain curve of increasing demand, and one of the things on the table is decreasing the slope of that curve, which would mean less would be needed.]

  19. 269
    James says:

    Re #266: [Petroleum and natural gas are third and fourth options; expensive ones.]

    Last I checked, petroleum & natural gas were both CO2-producing fossil fuels, which makes it kinda difficult to use them to generate zero-CO2 energy.

    [Another nonrenewable is lifting or asteroidal material down to earth, or for a really big downhoist, down to the Sun.]

    Sure, and just how are you going to generate power from that, and get it back to Earth? By hoisting it down a beanstalk that we don’t have materials strong enough to build? Aiming it (very carefully!) into a long linear electromagnetic generator carried by stratospheric balloons? What happens if you miss?

    Assuming that it’s even possible to develop a workable method of doing this, what’re the chances of doing the basic research, going to working technology, getting the immense capital investment needed to do the construction, and then completing the construction of not just a demonstration model, but enough capacity to replace a significant fraction of current generating capacity – all in less than 25 years?

  20. 270
    Ike Solem says:

    RE#265,
    So, the ‘normal periods’ were every 30 years? 1901-1930, 1931-1960, 1961-1990, and then the next one would be 1991-2020, correct? Where does 1971-2000 come in?

    It just makes no sense from a scientific point of view. Furthermore, it does skew the anomalies, which other NOAA reports then base their conclusions on (for example, the 2006 NOAA report on the “State of the Arctic” uses the 1971-2000 baseline – the ACIA report from 2004 is at http://www.acia.uaf.edu/ ).

  21. 271
    Jim says:

    Barton,

    What you are saying is silly given the current population size and rate of increase, not to mention said popluations demand and right for greater standards of living that you enjoy. How would we burn less power again? Run on treadmills to generate it?

  22. 272
    Jim says:

    Re 145,

    Hank your information is out of date with current russia’s recent construction and oil booms since Putin took power. I am not the man’s biggest fans but the Russians are certainly doing a lot better than they were. (Admittedly the bar is low though.)

  23. 273
    llewelly says:

    Ike Solem:

    The difference in anomaly calculations is fairly striking: see the current anomaly relative to 1961-1990 vs. the one produced at NOAA relative to 1971-2000; the warm northern anomalies are much clearer when the earlier baseline is used, particularly around Greenland’s tip jet regions.

    Your second link appears to come from here . If so, please see the methodology page , which says: ‘This climatology is based on nighttime observations from 1984-1993, with SST observations from the years 1991 and 1992 omitted due to aerosol contamination from the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo. ‘ .

    The nearest SST noaa graph with a 1971-2000 climatology that I can find appears to be here .

  24. 274

    [edit]

    Interestingly, the perhaps-sabotage with three deaths he mentions, obviously the Army prototype SL-1 accident in 1960, led to the one-stuck-rod rule design rule. I personally heard the explosions, indeed they shook my house, from a fuel tanker that another truck rear-ended in 2007; the driver of the impactor died. Do you suppose that will lead to any design rules? Other than the one I propose — use incombustible fuel — but I was doing that already.

  25. 275

    [[What you are saying is silly given the current population size and rate of increase, not to mention said popluations demand and right for greater standards of living that you enjoy. How would we burn less power again? Run on treadmills to generate it? ]]

    You appear to have responded to my comment without actually reading what I wrote. I didn’t say we would consume less power, I said the rate of increase could be slower. What’s more, the third world catching up to the first world can be done on renewables; it’s certainly not necessary to build third-world nuclear plants.

  26. 276
    Gavin says:

    [Response: To all participants: keep it polite. I don't have the time or inclination to moderate all discussions, and if you can't keep it nice, we'll just shut the thread down. - gavin]

  27. 277
    Ike Solem says:

    RE#273,
    Thanks for the correction. I suppose the main concern is how these climatologies are used and what the rationale behind using different climatological baselines is. The satellite only climatology might be preferable for monitoring ENSO development, coastal upwelling and hurricane wake cooling, as the methodology explains. Thus, there are valid scientific reasons for using different baselines.

    However, when we hear about NOAA scientists being pressured to keep silent about climate issues, as well as federal fish and wildlife scientists being told to stick to ‘the administration’s position on sea ice and polar bears’ ( http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/08/washington/08polar.html ) , as well as the continued lack of support for important climate data collection programs and the cancellation of climate satellites, one has to wonder if there is political interference with data collection and reporting, in addition to the pressures on government scientists to keep quiet.

  28. 278
    James says:

    Re #271: [...said popluations demand and right for greater standards of living that you enjoy. How would we burn less power again?]

    Well, not that long ago I had a PC tower with IIRC 5 cooling fans (like sitting next to a vacuum cleaner), and a 20 inch CRT display. Now I have a laptop that only rarely kicks on its tiny cooling fan, hooked to a 20 inch external LCD display. I have a faster machine, better quality display, & lower noise level, all of which IMHO improves my standard of living, and use lots less power to boot.

    I could come up with dozens of similar examples. CFLs, for instance, give better quality light than the incandescents they replace. Insulation added to my house makes it more comfortable while cutting heating costs dramatically. The Honda Insight I drive gets 70 mpg, and is lots more fun than a boring old SUV. Biking instead of driving keeps me in shape, telecommuting saves time and energy, hanging out the laundry makes it smell better…

    There are a myriad ways in which western society could increase living standards while using less power. The problem is one of attitudes, not technology.

  29. 279
    llewelly says:

    Ike Solem:

    The satellite only climatology might be preferable for monitoring ENSO development, coastal upwelling and hurricane wake cooling, as the methodology explains.

    Curiously, if you read the official NOAA ENSO Cycle: Recent Evolution, Current Status and Predictions report , and look on page 21, you can see that the NOAA operational definitions of El Nino and La Nina are based on the ONI, which, as explained on pg 28, is calculated with respect to a 1971-2000 base period, akin to what you were originally talking about. (I had thought the other anomalies presented in that status report were also with respect to a 1971-2000 base period, but I can’t find verification of that right now.) (I think this is the correct description of ERSST.v2 referred to in the ENSO status report.)

  30. 280
    Pat says:

    Re 269 – this would not be practical, I’m quite sure, but energy from asteroids could be gained from blueshift – ie a laser is beamed to a mirror and reflected back – if the mirror is approaching, the photons are blueshifted and so slightly more energy is returned by the laser beam then was originally put into it. (Problem – needs near 100 % efficient photovoltaic cells and lasers)

    Or maybe a beam of C60 buckyballs could be bounced off of an approaching asteroid, coming back with greater momentum. (Pipe dreams, I know)

    Re 270 – I can imagine that for some purposes a shifting baseline may be appropriate, while for others it would not. Obviously, as the climate is changing, it would be best for long-term insurance and investment to use future climate rather than past.

    Re 277 – I’m no fan of Bush et al, but I’m not certain the story is quite as bad as it first sounds – I haven’t had time to look at the article you cited, but here’s what I saw: http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?chanID=sa003&articleID=E4BAA6E2182735B091D8EBE8534BB6CF (I don’t like the sound of it, but rather than it being a case of censorship, it may just be the administration’s positions which I do not like. I’m not saying that I don’t believe censorship has occured, but if it has, I’m not sure this is it…)

    Re 278 – Yes, it’s good to point out that human wellbeing is not necessarily proportional to energy input (efficiency of energy convesion and use, efficiency of economy, efficiency of wellbeing per dollar, etc.)

    I would add thermally insulated skylights (daylighting – in summer, windows and skylights should reflect UV and IR, and refective interior surfaces help – in winter, this could also be used for heating), heat exchangers, heat pumps (can be more efficient than a furnace, especially in regions with mild winters – at the very least, it could do high COP preheating, and then solar heating, before going to the furnace if necessessary. Heat exchanges can do preheating/precooling between fresh air, stale air, cold water, wastewater, dryer exhaust?, etc.), heat storage… And someone already mentioned electric cars, but it deserves to mentioned again.

    For solar PV lifecycle analysis, I’ve found – although have not yet read all of – these:

    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6V2W-4177N2J-3&_user=10&_coverDate=11%2F30%2F2000&_rdoc=1&_fmt=&_orig=search&_sort=d&view=c&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=38ce6c5cd426ac1232b90e61c6ec9d28

    http://www.csudh.edu/oliver/smt310-handouts/solarpan/pvpayback.htm

    http://www.ecsel.psu.edu/~andylau/ASES02_Net_Energy_PV.pdf

    http://www.solarworld.de/solarmaterial/english/press/8AV.3.14.pdf

    Also, the more energy efficient people are, the less is the portion of energy cost of products that come from labor.

    And don’t forget carbon capture and storage. CO2 leaks may be a problem, but what if some pulverized Ca,Mg-silicates were pumped down with the CO2 – basically accelerating the chemical weathering process (would it be energically favorable?). Also, even coal can have some H; I think a typical value may be 0.8 atoms H per atom C – if only the H could be stripped from the C…

    I think the reaction CH4 + CO2 -> 2C + 2H2O is thermodynamically favorable.

    And how about feeding ‘Beano’ to cows?

  31. 281
    Hank Roberts says:

    > I think the reaction CH4 + CO2 -> 2C + 2H2O is thermodynamically favorable.

    Could you show us how you calculated that?

  32. 282

    [[Re 269 - this would not be practical, I'm quite sure, but energy from asteroids could be gained from blueshift - ie a laser is beamed to a mirror and reflected back - if the mirror is approaching, the photons are blueshifted and so slightly more energy is returned by the laser beam then was originally put into it. (Problem - needs near 100 % efficient photovoltaic cells and lasers)]]

    Also, there’s the problem that illumination falls off as the inverse square of distance.

  33. 283
    Ray Ladbury says:

    I think it award the prize for most laws of physics violated in a single post to #280.

  34. 284
    James says:

    Re #282: [Also, there's the problem that illumination falls off as the inverse square of distance.]

    Only for a non-coherent source. The inverse square law is simply a consequence of geometry: the change in area of a sphere as the radius changes. So if you have a perfectly coherent (or do I mean collimated?) laser beam, it’s not going to spread much. Remember the Apollo missions that planted corner reflectors to use as laser rangefinding targets?

    So yes, IF you could do a very high efficiency conversion of energy to laser beam, then mount a space mission to plant a perfect reflector on an asteroid (and those concerned about nuclear proliferation might reflect a bit (pun intended) on what a lovely targetable weapon that makes :-)), convert the incoming photons back to electricity with high efficiency… well, then all you’d have to worry about are the effects (& losses) of the high-energy beam on the atmosphere.

    I think I’ll wait for cold fusion to be perfected, myself :-)

  35. 285
    Paul Scammell says:

    From reading a great deal of the comments on this site, it is apparent that there are a great number of viewpoints on this subject.

    I am confused. I would like to know prior to us spending huge sums of money and changing our lifestyles, whether the science indicating global warming really stands up to unbiased scientific methodology.

    Where is the independant scientific audit that can give people untrained in these areas the confidence to make informed decisions. I am sure that politics, pressure groups and to be candid, money and self interest sway the arguments and in general muddy the waters.

    [Response: I guess you need to learn about science for your self. It's quite exciting. Imagine the universe that we live in, hand you only have one chance to live in it. Wouldn't it be nice to have some idea how it works? Anyway, there is much to say for the scientific consensus, or to use a better word: the established scientific view and knowhow. It is this consensus, in general terms, which has got us where we are, worts and everything. It is, as I see it, much thanks to science that you can read this over the Internet and that humanity has advanced since the middle ages. And it is normal in science that old views are challenged, and then counter challenged. Sometimes new ideas prove to be more correct one (and get noted in the history books), but many fail to stand the test (the ones you never hear about). -rasmus]

  36. 286
    Jim says:

    Re 278,

    Funny thing that you mention computers. You don’t have any idea how much time and energy went into producing your little wonders did you. Yes the individual devices consume less power but the electronics industry is not green by any means. How many man years of design and production effort went in to fabricating your stuff. Quite a lot. Take it from someone who builds chips for a living, there is not many things more expensive than chips in time, effort and energy. (Not counting the boards or other components which add to it but not near as much.) Prices are low becuase volume is so high. (Only for X86 hardware, try to fab your own someday.) Not to mention the fact that they are obselete the moment you bought it. Where did all of your old junk go again?

    As for power consumption to decrease. The population must get smaller, power consumtion should correlate roughly to population count. Haven’t seen a slowdown in population gowth yet and electricity has reached everyone yet either so the growth rate will remain high. Even if it slows down it will take a long long time for this to have any affect if any in power consumption and power consumption growth.

  37. 287

    If you raise Gibraltar on pillars and shine a laser on the bottom, this does not hoist it into the asteroid belt; similarly, no matter how large and perfect your mirrors and lasers, using them to bounce a beam off an asteroid there does not harvest the energy that would be harvested by bringing it from there to here.

    That energy might be harvested by pulverizing it and turning into a dust stream that would strike a chosen patch of the Earth’s upper atmosphere, causing rammed air to shine brightly as we’ve all seen it do when struck by formerly extraterrestrial grains of sand, and so providing 8,766-hour-per-year illumination for PV cells on the ground a few tens of miles below.

  38. 288
    Pat says:

    Re 282,283,284,287

    Also, it would be tricky if the asteroid is spinning. And the buckyballs would likely scatter.

    Re 283: I don’t know off hand what the theoretical limitations are in lasers or in PV cells designed for concentrated monochromatic light. Also, my asteroid comments were made with humor in mind.

    Aside from that, I’m not sure which physical laws I’ve suggested breaking. Of course, many ideas may upon inspection turn out not to be solutions – the more complex arrangements of heat exchangers, pulverized Ca,Mg-silicates, and some of the rest may require too much energy or other resources (or produce too much pollution) to result in a net benifit – but nonetheless I thought they’d be worth suggesting.

    Another idea is using a window or skylight as a luminescent concentrator – UV and solar IR (in different layers) might be absorbed by fluorescent dye, with much of that energy reradiated at somewhat longer wavelengths (violet and slightly longer IR), much of that trapped by total internal reflection, and so ending up absorbed by PV cells on the edges of the window – meanwhile, incident visible light largely passes through.

    Re 281 – if I copied this from my chemistry textbook correctly,

    kJ/mol at 298.15 K (and I presume at p = 1 atmosphere):
    Enthalpy H and Gibb’s free energy G of formation:

    C (graphite): 0 , 0
    (diamond): 1.895 , 2.9

    CH4(gas): -74.81 , -50.72
    C2H6(gas): -84.68 , -32.82
    C3H8(gas): -103.8 , -23.49

    CO2 (gas): -393.509 , -394.359
    CO (gas): -110.525 , -137.168

    H2O (gas): -241.818 , -228.572
    (liquid): -285.83 , -237.129

    With these values, I’ve calculated that, for methane, ethane, and propane (C3H8), hydrocarbon + CO2 -> C + H2O is product favored (G < 0) and exothermic (H < 0), with C as graphite or diamond, H2O as gas or liquid. The G and H values are small, and I'm not suggesting this as an energy source, but an illustration of a possible C sequestration using fossil fuels themselves (methane hydrates would be an ideal source, if only the risk of releasing methane into the atmosphere could be minimized).

    Examples (note values are per mol C, not per mol reaction):
    CH4 + CO2 -> 2C + 2H2O
    (diamond ,H2O gas) : H,G (kJ/mol C) = -5.76 , -3.13
    (graphite, H2O liquid): H,G (kJ/mol C) = -51.67 , -14.59

    C3H8 + 2CO2 -> 5C + 4H2O
    (diamond ,H2O gas) : H,G (kJ/mol C) = -13.40 , -17.52
    (graphite, H2O liquid): H,G (kJ/mol C) = -50.5 , -27.26

    Now, it may turn out that no economical catalyst or apparatus can be devised to make this work (one problem being that one of the products is a solid – unless C itself can be a catalyst).

    Also of interest are the reactions where a hydrocarbon is partly oxidized to C + H2O. In comparison to full oxidation (CO2 + H2O), for the cases of methane, ethane, and propane, I calculated H,G between
    55.8%,51.8% (methane,graphite,H2O liquid) and 42.0%,42.5% (propane,diamond,H2O gas). Considering that fuel cells may be ~ twice as efficient as conversion to electricity via combustion driving a mechanical heat engine, this approach seems promissing. Of course, partial oxidation to produce CO and H2 (passing steam over coal – or does that make CO + CH4? – I don’t remember), with both going to fuel cells, is another possibility.

    (And sorry for going so far off topic.)

  39. 289

    [[Haven't seen a slowdown in population gowth ]]

    The world population growth rate is now about 1.3% a year. When I was born (1960), it was more like 2.0% a year. Birth control campaigns in third-world countries have had a huge effect. I would still like to see the net growth rate go to zero, but we’re getting there.

  40. 290
    Jim says:

    Barton,

    Thank you I did not know it had dropped so sharply. You still have the issue of the penatration of electric power to everyone on the planet (poorest, most remote) though, which true will slow down but not for a long time as more and more people wish to have electricity.

  41. 291

    Considering that fuel cells may be ~ twice as efficient as conversion to electricity via combustion driving a mechanical heat engine,

    There’s no evidence of that. Air-breathing hydrogen fuel cells that are much too heavy per unit power output to propel a car have 41 percent efficiency, based on the delta ‘G’ of hydrogen oxidation. Lighter ones can and do propel prototype cars, but not as far as hydrogen internal combustion car prototypes were going in 1970s. Look up the BMW 520h.

    Suppose fuel cells had somehow become the standard prime movers for cars in 1900, and had, since then, been continuously improved in many respects, including an increase in tank-to-driveshaft energy conversion efficiency to 40 percent, like that of present-day automotive diesels. Someone who wanted to promote research into heat engines as their replacement could quite truthfully point out that the Carnot limit on an heat engine powered by the expansion of a hydrocarbon-air flame whose maximum temperature exceeds 2,000 K is very high, over 75 percent.

  42. 292
    Pat says:

    Correction: the paragraph immediately after listing the H and G of formation of the individual substances:

    [With these values, I've calculated that, for methane, ethane, and propane (C3H8), hydrocarbon + CO2 -> C + H2O is product favored (G 2C + 2H2O
    (diamond ,H2O gas) : H,G (kJ/mol C) = -5.76 , -3.13
    (graphite, H2O liquid): H,G (kJ/mol C) = -51.67 , -14.59 ]

    should have been:

    With these values, I’ve calculated that, for methane, ethane, and propane (C3H8), hydrocarbon + CO2 -> C + H2O is product favored (G<0), and exothermic (H<0).

    The values are not very large and I’m not proposing this as a significant energy source, but it does suggest a way to reduce (net) CO2 emissions. (It would be ideal if methane hydrates could be utilized for this purpose, if only that resource could be tapped without risk of methane emissions.)

    For example (note H,G given per mol C, not per mol reaction):
    CH4 + CO2 -> 2C + 2H2O
    (diamond ,H2O gas) : H,G (kJ/mol C) = -5.76 , -3.13
    (graphite, H2O liquid): H,G (kJ/mol C) = -51.67 , -14.59


    —-

    Although I was thinking of taking the H from coal (assuming 0.8 atoms H per atom C), I don’t have information on the H(enthalpy),G of formation of coal, but there is a trend in the methane,ethane,propane hydrocarbons, which, if continued, suggests that the H(enthalpy),G per atom of C or H declines with increasing molecular weight. Using kJ/mol C in propane and kJ/mol = 0 as limiting values for coal, and assuming 0.8 atoms H per atom C,

    I found H(enthalpy),G for the full oxidation of coal, producing water vapor, with H,G per mol C value of propane to be 92.9 % , 98.4 % of the H,G of oxidizing an equivalent amount of graphite and H2 gas (which is -38.25,-37.9 kJ/g).

    As a percentage of full oxidation of C(graphite) + 0.4 H2 to CO2 and 0.4 H2O vapor, I found H(enthalpy),G values:

    for production of graphite and water vapor from the elements:
    19.7 , 18.8

    for the full oxidation to CO2 and water vapor from CO and H2:
    77.5 , 71.8

    I also calculated some other comparisons but I won’t go into that here.

    —-

    Re: 291

    I have heard that H fuel cells can get up to 80 % efficiency, though it’s been awhile and I don’t remember where I found that, so maybe it’s not the case.

    But I was actually thinking of using fuel cells in grid-connected electrical generation. Maybe fuel cells would be too expensive for that (and then we inverters, too) – I don’t know.

  43. 293
    jj smith says:

    When ever there is a so much publicity of some sort , you can expect some divertion. Global warming could be correct and there is some thing more. see this article and wonder . – “Global Warming” or “Sudden Glacial Rebound”
    http://www.signs-of-the-times.org/articles/show/126103-Wake+The+World+Up+Campaign

  44. 294
    pete best says:

    Does anything that Freeman Dyson says about climate models ring true with this subject. He mentions that because climate models cannnot demonstrate the el nino effect it is of limited value in prediction but good for understanding climate.

    Criticism of global warming studies
    Dyson has questioned the predictive value of current computational models of climate change, urging instead more extensive use of local observations. He considers this view to be “heretical”, along with his views on the PhD system.

    The good news is that we are at last putting serious effort and money into local observations. Local observations are laborious and slow, but they are essential if we are ever to have an accurate picture of climate. The bad news is that the climate models on which so much effort is expended are unreliable because they still use fudge-factors rather than physics to represent important things like evaporation and convection, clouds and rainfall. Besides the general prevalence of fudge-factors, the latest and biggest climate models have other defects that make them unreliable. With one exception, they do not predict the existence of El Niño. Since El Niño is a major feature of the observed climate, any model that fails to predict it is clearly deficient. The bad news does not mean that climate models are worthless. They are, as Manabe said thirty years ago, essential tools for understanding climate. They are not yet adequate tools for predicting climate.[13]

    While he acknowledges climate change may be in part due to anthropogenic causes, such as the burning of fossil fuels, he regards the term “global warming” as a misnomer:

    As a result of the burning of coal and oil, the driving of cars, and other human activities, the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is increasing at a rate of about half a percent per year. â�¦ The physical effects of carbon dioxide are seen in changes of rainfall, cloudiness, wind strength, and temperature, which are customarily lumped together in the misleading phrase “global warming.” This phrase is misleading because the warming caused by the greenhouse effect of increased carbon dioxide is not evenly distributed. In humid air, the effect of carbon dioxide on the transport of heat by radiation is less important, because it is outweighed by the much larger greenhouse effect of water vapor. The effect of carbon dioxide is more important where the air is dry, and air is usually dry only where it is cold. The warming mainly occurs where air is cold and dry, mainly in the arctic rather than in the tropics, mainly in winter rather than in summer, and mainly at night rather than in daytime. The warming is real, but it is mostly making cold places warmer rather than making hot places hotter. To represent this local warming by a global average is misleading, because the global average is only a fraction of a degree while the local warming at high latitudes is much larger.[14]

  45. 295

    [[The warming is real, but it is mostly making cold places warmer rather than making hot places hotter. To represent this local warming by a global average is misleading, because the global average is only a fraction of a degree while the local warming at high latitudes is much larger.[14] ]]

    It’s not misleading at all, it’s the simplest index for capturing the heat content of the atmosphere and hydrosphere. And we’ve known about “polar amplification” for a long time. In fact, the models Dyson is criticizing predicted it.

  46. 296
    Bob Theriault says:

    One important result of all this �climate science mania� could be that we all realize that SCIENCE is only science. It brings us disasters, and then replaces them with other versions, all the while smugly implying superior human goals.

    As A.E. once said, ‘Perfection of means, and confusion of aims is characteristic of our age’. Did he mean that as we develop more control over things, we automatically use them for the highest purpose? I donâ��t think he did. Does the concept of â��Scientific Humanismâ�� seem like a great gift to your children?

    Sensitive dependence on initial conditions not only results in unintended consequences, it also results in unknowable consequences. I guess that is why many like the words ‘accident’ and ‘random’. Things happen and we are shocked, surprised and blown away, some times literally. Our ‘chain of causality’ models are simple, and the universe is not.

    I would suggest that basic science education require the reading of Charles MacKay (1814 to 1889) on mass mania events in history. I quickly ran up a list of about 16 major events starting in the 1300′s, and did not include the current concept of â��Scientificâ�� control of a whole planet or solar system in it.

    As Charles MacKay once said; “Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.”


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