Saturday, 21 April 2012

Grist tells lies about the Medieval Warm Period

Grist has this to say about the Medieval Warm Period:
On its website, NOAA has a wide selection of proxy studies, accompanied by the data on which they are based. Specifically, they have this to say on the MWP:
The idea of a global or hemispheric “Medieval Warm Period” that was warmer than today, however, has turned out to be incorrect.
The linked NOAA page doesn't contain that statement, not even the word incorrect. What it does say, however is this
Medieval Warm Period - 9th to 13th Centuries
Norse seafaring and colonization around the North Atlantic at the end of the 9th century indicated that regional North Atlantic climate was warmer during medieval times than during the cooler "Little Ice Age" of the 15th - 19th centuries. As paleoclimatic records have become more numerous, it has become apparent that "Medieval Warm Period" or "Medieval Optimum" temperatures were warmer over the Northern Hemisphere than during the subsequent "Little Ice Age", and also comparable to temperatures during the early 20th century. The regional patterns and the magnitude of this warmth remain an area of active research because the data become sparse going back in time prior to the last four centuries.
A paragraph which says the exact opposite to what Grist's Coby Beck says it does. A neat and total rebuttal of the lie, for that is what it is. I think the phrase "warmer over the Northern Hemisphere" is the clincher. The post is just a vehicle to direct readers to a realclimate "rebuttal" IMHO. Beck clearly thinks his readers just won't bother or are too dumb or trusting to check the source, but I'm the guy who wrote "The truth may be only a click away", and so it was.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Big numbers impress little minds - Fracking, exaggeration and hyperbole

Guardian blogger Robert Newman says This is the fracking truth, but as is often the case, the truth isn't included below the headline.
Just when we're told drought has become endemic in the UK, the Department of Energy and Climate Change has given the go-ahead for a process that will desiccate us more than any we've tried before on these islands: hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
High-volume fracking needs between 1.6m and 2.5m gallons (between seven and 11m litres) of water for a single well. All that water is smashing rock. All those millions of litres are giving the shale rock a BTEX injection; BTEX is benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene.
My word, that's a big number! Millions of litres - these water-hogs must be stopped at once! 11,000,000 litres for a single well must be a drain on our valuable water supplies, but my calculating brain tells me that's just over 4 Olympic-sized swimming pools. A quick Google check (do these people ever use Google except to reinforce their distorted perception of reality?)  reveals that UK water companies s supply a total of 18,000,000,000 litres (or 18,000 Megalitres) per day. That means his single well will use, in its lifetime, the equivalent of 0.06% of the daily UK water supply. But he doesn't stop there:
Even in the best-case scenario in which the frackers don't, by some miracle, rupture aquifers and pollute drinking water, the process itself will drain us dry in the vain hope that it might earn us enough foreign capital to pay for the imports of Volvic and Evian that we will need to put on our crops.
 "The process itself will drain us dry" - yeah, right. It would take 1636 wells to consume, over their lifetime, one days worth of UK water.

It's not worth my time or yours to skewer the rest of his unsubstantiated rant, suffice to say he recommends viewing the Gasland documentary.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Making it up (2) - "Sea level 'rising fastest in SW Pacific"

Here we go again! A tranch of syndicated articles, or variation on same, which take a straightforward analysis of proxy data (which is from the past, by definition), and transpose its findings to the present or even the future. The cited paper is "Nineteenth and twentieth century sea-level changes in Tasmania and New Zealand", Gehrels et. al., though of course it takes either a site search, or a Google search to actually find an abstract, as it's just vaguely referenced, or the journal main page is given. As I've said before, this gives the distinct impression that the article authors would prefer we accept their take on it, without the benefit of reading the paper and making up our own minds. In this case, that would instantly debunk their alarmist conclusions, and in several cases, reveal that the authors either can't read and comprehend, or can but distort or even make up conclusions, effectively putting words into the mouths of the paper's authors. The abstract says
Positive deviations from linear sea-level trends represent important climate signals if they are persistent and geographically widespread. This paper documents rapid sea-level rise reconstructed from sedimentary records obtained from salt marshes in the Southwest Pacific region (Tasmania and New Zealand). A new late Holocene relative sea-level record from eastern Tasmania was dated by AMS14C (conventional, high precision and bomb-spike), 137Cs, 210Pb, stable Pb isotopic ratios, trace metals, pollen and charcoal analyses. Palaeosea-level positions were determined by foraminiferal analyses. Relative sea level in Tasmania was within half a metre of present sea level for much of the last 6000 yr. Between 1900 and 1950 relative sea level rose at an average rate of 4.2 ± 0.1 mm/yr. During the latter half of the 20th century the reconstructed rate of relative sea-level rise was 0.7 ± 0.6 mm/yr. Our study is consistent with a similar pattern of relative sea-level change recently reconstructed for southern New Zealand. The change in the rate of sea-level rise in the SW Pacific during the early 20th century was larger than in the North Atlantic and could suggest that northern hemisphere land-based ice was the most significant melt source for global sea-level rise.
That seems straightforward - sea level at the sample site rose at a relatively high rate (compared with the global rate) between 1900 and 1950, and a relatively low rate for the rest of the 20th century. Nothing to worry about then? Not according to several reports from "down under", whose almost identical articles, begin (Australia):
SOUTHERN Australia and nearby Pacific nations are likely to be the most seriously affected in the world by the continuing rise in sea levels, according to new research.
... and 3 news (new Zealand
The seas around New Zealand and Australia are likely to be the most seriously affected in the world by the continuing rise in sea levels, according to research on Tasmanian swamps.
"According to research"? Apparently not, the paper abstract doesn't mention the future - remember that the paper's titled "Nineteenth and twentieth century sea-level changes in Tasmania and New Zealand". However, all the articles I've seen quote one of the authors, Patrick Moss:
"Sea levels in Tasmania remained relatively stable for much of the past 6000 years, but around 1880 they started rising drastically," said Dr Moss, who co-wrote the study in conjunction with scientists from the UK, New Zealand and Australia. 
From several reports:
Sea levels in the southwest Pacific rose at four times the average 20th-century rate between 1900 and 1950, according to the study.That was followed by a period of “relative quiet” broken by a second spike in 1990 which saw sea levels rise at a rate that defied projections.”The natural climatic factors seem to be not as apparent and anthropogenic climate change seems to be the key possible culprit,” said Moss.
Dr Moss said a jump in sea levels occurred after 1990.
"The rise in 1910 probably reflects the end of the little ice age, when temperatures were about one to two degrees cooler in the northern hemisphere than today," he said.
"The 1990s peak is most likely indicative of human-induced climate change."
Sounds rather like someone with an agenda - that conclusion's not in the paper. Why does he call it a "peak"? Because that's what it is, and both his sediment proxies and tide gauges in the SW Pacific generally show a decline since. The diagrams in the paper clearly show that. You have to follow the pea as the cups are moved, and analyse every word, or you might, as these web authors clearly have, assume the "jump" is still in progress. Elsewhere he says "A large ice-melt is like a fingerprint". There's that word again - if there's been a decline since the 1990s, then the "fingerprint" is rather blurred, and the "points of identity" are insufficient to identify the culprit. More to the point, what exactly was the "fingerprint" of the early 20th century rise? Here's yet another researcher putting his mouth where his paper isn't, and confirming our suspicions of his prejudice and unjustified conclusions.

What about that "lack of comprehension" I mentioned at the beginning? here's a good example from "Adelaide Now" - first the bogus prediction based on no evidence from the paper, nor its self-appointed spokesman (not the lead author), Moss
SOUTHERN Australia and nearby Pacific nations are likely to be the most seriously affected in the world by the continuing rise in sea levels, according to new research.
Then the silly error, repeated in several reports, including Planetsave (save it for whom and from what?)
Sea levels have risen approximately 20 centimetres in the South West Pacific Ocean since the end of the 19th century, a dramatic increase according to a new study released this week.

Scientists found that sea levels in Tasmania remained relatively stable for most of the previous 6,000 years but that around 1880 they started to rise dramatically. Between 1900 and 1950 the sea level rose at an average rate of 4.2 millimetres per year. The highest rates of sea level rise occurred in the 1910s with an increase of .3 to .8 millimetres per year, followed by a second peak in the 1990s.
If sea level rose 20cm since the late 19th century, and if the rate of rise between 1900 and 1950 was 4.2mm a year, which amounts to 4.2 x 50 = 210mm or 21cm, can we deduce it's fallen by 1cm since 1950?

I might add that I can see nothing like a rise of 4.2mm since 1900 for tide-gauges in the southern part of Australia, nor any "spike" in the 1910s. Perhaps I'll update this post with a few charts to illustrate that.

Making it up (1) - "Study finds Greenland's ice cover is sliding into the ocean"

This is the start of a new series to run in parallel with "Disconnects in Logic". Both have and will be a source of amusement and debunking hyperbole, unjustified conclusions and predictions, and plain outright lies at the same time.

"Click Green" (you're ahead of me, I can tell) trumpets the apocalyptic headline "Study finds Greenland's ice cover is sliding into the ocean" . The contradiction between headline and article is striking - it's becoming common when the environment, wildlife, "climate change" or "global warming" are discussed, or new research summarised. Apart from the fact that most of the Greenland ice sheet covers the depressed interior of the landmass, and has as much chance of "sliding into the ocean" as a pool ball in a pocket has of "sliding onto the table", what does the first paragraph actually say?
Like snow sliding off a roof on a sunny day, the Greenland Ice Sheet may be sliding faster into the ocean due to massive releases of meltwater from surface lakes, according to a new study by the University of Colorado Boulder-based Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences.
As usual, the caveat is "may be", which as so often is the case in alarmist articles, becomes "is" in the headline.
During a typical catastrophic lake drainage, about 1 million cubic meters of meltwater - which is equivalent to the volume of about 4,000 Olympic swimming pools - funnels to the ice sheet's underside within a day or two. Once the water reaches the ice sheet's belly that abuts underlying rock, it may turn the ice-bed surface into a Slip 'N Slide, lubricating the ice sheet's glide into the ocean. This would accelerate the sea-level rise associated with climate change.
Alternatively, however, the lake drainages may carve out sub-glacial "sewers" to efficiently route water to the ocean. "This would drain the ice sheet's water, making less water available for ice-sheet sliding," Colgan said. That would slow the ice sheet's migration into the ocean and decelerate sea-level rise.
"Alternatively, however..." means they don't know, and what's more, the researchers openly admit it.
"Lake drainages are a wild card in terms of whether they enhance or decrease the ice sheet's slide," Colgan said. Finding out which scenario is correct is a pressing question for climate models and for communities preparing for sea-level change, he said.
So they, we, (and the "Click Green" author) don't actually know what's happening. All that is known is that the meltwater "lakes" suddenly disappear, and it's assumed they've drained away. I say assumed, because
For the study, the researchers developed new feature-recognition software capable of identifying supraglacial lakes in satellite images and determining their size and when they appear and disappear. "Previously, much of this had to be double-checked manually," Colgan said. "Now we feed the images into the code, and the program can recognize whether a feature is a lake or not, with high confidence and no manual intervention."
If such a lake "disappears" then, it might be because the water's drained away, as postulated, or possibly it's refrozen, and wouldn't be recognised by the software. First they don't know what the drainage mechanism is, whether meltwater is actually "lubricating" the base of the ice, and the real "sceptic in the room", don't even know if the lake hasn't simply refrozen. Headline fail, alarmism alert, interesting study, shame about the lack of any firm conclusions.

I really aught to start a third new series "Displaying Your Ignorance", 'cos I LOL when I saw this "schoolboy howler" on redOrbit - "Greenland Slipping Away"
Massive releases of meltwater from surface lakes may be causing Greenland to slide ever faster into the ocean, according to a new study by the University of Colorado Boulder-based Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES).
What's Greenland sliding on I wonder, Santa's Sleigh? Hold on tight, Greenlanders! Wheeee!

Monday, 9 April 2012

Matterhorn scientist disintegrating in the face of global warming - the true story?

Four days ago, I expressed my astonishment (I was more than just surprised) that a scientist could think that he and his team had done groundbreaking (it's a pun) research on how thawing/freezing processes were cracking rock and creating rockfalls on Switzerland's iconic Matterhorn. Those processes are well understood, and have been for at least a hundred years, Yesterday, while searching for more Matterhorn images for my collection, I came across a real gem on ABC News - Is the Mighty Matterhorn Mountain Crumbling?
To understand how climate change is helping destabilize one of the world’s most famous mountains, Stephan Gruber of the University of Zurich offers a culinary visualization.
Imagine a piece of bread – or perhaps even better, a thick cut of raw steak – in an oven. Put a stick of frozen butter on top of it. And then turn the oven on.
Apart from the fact that I can't imagine anyone in their right mind putting a slice of steak, let alone bread in an oven with frozen butter on it, I'll go along with the analogy for now. I'm like that, broad-minded and receptive. Read on (my bold)
Two things happen:
The outside of the steak begins to cook relatively quickly. The inside stays raw for longer.
At the same time, the butter begins to melt – and seep into the steak.
Now, imagine that the steak is the mighty Matterhorn mountain, one of the most picturesque in Europe (and, yes, some of you may know it better as Disneyland’s original rollercoaster).
Climate change works in three ways:
As the world gets warmer – as the oven heats up – the outside of the Matterhorn heats up (the outside of the steak cooks). That, by itself, slowly breaks apart the ice that holds the mountain’s exterior rock surface together. So we are beginning to see more rock falls than ever before. (In 2003, a massive rock fall stranded 50 climbers.)
Does heat "break apart ice"? No, it melts it, and climate change can work in another way which doesn't even enter the closed minds of some - the world might get colder. At this point we should remind ourselves what the heated-up "outside" of the Matterhorn looks like in summer, when Herr Gruber's limited view of "climate change" is heating it up. This photo is from 2007.

The Matterhorn - East face. Source: Free Wallpaper Pic
It's clearly summer, which can be deduced from the high Sun angle. What's all the white stuff clinging to the "heated up" rock faces? Is it frozen butter? I'm keen to hear more:
Then, the butter starts melting. The butter is actually that same ice that holds much of the mountain together. As it melts, it seeps down into ice that doesn’t see the sun – say, the center of the steak – and helps cook it from the inside.
Thirdly, slowly but surely, the oven heat finally reaches the middle of the steak. Climate change finally helps warm the inside of the mountain.
And slowly but surely, the integrity of the mountain starts to diminish, both from the outside and from the inside-out.
In my total ignorance I thought it was rock that "holds much of the mountain together", but what do I and geologists know? There's more:
Before you think that this is some obscure thing that happens in places with very, very high elevations, consider this: The mountains where this is happening are located where millions of people – many in Asia – actually live.
Gruber recently released a study of how this happens – the first to show that typical patters[sic] of movement of ice exist on mountains like the Matterhorn.
That last sentence is a real killer - "the first to show that typical patterns of movement of ice exist on mountains like the Matterhorn". If they're "typical patterns" then they're already well known to exist, and they're well documented, so his study cannot be the "first". It's not "climate change" which melts ice in crevices on high mountains, it's the Sun, and it's the re-freezing at night in the summer, and in the winter which widens the cracks. Ice has a larger volume that the water which forms it. The writer himself needs a geography lesson - exactly how many of the "millions of people" are threatened in some way by rock falls at altitude?

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Zen and the Second Law of Thermodynamics (2)

In Zen and the Second Law of Thermodynamics I dismissed the claim that the atmospheric "greenhouse effect" violates the second law of thermodynamics, invoking the correct (in my view, and most others) interpretation of the Stefan-Boltzmann equation. Here I will demonstrate that there is an overriding reason that the law cannot be violated in the mechanism of the "greenhouse effect", which is that it doesn't apply to radiative transfer of heat from greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to the Earth's surface.

Before I get into specifics of the mechanism, I should say that it appears to me that it's not only some sceptics who misunderstand it, but some atmospheric scientists too. That misunderstanding has led to the postulation of the so-called tropospheric "hot spot", which has proved so elusive, and thus an embarrassment to the scientists, and free ammunition for critics of the hypothesis. I should also say that this article in no way supports the hypothesis (it's not a theory in the strict sense) of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming (CAGW). It does support the general theory of the "greenhouse effect", its fundamentals can be tested, and effects measured.

First, some seeming irrelevancies which are important to understand. I'm going to describe how a fluorescent lamp works, in order to shed some light on the subject (I know it's a horrible pun, but I can't resist 'em). Before you switch off (there I go again), bear with me - it's important.

In an incandescent lamp, the filament is heated to the point where it emits near-white light, at a temperature of about 4000°C. A fluorescent lamp or tube works by electrically heated filaments exciting mercury vapour atoms, which then emit ultra-violet light. The light is absorbed by suitable phosphors (chemical compounds coating the inside of the glass tube) which re-emit visible white (or near-white) light. Neither the mercury vapour, nor the surrounding phosphors are at a high temperature, in fact neither are hot enough to cause a burn or even discomfort. The heating of the glass tube is almost entirely due to the hot filaments, and where the tubes are long, the centre part never feels more than just warm to the touch. The point is that it's impossible to deduce the temperature of a source simply by measuring its radiation spectrum. In the case of the incandescent lamp, the calculation would be correct; in the case of the fluorescent lamp, totally wrong.

Why is this important when considering the "greenhouse effect"? Because the absorption and emission of long-wave infra-red radiation by greenhouse gases is very much like the absorption and emission of light by the fluorescent phosphor, and the emission is not like that of a hot filament. All gases absorb and emit radiation to some degree (whatever you may read). Nitrogen comprises about 78% of the atmosphere, and absorbs/emits very weakly in the infra-red, about 5000 times less than CO2, molecule-for-molecule, but, and it's a very big but, there's about 2,000 times as much of it in the atmosphere, so why is is ignored? Oxygen absorbs/emits more strongly, and is included with ozone (O3) in the relevant IPCC diagram, a fact unknown to many.

The strongest absorbers/emitters are the multi-atomic molecules, in descending order, water vapour, methane, and CO2. I can't place ozone in the list because all references I've seen lump it in with oxygen. I'd guess it's between water vapour and methane, but of course it's a very minor component of the atmosphere. These molecules absorb long-wave infra-red photons and store the energy in their internal molecular bonds, in the form of twisting or flexing. The external, or kinetic energy of the molecule, and therefore the temperature of the gas is unchanged. When the energy is released a very short time later, the resulting photon is of the same energy and frequency as that absorbed. There is therefore no change in gas temperature during the entire process. This is therefore not a thermodynamic process, and so the Second Law doesn't apply. There is however, a finite chance that the internal energy can be transferred to another gas molecule in a collision; in that case, there is a temperature increase, though this isn't a major part of the process.

The surface emission and subsequent absorption/emission by GHGs is a "pumped" process; when the pumping stops, the process stops. The Sun is the pump input of course; it heats the surface (the atmosphere a little), the surface warms, radiates to the atmosphere, the GHGs absorb and re-radiate a portion of that, maintaining the surface temperature. Simple evidence for this is the change in temperature of the surface and atmosphere from just before sunset onwards. When the sun is high, the surface is much warmer than the atmosphere. As sunset approaches, the surface cools rapidly, and radiation from the atmosphere drops even more rapidly. Within a few hours, the surface is much cooler than the air above. In colder weather, ground frosts predominate, demonstrating the temperature inversion. Radiation and temperature measurements prove the case.

In my view, the postulated tropospheric "hot spot" is a chimera; the upper troposphere doesn't have to warm up very much as a result of the "greenhouse effect", unless there's a much higher proportion of energy transfers via collision rather than absorption/emission. I'd suggest its absence proves nothing, and that its claimed existence might indicate a misunderstanding by climatologists who proposed it. Of course, I might be wrong, something they fail to admit, claiming that it's not the hypothesis that's shaky, but the data; decades of radio-sonde measurements to a precision at least one-tenth of the size of the claimed "hot-spot" temperature increase fail to show anything remotely like it.

The Stefan-Boltzmann equation can't be used to calculate the radiation from the temperature of greenhouse gases, nor deduce their temperature from radiation measurements, because they emit in specific bands, and not over an entire Planck curve, which is necessary for the relationship to be applied. The Earth is ascribed an "effective emission temperature", calculated using the measured radiation to space, and the Stefan-Boltzmann equation. It's called "effective" because it's notional only. Neither the surface, nor the greenhouse gases which radiate, are at anything approaching that temperature. Attempts to deduce anything from that notional temperature are simply invalid. Stefan-Boltzmann is a two-body equation, right enough, but each body is a single source of radiation, radiating towards the other. The Earth/atmosphere combination is not a "single body" radiating to space.

The claim invoking the Second Law of Thermodynamics is that heat flow must be from hotter to colder, and that "a cool body cannot hear a warmer body". In my previous post I showed that the first is inevitably true, that the warmer Earth heats the cooler atmosphere, and that the second is wilful misunderstanding of the process; radiation from the cooler atmosphere merely slows the rate of transfer from the surface. I've shown here that the Second Law can't even be justifiably invoked at all.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Floating windmills in Japan - what could possiblty go wrong?

The Japan Times tells us that
Floating windmills offer hope of ending nuclear reliance
A consortium backed by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry is preparing to bolt turbines onto barges and build the world's largest commercial power plant using floating windmills off Fukushima Prefecture, tackling the engineering challenges of an unproven technology to cut reliance on nuclear power.
Fukushima? That name rings a bell, so while I ponder on it, read on
"Japan is surrounded by deep oceans, and this poses challenges to offshore wind turbines that are attached to the bottom of the sea," senior vice environment minister Katsuhiko Yokomitsu said last month. "We are eager for floating offshore wind to become a viable technology."
Fukushima - goddit! 11 March 2011, undersea earthquake, multi-metre tsunamis, coastal devastation, nuclear reactors on the coast, near meltdown.

Lessons from History, Vol. I - "Deja vu can be a very nasty experience"

Tectonic boundaries
Undersea earthquakes
Floating offshore wind turbines

What could possibly go wrong?


Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Matterhorn disintegrating in the face of global warming - this is news?

The Independent, and cited researchers, have just discovered that freezing water weathers mountain rocks. This apparently is news. It is of course part of the Global Warming meme; perfectly natural and well-known processes that have been occurring since the earth solidified from a molten sphere are cited as evidence for "Global Warming" or "Climate Change". Not just any old "Global Warming" or "Climate Change", of course, which the earth has seen over it's non-molten history, but a new and dangerous kind which, if unchecked, will kill us all.
Matterhorn disintegrating in the face of global warming
With its four steep faces reflecting the compass points, the mighty Matterhorn has proven an irresistible and often deadly challenge to mountaineers.
But now, the mountain – one of Europe's tallest and most celebrated peaks – is falling to bits due to climate change, according to a new scientific report.
As with other Alpine mountains, experts have already documented the retreat of the peak's glaciers and the thinning of its permafrost in the wake of rising temperatures.
But scientists now say they have evidence that these rising temperatures are also prompting the physical disintegration of the mountain itself.
I first learned of frost-weathering of mountain rocks in primary school. I've been familiar with the term "frost-shattered rocks" for many decades. I've walked over mountain screes thousands to hundreds-of-thousands of years old. Scotland's mountains were once as high as the Matterhorn. The Matterhorn is ultimately destined to become deep-sea sediment. I love the "With its four steep faces reflecting the compass points" bit - how do they think the mountain got to be that shape? My school atlas from many decades ago has a picture of the Matterhorn, and an explanation for that shape - glaciers, ice, and freezing water. The normal becomes unprecedented, and history and past knowledge are dumped in favour of the "new discoveries". Not new, and you can't claim to have discovered something that's been common knowledge for several generations if not longer.
"There has been a big increase in the number of rock falls in the past decade that can't be explained simply by the fact that we're looking out for them more now," the lead researcher, Stephan Gruber, told The Independent.
His team's discovery of the key role that icy crevices play in the Matterhorn's decay suggests that global warming's deleterious effect on mountain ranges is greater than previously thought.
"We have shown the importance of icy crevices and the melting water entering them, in the process of rock falls," Mr Gruber said. "Unlike rock itself – changes to which take place over a very long period of time – just a few decades of temperatures rising by a degree or so are enough to affect the ice and water on the mountains."
"It's reasonable to expect the same processes are widespread elsewhere in the Alps at the same altitude," he added.
It's reasonable to expect the same processes are widespread elsewhere in the world and have been continuing since mountains and water and freezing temperatures came together in the same place at the same time. Climbers have been wary of ice-weakened rocks on the Matterhorn, in the Swiss Alps, and on mountains worldwide since people had the inclination to climb mountains other than to travel long distances. Here's the North face of the Matterhorn

The Matterhorn - east face. Source: Free Wallpaper Pic
See those grey mounds and slopes in the middle and foreground? They're screes - heaps of frost-shattered rock. Here they are in closeup

Screes on the slopes of the Matterhorn
They're covering the entire lower slopes of the mountain. There are buildings on them. A stream has cut its way through them. They've been growing for centuries at least. The mountain has that "four steep faces" pyramidal shape as a result of ice-weathering over millennia and longer.
"There has been a big increase in the number of rock falls in the past decade that can't be explained simply by the fact that we're looking out for them more now," the lead researcher, Stephan Gruber, told The Independent.
If they weren't "looking out for them" much in the past, how do they know there's been a "big increase"? There's been a big increase in unsubstantiated claims of the abnormal and unprecedented over the last decade too, but unlike these researchers and the Independent, I have been looking out for them. These guys need a reality pill. Reach for the Button:

The Sydney Opera House is bigger than you think

The Independent, that ever-reliable source of well-researched information dished up with a total lack of hyperbole, reports on "Earth Hour"
Sydney switches off lights for 60 minutes
Landmarks and buildings around the world were plunged into darkness yesterday as part of a campaign against climate change. 
For Earth Hour, organised by WWF, attractions such as Sydney Opera House turned their lights off for 60 minutes at 8.30pm. The event invites people to switch off all non-essential lighting to highlight the impact climate change is having on the globe.
It seems the "clam-shell" building now encompasses the whole of that great city. An analysis of electricity consumption for Sydney over the period which included Earth Hour 2012 shows no discernible reduction in consumption, nor for New South Wales, nor the entire country. This short article highlights the impact hyperbole and extreme exaggeration is having on the truth. This graphic highlights the reaction of most sensible people to such stretching of the truth

Monday, 2 April 2012

Light a candle for Earth Hour?

Did you celebrate and support "Earth Hour"? Do you support 100% "renewable" energy? Did you turn off all electric lights and light a candle? If you did, did you contemplate what the candle was made of? Did you realise it's paraffin wax? Did you know paraffin wax is a by-product of oil refining?

Why didn't you know?

"The wind is always blowing somewhere"

Read or heard that before? It's the trite and ill-defined "argument" used by proponents of wind power. "Wind is variable" they intone, but "the wind is always blowing somewhere", and will provide sufficient power for "all our needs". The first part of the claim is undoubtedly true; the wind is indeed "always blowing somewhere", but unfortunately for them, and for the rest of us too, it depends entirely on where that "somewhere" is, and a few other important factors. Let me tell you a story.

The time is the future, some twenty years hence. I propose a mythical small country Aeolia, named after Aeolus, the Greek god of the winds, a son of Poseidon, appropriately enough the god of the sea, over which most winds originate. Aeolia is a large island off the coast of Europe, and has large wind turbines spread evenly round the coast, and across the hillier parts. The entire country is crossed by high-voltage power lines linking the turbines to the centres of population. Tourists don't visit Aeolia in droves as they used to. The Aeolian government ascribes it to the high exchange rate and visa controls. They omit to mention the 60% increase in tourism in nearby Francia, which has 100% of its power supplied by nuclear power stations, and an almost total absence of large white towers (apart from the Eiffel Tower, now painted white to reflect solar radiation and so cool their capital, Paris). The Aeolians closed their nuclear stations years ago; their energy minister called nuclear power "unproven and dangerous technology" while in opposition, and before being handed the "poisoned chalice" of office. Francia's neighbour Germania, closed theirs because they were apparently worried about tsunami inundation, in a large country with little ocean shoreline

When the prevailing south-westerly wind blows steadily over Aeolia, all is well. The turbines to the west and south run at about 2/3 rated output, Those on the hills about the same, but the remainder progressively less towards the east and north; especially the east, which is for the most part in the lee of hills, The Aeolians aren't stupid, they have allowed for that in the number of turbines built. When the south-westerlies abate a little, the west and south produce a little less power, as do the hill-top ones; those in the extreme north and east produce almost none. The Aeolians aren't stupid, they have allowed for that in the number of turbines built.

Occasionally, a meteorological phenomenon known as a "blocking high" (large area of high pressure) with little or no wind beneath covers most of the country, and the turbines are stilled. The Aeolians aren't stupid, they have allowed for that by importing power from Francia, through an enormous underwater cable; that country generates more power than it needs, and exports about 25% of it. Other countries around Francia have adopted the "Aeolia model" and get all of their power, most of the time, from wind. They also have large cables to France to import surplus power when the wind dies away, and so all is well. Happy days!

The wind doesn't always waft over Aeolia from the southwest. It almost as often comes from the other points of the compass, and doesn't maintain its direction nor strength as well as wind from the southwest. The Aeolians aren't stupid, they have allowed for that in the number of turbines built.

Very occasionally, though the Aeolians can't remember the last time it happened, a very large  "blocking high" covers most of western Europe. If that were to happen, Aeolia and Francia's other neighbours would be requesting power from Francia, but Francia has only 25% of its power to export, even if all the nuclear stations run flat out. It can't supply the "top-up" needs of but one of its neighbours, or a fraction of their needs to all. The Aeolians aren't stupid, they have allowed for that by building large gas-fired power stations that spend most of their time idling at the ready, burning gas just to maintain that state. The gas is imported, even though almost the entire country is sitting on vast reserves of shale-gas. It remains untouched since their energy minister called "fracking" (using high-pressure water to force out the gas, used since the 1950s) "untried technology".

The northern part of the Aeolian archipelago is the small independent country of Scotia, which went all out for both political and energy independence almost two decades ago. They have a number of wind and tidal stations, but import 60% (on average) of their power as gas and electricity from across the sea, from Norwegia, which is 100% hydro-electric, and whose citizens luckily have a soft spot for the Scots, who they maintain are really Norwegian anyway.

The story doesn't end there, but since the the Aeolians aren't stupid, and have built sufficient turbines to meet their power needs most of the time, how may would that be, and how many would they need if the wind was blowing in just 25% of their country, meaning the wind really was "always blowing somewhere" in their country? As we've seem the "always blowing somewhere" might well mean far away.

Taking the ideal "south-westerly" or "Goldilocks" (it's just right) scenario, the number of turbines would have to be increased countrywide by about 25 % if the wind drops a bit. If it drops a bit in the west and south, it drops a lot more in the sheltered north and east; some turbines would be below threshold speed and produce nothing. If the "always blowing somewhere" area with "a bit less wind" was only half or even 25% of the country, that already increased number of turbines would have to be multiplied by two or four. This means the total must be as many as five times the "Goldilocks" number. Chinese manufacturers would be building new turbine factories faster than Aeolia and other "it's a breeze" countries could erect new turbines.

This analysis is, of course completely ignoring the inherent minute-to-minute, hour-to-hour variability of the wind; that can be partially "evened out" by each "farm" having a large battery attached which can be charged using excess power, and discharged to fill the troughs in output. But, and it's a big but, that capacity has to be quite large to even out more than minute-to-minute variability, and these batteries are expensive. They wouldn't be a "nice to have", they'd be a necessity. Gas-powered backup can't be ramped up and down on even an hour-to-hour basis, more like over four to eight hours. Wind forecasts would have to be almost continuous and very reliable.

Short-term variability between large areas is a bigger problem, one that hasn't been addressed anywhere worldwide, to my knowledge. My position on wind is this - large-scale generation and integration is very difficult. Wind won't work on its own, and even with power storage and gas-fired backup is very difficult and expensive to manage 24 hours a day. Wind would be ideal for remote and isolated communities, villages and farms, especially in the undeveloped world; small-scale battery storage is viable and not very expensive. Combined with solar (photo-electric or hot water) systems and integrated storage they could and would provide electric power and heating for people who now have nothing but wood and dried cow-dung or limited supplies of expensive (for them) diesel and petrol. Their "half a loaf" would be welcomed, and I'm sure they could organise themselves around a variable supply. In my opinion wind (and solar) could lift millions, if not billions out of poverty, improve their health, pump clean water from wells (especially using excess off-peak power), and even supply small factory units. I'd gladly see some of my taxes funding such projects, and I'm sure many others would too.

World political leaders tell us of their "visions" of cheap, clean energy for their countries. They never mention the magic word "reliable".

This post was, in part, inspired by a "conversation" with Peter Lang, who describes himself as
... a retired geologist and engineer with 40 years experience on a wide range of energy projects throughout the world, including managing energy R&D and providing policy advice for government and opposition. His experience includes: coal, oil, gas, hydro, geothermal, nuclear power plants, nuclear waste disposal, and a wide range of energy end use management projects. 
I hope to write several other less "mythological" posts about the realities of "renewable energy" soon.