Sunday, 6 May 2012

A game of Consequences; A question of scale (4)

Consequences, schmonsequences, all is consequences. We've been told, indeed we've had it proved to us by climate models (pause for snigger) that it's the atmosphere which drives climate. While I'm prepared, like the White Queen in Alice in Wonderland, to "believe as many as six impossible things before breakfast", it's now well after breakfast, and that notion is an impossible thing to believe. The atmosphere is a major component of climate; the atmosphere transports heat and fresh water around the globe, dumping them where they're needed, and sometimes where they're not wanted, or at least in quantities that aren't wanted, or not wanted just now.

Blaming changes in the atmosphere for causing changes in the atmosphere is a circular argument, and leads nowhere but back to square one, and delusion, and vast expenditure on research that's leading nowhere, and vast costs to cure a non-existent problem, or at least a problem that can't be solved by mankind. I'm of the opinion that everything that happens in the atmosphere is climate. Clouds are climate, rain is climate, temperature is climate, high and low pressure systems and the consequent winds and storms are climate, and the greenhouse effect is climate.

Many climate scientists, and meteorologists, and glaciologists, and marine biologists, appear to me to be particularly myopic. Every day, or at least every week, we see the results of another "study" published; studies which usually set out to "prove" something or other, and which therefore have an agenda up front. It's all too often that agenda (usually driven by funding sources) which dictates the conclusions drawn. If the conclusions are a bit thin, because the data is a bit thin, or murky, or both, then often models are used, and the output from those models is hailed as "evidence". In all such cases, the results are published with many caveats; X  "could", "may" "might" cause Y. In some cases, even with caveats included, the scientists "spin" the results by applying a liberal dose of their own beliefs and prejudices, either in their published conclusions, or in press releases, or both. That's not science, it's advocacy, and it's dangerous advocacy.

I introduced this topic because it's central to how the role of the atmosphere is perceived; warmer air, and/or long-wave radiation from that warmer air is said to be warming the ocean. Poppycock say I - it's the ocean (and to a lesser extend the land) which gave the atmosphere that temperature in the first place. Heat is transported into the atmosphere by conduction and convection, by evaporation, and by long-wave infrared radiation, a small proportion of the latter being absorbed by greenhouse gases, the most important of which is water vapour, which the ocean (and to a lesser extend the land) put there in the first place, complete with the additional heat energy that water vapour molecules have compared to water molecules in liquid water and ice.

it's not necessary to be a climate scientist, or a physicist to understand these basic principles. it's only necessary to have a basic grasp of the relative sizes of all these factors to have a grasp on the fundamentals of climate. I said earlier that only a small proportion of the infrared radiation emitted by land and water is absorbed by greenhouse gases, the rest escapes to space, and the emitted radiation is just a part of the heat lost by the Earth's surface. Only about half of the radiation absorbed by greenhouse gases is re-emitted back down towards the surface, and not all of that is absorbed by the surface; some is reflected. The overall picture is of a great deal of heat being lost by the surface, much of that escaping to space, and a small proportion of the emitted heat finding its way back to the surface. That small proportion is what the hullabaloo is all about. That's why I introduced the topic of myopic scientists.

Given that the proportion getting back to the surface is relatively small, and that the effect of CO2 as a greenhouse gas is small in relation to its bigger brother (sister, sibling, mustn't appear sexist) water vapour, and given that human-generated  CO2 emissions are tiny compared with those emitted by plants, animals, and yet again the ocean, it's not surprising that many wonder what the fuss is all about. It is surprising that many climate and other scientists haven't yet grasped this question of scale at all. I read recently that some scientists were surprised to discover that it wasn't slightly warmer air which melted sea-ice, but slightly warmer water. Not surprising to me, as I and more enlightened and informed others know full well that air, even moist air, has a heat capacity hundreds of times less than the same volume of water; even less if it's sea-water. See A Question of Scale (2).

Marine biologists examine a tiny part of the Great Barrier Reef, see what they interpret as problems, extrapolate that to the entire reef and declare it doomed. I don't believe it. Glaciologists examine the snouts (lower ends) of a few glaciers, see that they're melting, measure the rate of retreat of the snouts, and ignoring those rates and whether the glaciers may be accumulating mass at a greater rate far above in the mountains, declare that they'll all have melted by Christmas. I exaggerate, of course (sauce for the goose, etc.), it was Christmas 2035.

There are only about 300 glaciers studied in detail out of a conservative estimate of 160,000 worldwide. It's that question of scale again. Scale also crops up in relation to individual glaciers. A paper breathlessly announces an "alarming rate of retreat of the Gangotri glacier" of 22.5 metres/year, and mentions the totally misleading "fact" of how many people in Asia "depend on its meltwater" (it's a perpetuated myth), They don't do the simple arithmetic and disclose that even if their "alarming rate" doubled or tripled, the 35 km glacier would still be there in a thousand years. They don't mention that temperature drops with height, so any retreat will slow down in time. They don't study the accumulation zone at the top of the glacier which dictates what the thickness of ice will be at the snout in 2000-or-so years time; it's too cold up there and it would take time to do, and would likely utterly destroy their blinkered conclusions in any case. They're seemingly unaware that the ice they're studying was formed 2000 years ago, and it's the mass and thickness of that ice which largely dictates what's happening at the snout today. Remember, air has little heat capacity, and it's more likely that less cloud/more sun is the a factor (rarely mentioned in the literature). Perhaps the cooking stoves of gaggles of glaciologists is causing what they've come to measure! See a Cool Look at Glaciers

By now you may have grasped why I'm a sceptic. I'm anti-alarmist, not anti-warmist. The warmists can believe what they like - in my opinion they're looking through binoculars. Do just that, lower them and see how much of the scene before you is captured in their field of view. They and the sub-class of scientists I've discussed here are myopic, and the only correction is scepticism and an understanding of scale, and a sense of proportion.

No comments:

Post a Comment