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Thursday, April 20, 2017

More still at it - Equilibrium

After years of battling skeptics, you would think the climate change pundits would have a better source of boiler plate responses to commonly asked questions.  How valid is the assumption of equilibrium gets brought up fairly often.

Radiant equilibrium is what is being assumed.  This is Ein = Eout at the top of the atmosphere which is assumed to be approximately 20 kilometers in altitude.  The energy in is predominately short wave electromagnetic and the energy out is predominately long wave electromagnetic.   Since there is a constant flow of energy in and energy out, there is no assumption of thermodynamic equilibrium.

Ein is provided by an assumed constant power source, the Sun.  The solar "constant" is about 1361 +/- 50 Wm-2 over one year and 1361 +/-0.5 Wm-2 over a solar cycle of approximately 11 years.   Since Ein isn't completely constant, you need to define a period where the average of Ein over that time period would equal the average of Eout for the same period.

The current energy imbalance is ~ 0.6 +/- 0.4 Wm-2 or Ein = Eout + 0.6 +/- 0.4 Wm-2.    So there is an assumed radiant equilibrium that doesn't exist.   It is assumed that the imbalance is due to something, mainly greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere by man.

Some assumptions have to be made with any complex system and the radiant equilibrium assumption is not a bad choice.  However, every assumption has the potential for error so it isn't a bad idea to revisit assumptions from time to time to determine how valid and useful they are.

Rosenthal et al. for example have done a great deal of paleo ocean research and found that ocean heat content varies on long time scales.  Since the oceans would absorb/release most of the imbalance, a preexisting imbalance would need to be considered to see how much impact it would have on ALL the calculations and add on assumptions related to the radiant equilibrium assumption.   Most of those would be small enough errors to ignore, but if the preexisting imbalance is 50% of the assumed mankind induced imbalance, that is more than enough to warrant some study.

To a lay person like myself, explaining the limits of an assumption would inspire more confidence in the person(s) using the assumptions to justify a trillion or so dollars worth of "mitigation" as opposed to adaption. 

Now there are other issues with radiant versus thermodynamic equilibrium.  The zeroth law isn't met, so assuming some average global surface temperature will always produce the require Eout is a bit of a stretch.    It is quite likely that a range of surface temperatures can produce the desired Eout since  the temperature range used to produce the average goes from ~-80C to +50 C and includes latent, convective and mechanical energy.    This can easily be an uncertainty of 0.3 C or roughly 1 Wm-2 which is nearly 1/3 of the total estimated man made forcing produced to date.

Unfortunately, the early estimates of "sensitivity" ignored these issues so all warming is assumed to be "forced" by changes in the radiant energy budget.  All of these potential errors would tend to reduce sensitivity much like estimates of transient climate sensitivity are currently indicating.    A fairly small group of climate scientists have rather meekly pointed out the trend in reduced sensitivity, but the more vocal advocates still highlight the increasingly less probable "fat tail" extreme range. 

To many, the math involved is a fun puzzle to ponder and they would like to see more debate over the most likely impact instead of horror stories about the least likely impact used to inspire political policy.   If climate scientists want to have less rehashing, they should expand their frequently asked questions list to include uncertainty that is friggin' obvious.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

They are still at it - Equilibrium

It is the 19th of April 2017 and there are still people discussing how useful an assumption of climate equilibrium happens to be.  Many of the pro equilibrium crew are obviously liberal arts majors.

Equilibrium is very useful if the initial condition assume to be at equilibrium is valid to some degree of precision that is much more accurate than the change one is trying to measure. 

At the Top of the Atmosphere you have Ein ~ 240 Wm-2 and Eout ~ 240 Wm-2 if you average both over a reasonable period of time.  Both Ein and Eout vary by close to 5% over the course of a year and the change being made will be about 1% of the potential energy at the surface.

The surface energy is roughly 390 Wm-2 based on an average temperature of 288K degrees plus about 88 Wm-2 of latent energy on average plus around 20Wm-2 of energy related to convection.  There is another 4 Wm-2 or so of mechanical energy related to ocean and atmospheric currents and several small sources of energy.  Just using the bigger guys, you have 390 + 88 + 20 = 498 Wm-2 that will produce the ~240 Wm-2 at the top of the atmosphere.  The uncertainty in that 498 Wm-2 is about +/- 17 Wm-2 based on Stephens et al 2015 I believe.

So the answer to is the equilibrium assumption useful question, depends on how many knock on assumptions are based on the initial assumption and how much error there can be because of the initial assumption multiplied by the sensitivity of knock on assumptions to that error. 

The simple answer is still maybe it is valid, maybe it isn't.  Time will tell.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

But its all so complex!

Theoretical Physics is one of those grand social endeavors to discover the universal truth of nature.   Michio Kaku is one of many theoretical physicists who side line as futurists and front men for theoretical science funding.  Since the dawn of science, scientists have had to suck up to power and with the rise of democracy and a free press, that means they have to suck up to the people.  This isn't a good or bad thing, just the way things have evolved.

There is a lot of competition when you go straight to the people which have pretty diverse levels of education and intellect.  Since most people dislike being called, common, uneducated, uninformed or "anti-science", claiming to be scientifically valid works great for raising funds from the common, uneducated and scientifically uniformed masses.  Sex up your presentation with futuristic things that will happen long after you are dead and you are on your way to be a great fund raiser. 

As Stephen Schneider stated, On the one hand, as scientists we are ethically bound to the scientific method, in effect promising to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but — which means that we must include all the doubts, the caveats, the ifs, ands, and buts. On the other hand, we are not just scientists but human beings as well. And like most people we’d like to see the world a better place, which in this context translates into our working to reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climatic change. To do that we need to get some broad based support, to capture the public’s imagination. That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. This ‘double ethical bind’ we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both.  Since the science isn't being sold to the monarch, dictator or grand poobah, but to the masses, science is politicized.

Scientists need to recognize the degree they have become political prostitutes and become more informed on their social, including political science, responsibilities.  All of those billions of masses they are sucking up to, need day jobs so they have money to be bilked out of.  If you kill the economy you, kill your funding, and there is a chance that a few of the less ignorant masses might catch on and terminate science or scientists with extreme prejudice.

Now Michio, co-founder of String Theory, likely the deadest of dead ends in theoretical physics, is of course an expert on everything sciency on the television.  He always uses the worst of worse cases to keep the masses in awe of the awesomeness of science.  Recently he mentioned that extreme weather in the future will be 500% worse that ever recorded in human history.  He didn't bother mentioning that thanks to inflation, nearly everything is 500% worse, as in more expensive, than it was previously.   Neither did he mention that advances in technology can combat inflation, much like "climate scientists" avoid mentioning that advances in existing technology can combat Carbon Pollution, by more efficiently using "Carbon Pollutants." 

To qualify as a real polymath today you need economics, psychology and marketing with a bit of religious training on prophesy and end of days scenarios.  You are selling to an extremely diverse audience, some with fundamentalist tendencies.  The old ban religion to simplify science sales ploy has lost its steam.