Friday, May 25, 2007

Global Warming...

Another year, another summer, another depressing realization for me. Namely, that no one in America seems to have the sense to wrap their minds around whats really happening in the atmosphere.

I was talking to one of my fellow mechanical engineers today at the office and I realized that part of the problem in explaining why anthropogenic global warming is such a ridiculous farce is that most people are simply afraid of math and numbers in general. Words like "parts per million" have no meaning to the vast majority of the population -- other than whatever arbitrary meaning politicos such as Al Gore assign them.

Here's a simple breakdown. Don't be afraid of numbers -- try to stay with me whether you're engineering minded or not. From various sources the consensus seems to be that pre-evil man CO2 levels were 200-280 parts per million, or ppm. The latest off of Mauna Loa show something like 360-380 ppm. Now depending on how you slice it, that runs a rough increase of either 90% or 28.6% (380/200 vs 360/280). That alone is enough to tell you that scientists have absolutely nofreaking clue what is going on here. If you told your boss that costs had increased somewhere between 28.6 and 90 per cent I sincerely doubt you'd be considered for that fat promotion. But, alas, here we are. The data is what it is, whether or not you can establish any kind of consistent "start point".

For the sake of discussion, lets take the worst case scenario -- that is, that CO2 concentrations have almost doubled (200-380 ppm) in the past two hundred years due solely to the industrial revolution and Daimler's devil-machine. It still remains true that CO2 makes up a darn near insignificant part of atmospheric composition, as shown below:

Constant components
(proportions remain the same over time and location)
Nitrogen (N2)
78.08%
Oxygen (O2)
20.95%
Argon (Ar)
0.93%
Neon, Helium, Krypton
0.0001%


Variable components
(amounts vary over time and location)
Carbon dioxide (CO2) 0.0370%
Water vapor (H20) 0-4%
Methane (CH4) trace
Sulfur dioxide (SO2) trace
Ozone (O3) trace
Nitrogen oxides (NO, NO2) trace

To put that in a way that's a bit easier to see and understand, here's a handy-dandy flash animation. We're talking slivers of slivers here.

This is to the extent that when modeling combustion reactions (similar to how climatologists model climate change) engineers simply use 79% N2 and 21% O2 and move on their merry way. But I digress; the point I'm trying to make here is that what you've got is a multiplication of fractions. In fraction form, .0370% is 370/1000000, our familiar 370 ppm number. Even using a 90% change in CO2, this means that ultimately you're changing the total composition of the atmosphere by 180 ppm, or 0.018%. If you use the 28.6% number that drops to 80 ppm change, or 0.008%.

Unfortunately, changing the atmospheric gases does most definitely not correspond to changing the greenhouse effect that keeps us comfortably oscillating around the freezing point of water. These gases do not all contribute equally to how much albedo is absorbed as heat and how much is let back out into space. From numerous accredited sources it can be shown that water vapor contributes somewhere between 97 and 99% of the greenhouse effect. It happens to absorb radiation far better than CO2 does.

Even if you ignore the effect of other greenhouse gases such as CFCs, Methane, Ozone, and Nitrous Oxides (NOx) and say that the remaining 1-3% of the greenhouse effect is solely dependent on CO2 you're still only talking about a 28.6-90% change of that same1-3%...leaving CO2 contributing somewhere between 1.286% and 5.7% of total greenhouse heat trapping, or a change of 2.7% at worst. That correlates to a global change of 0.04-0.41 degrees C (assuming an average global temperature 0f 15 degrees from 1800-2000 AD).

Oddly enough, that 0.4 degree rise is precisely within the range of what the IPCC predicted. Could it be that their climate models are as rough and crude as my back-of-the-napkin calculations? Even assuming absolutely every single worst-case scenario the whole way, like roughly doubling the amount of CO2 in the air, assuming that entire amount is produced by man, and assuming that it contributes well more than its fair share of greenhouse radiation absorbance, I can't reproduce their predictions of 0.6-1 degree rises.

I went back and re-read what I wrote and while there's nothing more than basic multiplication involved, it wasn't as easy of an explanation as I'd hoped. At the end of the day, though, I would hope that most people can understand and follow percentages and multiplication. If you would be interested in a more in-depth analysis, there's a great one (with many sources) here.

Whew! What a way to get back into blogging.

7 comments:

Matt said...

Okay... this is going to be like shooting fish in a barrel. I'm passed the point of reasonable discussion on this topic.

It's pathetic how lazy your "research" into co2 emissions is. Sure, it looks like you did a lot of work in your debunking post with the overall numbers, and I have to say it's impressive. You make it seem like you've done a thoroughly comprehensive analysis of the data, but really, in the end, your just making an overly-simplistic argument. You don't mention the factors that affect water vapor concentrations and you don't ackowledge the key role that minute traces of CO2 in the atmosphere have on surface temperatures and other variable gases(that debate has been over for more than a decade). In 650,000 years through 7 ice ages, the co2 emissions in the atmosphere have never been above 300 parts per million. Today they're 380 ppm. Surface temperatures and co2 concentrations fit together like pieces in a puzzle.

First of all, your "98% water vapor" tidbit is something that your fav skeptic, Richard Lindzen pulled out of his ass in 2002. He cited the IPCC report, and I haven't been able to find anything produced by the IPCC to support that claim.

Secondly, H2O in the troposphere is a "feedback", not a forcing agent. It doesn't drive the balance of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. CO2, on the other hand, does.

Too much wator vapor in the air will quickly rain out. Not enough, and the ocean surface will provide the difference through evaporation. But once the air is warmed by other means (ie co2), H2O concentrations will rise and stay high, thus providing the 'feedback'.

From RealClimate: "While water vapour is indeed the most important greenhouse gas, the issue that makes it a feedback (rather than a forcing) is the relatively short residence time for water in the atmosphere (around 10 days).

When surface temperatures change (whether from CO2 or solar forcing or volcanos etc.), you can therefore expect water vapour to adjust quickly to reflect that.

-- http://www.realclimate.org/index.php?p=142 -- read this, please

Water vapor contributes around 65-85% to overall absorbtion (including clouds), not "99%" as you've so boldly stated. CO2 makes up between 9 and 26% of overall radiation and heat absorbtion.

Here is your major flaw in addressing global warming: As a mechanical engineer, you rely on the "proof" that mathematics provide. Proof is a property of mathematics, not of science. Science relies on a balance of evidence, and of constantly modified theories that attempt to best explain that evidence. I'm sorry that the 100% proof that you absolutely need isn't there, but if that's what you require, you're just as likely to claim that the theory of evolution, or relativity, or plate tectonics or quantum mechanics, or anything that you do not specialize in yourself, is completely and utterly false. Leave climate science to the climate scientists.

It's pretty funny how easily global warming denials and debunks are themselves debunked... Not so funny though, how people continue, despite all of the contrary evidence, to hang on to those old and tired arguments, refusing to even consider the possibility that we might actually be a force of nature ourselves as a whole. You will never believe it, because you don't want to believe it, plain and simple.

k2aggie07 said...

I never said I did any significant amount of research. I was just multiplying other people's numbers together. If you disagree, take it up with them.

As far as CO2 concentrations never being higher than they are now, thats just plain silly.

First of all, there haven't been 7 ice ages. There have been four, at 2.7 to 2.3 billion, 850 to 650 million, 460 to 430 million, and 40 million years ago. We are still in the present ice age.

Additionally, Outside of those ice age periods, the earth was apparently totally devoid of ice. There goes your core sample data and the use of the word "never".

And what you're saying isn't fact anyway. Paleoclimatologist Tim Patterson says "There is no meaningful correlation between CO2 levels and Earth's temperature over this [geologic] time frame. In fact, when CO2 levels were over ten times higher than they are now, about 450 million years ago, the planet was in the depths of the absolute coldest period in the last half billion years. On the basis of this evidence, how could anyone still believe that the recent relatively small increase in CO2 levels would be the major cause of the past century's modest warming?"

As far as feedback and forcing, thats bunk. You can go looking up psychometrics charts and take a class on thermomechanics but "too much vapor in the air = rain" is much more of a simplification than anything I made in my post. What you're trying to say is that water vapor is both a dependent and independent variable with respect to temperature. That is, that it both drives and is driven by the ambient temperature. Obviously, since water absorbs so much more radiation than any other factor in the air, with no water you get no significant warming. Ergo, water cannot be merely a "feedback" effect. And the amount of time any particular water molecule spends in the air is irrelevant for anything other than localized calculations. We're talking about a huge net sum equation -- radiation energy in, radiation energy out, and radiation energy absorbed. Localized absorption phenomena (ie rain) don't effect the entire system. If the average water density in the air is xx%, that number drives the equation.

Incidentally, regarding the "feedback" theory, hydrogeologist professor Ian Clark has this to say: "That portion of the scientific community that attributes climate warming to CO2 relies on the hypothesis that increasing CO2, which is in fact a minor greenhouse gas, triggers a much larger water vapour response to warm the atmosphere. This mechanism has never been tested scientifically beyond the mathematical models that predict extensive warming, and are confounded by the complexity of cloud formation - which has a cooling effect. ... We know that [the sun] was responsible for climate change in the past, and so is clearly going to play the lead role in present and future climate change. And interestingly... solar activity has recently begun a downward cycle." So much for relying on the experts to back up the political heavy-hitters, eh?

If my "major flaw" is a reliance on math, then all science is flawed. All science relies on math. Any science that does not rely on math is worthless. The use of the word
"proof" is perhaps my biggest objection to the global warming game; everyone says anthropogenic global warming is fact. That is so anti-science its unbelievable.

Your assertion to leave climate science to the climate scientists actually undermines your "side". Many of the "peer reviewed" papers and scientists that "agree" with anthropogenic global warming aren't climate scientists at all. There's been quite an outcry by "real" climatologists and meteorologists over the IPCC's latest assertion that "The world's leading climate scientists said global warming has begun, is very likely caused by man, and will be unstoppable for centuries". In fact, it even caused the major hurricane analyst on the IPCC science panel (not to be confused with the political side of the panel) to leave because the published report misrepresented his words.

Most of the scientists who oppose anthropogenic global warming are the experts in climate studies.

See: Wikipedia and Climate Change: The Deniers

k2aggie07 said...

Found the article about the hurricane expert. You can read it here.

Matt said...

Fair enough... use a different definition for 'ice age' to prove my 7 ice age claim wrong. Sneaky sneaky... I can see that you got your information straight off of wikipedia. Ice ages can be subdivided into smaller, more frequent occurences in the last 650,000 years. It all depends on how you define "ice age". You should know that. From the same wiki article: "'ice age' is used to refer to colder periods with extensive ice sheets over the North American and Eurasian continents: in this sense, the most recent ice age ended about 10,000 years ago."

Look, I don't care how many people you quote, or how many dissenters there are in the climate science community. There IS a consensus (nearly every field of science has a handful of dissenters who object to the conclusions of 99% of their colleagues). The consensus is that:

-the climate is undergoing a pronounced warming trend beyond the range of natural variability

-the major cause of most of the observed warming is rising levels of the greenhouse gas CO2

-the rise in CO2 is the result of burning fossil fuels

-if CO2 continues to rise over the next century, the warming will continue

- climate change of the projected magnitude over this time frame represents potential danger to human welfare and the environment.

Believe it or not. I'm assuming you'll opt (for the rest your life) for the latter.

The fact is this; we're living on a tiny little planet on the edge of a galaxy. Our planet has a razer thin coat of life that is much too fragile for careless tampering. We're destroying our environment recklessly, and ignoring the warnings of everyone in the scientific community. I'm not talking about just global warming. Yes, this is an extremely emotional topic for me, and 'liberals' in general. But I don't happen to think that it's because we ignore the facts, I think it's because we actually give a crap about our impact on the world around us.

Read your paragraph on debunking 'feedback' again. It makes NO SENSE. Saying that 'water vapor being a driving force and a dependent variable of temperature' is "bunk", is bulls#@t and you know it. If we were talking about CO2 and temp specifically, you would be arguing that "temperature drives CO2, not the other way around". So, how can CO2 be a greenhouse gas AND be driven by temperature at the SAME EXACT TIME?! Wow, my head hurts... It's not rocket science. H2O is cycling through the atmosphere and through our oceans, rivers and lakes all the time. That's meteorology 101. The CO2 cycle is a much slower process. This allows it to be more of a driving force on the composition of other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

I remember a post that you did about a year ago on how ice core samples detecting the concentration of C02 in the air dating back more than a half a million years was completely unreliable. Now your relying on the claim from a geologist who has asserted that he can calculate the level of CO2 in the atmosphere up to a half a BILLION years ago. Okay.... what? Of course he's reliable!... he agrees with you, right?

The first thing that comes to mind when talking about temperatures half a billion years ago is the overall intensity of solar radiation. Afterall, the sun is only 4.5 billion years old. Is it fair to say that maybe solar radiation may have been weaker looking back in history more than 10% of it's lifetime so far? I would assume that this has much more to do with surface temperature than CO2 levels half a billion years ago. Up until a billion years ago, all forms of life were still microscopic. So it would make sense that CO2 levels would be high, considering the fact that there weren't any significant ecosystems of plantlife to absorb the CO2 in the air.

I apologize for "everyone" using semantics that you disagree with when addressing the coming catastrophe. All science IS flawed. And thank God for that... That's the beauty of it all, if it wasn't flawed we would already know everything there is to know about our universe. How boring would that be? A good scientist doesn't proclaim that his findings are concrete and absolute fact. A mathematician however can 'prove' that 1+1=2 with absolute certainty.

So, I apologize again... what I've been meaning to say is, "it's much much more than 'likely', that the equilibrium of our planets' ecosystems are being forever drastically changed and destroyed by the activities of modern human beings, myself included". Better?

Go ahead, quote more "hydrogeologists" with doubts on global warming theory. You're quoting individual dissenters... I'm quoting every single credible agency in the WORLD when I talk about climate change.

I read an entire book by a microbiologist about how evolution was "junk science". It was great, very well thought out and convincing. But I didn't believe a word of it. His argument relied on little discrepancies in the theory that he claimed made the entire thing "bunk". Same thing goes here. There are always going to be discrepancies in any theory. There are some things that we simply just don't understand yet. Human CO2 emissions are the best theory we have for unprecendented warming, and it's stood the test of time so far.

This topic is too complicated for you or me to understand unless we devoted our entire lives to studying it. For either of us to pretend that we know everything there is to know about global warming is ridiculous. The only reason I'm so confident that I'm right is that more than 90% of the scientific community agrees with me. Prove me wrong? Don't even bother...

And for every fact that you throw out, I can google it, and find mountains of evidence that prove you wrong. You could probably do the same for me. Like I said before, it's a BALANCE OF EVIDENCE. We could do this forever and ever. It's a relatively new theory (sort of; more than 100 years old), so debate is still legitimate. But the fact is, the majority of scientists who know infinitely more than you or I do on the subject believe everything that I listed at the top of this post with near certainty.

k2aggie07 said...

"A mathematician however can 'prove' that 1+1=2 with absolute certainty."

That's where you're wrong. You've actually hit upon the biggest debate in modern mathematics, and it impacts a huge amount of science.

A hydrogeologist is a climate scientist, moreso than many of the "consensus" backers.

When the IPCC can neither confirm nor deny the cause of current global warming, and the people who claim its anthropogenic cite the IPCC, what does that tell you?

When the leaders in the climate science community say that anthropogenic global warming is wrong, and other scientists in other fields say its right, what does that tell you?

These aren't shills or fringe group people. They are the founders of their field. One guy from the University of Wisconsin is considered to be the "father of climate science". He did (really) did the weather report for the Army Air Corps when they dropped the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The guy is tops in his field. Guess what? He's a dissenter.

As for CO2 being driven and driving the temperature, that's a totally rational statement. It can be both produced and used in our system. If man increases CO2 levels to the extent that it changes the environment, other things change with it: oceans, plants, animals, etc. I can't see how it matters whether any cycle is "slow" or "fast", because as with any constant or non-batch cycle the important thing is the net current amount available, not how fast that amount gets shoved through and recycled in the system.

Screaming and hollering and getting upset doesn't make something true.

Matt said...

Are you really that desperate to have to lead your rebuttal with "'1+1=2'... that's where you're wrong". Come on kaggie, you and me both know that 1+1=2! If we were debating mathematical theory that would be relevant, but for right now, I think it's more than fair to say that I have two pointer fingers typing away at this keyboard.

Obviously my sarcasm and snarkiness doesn't translate into Texan, because it doesn't seem like you're understanding anything I'm saying. It all seems to come off as anger and frustration to you, when really it's just my smartass way of getting my point across.

We've completely lost each other on the feedback argument... you didn't get at all what I was trying to say. I'm not really sure how to put it better, but even if I did I'm not going to waste my time here trying to convince someone who's already made their mind up about EVERYTHING in the entire world. (translation: You're opinionated to the point of being closed minded) But, that's something you cons seem to pride yourselves in.

Let's go through your last paragraph sentence by sentence:

"As for CO2 being driven and driving the temperature, that's a totally rational statement."

(that's what I said... "it's not rocket science" usually means it's not too hard to understand. Water vapor (the Feedback) is very similar to this. It drives, and is driven by temperature. You gave the impression that you thought that idea was "bunk")

"It can be both produced and used in our system. If man increases CO2 levels to the extent that it changes the environment, other things change with it: oceans, plants, animals, etc."

(this is key: people don't drive to work, emitting water vapor into the atmosphere... they emit CO2! You just proved my point. This change is exactly what we're trying to prevent. The present extinction rate is thought to be 1,000 times to 10,000 times higher than the normal background extinction rate. Plants and animals with ecological niches won't be able to adapt to rapidly changing climates)


"I can't see how it matters whether any cycle is "slow" or "fast", because as with any constant or non-batch cycle the important thing is the net current amount available, not how fast that amount gets shoved through and recycled in the system."

(it isn't constant, this is what I've been trying to tell you. our planet's ecosystem has never been in equillibrium with itself.

using the same example above... if people emitted water vapor into the atmosphere when they drove to work everyday, we'd all be fine, because H20 circulates through the atmosphere in less than ten days, and the net amount of available H20 on the planet doesn't change. It's taken literally millions of years for ancient lifeforms to heat up and condense into petroleum and coal and other fossil fuels. These haven't been continually cycled through the atmosphere and through the oceans... they've been stored underground for, again, MILLIONS AND MILLIONS OF YEARS. In 150 years, we've added nearly 40% more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, building it up because it doesn't fall back to earth as rain and is absorbed back into the system much more slowly, while pumping and mining a large majority of the fossil fuels that are now known to be available underwater and underground. the "net amount" of CO2 available is being increased continuously everyday)


One more thing: "A hydrogeologist is a climate scientist, moreso than many of the "consensus" backers."

When did I say he wasn't? And when was a hydrogeologist deemed more of a climate scientist than the head of NASA's Earth Science Directorate, James Hansen... a "concensus backer"? (see, I can drop names too)

k2aggie07 said...

Yes yes, I understand the theory that we're unalterably changing the world via digging up carbon and releasing it. But carbon is continuously being released all the time by other sources than us. For example, the amount of CO2 produced in a forest fire is staggering (biomass burning represents 3500 Tg / year of CO2 emissions...compare that with 27,000 Tg / year of CO2 emissions estimated from burning fossil fuels) and Mt. Kilauea alone produces 2.8 Tg / year of CO2. Thats one volcano (out of an estimated 1,500) that isn't really erupting violently. That's already 25% of man-made emissions.

CO2 (and oil, natural gas, and other carbon-rich substances) constantly boils up from the ocean floor at thermal vents, faults, and other naturally occurring geological fissures. This amount is totally and completely unmeasurable as the CO2 gets diffused through the water and eventually released into the atmosphere.

What I'm saying here is people are measuring something that we've never measured before, in a time where we're doing things we've never done before, on a scale we've never been at before, and they're saying its "fact" and that they have "proof".

We don't even really understand how temperature drives CO2, much less know for sure that CO2 drives temperature. There are some theories that state that CO2 is a trailing indicator of climate change, not a leading one.

Personally I'm not willing to give up my lifestyle (to the tune of $32-$62 billion) for some smutty unproven science championed by a second rate has-been politician and every hysterical screaming doomsday person around. Not until I see some real evidence, a real consensus, that can satisfy me as a peer-reviewed published scientist and an engineer.