Saturday, 6 September 2008

Primer on global warming

Interesting article on global warming by Geoffrey Duffy, professor at Auckland University. He covers basic climatic factors, atmospheric composition, contributions of various gases to the greenhouse effect, solar effects, and oceanic oscillations. He also covers computer modelling of the climate.
Unfortunately a lot of estimates and predictions are strongly based on theoretical computer models. Many now even trust models and their ‘theoretical results’ more than actual measurements and facts from reality. Computer analysis requires that the earth be ‘cut’ into small, separate areas (actually volumes), each being analysed for heat input/outputs and other gas/vapour fluxes. Even so the computational analysis domain size (basic computer grid elements) is huge, 150km x 150km by 1km high, with the current computer power. It is so large that the effects of even the very large clouds are not individually included; and that includes clouds in our visual horizon. The spatial resolution is therefore very poor. Supercomputers cannot give us the accuracy we need. Modellers therefore use parameters: ‘one factor fits’ all, for each of the domains (a kind of a ‘fudge factor’). This is sad, as water as vapour in clouds is 30 to 60 times more significant than other minute amounts of other greenhouse gases. Clearly climate simulations and thus predictions can be in serious error unless the actual cloud effects are well defined in the models. It is not only the number and spacing of the clouds in that 150 square kilometre area, but also cloud height effects, and cloud structure. These factors are not accounted for at all.
Inadequate modelling parameters; and he doesn't even mention recent solutions to atmospheric equations which disprove runaway positive feedback.

I am in agreement with much of the article in general with some caveats.
  1. I disagree with his comment about greenhouses creating heat. While strictly true, it is slightly misleading in the article. While the effect does dampen fluctuations, it also contributes to global temperature and alterations in atmospheric composition may mean a different global temperature.
  2. I do not have much time for ice-core data which he also mentions.
  3. The comment about water contributing to 95% of the greenhouse effect, is probably correct, but the interaction between water and CO2 and their relative contributions is likely a little more complex and difficult to elucidate. However if clouds are included with water (ie. water does not just mean water vapour) then the 95% may turn out to be an underestimate.
He also discusses some of the consequences of the policies enacted.
The panic to do something about climate change has led to some unrealistic and unsustainable actions. For example, Bio-fuels from grain will greatly increase food prices and roughly 30 million people are expected to be severely deprived. The USA will use up to 30% of the annual corn crop for alcohol production for vehicles alone.
The problem with acting on errant beliefs is that there are always consequences, specifically negative ones. Worshipping the earth comes at the cost of hating the poor.

Increased demand for grain may lead to increased supply over time which may ameliorate this. And fortunately some sense seems to be coming to European legislators whose enthusiasm for biofuels is dampening. The same cannot be said for New Zealand which passed new laws mandating the inclusion of biofuels.

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