Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Greenland's varied past

Core-drillers have found evidence that Greenland has on a couple of occasions been much hotter in the geologically recent past, despite the absence of coal burning power stations and SUVs back then. More interesting, however is that it took a 10 degree warming to melt only part of the Greenland icecap and that a 5 degree warming did not melt it at all. Warmist theories that we are already near a tipping point and runaway warming are therefore falsified by actual evidence -- given that the warming for the entire 20th century was less than one degree

Armies of insects once crawled through lush forests in a region of Greenland now covered by more than 2,000m of ice. DNA extracted from ice cores shows that moths and butterflies were living in forests of spruce and pine in the area between 450,000 and 800,000 years ago.

Researchers writing in Science magazine say the specimens could represent the oldest pure DNA samples ever obtained.

The ice cores also suggest that the ice sheet is more resistant to warming than previously thought, the scientists say.

"We have shown for the first time that southern Greenland, which is currently hidden under more than 2km of ice, was once very different to the Greenland we see today," said Professor Eske Willerslev from the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, and one of the authors of the paper.

"What we've learned is that this part of the world was significantly warmer than most people thought," added Professor Martin Sharp from the University of Alberta, Canada, and a co-author of the Science paper.

The ancient boreal forests were thought to cover southern Greenland during a period of increased global temperatures, known as an interglacial. Temperatures at the time were probably between 10C in summer and -17C in winter.

When the temperatures dropped again 450,000 years ago, the forests and their inhabitants were covered by the advancing ice, effectively freezing them in time.

Studies suggest that even during the last interglacial (116,000-130,000 years ago), when temperatures were thought to be 5C warmer than today, the ice persevered, keeping the delicate samples entombed and free from contamination and decay. At the time the ice is estimated to have been between 1,000 and 1,500m thick.

"If our data is correct, then this means that the southern Greenland ice cap is more stable than previously thought," said Professor Willerslev. "This may have implications for how the ice sheets respond to global warming."

Comparisons with modern species show that the area was populated by diverse forests made up of alders, spruce, pine and members of the yew family.

Living in the trees and on the forest floor was a wide variety of life including beetles, flies, spiders, butterflies and moths.


CO2 the critical element in new super-efficient turbines

Ironical that the evil CO2 could be the key to reducing fossil fuel usage without loss of power output. The whole of reality seems to be conspiring against the warmists

Sandia National Laboratories researchers are moving into the demonstration phase of a novel gas turbine system for power generation, with the promise that thermal-to-electric conversion efficiency will be increased to as much as 50 percent - an improvement of 50 percent for nuclear power stations equipped with steam turbines, or a 40 percent improvement for simple gas turbines. The system is also very compact, meaning that capital costs would be relatively low.

Research focuses on supercritical carbon dioxide (S-CO2) Brayton-cycle turbines, which typically would be used for bulk thermal and nuclear generation of electricity, including next-generation power reactors.

The goal is eventually to replace steam-driven Rankine cycle turbines, which have lower efficiency, are corrosive at high temperature and occupy 30 times as much space because of the need for very large turbines and condensers to dispose of excess steam. The Brayton cycle could yield 20 megawatts of electricity from a package with a volume as small as four cubic meters.

The Brayton cycle, named after George Brayton, originally functioned by heating air in a confined space and then releasing it in a particular direction. The same principle is used to power jet engines today.

"This machine is basically a jet engine running on a hot liquid," said principal investigator Steve Wright of Sandia's Advanced Nuclear Concepts group. "There is a tremendous amount of industrial and scientific interest in supercritical CO2 systems for power generation using all potential heat sources including solar, geothermal, fossil fuel, biofuel and nuclear."

Sandia currently has two supercritical CO2 test loops. (The term "loop" derives from the shape taken by the working fluid as it completes each circuit.)

A power production loop is located at the Arvada, Colo., site of contractor Barber Nichols Inc., where it has been running and producing approximately 240 kilowatts of electricity during the developmental phase that began in March 2010. It is now being upgraded and is expected to be shipped to Sandia this summer.

A second loop, located at Sandia in Albuquerque, is used to research the unusual issues of compression, bearings, seals, and friction that exist near the critical point, where the carbon dioxide has the density of liquid but otherwise has many of the properties of a gas.

Immediate plans call for Sandia to continue to develop and operate the small test loops to identify key features and technologies. Test results will illustrate the capability of the concept, particularly its compactness, efficiency and scalability to larger systems. Future plans call for commercialization of the technology and development of an industrial demonstration plant at 10 MW of electricity.

A competing system, also at Sandia and using Brayton cycles with helium as the working fluid, is designed to operate at about 925 degrees C and is expected to produce electrical power at 43 percent to 46 percent efficiency.

By contrast, the supercritical CO2 Brayton cycle provides the same efficiency as helium Brayton systems but at a considerably lower temperature (250-300 C). The S-CO2 equipment is also more compact than that of the helium cycle, which in turn is more compact than the conventional steam cycle.

Under normal conditions materials behave in a predictable, classical, "ideal" way as conditions cause them to change phase, as when water turns to steam.

But this model tends not to work at lower temperatures or higher pressures than those that exist at these critical points. In the case of carbon dioxide, it becomes an unusually dense "supercritical" liquid at the point where it is held between the gas phase and liquid phase.

The supercritical properties of carbon dioxide at temperatures above 500 C and pressures above 7.6 megapascals enable the system to operate with very high thermal efficiency, exceeding even those of a large coal-generated power plant and nearly twice as efficient as that of a gasoline engine (about 25 percent).

In other words, as compared with other gas turbines the S-CO2 Brayton system could increase the electrical power produced per unit of fuel by 40 percent or more.

The combination of low temperatures, high efficiency and high power density allows for the development of very compact, transportable systems that are more affordable because only standard engineering materials (stainless steel) are required, less material is needed, and the small size allows for advanced-modular manufacturing processes.

"Sandia is not alone in this field, but we are in the lead," Wright said. "We're past the point of wondering if these power systems are going to be developed; the question remains of who will be first to market. Sandia and DOE have a wonderful opportunity in the commercialization effort."


'For the Sake of a Cleaner Planet, Should Americans Wear Dirtier Clothes?'

A point not mentioned explicitly below is that government meddling with the design of household goods is highly likely to lead to MORE use of resources. For instance, when low-flush lavatory cisterns don't work fully first time, a second flush will often be used. And when dishwashers or clothes-washing machines don't do the job fully first time, a second cycle will usually be initiated

"For the sake of a cleaner planet, should Americans wear dirtier clothes?" So comically began a New York Times article on the front page of the Gray Lady's Science section Tuesday ironically titled "When Energy Efficiency Sullies the Environment" (photo courtesy Viktor Koen):

We’ve come far since the carefree days of 1996, when Consumer Reports tested some midpriced top-loaders and reported that “any washing machine will get clothes clean.”

In this year’s report, no top-loading machine got top marks for cleaning. The best performers were front-loaders costing on average more than $1,000. Even after adjusting for inflation, that’s still $350 more than the top-loaders of 1996.

What happened to yesterday’s top-loaders? To comply with federal energy-efficiency requirements, manufacturers made changes like reducing the quantity of hot water. The result was a bunch of what Consumer Reports called “washday wash-outs,” which left some clothes “nearly as stained after washing as they were when we put them in.”

Those last two sentences warrant repeating: "To comply with federal energy-efficiency requirements, manufacturers made changes like reducing the quantity of hot water. The result was a bunch of what Consumer Reports called 'washday wash-outs,' which left some clothes 'nearly as stained after washing as they were when we put them in.'”

So, as a result of federal regulations, top-loading washing machines today are basically worthless despite their cost.

Makes me glad I've got a front-loader. But that's not the point. In our nation's drive to reduce paranoiacally dreaded carbon dioxide emissions, a product that has improved the lives of Americans for decades has now been made useless. Warms the heart, doesn't it?

Unfortunately, that's just the beginning, for as author John Tierney shared with his readers, our nation's obsessive drive for energy efficiency has largely backfired:
[A] growing number of economists say that the environmental benefits of energy efficiency have been oversold. Paradoxically, there could even be more emissions as a result of some improvements in energy efficiency, these economists say.

The problem is known as the energy rebound effect. While there’s no doubt that fuel-efficient cars burn less gasoline per mile, the lower cost at the pump tends to encourage extra driving. There’s also an indirect rebound effect as drivers use the money they save on gasoline to buy other things that produce greenhouse emissions, like new electronic gadgets or vacation trips on fuel-burning planes.

Some of the biggest rebound effects occur when new economic activity results from energy-efficient technologies that reduce the cost of making products like steel or generating electricity. In some cases, the overall result can be what’s called “backfire”: more energy use than would have occurred without the improved efficiency.

That last sentence warrants repeating: "In some cases, the overall result can be what’s called 'backfire': more energy use than would have occurred without the improved efficiency." So, efficiency leads to inefficiency. You gotta love it.

And here's what would make Al Gore and his acolytes nauseous if they actually cared about science:
“The implications of this research are important for those who care about global warming,” said Harry Saunders, a co-author of the article. “Many have come to believe that new, highly-efficient solid-state lighting — generally LED technology, like that used on the displays of stereo consoles, microwaves and digital clocks — will result in reduced energy consumption. We find the opposite is true.” [...]

[I]f your immediate goal is to reduce greenhouse emissions, then it seems risky to count on reaching it by improving energy efficiency.

Not surprisingly, Tierney's solutions were "alternatives like a carbon tax, and to look more carefully at the hidden costs and trade-offs involved in setting rigid standards for efficiency."

In essence, the added efficiencies produced an undesired result, namely people and businesses spent the cost savings on other things thereby using more energy than if the efficiencies were never created.

And since we didn't just pocket that money rather than consume with it, the only solution is tax us - conceivably a sum equal to the efficiency's savings! - in order to reduce energy usage by preventing us from spending those funds. Plainly stated, the efficiency carrot didn't work, so here comes the efficiency stick.

And people on the left actually think America is an unregulated free market.


Penn State whitewashed ClimateGate

A federal government inspector general has revealed prima facie proof that the so-called independent inquiries widely if implausibly described as clearing the ClimateGate principals of wrongdoing were, in fact, whitewashes. This has been confirmed to Senate offices. It will not be released to the public for some time because the investigation is ongoing.

The document, an interview transcript, will put an end to the foolish talk of anything resembling a ClimateGate “inquiry” having taken place. It will also invite a real inquiry into the affair. Expect fireworks, as the one such effort, by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, is being fought hysterically by Big Science and Big Academia.

Critically, it also begs questions of Penn State University, which conducted one of the three supposed inquiries into ClimateGate.

The key point is that the Penn State investigators never interviewed a principal who was able to confirm or deny a key charge against “Hockey Stick” lead author of “Hide the Decline” infamy Michael Mann. This individual has now been interviewed, and what he told federal investigators has indicted Mann and Penn State.

The inspector general’s report specifically reveals Penn State’s wagon-circlers to have been at best comically negligent/inept in allowing Mann to not answer the damning charge they were tasked with examining: did he delete or ask others to delete records? At worst, they were complicit in the cover-up.

Simply by interviewing Mann’s colleague Eugene Wahl, PSU would have exposed Mann’s “answer” for what it was (and wasn’t). Such an interview was obviously necessary for any inquiry. Penn State chose not to conduct it, for its own reasons. A federal inspector general has now conducted it. And the result is damning of both Mann and the parties that chose not to interview Wahl.

As background, Phil Jones in the United Kingdom asked Mann, now at Penn State, by email to delete records being sought under the UK’s Freedom of Information Act, and to get a colleague to do so as well:
Can you delete any emails you may have had with Keith re AR4? Keith will do likewise. He’s not in at the moment — minor family crisis.

Can you also email Gene and get him to do the same? I don’t have his new email address.

We will be getting Caspar to do likewise.

“Gene” is Eugene Wahl, who now works for the federal government.

Mann’s terse reply included in pertinent part: "I’ll contact Gene about this ASAP"

Now, from Penn State’s supposed inquiry and exoneration of Michael Mann:
Allegation 2: Did you engage in, or participate in, directly or indirectly, any actions with the intent to delete, conceal or otherwise destroy emails, information and/or data, related to AR4, as suggested by Phil Jones?

Finding 2. After careful consideration of all the evidence and relevant materials, the inquiry committee finding is that there exists no credible evidence that Dr. Mann had ever engaged in, or participated in, directly or indirectly, any actions with intent to delete, conceal or otherwise destroy emails, information and/or data related to AR4, as suggested by Dr. Phil Jones. Dr. Mann has stated that he did not delete emails in response to Dr. Jones’ request. Further, Dr. Mann produced upon request a full archive of his emails in and around the time of the preparation of AR4. The archive contained e-mails related to AR4.

If the above excerpt accurately reflects Mann’s testimony, both Mann’s “answer” and his peers’ acceptance of it ought to raise red flags. Penn State asked Mann and only Mann if he destroyed records or was indirectly involved in destroying records. Mann said only that he did not destroy records. And that did it. Even though Phil Jones asked Mann to instruct Wahl to do so as well.

Allow me to translate this in relevant part:
PSU: This is potentially very grave. We must know: Did you do A or B?

Mann: I did not do A.

PSU: Ah. There we go. It appears there is no evidence he did A or B.

Close enough for academia, I suppose. But spare us the “cleared” tag and the claim to have conducted an inquiry.


The folly of drawing conclusions regarding "extreme events"

Now that it is clear that global warming is not evident in actual temperatures, Warmists have said that it is evident in more frequent "extreme events". John Christie below shows how that reasoning is very pesky too

I want to illustrate how one might use extreme events to conclude (improperly I believe) that the weather in the USA is becoming less extreme and/or colder.

For each of the 50 states, there are records kept for the extreme high and low temperatures back to the late 19th century. In examining the years in which these extremes occurred (and depending on how one deals with “repeats” of events) we find about 80 percent of the states recorded their hottest temperature prior to 1955. And, about 60 percent of the states experienced their record cold temperatures prior to that date too. One could conclude, if they were so inclined, that the climate of the US is becoming less extreme because the occurrence of state extremes of hot and cold has diminished dramatically since 1955. Since 100 of anything is a fairly large sample (2 values for each of 50 states), this on the surface seems a reasonable conclusion.

Then, one might look at the more recent record of extremes and learn that no state has achieved a record high temperature in the last 15 years (though one state has tied theirs.) However, five states have observed their all-time record low temperature in these past 15 years (plus one tie.) This includes last month’s record low of 31°F below zero in Oklahoma, breaking their previous record by a rather remarkable 4°F. If one were so inclined, one could conclude that the weather that people worry about (extreme cold) is getting worse in the US. (Note: this lowering of absolute cold temperature records is nowhere forecast in climate model projections, nor is a significant drop in the occurrence of extreme high temperature records.)

I am not using these statistics to prove the weather in the US is becoming less extreme and/or colder. My point is that extreme events are poor metrics to use for detecting climate change. Indeed, because of their rarity (by definition) using extreme events to bolster a claim about any type of climate change (warming or cooling) runs the risk of setting up the classic “non-falsifiable hypothesis.”

For example, we were told by the IPCC that “milder winter temperatures will decrease heavy snowstorms” (TAR WG2, After the winters of 2009-10 and 2010-11, we are told the opposite by advocates of the IPCC position, “Climate Change Makes Major Snowstorms More Likely”.

The non-falsifiable hypotheses works this way, “whatever happens is consistent with my hypothesis.” In other words, there is no event that would “falsify” the hypothesis. As such, these assertions cannot be considered science or in anyway informative since the hypothesis’ fundamental prediction is “anything may happen.” In the example above if winters become milder or they become snowier, the hypothesis stands. This is not science.

As noted above, there are innumerable types of events that can be defined as extreme events – so for the enterprising individual (unencumbered by the scientific method), weather statistics can supply an almost unlimited set of targets in which to discover a “useful” extreme event. Thus, when such an individual observes an unusual event, it may be tempting to define it as a once-for-all extreme metric to “prove” a point about climate change. This works both ways with extremes. If one were prescient enough to have predicted in 1996 that over the next 15 years, five states would break record cold temperatures while zero states would break record high temperatures as evidence for cooling, would that prove CO2 emissions have no impact on climate? No.

Extreme events happen, and their causes are intricately tied to semi-unstable dynamical situations that can occur out of an environment of natural, unforced variability.

Science checks hypotheses (assertions) by testing specific, falsifiable predictions implied by those hypotheses. The predictions are to be made in a manner that, as much as possible, is blind to the data against which the prediction is evaluated. It is the testable predictions from hypotheses, derived from climate model output, that run into trouble. Before going on, the main point here is that extreme events do not lend themselves as being rigorous metrics for convicting human emissions of being guilty of causing them.


Green regulations under challenge in Maine and elsewhere

The new [Maine] governor has offered up a more substantive cause for controversy: a plan to streamline state environmental protections, eliminating or reducing more than 60 regulations on pollution and development.

Supporters of the controversial measure, including members of the state’s Tea Party movement, say the changes are needed to cut through red tape and revitalize a stagnant economy. Opponents, including environmental groups that are rallying money and manpower against it, say the move would strike at the heart of Maine’s appeal and an engine of its economy — its rambling, rocky coastline and northern wilderness.

“It’s a wholesale retreat from the values Maine people hold dear,’’ Mike Belliveau, executive director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center, a statewide public health organization, said of LePage’s proposal. “Everyone knows the essence of Maine is the quality of its environment. It resonates deeply in the psyche of Maine people, and it’s the backbone of the economy, drawing tourists from all over the world.’’

The fate of the plan rests with the Legislature, where Republicans gained control in the last election. Lawmakers have filed dozens of related bills, some going even further than LePage’s plan, according to environmental groups. A repeal of Maine’s bottle bill and the elimination of the planning board for Maine’s north woods are among the proposals, they said.

Like other conservative candidates with Tea Party support, LePage talked more about regulatory reform than environmental issues on the campaign trail. But his focus on reducing government and reining in state spending, like that of other, like-minded governors, has raised the possibility that state environmental safeguards, some of them in place for decades, could be rapidly, dramatically scaled back.

In New Jersey, to similar outrage from environmentalists, Governor Chris Christie previously introduced many of the same proposals put forth by LePage: establishing a fast track to approval for development proposals, shifting authority from environmental boards to administrative judges, and prohibiting state standards that are stricter than federal regulations.

Florida’s new governor, Rick Scott, used his recent budget recommendations to eliminate funding for the state’s land conservation program, Florida Forever, and to drastically downsize the state agency in charge of managing sprawl, the Department of Community Affairs, by slashing its budget from $779 million to $110 million, according to Sarah Bucci, a field associate with the advocacy group Environment Florida.

In Maine, a less developed and less populated state, the deregulation effort is expected to collide with a well-funded network of environmentalists, who will use LePage’s plan to raise money for their cause.

A spokesman for LePage, Dan Demeritt, said the Maine initiative has been miscast by critics and is not meant as an assault on natural resources. It evolved, he said, from a series of public meetings held around the state in which hundreds of citizens offered ideas on how to make Maine more business-friendly.

“The governor is not suggesting we turn our backs on what makes Maine great,’’ said Demeritt. “It’s about finding middle ground and the right protections, and why it takes a million dollars to get a project approved.’’

The proposal that has received the most attention would suspend the Kid-Safe Products Act, a law overwhelmingly approved by legislators in 2008. The law, which has yet to take effect, would ban the sale of baby bottles and other products containing bisphenol A, or BPA, a chemical compound linked to health concerns in animal studies. Supporters of the law say LePage is catering to out-of-state corporations who helped fund his campaign. Demeritt said the governor simply wants “sound science’’ to be the standard for state regulations, and with BPA, “the science is not there.’’

Speaking to reporters last month, LePage went further, appearing to mock the health concern with his “little beards’’ remark. His spokesman described the comment as a “joke gone awry.’’ But it sparked fresh criticism of the governor, whose run-in with the NAACP had already inspired the creation of a “61 percent’’ bumper sticker, a reference to the percentage of Maine voters who cast ballots for other candidates last November.

State Senator Peter Mills, who ran against LePage in a seven-way Republican primary last year, said the governor’s deregulation plan contains important, necessary changes at its core, some of which are likely to be approved. But he criticized LePage for taking a “slash and burn’’ approach instead of focusing strategically on key reforms.

“You need to get people used to your perspective, instead of throwing everything against the wall,’’ said Mills. “It creates huge resistance and doesn’t get it done. . . . All he did was get environmentalists fired up.’’

In private, even some Tea Party members admit they have tired of LePage’s headline-grabbing public statements, said Andrew Ian Dodge, the Tea Party’s former Maine coordinator, who recently announced his plan to run against US Senator Olympia Snowe in 2012.

“But if he delivers the goods, they will put up with it,’’ Dodge said. “The reason the environment is at the core of the Maine economy is because other industry has been driven out by taxation and regulation. . . . Something radical has to be tried.’’



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