Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Sun Kings by Stuart Clark (Princeton University Press 211 pp )

A useful Book Review by Dr. Alick Dowling, originally written a few years ago for the Bristol Med Chi website

This book has an unwieldy but helpful subtitle The Unexpected Tragedy of Richard Carrington and the Tale of How Modern Astronomy Began. It tells the story of a forgotten Victorian Astronomer from the perspective of the present, i.e. what we know with hindsight. The Prologue explains how it was impossible for Carrington to understand the significance of the extraordinary phenomena he witnessed in 1859. There were too many unknowns. He and his colleagues persevered in recording data they knew was important, despite ridicule and animosity from colleagues, and personal tragedy, to try and understand the true nature of the Sun.

Why should this be relevant for members of the Bristol MedChi Society? This year s theme is Saving lives . Most of us are unaware of the hazard from exposure to high levels of radiation to passengers and crew flying when solar flares are active. In October 2003 when a severe solar storm was imminent, airlines instructed pilots to reduce altitude in the hope that the Earth s atmosphere would protect the passengers and crew from higher than usual doses of radiation. They also directed them away from polar routes most vulnerable to high radiation doses during solar storms. Flying below 25,000 feet with increased fuel consumption from ploughing through the thicker atmosphere, and longer routes to avoid Polar Regions caused both delays and increased fuel costs. This information is not publicized, but airlines incur these costs knowing it is vital to protect their aircrew (and passengers) from excessive radiation. These hazards only occur every eleven years or so, as Stuart Clark explains clearly in this book.

In the Prologue he tells us the first solar flare and magnetic storm recorded with modern equipment was in August 1972. He can summarize complex information with clarity and brevity. An example:
The Sun is the heart of our solar system. It is an enormous sphere of gas, over a hundred times the diameter of the Earth. Its surface temperature is 6,000 degrees Celsius; its centre is at well over 10 million degrees. Its gravity guides Earth and the other planets through their orbits; its warmth provides the lifeblood of energy for plants and animals on Earth. Also like a heart, the Sun pulsates. This is not a visible movement but rather a gradual buildup of strength and subsequent weakening of the giant magnetic bubble that emanates from within the Sun and surrounds all the planets. As befits a celestial body of some 4.6 billion years in age, each one of these magnetic heartbeats takes a leisurely eleven years, or thereabouts, to complete. So, in the average career of a scientist, he or she can expect to see this happen four times. This makes understanding the Sun as difficult as a biologist trying to deduce the life cycle of an unknown creature by observing it just long enough to witness four beats of its heart. As a result, solar astronomy is a multigenerational science. Each new cohort works to build a finer legacy of observations for those yet to come.

A further eruption recorded in September 1972 caused yet greater pollution. Fortunately this explosion was not directed at Earth, but even the side wash was potentially dangerous. Earth had had a lucky escape; the importance of the Sun s variability puts the worries we are encouraged to have about moderate global warming in a different perspective.

At the end of the book a brief Epilogue Magnetar Spring, has an even more alarming account of a completely different phenomenon to balance the lucid description of solar activity in the Prologue. On 27 December 2004 the largest burst of gamma rays ever recorded cut through the solar system. As it bounced off the moon and struck Earth again, astronomers could triangulate the blast and calculate it came not from the Sun but from deep space from the supposed dead heart of a star, a Magnetar (containing the most powerful magnetic fields known in nature) only 20 kilometres in diameter but some 50,000 light years away. The magnetar eruption had released more energy into space in a tenth of a second than the Sun shines into space in 100,000 years, dumbfounding astronomers. The gamma rays were far more powerful than anything released by the Sun and ripped atoms apart from the entire hemisphere of Earth facing the blast. Not much chance that switching off light bulbs would protect us from this. We have no hopes of influencing the Sun s leisurely cycles, there is even less chance of countering gamma rays from distant dying stars, or even from collisions with asteroids.

Forget these controversies and enjoy the beautifully written book describing the Victorian events surrounding Richard Carrington. Written in a style reminiscent of Dava Sobel s Longitude she commends it on the cover, as it is by others. Owen Gingerich, for instance writes:
undoubtedly the most gripping and brilliant popular-science history account that I have ever read. This remarkable book is informative, accurate and relevant. Clark s ability to write so vividly makes me seethe with jealousy.
It has been well reviewed by specialist journals but has had few reviews in the serious press could this be because it does not fit in with consensus views on global warming ?

What happened, then, in September 1859, when the entire Earth was engulfed in a gigantic cloud of seething gas, and a blood-red aurora erupted across the planet from the poles to the tropics? Around the world, telegraph systems, fairly recent at that time, crashed, telegraphic machines burst into flames, and electric shocks stunned their operators. Compasses and other sensitive instruments reeled as if struck by a massive magnetic fist. For the first time, people began to suspect that the Earth was not isolated from the rest of the universe. However, nobody knew what could have released such strange forces upon the Earth nobody, that is, except an amateur English astronomer, Richard Carrington. In this riveting account, Stuart Clark tells for the first time the full story behind Carrington's observations of a mysterious explosion on the surface of the Sun and how his brilliant insight that the Sun's magnetism directly influences the Earth helped to usher in the modern era of astronomy. Clark vividly brings to life both the scientists who scornfully rejected the significance of Carrington's discovery of solar flares, and those who took up his struggle to prove that the Earth could be affected by influences from space. Clark also reveals new details about the sordid scandal that destroyed Carrington's reputation and led him from the highest echelons of science to the very lowest reaches of love, villainy, and revenge.

Richard Carrington has been largely forgotten no portrait or photograph has survived, but his meticulous observations of the 1859 solar storms that coincided with magnetic storms affecting the primitive telegraphic systems of the time are fascinating. The data from astronomers in the 1850s showed the correlation between magnetic storms here and solar sunspot activity; but there was no credible explanation because everybody accepted Newtonian theory and nobody looked for forces other than gravity to describe the fixed orbits of the planets. X-rays were undiscovered; stellar magnetic forces were undreamed of. No one could imagine how the Sun could transmit more than radiant heat.

Lord Kelvin, the scientific colossus of the time, said There is nothing more to be discovered in Physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement a typical expert prediction . When electrons and protons were discovered Einstein and others knew that a totally new type of physics was needed. Fifty years after Carrington s flares , the astronomer William Ellis in 1904 realised that most of the sun s magnetic salvos missed the small target of Earth and complained that earthbound observers were effectively peeping through a keyhole and trying to describe the room beyond. If we could plant observatories on other planets he suggested much could be learnt about the forces that surround us. A century later in 2003, on the occasion of the so-called Halloween flares, this was effectively achieved with roving robotic probes in space the Mars Odyssey watched a large chunk of the tenuous Mars atmosphere being torn off and carried into the oblivion of deep space. Only the Earth s inherent cloak of magnetism saved us from a similar assault. The Sun has its own cloak of magnetism; its magnetic field extends to some 12 billion miles, well beyond all the planets. Deep space in turn is a realm of individual stars widely scattered, each with its vast magnetic domain pulsing in time to the beat of the star s magnetic heart.

The particle experimenters of Cambridge in the 1920s, looking into the analogous world of the very small, used the same mathematical equations that described planetary forces, to develop the new quantum theory. As a result what had been thought of as the vacuum of space was found to contain the masses of beams of magnetism and particles in gusts driven from the Sun from sunspots at enormous speed, now known as the solar wind. These are known to be associated with sunspots. It only takes 8 minutes for the radiation from a solar flare (which includes a torrent of X-Rays) to travel at the speed of light the 93 million miles to Earth, but the bulk of billions of tons of electrons and protons expelled in a coronal mass ejection (CME) from the Sun takes over 17 hours to arrive. It is this time-lapse that provides sufficient warning for airlines to divert their flights. CMEs produce auroras, magnetic storms, and enormous surges of current: Stuart Clark is drawing our attention to the hazards created by their impact, in eleven-year cycles, upon today s electronic systems (SATNAV springs to mind). We, medical and lay alike, should reflect on the degree of our dependence upon these systems in the twenty-first century.

In the concluding chapter Stuart Clark draws the threads together from William Herschel (1738-1822), famous for having discovered the planet Uranus and infrared radiation, who observed that sunspots coincided with low wheat prices. Dr Jack Eddy s paper in Science in 1976 opened a debate (that continues) about the role of the sun in past and present climate change. In 2003 Israeli scientists Pustilnik and Yom Din confirmed Herschel s wheat prices claim from beryllium in ice cores. Clark compares the Carrington solar storm of 1859 with the large number of frighteningly large storms in the later decades of the 20th century, and concludes that the Carrington was much larger than any of them. Stuart Clark makes a gentle point on page 186:
Unfortunately, the waters are muddied because climate investigations are often politically charged. Some industrial lobbies and governments seize upon any hint of natural warming as a means of avoiding pollution control. On the other hand, environmental pressure-groups can sometimes be philosophically opposed to admitting even a small solar effect on climate.

A book that considers a bewildering number of unsolved problems, including what can we expect in the future, and discusses them with moderation and good humour deserves to be welcomed. It is also a rattling good read. Enjoy! The book is well produced, with an extensive bibliography for each of the 13 Chapters and an excellent index.

Via email from the author

Rising CO2 "causes" unprecedented decrease in worldwide drought

A plot of the worldwide data for the Palmer Drought Severity Index shows that there has been an unprecedented decrease in world drought severity over the past 30 years.

Nobody knows what the actual causal chain is but the frequent Warmist claim that rising CO2 will cause drought is clearly contraindicated by the data


Trees gobbling up anthropogenic CO2

A new study in Scienceexpress (Science magazine’s pre-paper-publication outlet) by Yude Pan of the U.S. Forest Service and colleagues finds that the net carbon sink in terrestrial forest systems across the globe has been expanding, taking up ever more carbon dioxide from the earth’s atmosphere. (A “sink” is a place where something—carbon dioxide, heat, water, etc…winds up.)

The net carbon sink in the world’s forests is made up of carbon uptake less carbon loss. Carbon (C) uptake is expressed as bigger trees and more dense forests, storage in leaf litter, dead wood, wood products, and in the soil. Carbon loss occurs through deforestation and burning. By analyzing “recent inventory data and long-term field observations coupled to statistical or process models” Pan et al. conclude that “the global net forest C sink was 1.0 ± 0.8 and 1.2 ± 0.9 PgC yr–1 for 1990-1999 and 2000-2007”—indicating that the terrestrial forest sink has been at least consistent, if not expanding, over at least the past 18 years (1990-2007). A “Pg” is a Petagram, which is 1 followed by 15 zeroes worth of constant grams. For comparative purposes, our federal deficit is 14 followed by 12 zeroes worth of inflating $$$.

In fact, if it were not for tropical deforestation, the world’s forests would be taking up a huge percentage of the carbon dioxide emitted from anthropogenic activities. Pan et al explain:

"Notably, the total gross C uptake by the world’s established and tropical regrowth forests is 4.0 PgC y–1, equivalent to half of the fossil fuel C emissions in 2009. Over the period studied (1990-2007), the cumulative C sink into the world’s established forests was ~43 PgC, and for the established plus regrowing forests was 73 PgC; the latter equivalent to 60% of cumulative fossil emissions in the period (i.e., 126 PgC). Clearly, forests play a critical role in the Earth’s terrestrial C sinks, and exert strong control on the evolution of atmospheric CO2."

The researchers find that even though the greatest annual carbon flux is occurring in tropical forests, those fluxes nearly balance out with the result being that tropical forests are largely carbon neutral. That’s because the annual carbon sink from tropical forest growth and regrowth (after logging), is offset by continued deforestation. Temporal and boreal forests, on the other hand, prove to be net carbon sinks

Pan et al. describe the situation in the United States as follows:

"The U.S. forest C sink increased by 33% from the 1990s to 2000s, caused by increasing forest area, growth of existing immature forests that are still recovering from historical agriculture, grazing, harvesting, and environmental factors such as CO2 fertilization and N deposition. However, forests in the western United States have shown significantly increased mortality in the past few decades, related to drought stress, and increased mortality from insects and fires."

Basically, the bottom line is that the world’s forests systems are subject to a number of difference influences, many of which are rooted in human activities (logging, CO2 emissions, nitrogen emissions, climate change), but overall, are expanding their carbon reserves...


Monckton on the "precautionary principle

BRITISH climate change sceptic Christopher Monckton says cutting carbon emissions is as necessary as buying a giant cricket bat to whack a wayward asteroid for six.

Lord Monckton argued the world did not need an insurance policy against global warming during a debate at the National Press Club in Canberra today. "Just in case there might be a risk of a giant asteroid hitting us, we should spend 150 per cent of global GDP from now until forever to try to make sure we have a large cricket bat to knock it out of the way," he said.

In the London insurance market there was a saying, he said: "If the price of the premium exceeds the cost of the risk - don't insure."

Lord Monckton urged Opposition Leader Tony Abbott to dump his "direct action" climate change policy, which includes storing carbon emissions in soil and planting trees instead of a carbon tax. "There is no need to take any action at all," he said.

Lord Monckton parodied Prime Minister Julia Gillard's accent when he spoke about her carbon tax. "The carbon tax is the wrong solution to a non-problem," he said, adding people should just sit back and enjoy the sunshine.

"If you were to apply the Gillard method all over the world ... it would take $60,000 per head of the world population ... to (stop) a 0.23 Celsius of global warming."

Lord Monckton's debate opponent, economist Richard Denniss from the Australia Institute, argued Australia could "bet the house" that the peer was right or "insure the house in case he's wrong".

He used the purchase of 12 new submarines to replace the six Australia hasn't used yet to make a point. "No one is certain who we need them to protect us from," Dr Denniss said. "But when it comes to making decisions about national defence and our health, when the consequences are catastrophic, what sensible people do is take a conservative path."


Doorstep lectures on travelling without your car as army of British "advisers" teach families about 'sustainable travel'

Hundreds of thousands of families are to be visited by travel advisers who will tell them to stop driving their cars. Armed with bus timetables and cycle route maps, they will knock on doors and lecture on the need for ‘sustainable travel’.

The doorstep campaign by the army of taxpayer-funded ‘personal travel advisers’ is part of a £156million effort by ministers to persuade people to leave their cars at home when they go to work or the shops, or take children to school.

Of 39 councils who will share the ‘sustainable transport’ money, 32 have said they will use some of it for advising individuals on how they can get around without their car. About 300,000 families are liable to get a visit.

Darlington has already run trials using paid advisers to go door to door. It will now get £375,000 for a scheme to visit all 45,900 homes in the area.

In Hereford, the 74,282 homes in the city will be visited twice, once for advisers to give information on public transport and cycling, and three months later to check whether the advice is being followed.

Blackpool has offered its residents a questionnaire on the way they travel, which asks for personal details, information about journeys made, and asks questions such as ‘what prevents you from cycling?’ and ‘do you know where your nearest bus stop is?’

Ministers have told MPs that the spending is good value for taxpayers. Liberal Democrat Transport Minister Norman Baker said in a statement to MPs that the money will ‘support authorities in delivering local economic growth while cutting carbon emissions from transport.’ He added: ‘The Department is confident that the overall package of proposals included in this first round represents high value for money.’

John O’Connell of the TaxPayers’ Alliance said: ‘Schemes like these represent poor value for money for taxpayers. They don’t address the real issues facing commuters on congested roads or packed trains. ‘With tighter budgets, silly schemes should be consigned to the scrapyard.’

On the streets of Darlington last week travel advisers said they were meeting mixed success. With trolleys full of pamphlets in tow, Alex Clarke, 21, and Chris Chance, 28, who were on contract for the council, said some members of the public were more receptive than others.

Mr Chance said: ‘Some people we’ve spoken to have never considered using any other form of transport than a car.


Safe? Not solar vehicles

Nick Sitts was driving a solar vehicle north along 15th Street toward the formation area of the da Vinci Days parade shortly after 11 a.m. Saturday when he heard a pop. Moments later there was an explosion, and soon the $100,000 vehicle was engulfed in flames.

Sitts got out just in time - right after he heard that initial pop, said Hai Yue Han, co-captain of the Oregon State University Solar Vehicle Team, which constructed the vehicle from 2008 to 2010. "If it had been a few moments later, he may have not made it out alive," Han said.

Sitts had first- and second-degree burns to his arms and face and some singed hair. "He looked like he had a bad sunburn, she said. "He lost a shoe; it disintegrated."

Han believes the explosion was caused by a short in one of the battery cells. Each of the 28 battery packs contains 20 small cylindrical lithium-ion battery cells - a total of 568. Some of the battery cells landed in the OSU parking lot on the east side of 15th. The explosion occurred about 50 yards south of the Kerr Administration Building.

In the rubble, the titanium frame was still intact but warped. "We recovered nothing from that car," Han said. The heat from the fire also caused minor asphalt damage a few feet away in the southbound lane of 15th.

What worked Saturday was the solar vehicle team's recently upgraded egress system. "With every solar vehicle, you have to be able to get out in 10 seconds," Han said. He and others estimated that Nick Sitts made it out in two to five seconds.


An old time revival hour for Warmists

The Stephen H. Schneider Symposium, being held in late August in Boulder, Colo., will reflect on his approach to the climate problem and culminate with a session on this question: “The challenge of climate change mitigation and adaptation: How do we translate sound climate science into sound policies?”

Speakers include Santer and Oreskes and Romm and Oppenheimer and Teresa Heinz-Kerry. [Oh my!]



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1 comment:

John A said...

[travel] Doorstep Lectures -

"In Hereford, the 74,282 homes in the city will be visited twice, once for advisers to give information on public transport and cycling, and three months later to check whether the advice is being followed."

And if the "advice" is not followed the obvious next steps are fines, increased fees/taxes on private vehicles, and re-allocation (ie, increasing) of enforcers. Why else would it require answering a lot of questions rather than a two-page of "akterbatives and how to find them" or some such?

Especially that how-to. Where I live, bus transport is actually fair, or at least not bad. And for the trps to and from work every weekday, easy enough once I know which bus to take and where to catch it. But the route maps available from the [government] service are horribly deficient. For example, the "map" for service in my particular neighborhood can tell me how to get from a nearby hospital to a particular [government] housing center some distance away - but not how to get to the hospital or just where either it or the housing complex actually are, or what streets the route takes, or a number of other things - especially if more than one route must be taken to get from point A to point B. I discovered by accident that Google Maps in my area can do all that and more - yet there is not even a link to it on the Web site for the service, never mind the capability itself: this sort of info is doubtless not being provided in the "advice" either, just "you should take the bus."