UPDATED: Guess what this is?

I’m back from my road trip today. It was a day of surprises, I visited 5 weather stations today, and each had a story to tell.

The one that was the most surprising is represented by the photo below, which I snapped with my Infrared camera. Hint: it’s not asphalt. The reading of 66°C for some elements in the scene is accurate. And it’s at an operating USHCN station, right under it in fact.

I’ll have more on this tomorrow, and a corresponding visible light photo that tells the story, right now I’m dead tired from driving 300+ miles today.

UPDATE: Lot’s of guesses, no correct answers. Click below to see what it is. You’ll be surprised. I sure was.

Fresh wood chips over weedmat at an official NOAA/NWS station, which is also a USHCN station. Surprisingly, note that the concrete is actually cooler in the IR photo. The work was ongoing, which is why the gate was open and the sign is not affixed yet.

More on this station soon in a new post.

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87 thoughts on “UPDATED: Guess what this is?

  1. I have a decent mental table for doing Celcius to Fahrenheit conversions, especially for typical meteorological temps. 66C isn’t in it, nor is 65C.
    Lessee, 25C is 77F, 40C more is 72F more, so 65C is 149F.
    Roof? Hot water solar panel? A trash burning drum that’s in use? A black cat visiting Death Valley?

  2. Lava Beds Monument is in the area. If I was setting up a climate station and wanted to have a place with government employees handy, what better a spot than that? Of course the climate readings might not be of high quality, but that hasn’t stopped them before.

  3. Anthony as allways, a billion thanks for this super work.
    Of-topic-but-everyone-should-see:
    http://www.climate4you.com/images/EQUATOR%202008%2008%20vs%201998-2006.gif
    This is a global temperature anomaly where you compare aug 2008 with 1998-2006 level. This is a VERY good indication of global cooling.
    It comes from OLE HUMLUMS very nice site http://www.climate4you.com
    Use it!
    Now back to this insane 66 degree celcius platform!!
    K.R. Frank Lansner

  4. Completely unrelated, but I only just read this article on how all the GCMs assume a constant relative humidity:
    http://www.friendsofscience.org/assets/documents/The_Saturated_Greenhouse_Effect.htm
    This model assumption is confirmed on Real Climate, of all places:
    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php?p=142
    Unfortunately NOAA’s own data shows that this is wrong, for example in the tropics at the crucial 700mb height:
    http://www.cdc.noaa.gov/cgi-bin/Timeseries/timeseries.pl?ntype=1&var=Relative+Humidity+(up+to+300mb+only)&level=700&lat1=0&lat2=0&lon1=-180&lon2=180&iseas=1&mon1=0&mon2=11&iarea=0&typeout=2&Submit=Create+Timeseries
    My own back-of-the-envelope calculations show that a 1C rise in temperature (from 25C to 26C) would cause an approx. 4% increase in specific humidity, assuming a fixed relative humidity, and that this would cause a further (approx.) 0.80C rise due to the greenhouse gas effect of water (33C*0.60*0.04=0.80C). Obviously a staggeringly massive (almost run-away) greenhouse effect, as seen in the GCMs, except of course it doesn’t seem to happen in reality!

  5. Not lava, but Vulcan’s workshop nonetheless. More likely a hot springs nearby.
    ===============================================

  6. Looks like the woodchips are on black plastic. The blast plastic catpures the heat and the wood chips insulate the black plastic.
    In Texas, they were using woodchips as padding for the little feet on kids playgrounds to save money vs gravel or shredded tires.
    The problem they had was that the woodchips would get so hot that they would spontaneously combust. Part of this was due to biological activity when the chips would get wet – and part was due to the insulating nature of the chips themselves.

  7. Did you take it in a National Park or something similar?
    I’m not surprised the ground reads hotter that the concrete. Mulch holds in a lot of moisture, that’s one of it benefits and in the case of temperature reading, one of it’s downfalls.

  8. The painted I-beam would be the hottest object in the pic from sun-warming; it reads a “cool”… 120 degrees Fahrenheit??! Got me!

  9. The green grass bothers me. I lived in Addo, Eastern Province, South Africa, for several years where the temperatures reached 40C regularly, but no ways could we keep the grass green during the summer heat. We watered the grass regularly.
    Was this an exceptionally hot day?

  10. Black only “attracts” heat if it is directly exposed to the light sourse. Black’s skill is only absorbing light as apposed to reflecting it. I think this may be a result of decay. Freash wood chips are usualy in active fermentation, hence the horrible smell associated with them. This proces produces thermal energy. Not sure if this accounts for the whole temperature difference, but it is deffinatly part of the equasion. Would be interesting to see the thermal image from there a few months from now.

  11. Who’d a thunk — mulch as a siting issue. But it makes sense as mulch ‘cooks’ much the same as compost. Bet its greatest impact would be at night. I suspect that whoever came up with the idea of the mulch had no thought of the effect its use would have in generating heat and any impact on instrumentation; it just looks nice and is low maintenance.

  12. With that “weed mat” under it is probably no different than tanbark chips spread on asphalt. It’s still going to get hot. It looks like a pretty thin layer of chips, too.

  13. Jeff (08:11:30) :

    Black only “attracts” heat if it is directly exposed to the light sourse. Black’s skill is only absorbing light as apposed to reflecting it. I think this may be a result of decay.

    At 150F, I doubt there are many microbes lunching there. IIRC, composting tops out around 120F, I assume spontaneous combustion comes from subsquent chemical reaction. Anyone with a clue with numbers an chemistry is welcome to correct me. How deep were the wood chips?
    It may be that the long wavelengths of infrared light (possibly including IR reradiated from the wood chips) are making it through the chips to the plastic. The IR the camera is responding to may be coming from just below the chip surface. I would expect the visible surface to be closer to ambient temps.
    Pure speculation. I have an electronic meat thermometer, small size wood chips, and maybe some black plastic at home. I’m tempted to measure the temperature profile of various thicknesses of chips.
    Makes the camera worth the price tag. Good purchase!
    The weedmat vendor might have that information already.
    Umm, why wasn’t the station installed on terrain typical for the area?

  14. Now on days that the sprinklers run, or after dew… That stuff will absorb water, and be cooler than otherwise for hours.

  15. “The work was ongoing…” Ah, you caught them in the act of “adjusting” temperatures (a/k/a man-made global warming). There’s no such thing as privacy anymore, even for gov’t agencies. 😉

  16. Anthony,
    Have you double checked IR-measured temperature of wood chips using thermometer? It might just be possible that there is a large emissivity difference between concrete and mulch which would fool IR camera.
    I wonder
    REPLY: I didn’t have a hand held thermometer with me but two things confirmed the IR photo:
    1) I touched both the concrete and the nearby woodchips, woodchips definitely were hotter to the touch.
    2) Walking around taking photos, I could feel thermals rising off the wood chips, but none when I was over grass.

  17. Richard111,
    I get green grass on my asphalt driveway in the middle of summer! And not always in the yard…

  18. Woodchips are dark and are simply absorbing the IR. Not much different than dark asphalt, except to a lesser degree. I have walked bearfoot on wood chips in the sun and they do get quite hot.
    The black weed cloth, if not exposed, has no effect on the direct incoming IR, but may have some insulating effect that slows any downward (cooling) heat conduction into the earth. Also, radiation occurs internal to the chips, and the weed cloth (being darker than chips) should absorb more downward radiation versus upward chip radiation within the pile.
    Regarding moisture effects, if the chips are wet, evaporation should cool them, however, the moisture should also increase the heat (storage) capacity of wet chips vs dry chips. Another moisture effect is near surface and “in pile” air gap greenhouse warming from the water vapor.
    I might then surmise that the extra heat capacity, near surface and intra pile water vapor greenhouse warming, and downward conduction insulation is outweighing the evaporative heat loss.

  19. Some info about compost piles, from RRS, a commercial composting outfit:
    “Compost piles that don’t reach the temperatures that indicate active composting will take much longer to fully decompose. The ideal temperature range for active composting is 105-145º F. Compost piles that have not heated up within three days of being formed should be considered as problematic and in need of adjustment.
    “Temperatures greater than 170º F create potential for spontaneous combustion. Mesophilic (likes to grow under medium conditions of moisture) organisms thrive from 104°-122°F and their activity is inhibited outside of this range. moisture) organisms thrive from 104°-122°F and
    their activity is inhibited outside of this range. High temperatures can be the result of compost piles that are too big or too dry, and from lack of heat removal due to insulation or aeration.”
    http://www.recycle.com/pdfs/temperature.pdf
    Wet wood chips would likely do the same thing.

  20. Interesting observation: look at the comparable temperature of grass (a few blades of it against the forward edge of the concrete base). They remain pretty cool compared to the rest of the environment.
    REPLY: Yes, I have other photos showing this contrast – they’ll be in a subsequent post. – Anthony

  21. The matting underneath is the most striking part of the image. The white flares in the picture seem to be associated with it. It seems illogical that the matting under the chips would be hotter than the chips. It might have a higher emissivity than the chips but I doubt that it would be a lot higher. I assume the chips have a very high emissivity due to the incredible surface area they have.
    I don’t see any black spots caused by shiny objects reflecting the sky. Was it overcast?
    Thermography can be very tricky.
    REPLY: Full sun when that photo was taken. – Anthony

  22. We know wood chip piles can spontaneously combust (not many things do) and this seems to be somewhat random in that not all large wood chip piles combust while smaller ones sometimes do.
    I guess the IR photo shows why that is the case.
    Might be some new science here that has rather large implications for gardeners, farmers, landscapers, the forest industry, biologists and, of course, climatologists and weather station monitors.
    I propose that the NCDC and GISS make a new (negative) adjustment to the temperature record for the increase in wood chips used around temperature sensors.

  23. My guess is that the fresh wood chips – and “fresh” is the key – are spontaneously heating. The rate of heating will decline over time as the chips oxidise.

  24. Were these shots taken first thing in the morning?
    I notice that the metal base of the instruments is cooler even than the concrete, at about 40C. This suggests to me that no equilibrium has been reached.
    I would guess that this phenomenon is more about specific heat capacity and thermal conductivity, concrete simply takes longer to warm up. The wood chips are well insulated from the cold ground.

  25. Could you tell if the chips were made from discarded hockey sticks? The handles warp when made from a soft or inferior wood….like say bristlecone. Something to do with erratic growth rate.
    Flashback to Fargo, any one seen Hanson lately?

  26. The wood chips are clearly decomposing and producing large amounts of greenhouse gases such as methane and sulfur hexafluoride. No doubt they will create a good crop of mushrooms shortly, which will be very poor emitters of radiation, and redress the temperature balance.

  27. Having led the revolution against imperialism in 1776, can’t Americans please dump the imperial system of measurement? Centigrade or “Celcius” really is a lot easier and you don’t have to worry about conversions in your head, unless you start talking Kelvin. Don’t get me started on pounds, ounces, miles, yards, acres, roods, perches and all the other nonsense from antiquity!

  28. It may not be correct. Is the camera properly calibrated? Did you enter an emissivity value for the surface?

  29. As Algore would say “In Excessive Celsius Deeeeeeeeeeooooo!”.
    H, we’ll dump the antiquated measurement systems as soon as you guys dump the antiquated “pound, quid & pence” and use the universal monetary standard of “dollars”. 😉

  30. “..Don’t get me started on pounds, ounces, miles, yards, acres, roods, perches and all the other nonsense from antiquity!”
    Alas, I work with computers, and we naturally cleave to the binary, hex, vigesimal, duodecimal and sexagesimal systems which the Babylonians developed. They are much more modern, functional and practical than this strange, odd, 18th century base-10, which seems to have nothing going for it at all…

  31. Its amazing to me that climatologist and the like seem incapable of simply recording data. It is hard to believe they would be any better at digesting that data (even if it were accurate) and making sound predictions.
    Rev. I had little faith in scientist before I found this site. It is refreshing to hear a consistent voice of reason and moderation coming out of the heard of natural philosophers.

  32. “I’m quite surprised at how much the shadow from the fence cooled things off.”
    Which should go to show that the heat is not being generated by the chips. If that were the case, the chips would also be hot where the shadow of the railing falls. But they aren’t.

  33. You should always carry a good contact thermometer when doing thermography. Even your viewing angle can change the aparrent temperature of a surface when using IR. At least you bought a FLIR. One big step in the right direction.

  34. We know wood chip piles can spontaneously combust (not many things do) and this seems to be somewhat random in that not all large wood chip piles combust while smaller ones sometimes do.

    I don’t think I’d call it “spontaneous combustion”. By definition, SC happens for no apparent reason and therefore doesn’t exist. The compost/wood chip combustion happens for a very logical reason.

  35. Pingback: Top Posts « WordPress.com

  36. A tad off topic, but not far.
    If any of you are interested in the _meaning_ of the metric system, take a stroll
    through your local bookstore’s remainders aisle and pick up “The Measure of
    All Things”. The origins of the metric system are explained in hundreds of
    pages of detail. Not quite “scholarly sleep aide” stuff, but not for the casual
    reader.
    If you think the current dust-up with global warming has odd twists and turns,
    you will be stunned at the happenings at the start of the metric system. I read
    the book in part because I have a few patents in process on US/Metric conversions
    on digital systems. Our disputes are tame in comparison: lots of people involved
    in the early metric stuff were killed.

  37. Is that grass in the bottom of the visible picture? But the thermal picture looks like its in a slightly different spot so we don’t get to see what the grass looks like in thermal compared to the woodchip.

  38. Ah … Woodchips… Well my Dry grass answer wasn’t too far off the mark.
    As a cricket player, there’s quite a difference to standing in 38C heat on a Green grassy oval all day, to standing on a dead dry grassy oval…. The green one is humid but the grass is cool…. The dry one… the heat just beats back at you…
    As we all know, cricket is best play during the hottest part of summer by complete idiots dressed in white….. 😉

  39. Off thread,
    Anyone looked at the link between Lehman bank and the carbon trading business of Al Gore. It might be that the collapse of this bank will put a severe kink in this hare brained project. Another case of reality interfering!
    Cheers

  40. Bulaman (18:09:06) :

    Anyone looked at the link between Lehman bank and the carbon trading business of Al Gore. It might be that the collapse of this bank will put a severe kink in this hare brained project. Another case of reality interfering!

    Hmm, could be. Subscription site http://www.pointcarbon.com/news/1.971784 teases with “The carbon credit portfolio of troubled US investment bank Lehman Brothers will be put up for sale later this week, according to a source with the bank.”
    From better Lehman days, see the .pdf file at http://www.ieta.org/ieta/www/pages/getfile.php?docID=2665

  41. dee, garden technology has advanced
    “A high-tech alternative to black plastic. SRM is a specially engineered brown plastic mulch designed to suppress weed growth nearly as well as black plastic while heating the soil almost as much as clear plastic. IRT allows heat producing light through and blocks out wavelengths of light that stimulate plant growth. IRT has been around for a few years and has passed thorough testing at the university level. It works especially well for melons. 1.0 mil thickness. “

  42. RE: Carbon Trading and Soon-to-be-forgotten Wall Street Banks:
    Merrill Lynch (Remember Merrill Lynch? You know. They were “…one of the world’s leading wealth management, capital markets and advisory companies, with offices in 40 countries and territories and total client assets of almost $2 trillion…) Anyway, Merrill had also made commitments to the Carbon boys. Last spring they entered a three-year partnership with the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), which bills itself, “the world’s largest investor collaboration on climate change.”
    An awful lot of superlatives are soon to be merely comparatives, relatives… irrelevants.
    http://www.ml.com/index.asp?id=7695_7696_8149_88278_92707_93955
    See the following link for info on these investors, and editorial examination of their ethics and efficacy.
    http://www.findingdulcinea.com/news/environment/March-April-08/Big-Banks-Buy-into-Carbon-Offset-Industry.html

  43. OT and I apologize.
    Everything I’ve read or been reading does not seem to account for basic laws of physics with regard to AGW.
    A gas increases temperature when its volume decreases. Correct? So, when the sun is active – and the solar wind compresses the earth’s atmosphere – temperature would be expected to increase, correct? When the sun is inactive – and the Earth’s atmosphere expands – temperature would decrease, correct? (All of this reasoning is, of course, broad-based and does not account for other factors.)
    By what method is the combined gas law canceled out to satisfy the AGW crowd? What report have I not seen or read to account for this? I expected to see it in the take-down of Lord Moncton’s[sp?] APS report, but didn’t – I’ve Googled and not found it either; what am I missing?
    Does the ‘Ideal’ Gas law not have anything to do with Earth’s atmosphere?

  44. crosspatch (16:25:49) commented:
    <blockquote cite=”

    Which should go to show that the heat is not being generated by the chips. If that were the case, the chips would also be hot where the shadow of the railing falls. But they aren’t.”>
    Good eye there, but the same wouldn’t hold true for the concrete with its larger thermal mass. Yet the shadow on the concrete is cool as well. Something odd with the thermomograph is going on here.

  45. JAFAC (20:20:14) :
    > OT and I apologize.
    > Everything I’ve read or been reading does not seem to account for basic
    > laws of physics with regard to AGW.
    > A gas increases temperature when its volume decreases. Correct?
    Correct, as long as the only energy added was that to compress the gas.
    > So, when the sun is active – and the solar wind compresses the
    > earth’s atmosphere – temperature would be expected to increase,
    > correct?
    The solar wind is so weak that satellites sail through it. It’s also extremely hot, so the outer atmosphere heats up and expands. Solar storms can expand the atmosphere enough so that low altitude satellites experience a lot more drag and need to expend more fuel to maintain their orbit.
    > Does the ‘Ideal’ Gas law not have anything to do with Earth’s atmosphere?
    It does, it’s just that it’s a system where you can’t conveniently adjust just one element of pV = nRT. Also, note that the solar wind hits one side of the Earth. If it were able to push on that side, the atmosphere would just bulge out on the other.

  46. J.Hansford. (17:26:20) :
    “As a cricket player, there’s quite a difference to standing in 38C heat on a Green grassy oval all day, to standing on a dead dry grassy oval…. The green one is humid but the grass is cool…. The dry one… the heat just beats back at you…”
    As usual cricket provides the answer. It also tells us something which might be relevant to wood chip conflagrations. Linseed oil is used to season cricket bats and there are numerous recorded instances of rags seeped in linseed oil catching fire for no apparent reason. It’s never happened to me but I always oil my bats outdoors and leave the rag on the patio just in case.
    Perhaps the excitable wood chips contain an oil with the same quality.
    As for compost, regular turning of a compost heap is more effective than so-called optimum heat for speeding up the composting process. Don’t know why it works but it does, presumably something to do with spreading around the little bug things that cause decomposition and giving them more stuff to work on. One year I made two heaps as near identical as I could, stirred one but not the other, the stirred heap produced usable material in less than half the time. Does that make me a scientist?

  47. “Good eye there, but the same wouldn’t hold true for the concrete with its larger thermal mass. ”
    You can see the evidence of the concrete’s thermal mass … or as I like to call it, a thermal flywheel. It would appear to me by looking at the photo that the shadow of the fence rail has been moving from right to left if you consider the shadow that cuts across the front edge of the concrete. The area to the left of the shadow (where the shadow has yet to reach) appears hotter to me than the concrete to the right of the shadow ( where the shadow had shaded recently) and the farther you move to the right, the warmer the concrete gets

  48. Dear peerreviewer — I used the weed cloth from H Depot and it failed utterly. The weeds grew underneath, ripped it open, and they had to be pulled anyhow. The good news is that the cantaloupes and honeydews ripened thanks to the Sept hot spell. In August I was worried about the spotless sun and the plunging temps, but Sept rescued the garden. All of which proves something or other.

  49. Anthony,
    I asked my landscaper about these photos. He has about 17 to 18 years of experience in landscaping, and is also was familiar with FLIR images due to a stint in the military. He said that, when he first started doing landscaping, he would use weed mats, but that they always “cooked the plants” and didn’t work very well. The weeds would come back within 6 months and the amount of labor to put in weed mats was so high that it wasn’t worth it. So it would seem the weed matting is to blame. Maybe it is just one more thing that needs to be put into the siting specs for these stations (i.e. don’t use weed matting anywhere near these stations).
    REPLY: That makes sense. I have some other IR photos showing exposed areas of weed mats, toasty. Look for a larger write-up soon. – Anthony

  50. I’m changing my answer: What did I say? A? Well, it’s C. No, B.
    After re-reading Anthony’s posting about Tucumcari irrigation issues, I’m switching (to agree with several above). The temp is related to moisture and heat retention in the wood chips, due to evaporation.
    Abstract of Christy’s article:
    http://www.uah.edu/News/newsread.php?newsID=293
    If this is the case, it raises the question of whether USHCN stations take humidity readings. Wouldn’t temp / humidity connections be easy to prove?
    REPLY: USHCN stations for the most part (ASOS conversions accepted) don’t take humidity readings. – Anthony

  51. Havent time to read all the replies here, but couldnt the metal in the picture be conducting heat up and away from the woodchip area? Was a second picture taken of the top of the metal structure by any chance?
    I’m certainly no expert on physics and chemistry.. I wash dishes for a living, lol! But I was always taught at school of the conductive and radiant properties of metals – which is why we use copper heatsinks in some of our industrial equipment at work.
    Just a curiousity. 🙂

  52. using that fr measuring the temp is like those bank thermometer,they are always off by over 30 degress or more in the summer and then never record the right temp.

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