The Unbearable Complexity of Climate

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

Figure 1. The Experimental Setup

I keep reading statements in various places about how it is indisputable “simple physics” that if we increase amount of atmospheric CO2, it will inevitably warm the planet. Here’s a typical example:

In the hyperbolic language that has infested the debate, researchers have been accused of everything from ditching the scientific method to participating in a vast conspiracy. But the basic concepts of the greenhouse effect is a matter of simple physics and chemistry, and have been part of the scientific dialog for roughly a century.

Here’s another:

The important thing is that we know how greenhouse gases affect climate. It has even been predicted hundred years ago by Arrhenius. It is simple physics.

Unfortunately, while the physics is simple, the climate is far from simple. It is one of the more complex systems that we have ever studied. The climate is a tera-watt scale planetary sized heat engine. It is driven by both terrestrial and extra-terrestrial forcings, a number of which are unknown, and many of which are poorly understood and/or difficult to measure. It is inherently chaotic and turbulent, two conditions for which we have few mathematical tools.

The climate is comprised of five major subsystems — atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere, lithosphere, and biosphere. All of these subsystems are imperfectly understood. Each of these subsystems has its own known and unknown internal and external forcings, feedbacks, resonances, and cyclical variations. In addition, each subsystem affects all of the other subsystems through a variety of known and unknown forcings and feedbacks.

Then there is the problem of scale. Climate has crucially important processes at physical scales from the molecular to the planetary, and at temporal scales from milliseconds to millennia.

As a result of this almost unimaginable complexity, simple physics is simply inadequate to predict the effect of a change in one of the hundreds and hundreds of things that affect the climate. I will give two examples of why “simple physics” doesn’t work with the climate — a river, and a block of steel. I’ll start with a thought experiment with the block of steel.

Suppose that I want to find out about how temperature affects solids. I take a 75 kg block of steel, and I put the bottom end of it in a bucket of hot water. I duct tape a thermometer to the top end in the best experimental fashion, and I start recording how the temperature change with time. At first, nothing happens. So I wait. And soon, the temperature of the other end of the block of steel starts rising. Hey, simple physics, right?

To verify my results, I try the experiment with a block of copper. I get the same result, the end of the block that’s not in the hot water soon begins to warm up. I try it with a block of glass, same thing. My tentative conclusion is that simple physics says that if you heat one end of a solid, the other end will eventually heat up as well.

So I look around for a final test. Not seeing anything obvious, I have a flash of insight. I weigh about 75 kg. So I sit with my feet in the bucket of hot water, put the thermometer in my mouth, and wait for my head to heat up. This experimental setup is shown in Figure 1 above.

After all, simple physics is my guideline, I know what’s going to happen, I just have to wait.

And wait … and wait …

As our thought experiment shows, simple physics may simply not work when applied to a complex system. The problem is that there are feedback mechanisms that negate the effect of the hot water on my cold toes. My body has a preferential temperature which is not set by the external forcings.

For a more nuanced view of what is happening, let’s consider the second example, a river. Again, a thought experiment.

I take a sheet of plywood, and I cover it with some earth. I tilt it up so it slopes from one edge to the other. For our thought experiment, we’ll imagine that this is a hill that goes down to the ocean.

I place a steel ball at the top edge of the earth-covered plywood, and I watch what happens. It rolls, as simple physics predicts, straight down to the lower edge. I try it with a wooden ball, and get the same result. I figure maybe it’s because of the shape of the object.

So I make a small wooden sled, and put it on the plywood. Again, it slides straight down to the ocean. I try it with a miniature steel shed, same result. It goes directly downhill to the ocean as well. Simple physics, understood by Isaac Newton.

As a final test, I take a hose and I start running some water down from the top edge of my hill to make a model river. To my surprise, although the model river starts straight down the hill, it soon starts to wander. Before long, it has formed a meandering stream, which changes its course with time. Sections of the river form long loops, the channel changes, loops are cut off, new channels form, and after while we get something like this:

Figure 2. Meanders, oxbow bends, and oxbow lakes in a river system. Note the old channels where the river used to run.

The most amazing part is that the process never stops. No matter how long we run the river experiment, the channel continues to change. What’s going on here?

Well, the first thing that we can conclude is that, just as in our experiment with the steel block, simple physics simply doesn’t work in this situation. Simple physics says that things roll straight downhill, and clearly, that ain’t happening here … it is obvious we need better tools to analyze the flow of the river.

Are there mathematical tools that we can use to understand this system? Yes, but they are not simple. The breakthrough came in the 1990’s, with the discovery by Adrian Bejan of the Constructal Law. The Constructal Law applies to all flow systems which are far from equilibrium, like a river or the climate.

It turns out that these types of flow systems are not passive systems which can take up any configuration. Instead, they actively strive to maximize some aspect of the system. For the river, as for the climate, the system strives to maximize the sum of the energy moved and the energy lost through turbulence. See the discussion of these principles here, herehere, and here. There is also a website devoted to various applications of the Constructal Law here.

There are several conclusions that we can make from the application of the Constructal Law to flow systems:

1. Any flow system far from equilibrium is not free to take up any form as the climate models assume. Instead, it has a preferential state which it works actively to achieve.

2. This preferential state, however, is never achieved. Instead, the system constantly overshoots and undershoots that state, and does not settle down to one final form. The system never stops modifying its internal aspects to move towards the preferential state.

3. The results of changes in such a flow system are often counterintuitive. For example, suppose we want to shorten the river. Simple physics says it should be easy. So we cut through an oxbow bend, and it makes the river shorter … but only for a little while. Soon the river readjusts, and some other part of the river becomes longer. The length of the river is actively maintained by the system. Contrary to our simplistic assumptions, the length of the river is not changed by our actions.

So that’s the problem with “simple physics” and the climate. For example, simple physics predicts a simple linear relationship between the climate forcings and the temperature. People seriously believe that a change of X in the forcings will lead inevitably to a chance of A * X in the temperature. This is called the “climate sensitivity”, and is a fundamental assumption in the climate models. The IPCC says that if CO2 doubles, we will get a rise of around 3C in the global temperature. However, there is absolutely no evidence to support that claim, only computer models. But the models assume this relationship, so they cannot be used to establish the relationship.

However, as rivers clearly show, there is no such simple relationship in a flow system far from equilibrium. We can’t cut through an oxbow to shorten the river, it just lengthens elsewhere to maintain the same total length. Instead of being affected by a change in the forcings, the system sets its own preferential operating conditions (e.g. length, temperature, etc.) based on the natural constraints and flow possibilities and other parameters of the system.

Final conclusion? Because climate is a flow system far from equilibrium, it is ruled by the Constructal Law. As a result, there is no physics-based reason to assume that increasing CO2 will make any difference to the global temperature, and the Constructal Law gives us reason to think that it may make no difference at all. In any case, regardless of Arrhenius, the “simple physics” relationship between CO2 and global temperature is something that we cannot simply assume to be true.


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Thank you, Willis, for the well-written comments.
With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel

Jeff L

The simple physics are still part of the overall description of the system (in both cases), but the key is they are only PART, not the entirety of the description of the system.
Willis, the stream equilibrium analog is interesting. For anyone who doubts the description provided, check the geological literature – there is tons of geological research of both modern & ancient fluvial systems which support the basic description provided.
Now the critical data which we haven’t seen is with forcings in the climate “flow” system – is there data that could be used to support this hypothesis that it behaves in an analogous way to the stream model (has an equilibrium independent of forcings). And if this is true, over what time scales is it true? Willis, if you could expand on that with some data, it could provide a fairly powerful argument.

Wow that is the best explaination so far. I have read many good explainations, but this one is simple, easy to understand and follow along with (including the thought experiments).

higley7

An excellent treatment. I will read it to my physics students – next year!

gtrip

Where do the proles fit in?


3. The results of changes in such a flow system are often counterintuitive. For example, suppose we want to shorten the river. Simple physics says it should be easy. So we cut through an oxbow bend, and it makes the river shorter … but only for a little while.

So far, it has worked in downtown Battle Creek; however, it should be mentioned that the banks of said river are now made of concrete 😉 … that was >30 years ago.
Battle Creek and the ‘plains’ it and surrounding communities exist in are an area that was effectively evened out over geological time (after the glaciers) by the ‘meandering river’ and oxbow lake (and swamp) effect.
.
.

u.k.(us)

chaos, the bane of models.

Gorky

I carried out a similar thought experiment last week:
Suppose we did not know that water boiled at 100C, and we were engaged in predicting the long-term surface level in a tank which we were also heating. Based on measured trends we would confidently expect the depth of water to go on increasing in a linear fashion as we warmed it and it expanded. We would be correct only until boiling started! Then we would have a period of turmoil, followed by a steadly FALL in the level due to the loss of water as it boiled off as steam.
When you get complicated and REAL, it’s what you don’t know and didn’t think of that stuffs things up!
Hmm – that boiling WAS a tipping point though!!

gtrip (20:00:23) :
“Where do the proles fit in?”
Everyone has a job in the new world order. The job of the proles is to pay the freight.

Doug in Seattle

Are there any researchers looking at climate as a system governed by a Constructal Law?

Phil's Dad

I’m not sure cutting out / bypassing an oxbow would have no effect on the length but I do buy that it would have an unpredictable effect as a result of a change in pressure both upstream and down. I think your point is better made by saying that if we fiddle with things it will have unforeseen/unpredictable consequences, that we will need to adapt to, rather than none; and that similarly we can not attribute current consequences to past simple actions.

Dave Worley

A wonderfully simple illustration of the difficulty of modeling fluid dynamics.

RhudsonL

forgot to include the racism

Willis Eschenbach

Doug in Seattle (20:06:24) : edit

Are there any researchers looking at climate as a system governed by a Constructal Law?

Bejan himself, in the final of the four links above (here). Other than Bejan, I’m not aware of any, but there may be some.

Theo Goodwin

Very good work, Mr. Eschenbach.
I do not know how many times that someone has told me that they will explain the theory of global warming and then they describe the relevant properties of the CO2 molecule? Excuse, me! That is no theory of global warming. Much…much more is needed, as you show.
For example, can global warming advocates predict where the offending CO2 particles are found? I take it they are not randomly distributed between Earth and Heaven. (Even that would be a hypothesis of sorts.) They do collect somewhere up there, don’t they? Well, do they heat up? So, can global warming advocates predict, on a given day, where to find a warm spot in the atmosphere (or higher) that is caused by the offending CO2 molecules. No warming advocate has given me a positive response. Yet they refuse to take their inability to make such predictions as maybe counting against their theory. (Though some folks have said the failure to find such a warm spot somewhere over tropical South America is a major problem – but they are not climategaters.)
By contrast, Svensmark’s theory about the formation of clouds that contribute to cooling actually predicts where the clouds will be found and explains the causes of the cloud formation. Now, there we have a theory that can be used and tested.

jorgekafkazar

gtrip (20:00:23) : “Where do the proles fit in?”
north prole at the top, south prole at the bottom.

JAC

Correct me if I’m wrong … but in addition to the climate being a complex system, by itself, CO2 can only warm the planet by a limited amount due to the fact that additional warming reduces logarithmically in response to additional CO2. For a “catastrophic” temperature change additional positive feedback mechanisms are required that increase the climate system’s sensitivity to CO2.
My point is, that even simple physics says that CO2 has a limited warming effect, and that additional complexity (i.e. positive feedback mechanisms) must be introduced to get the sort of warming predicted by climate models. Is this correct?

gtrip

_Jim (20:01:03) :
So far, it has worked in downtown Battle Creek; however, it should be mentioned that the banks of said river are now made of concrete 😉 … that was >30 years ago.
Battle Creek and the ‘plains’ it and surrounding communities exist in are an area that was effectively evened out over geological time (after the glaciers) by the ‘meandering river’ and oxbow lake (and swamp) effect.
So what? I don’t know what you are saying. There is nothing wrong with routing a river through a city by using concrete. The concrete banks may not last forever, but they will serve their purpose for as long as they can. And your city will be able to crank out corn flakes for the good of the nation until they collapse.

Unfortunately, while the physics is simple, the climate is far from simple
That is because the Earth basically is cold without being too cold. Heat it up enough [say to 10,000 degrees] or cool it a couple hundred degrees, and simple physics takes over. In the regime of liquid water is where things get complicated.

SHOUTS “WIKI TRYING TO DELETE CLIMATEGATE ARTICLE! PLZ HELP!”
http://magicjava.blogspot.com/2009/12/wikipedia-now-trying-to-delete.html

John F. Hultquist

All this ‘simple physics’ makes me think of the simple formula for the area of a circle. Area is equal to pi times the radius squared. Many people have used this simple formula. Not many can derive it or prove that it is true.
But the simple GHG idea is even more difficult. When someone says it is simple, just say “Prove it.” Ask them if the process works for CO2 why doesn’t it work for O2 or N2, both of which are major components of the atmosphere. Yes, some people do know what is going on but most have no idea, especially those out in the snow chanting ‘turn off the heat.” And if it is simple physics, why must there be some unknown ‘forcing’ to make it work. Do most of the people know about this or have any idea how quickly simple physics gets astoundingly complex?
As for Willis’s example the concepts for meandering rivers have been shown for years in earth science classes, thus providing such a demand that the “stream table” has been commercialized:
http://wardsci.com/category.asp?c=890&bhcd2=1261975346
and an interesting example:
http://scienceblogs.com/highlyallochthonous/2009/10/how_to_build_a_meandering_rive.php
For many years Washington State University in Pullman had a RR-boxcar size one inside a building. Maybe they still do.

par5

“The important thing is that we know how greenhouse gases affect climate. It has even been predicted hundred years ago by Arrhenius. It is simple physics.”
And every time I here James Hansen say this, I giggle uncontrolably. Arrhenius also concluded that the sun was made of coal, and that the earth was less than ten thousand years old.

par5

“2. This preferential state, however, is never achieved. Instead, the system constantly overshoots and undershoots that state, and does not settle down to one final form. The system never stops modifying its internal aspects to move towards the preferential state.”
Like a sign wave.

Dennis Wingo

The important thing is that we know how greenhouse gases affect climate. It has even been predicted hundred years ago by Arrhenius. It is simple physics.

This whole Arrhenius thing has always bothered me. His calculations were done before either Einstein or Plank’s work and without the foundation in quantum mechanics it is impossible to understand the absorption and emission of infrared radiation. I have been laboring through several of the papers that form the foundation that are used by the AGW community and have found that many of them do not say what it is claimed that they say. The best work in this area was actually done in the fifties and sixties and yet little of it has been applied to this modern era of computer analysis of the effect of CO2.

par5

Oops, make that ‘sine’ wave.
..need sleep…

Glenn

“So I sit with my feet in the bucket of hot water, put the thermometer in my mouth, and wait for my head to heat up.”
More than anyone needed to know, Willis. 🙂

Thank you Willis!!!!
This is one of the best and most insightful articles I have seen anywhere.

crosspatch

And it is no wonder that California schools are eliminating science labs. After all, you can get all the ‘science’ you need from the Acadamy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Just follow the Oscar!

Galen Haugh

One infrequently-discussed component that adds to the heat balance is the mid-oceanic spreading centers. Recently a news item announced that for the first time, an oceanic eruption was filmed in progress. Yet that process has been going on continuously along the spreading centers for millions if not billions of years. The geometry looks like this:
http://www.uwgb.edu/dutchs/PLATETEC/SpreadCtrs.HTM
It involves heat sources from the upper mantle called the asthenosphere.
Most ocean basins have spreading centers–the largest runs most of the length of the Pacific and there are others as well; together they total 40,000 miles in length. A picture of it is shown here:
http://www.ngdc.noaa.gov/mgg/image/crustageposter.jpg
A lot of hydrothermal activity goes on at these spreading centers. The process involves downward migration of ocean water through the broken basalt along the flanks of the spreading centers and expulsion of that water as heated, mineral-rich hydrothermal fluids adjacent to the spreading axis in a continuous flow. It is estimated that a volume equal to the world’s entire ocean goes through this process every 8 million years or so. That’s a very long time, but then again, that’s a huge volume of water, especially considering the amount of heat it carries out of the earth’s crust.
Just another complicating factor contributing to the ocean’s heat balance and, somehow, to earth’s climate.

Several problems with this. First, rivers are non-steady-state, that is, they wax from high flow (Spring runoff), then ebb to low flow (late summer). The shape of a river is created much more by the high flow events than other flow regimes. Anyone who has lived near a river knows this.
Second, climate is also non-steady-state, as is well-known.
Third, it is puzzling that climate is described as a flow. While it is true that some portions of the earth do flow (atmosphere via winds, and vertically via thermals, also ocean currents and icebergs, etc), as a whole the earth is not flowing anywhere. It is much more reasonable to view the earth as a heat transfer system, with heat input and heat output with very minor amounts of heat accumulations or loss, and having several heat transfer systems. Having some experience with design and control of heat transfer systems, including those at steady state and non-steady state, my conclusion is that Constructal Law has nothing to do with it.
The points made about the climate systems being complex and not understood are excellent, however. As Anthony pointed out in another (and recent) post, NOAA missed the 3-month prediction for temperatures in the USA for Oct-Nov-Dec 2009. They not only missed, they got it entirely wrong and by a large amount in the wrong direction. In short, they could not have been more wrong. And they used some sort of predictive model for this.

u.k.(us)

it was a nice physics/geology lesson, too bad the AGWs required the co2 explanation at the end.

gtrip

Any Fahrenheit 451 intellectuals here? It’s quite telling. State of Play readers? Orwellians?
Don’t you all find it ironic that Orwell and Bradbury used totalitarianism as their protagonists as the world is now falling further and further into the very grasp of control that they preached Socialism would protect us from?
Don’t let yourselves get caught up into what Bradbury called the family; A circle of people connected via the internet that think that they know each other.
Sometimes, one has to just make things right. Or you don’t.

tom

Dear Mr. Eschenbach,
I have read your article with a great deal of interest. It brought up some interesting arguments, which I think are right at a certain level, but it misses the point on a very different, but equally important level. The complexity of the climate is undoubtedly great and it is not inconceivable that we will never achieve a total comprehensive understanding of it. But lack of total understanding does not mean that we can not derive some understanding from interaction of some of the basic variables. I give you an example from two other comparably complex system. One is the human body and the other is the free market economy. While we know that the chemical processes used by the body to digest food involves an incredible complex series of chemical reaction involving the food, chemicals and enzymes generated by our bodies and other organisms that live in our digestive system. While these processes are incredible complex and our understanding of them is by no means complete we can predict with a relatively high degree of confidence that overeating will lead to obesity and starvation will lead health problems and possibly death. Similarly, a free market economy is incredibly complex, but it nevertheless responds positively to low interest rates and negatively to high interest rates.
The problem with using basic physics like CO2 being a greenhouse gas and such it causes global warming is not the fact that it cannot be applied because the climate is too complex. The problem with CO2 caused global warming that the numbers do not support it. Doubling of CO2 may cause a 1 degree C temperature increase (no feedback case), or somewhere between
0.5 to less than 1degree C if the feedback is negative. Since these were not scary enough scenarios, positive feedback was postulated by the proponents of AGW, to predict catastrophic warming. The problem with positive feedback is twofold. It implies an unstable runaway climate, which is not supported by paleoclimatic data, secondly there is absolutely no empirical evidence that it exists at all. Excellent scientists like Dr.Lindzen and Dr Spencer did a lot of work to show that in fact the climate feedback is negative. While their scientific work is excellent, there is one problem with their work. They fight against an unproven hypothesis. Rather like an accused has to prove his innocence in a court of law rather than the accuser has to prove the guilt of the accused. It would more effective for the sceptics to demand rigorous proof from AGW supporters to demonstrate that the climate system operates with positive feedback.

Noaaprogrammer

Apparently Constructal Law also applies to the understanding of, and further applications of Constructal Law itself – as in the words of Adrian Bejan who discovered it: “Good ideas flow fast and far and keep on flowing. – [but] – Government policy toward supporting research is wrongheaded.”

Holt

If you told everyone on Capitol Hill the climate was governed by a Constructal Law they would greet you with a blank stare. If you yell, “CO2” they write you a check. Most take the check.

dcardno

A lot of hydrothermal activity goes on at these spreading centers…
Well, no wonder – I mean, they are several million degrees, right?

gtrip

Leif Svalgaard (20:40:16) :
Unfortunately, while the physics is simple, the climate is far from simple
That is because the Earth basically is cold without being too cold. Heat it up enough [say to 10,000 degrees] or cool it a couple hundred degrees, and simple physics takes over. In the regime of liquid water is where things get complicated.
And it will still work without any human input, and stop working without any input. Aren’t there crops to plant somewhere?

With all the complex non-linear feedbacks in the climate system I would expect that the default position to start from would be that it is chaotic. With the temperature reconstructions of the last million years you would also expect the climate community to start from the position that climate is chaotic.
Chaotic, most people know but not everyone, means that the system is not random it is deterministic, but very small changes in initial conditions cause totally different outcomes. Therefore, chaotic systems under certain circumstances are impossible to model.
The visible climate community has talked itself and its followers into the view that weather is chaotic, but because climate is the average of weather it isn’t chaotic.
This I don’t understand.
There is a lot of *certainty* over at realclimate.org on this subject. “Climate is not chaotic” is the mantra.
I’d like to understand this better. Willis has given a nice analogy which just demonstrates how easy it is to form a conclusion about a system based on limited understanding of the processes in that system.
Anyone know of less certain people than realclimate who look into the subject of climate as chaotic and any papers on it?
http://scienceofdoom.com
REPLY: “weather” is known to be chaotic. Climate is a long term collection of weather events, so it stands to reason that it is also chaotic, but on a longer, slower time scale. – Anthony

gtrip

jorgekafkazar (20:31:08) :
gtrip (20:00:23) : “Where do the proles fit in?”
north prole at the top, south prole at the bottom.
I thought those things cost money.

kadaka

Cut off an oxbow, reduce the resistance by shortening the path, get a more energetic water flow. Then come the surges, like with seasonal flooding. When the water goes to leave the banks of the river, it goes to flood-prone areas that have wetter softer ground to start with (due to decreased drainage). The energetic rushing water will cut a new channel, and what caused the river to be where it is (water flowing downhill, rivers being at the lowest points of the terrain) will lead the new channel to reconnect with the river.
Then at the start of the new branch there will be a drop in water speed, as there are now two paths for the water to go. With the drop in speed, sediments being carried along in the water will tend to be dropped off right there, and since the new branch goes off at an angle the sediments will land at the straight part rather than make the turn. Eventually the build-up will keep choking off the straight part, leading to more energetic water in the branch so it will cut a deeper channel for itself resulting in more water volume through it, until finally the straight part no longer exists.
Does that sound like a proper description of the process?

Jim Hansen is not going to be happy with you.

gtrip

crosspatch (20:56:39) : – Ever thought of going radical? In a good way, I mean.

Glenn

dcardno (21:14:33) :
A lot of hydrothermal activity goes on at these spreading centers…
“Well, no wonder – I mean, they are several million degrees, right?”
Those two thoughts put together by certain “right” persons would likely cause *their* heads to heat up.

Glenn

gtrip (21:27:39) :
jorgekafkazar (20:31:08) :
gtrip (20:00:23) : “Where do the proles fit in?”
“north prole at the top, south prole at the bottom.
I thought those things cost money.”
Depends on your proint of view.

kevoka

Maybe I have not read enough of the literature, but I continue to miss two other discussions about the other two key elements of the the simple physics:
The relationship between Temperature, Pressure and Volume. If the temperature of a gas goes up, either the volume will increase (unconstrained boundaries), and/or the pressure increases (constrained boundaries). The only boundary constraint on the gases in earth atmosphere is gravity.
The other limiting boundary is the Earths magnetic field. It does not constrain the gases, but it protects them from the solar wind. If they were to expand beyond the outer edges of the magnetic field, they would simply blow away.
I have yet to find any discussion on how the volume of the atmosphere would/should expand (perhaps beyond the magnetic field), due rising temperatures, or the atmospheric pressure would increase.
Last I looked we are still using 101,325 Pa as the standard pressure at sea level. If we are dumping Billions and Billions of tons of C02 into the air, should this not go up just a bit? Who should I call to get this adjusted? Would Al Gore know?

Noaaprogrammer

Considering the hydrothermal activity between the oceans and the Earth’s interior, one would think that over time, the molton core would eventually cool and solidify. However as the Earth accretes interstellar matter, it increases its mass (I forget how many tons a year it is), but with increased mass comes an increase in gravitational pressure on the interior – albeit a very very small percent increase.
How would the increase in Earth’s mass and consequent increase in core pressure and heat over 8 million years compare with the dissipation of the Earth’s interior heat over the same time? Is it enough to keep it more or less in balance until heat death takes over?

jt

People keep making the point that Climate is Chaotic as if that meant Climate is unpredictable on any scale. However, there are kinds of chaotic systems which operate around “attractors” so that they repeat their configurations in quasi-periodic fashion. I would be interested in comments from mathematically knowledgeable persons about whether such kinds of chaos have been found, or are likely to be found, in the systems which generate climate, and, if so, what kinds of quasi-periodicity have been found or are expected.

Brian P

wow

savethesharks

Brilliant essay, Willis. Thank you.
We have oceans that behave in chaos…and an atmosphere that does the same.
THe river analogy in the article….the meanders, oxbows *omega blocks*, and former channels….etc…..could very well be describing the Jet Stream.
And though one certainly can’t take sediment measurements for this type of river, it IS a river and it meanders nonetheless, its changing path in the means leaving clues in the climate records…
Chris
Norfolk, VA, USA

J.Hansford

Yep, good stuff Willis. I will use that bar of iron or copper in hot water, then substituted for a human body, when in causual conversation with AGW proponents… Makes a good rough analogy for people caught up on the CO2’s properties are thus, therefore heating must be a given.
It’ll make them think about complexity…. Which is the arguement of the skeptics and their support of Natural variation of the climate system.