Guest essay by Caleb Shaw
Back in my long lost youth I failed to pay proper attention in Science classes, because I employed my genius in a manner that that didn’t involve answering the 48 dreary problems of dull arithmetic the teacher always assigned, every cotton-picking night. Rather I figured a true sign of genius was to avoid the problems. Doing the homework might have been easier, but would have been dull. I chose the far more exciting path, which was to find a way around doing the arithmetic problems, in the face of fierce teachers. And, I must modestly admit, the ways I found around handing-in-my-homework were (and are) a bit of a legend, in the little school where I spent an ungodly amount of my first seventeen years.
When I at long last escaped that unholy incarceration, singing, “Free at last! Free at last! Great God Almighty! Free at last!” I found that one of the few things that school ever taught me was how to avoid doing homework. This actually is not a bad thing. Avoiding problems can keep you out of many quicksands that suck others down in life. In some cases it was downright moral, for morality is a practical way of avoiding the unforeseen problems that come through evil.
In other cases my genius verged upon being evil genius. For example, one problem I faced as I left school is best described as “paying the rent”. I displayed an amazing propensity, as a young man, to avoid ever “paying the rent”. At times this did involve sheer genius, but now I cringe recalling some of the gutters I descended to. Eventually I decided that, even though I might be escaping paying rent, in monetary terms, I was paying a steeper fee, in terms immeasurable with dollars. (For example, take a rent-free situation such as sleeping-in-your-car. What is the true cost of that, for a young man without responsibilities? Well, let us suppose he meets a beautiful young woman without responsibilities, and she says, “Take me home.”)
It does occur, to a young man, after a while, that responsibilities might not be an entirely bad thing.
Responsibility is a problem, and, considering school mostly taught me how to avoid problems, being responsible was Terra Incognito to me. Fortunately, being unknown-to-me made responsibility turn into a sort of exciting new wilderness, and I was able to see myself as a brave pioneer. I bored people, telling them about the (to me) exciting things I was discovering. I felt like Daniel Boone, but what I discovered was stuff which they had learned to do years before, (such as pay the rent).
This process continues to this day, as I venture into the wilderness of Science and Math. I am often enthused by things that (to me) seem fresh and new and downright miraculous, but which people who lacked my genius, and who did do the Science homework, learned of back when they were aged twelve.
Back when they were twelve they too enthused. Now I bore them. To me this seems a pity. Age has afflicted some with blindness, and they can no longer see the beauty they once saw.
Others have not lost their love of beauty, but learned things at age sixteen that makes the enthusiasm of a twelve-year-old seem naive. When I bump up against such people, I find their responses to my scientific naivete tends to be one of two opposite types. The first is what I call “the Dan Aykroyd response”:
One runs up against the Aykroyd-response a lot, when discussing Global Warming. I find it pitiful. After all, who is the true genius here? Them or I? Which of us was the loser? Who lost their childhood because they wasted uncountable hours doing dreary arithmetic problems, and who skipped school to explore the local quarry, like some suburban Huck Finn? It is obvious, (to me at least), that I am the bonafide genius here, and they are the loser geeks whose only hope of preserving a shredded ego is to bleat some obscure correct-answer.
Not that I let them bother me. Nope. Not me. Not a bit. Rather I ignore all the insults, and collect the correct answer. After all, that is what matters: Truth, and not our shredded egos.
I will admit I do prefer the anti-Aykroyd responses, and this may explain why I gravitate to Watts Up With That. Not that debates here don’t become heated at times, but I do find that, when a person like myself makes an appearance, and, full of a twelve-year-old’s wonder, speaks stuff which holds a scientific mistake, a person like myself usually is corrected in a relatively kindly manner.
For example, I once was filled with wonder about the tiny bubbles in ice-core samples, and wondered aloud in a post at WUWT, which I called “Tiny Bubbles.” As I wondered I completely ignored a simple thing I knew, but failed to remember: Gases diffuse. (In other words, even without a wind or a draft, you can smell a babe drenched in perfume clear across a large room, four seconds after she steps through the door.) Everyone knows that. But I was such a dunderhead I forgot about it, in my wondering about bubbles in ice cores. In retrospect it is the most appalling ignorance, but the comments pointing out the fact I was (and continue to be) a dunderhead were remarkably unlike Aykroyd’s, at WUWT.
Therefore guess where a genius-dunderhead like myself is prone to turn, when enthused with the wonder of a new idea? Will it be some place where he is likely to be Aykroyded as a “denier”, and even threatened with jail for merely wondering? Or will it be a place that respects wonder, and politely points out the things a thinker might fail-to-remember, and, as a general rule, is a site that honors the Truth?
Therefore I’m ba-a-a-ack. I bring my latest wonder, which involves my favorite topic, Arctic sea-ice, and also involves a low pressure area I dubbed “Ralph”, that has been growing and shrinking, wobbling and meandering, but more or less a persistent feature, and has displaced the “Polar High”, (which some textbooks state should squat triumphantly upon the Pole), for most of the past year.
My simple way of seeing imagines that having a “Ralph” at the Pole suggests air is rising, rather than sinking. It must be warmer, rather than colder. However the temperatures, at the level of the ice, were on the whole, colder, not warmer, all summer. Something does not compute. If temperatures were colder, why was the air not sinking?
This leads me back to a subject I would dearly like to avoid, because every time I bring it up I seem to suffer some sort of severe Aykroydization, even though it involves a simple thing which seems to have a simple and obvious answer: Does the rising air of a storm cool the air involved?
To me the answer seems obvious, because life forced me to become more practical and responsible and to take note of mundane reality, and one reality was that, in my neighborhood, when it gets wicked hot in July the air goes up and makes wicked big cumulus, and after some smashing and crashing it gets cooler. This caused me to raise my index finger and say, “Gwarsh, Mickey! It sure looks like that hot and humid air got raised up to the upper atmosphere and lost its heat to outer space.”
Apparently this proves I am a complete dope. Or so suggested a fellow who had done all his homework back in school, and now worked for NOAA. In a “comments section” he took me to task and slaughtered me with Math. I got drubbed left and right and up and down until I didn’t know my nose from my navel. By the time I was done with, all I knew is that I will be very, very careful before I ever respond to that fellow ever, ever again.
In a nutshell what he said was that NOAA had carefully measured the heat of the tops of thunderstorms, and that, rather than hot-spots, they were incredibly cold. They were -70 degrees or some such thing, and at that temperature they were not in the mood to radiate a heck of a lot of heat into outer space, you ignorant slut. (Or… well…maybe he didn’t use the word “slut.”)
Besides shutting me up, this left me with something to wonder about. It suggested no heat was lost to space by a thunderstorm, which would make a storm a closed system, with no heat gained and no heat lost. (Even if this is incorrect, let’s run with it.)
The idea of a closed system tickled some concept that had dimly imprinted my mind, during the years I wasted in science class. I recollect it was something or another that was going to be on the test. It had to do with, “Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.”
(Back then I was, of course, immediately suspicious. “Action and reaction” sure sounded like one of those traps clever grown-ups strew across childhood like landmines, involving doing what they say “or else.” However it did stick in my head, likely because, if I flunked that particular test, I might face the “or else.”)
I likely didn’t get the action and reaction stuff down correctly, but, since it did stick in my head, all these years later it sprang to life, and concocted one of my strokes of dunderheaded genius. IE: I had heard that, when air goes up and comes down warmer, it is called a Chinook, and therefore, if every action has its reaction, there must be an equal and opposite reaction to a Chinook, where air goes up and comes down cooler, and this cooler downdraft should have the equal-and-opposite name, “Nookchin”.
Most connect a Chinook to a mountain range, but Chinooks can happen far from the mountains, and then are called a “heat burst”. When the air is very dry, and no cooling evaporation of raindrops occurs, the down-burst of a decaying thunderstorm can get hotter and hotter due to the adiabatic lapse rate. Hot air wants to rise like a hot air balloon, but sometimes the downdraft is going too fast for the air to change its mind, and it slams into the ground. This shocks the socks off folk sitting out on the porch, enjoying the cool of the evening after a long, hot summer day. There are records of temperatures, after the sun has set, rising from 80.6 °F (27.0 °C) to 105.8 °F (41.0 °C) in a little more than an hour, at official stations.
This sort of downdraft is especially disliked by men fighting forests fires out west, far from official stations. Dry thunderstorms not only hit trees with lightning that has no rain, but then blast a fire with downbursted air that is not only hotter, but drier, then the already hot and dry air in place where the forest fire fighters work.
However, if the air is hotter there, and the system is closed, then the air should be colder somewhere else. Right?
That colder place is the Nookchin. I call it the dreaded Nookchin, because in my neighborhood it happens during the hottest days, when my tomatoes are ripening. The hot weather is to be desired, for it makes the tomatoes grow swiftly, but the Nookchin is dreaded, for the Nookchin can bring down hailstones, which are not desired unless your desire is to harvest ketchup.
But what has this to do with Arctic Sea Ice?
Well, “Ralph”, the storm that has been meandering about the Pole all summer, sometimes weak and sometimes a gale, is in some ways a glorified thunderstorm. It is a swirl of rising air, with downdrafts around the edges pumping high pressure. Some of the downdrafts are Chinooks and some are Nookchins. Some involve warming and some involve cooling.
The very words “warming” and “cooling” are liable to plunge one into extreme Aykroydism, if one is not careful. The Warming Crowd and the Cooling Crowd don’t pull any punches. Therefore let us be absurdly careful and pretend the system is closed, and the Pole is not where the Planet loses most of its heat.
It is when the system is closed that my wonder gets flabbergasted, due to the weakness of my math, and the fact the adiabatic lapse rate will not be good, and remain an established fact. It changes from what it is when the air is moist and going up, to what it is when air is dry and going down. In other words, water is screwing up the math, because water is the difference between “moist adiabatic lapse rate” and “dry adiabatic lapse rate”.
Water also messes everything up because it obeys the adiabatic lapse rate going up, as a vapor, but could care less about the adiabatic lapse rate when it falls as a hailstone. It got cooler and cooler as it went up and chilled to freezing, and released a heck of a lot of latent heat as it became water and then ice, but what happened to that heat, as the hailstone fell and didn’t warm, until it mashed my tomatoes?
That heat must be left behind at the top of the cloud, but the guy from NOAA assured me the tops of storms are too cold to lose heat.
Therefore my bumpkin logic wonders, “Gawrsh, Mickey. Some awfully warm Chinook heat-bursts must be clobbering the Pole.” Yet…I look and I look…and none are to be seen.
Hmm. Could it be heat is escaping in some other way?
This could involve something I paid little attention to, in school, called “radiant heat”. (I could have cared less about such a seemingly meaningless subject, as a young genius. It was only later, when I compared sleeping in my car in February to sleeping with my wife in February, that “radiant heat” became a subject that seemed worth attending to.)
It does occur to me that water again enters the picture, and water again must be included, when one considers radiant heat. I’ve noticed winter nights are coldest when skies are clear. When clouds are overhead it doesn’t get so cold. In terms of the Pole, this might even create a sort of lose-lose situation, in terms of retaining the heat, because a Nookchin has clouds while a Chinook tends to be cloud-free. A Nookchin has rising air, and also hail raining coldness down, with the heat retained aloft, and then, when that heat decides to downdraft, the descending air makes cloud-free skies, which might lose a lot (or all) the down-bursting Chinook’s heat, to the sunless arctic night.
This is a lose-lose situation, in terms of thawing arctic sea-ice, because the Nookchin updraft pelts the surface with cold hail, snow and sleet, and the milder Chinook downdraft chills the surface with radiational cooling. In conclusion, the series of storms over the Pole since last Christmas, which I dubbed “Ralph”, is not a thing we wish to see if we wish an ice-free Arctic Sea, maritime weather in Greenland, and Danish Vikings able to return to their abandoned farms and again plow the-soil-that-became-permafrost.
This is just me wondering. It is just an idea put out to be shredded by people who did their science homework, while my genius went elsewhere. Surely I need further instruction, to advance my wonder from the level of a twelve-year-old to that of someone aged sixteen. I propose my conclusion fully expecting it to be wrong. Most science is wrong, and is constantly improved upon, increment by increment.
What really stuns me is how much I don’t know. I was mowing on the rider-mower the other day, as the cumulus boomed up in the sky, and, as I looked up and contemplated the amazing latent heat being released, I realized I had no idea where the water was condensing and the latent heat was being released, most swiftly. Was it in the cloud’s middle, or at its very edge, on its skin? It seemed to me that in the middle of the cloud the humidity would be at 100%, and air could grow no more humid, but at the brilliantly white skin of the cloud the humidity was going from 40% to 100% in a flash, and the huge latent heat released at the skin might be what was pulling the entire cloud upwards. And, if the latent heat was released at the very skin of a cloud, would more be released to outer space?
I have no idea whether this idea makes a lick of sense, but it did tickle my genius, and made me feel very clever, and may explain why the rider-mower wound up in the rhubarb.
It is hard being a genius. My wife doesn’t understand me, when I am backing the rider-mower out of the rhubarb. My genius wants to invent some ingenious excuse, such as, “Many plants benefit from extreme pruning, and I am conducting an experiment to see if rhubarb might be one of those plants.”
My Algebra teacher might have been fooled by that sort of BS, but my wife isn’t. The Truth is best, and the Truth is that genius of any sort will wind you up in situations where you look like a complete dunderhead. If you love Truth, kiss your vanity goodbye.
I sure wish the so-called “experts” on arctic sea-ice would kiss their vanity good-bye, and confess the idea of a “Death Spiral” was dunderheaded, but perhaps they lack the necessary genius.
It is interesting to compare the supposed knowledge of our current “climate scientists”, concerning the power of water in the atmosphere, with the awareness of men who puzzled about clouds 119 years and 10 months ago, as we approach the 120th anniversary of a legendary cold-wave. Back then they had no computer models, and the most primitive equipment, but didn’t ignore water as a greenhouse gas.
In 1896 our experts were urging someone to fork out more money for weather balloons, because they were mystified about what happened in the upper atmosphere. However they were in some ways more knowledgeable about the lower atmosphere than Climate Scientists.
They were facing a pattern, that long-ago November, much like ours this September, but everything stalled, and then the cold stagnated to “unprecedented” levels in the west, as the heat grew in the east.
Rather than any blather about Global Warming, they asked the sort of stuff I do: About why things that are the same, in some ways, behave differently, in others:
“It remains to inquire why the stagnant high areas in the Northwest gave such low temperatures, while apparently, the same condition tended to abnormal heat in the Southeast.”
But then they had to make their pitch for funding, and more weather balloons:
“The solution of this problem is to be sought in the upper atmosphere.”
They then returned to why one high pressure should lead to cold while another led to warmth:
The clear, dry air of the Northwest permitted intense heat radiation to the sky, and day after day this was maintained without the interference of moist lows from the Pacific. In other words, we have here an excellent example of the intense radiation-cold experienced in Siberia in the stagnant high pressures of that region, sometimes reaching 31.70 inches. On the other hand the moister air of the Southeast permitted the heat of the low latitude sun to penetrate to the earth, and after the heat reached the earth, the moisture prevented its radiation into space.
The discussion went further, wondering why some cold high pressures were stagnant, while others raced across the nation “at 40 mph”, which was very fast, in 1898.
They would be amazed, in that horse-drawn time, by how fast we drive around town now. But they would also be amazed by how very slow the thinking of certain climate scientists is. Our climate scientists don’t attempt to match old-fashioned understanding of how water influences temperatures, even though in 1898 they didn’t have weather balloons, let alone satellites.
Concerning water, we should know better. Someone, somewhere, should be ashamed.