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Monday  June 8, 2009

Iceland Laki eruption

Jerry P:

I saw this on Wikipedia and found it interesting relative to climate in the late 1700s. Following the links gives up some comments by Franklin on the subject.


Benjamin Franklin <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benjamin_Franklin>  recorded his observations in a 1784 lecture:

During several of the summer months of the year 1783, when the effect of the sun's rays to heat the earth in these northern regions should have been greater, there existed a constant fog over all Europe, and a great part of North America. This fog was of a permanent nature; it was dry, and the rays of the sun seemed to have little effect towards dissipating it, as they easily do a moist fog, arising from water. They were indeed rendered so faint in passing through it, that when collected in the focus of a burning glass they would scarce kindle brown paper. Of course, their summer effect in heating the Earth was exceedingly diminished. Hence the surface was early frozen. Hence the first snows remained on it unmelted, and received continual additions. Hence the air was more chilled, and the winds more severely cold. Hence perhaps the winter of 1783-4 was more severe than any that had happened for many years. <snip>


Franklin's observations, taken from shipboard as he traveled to England, led him to a number of speculations about weather and climate. He was particularly interested in the clouds he saw due to volcanism in Iceland. The entire piece is worth reading. Of course modern models are far more sophisticated -- which is to say complex -- but for the most part they do not seem to be greatly more accurate.

Incidentally, Franklin believed in the theory of Ice Ages -- that enormous glaciers had covered large areas in the Northern Hemisphere, and postulated that volcanism might be the explanation for the coming and going of the ice: that if the air were filled with fog and dust then sunlight could not get through, etc. I note that there is nothing about that in Wikipedia on the history of ice age theory, and I haven't time to look up my original (long pre-web) sources, but I wrote about this some years ago in my Galaxy column. It's remarkable just how prescient Franklin was. Ice Age Theory wasn't part of the consensus of geologists for nearly a hundred years after Franklin.


Climate model FAQ



 I tripped over this, and I figure I'll send a pointer to those who might be interested.

........Karl Lembke

It is a good defense of climate modeling, but it is also revealing. Note that climate modelers do not put the ability to predict actual climate high on their list of criteria for the effectiveness of their models. They are concerned that they predict about what other models predict; this shows they are on the right track, so to speak. One may make of that what one will: perhaps I am a naive old operations research guy rather than a modeler, but the models we did in Operations Research (OR) were intended to be useful and the ability to predict the chosen  criteria was by far the most important validation of the model. Indeed, we were not so interested in simulating reality as in making up models that worked and were useful, and the simpler the model the better in the sense that it is easier to solve a simpler model. F = ma is a very simple model, and seems to work through an enormous realm of physics. Adding Einstein tensors makes it even more accurate, but they are usually not required to get a good prediction of where the planets will be, or navigating an airplane.

The advent of computers has made it possible to solve models that we could never have solved when I was doing OR modeling and all we had was slide rules and log tables. That allows far more complex models, but I do not think that an unmixed blessing.

To repeat my view: the proposed responses to human activity caused climate change are enormously expensive; I would think it obvious that it is vital that we have models that predict actual climate effects, so that we can decide on cost/benefit ratios. Clearly some climate changes would be for the better. The longer growing seasons milder climates at higher latitudes -- grapes in Yorkshire and southern Scotland -- were good for the inhabitants and were not so far as we know bad for the rest of the world. More CO2, up to a point, is good for plant growth. Clearly if those are going to lead to disasters we want to know that; but that requires models that predict reality, not just what other models predict.


Subject: Whole Language

Dr Pournelle, the discussion about education reminded me of a horrible experience. Back when I was in the second grade, before the Carter years, I was in an English class. I was supposed to be reading a series of vocabulary words, with no context. Now as you know, I'm a bookworm. I read voraciously, after the last time I moved my brother, tired of boxes of books, informed me I was going to get rid of some before we moved me again. I have as many bookshelves as my apartment will hold, and they don't hold all of my books. I like reading, in other words. But I was having trouble at that point. The teacher, to use the term advisedly, stood behind me and kept telling me to look at the shape of the word. You'd think after the first few minute she'd realize that wasn't doing anything worth doing, but she persisted, because that was the only technique she could think of to help. To this day I remember the feelings of helpless frustration that she wasn't doing anything to assist me, just to make me even more upset. I learned to read in spite of school, rather than because of it.

I've taken a few education classes, when I thought I would try to become a teacher after I retire. I quickly realized they were teaching from theory, and had no idea how people really act or learn. I've been an infantry officer, whose main purpose was to get 19 year old boys to do things that might get them killed. I submit it takes a reasonable amount of knowledge about people to do this. I didn't recognize how they thought to get 17 year old boys to learn. Things I was told to never, ever do in the Army because it ruins discipline and prevents learning are required by law in a school environment. I was taught, in the education classes, about the bewildering variety of laws, federal, state and local, regulations, policies, and court orders which must all be obeyed. A given school will be told they can only have a specific percentage of students suspended at once, based on federal law. That may be academic, there could well be a court order with a lower number. Figuring out what is allowable shouldn't be that complex. One of the classes was on integrating special ed students, gifted and otherwise, into mainstream classes. I figured that would be a good class to take. So, the teacher didn't teach that. She taught the class for dedicated special ed teachers, ignoring the presence of other students. She also skipped the chapter on gifted students, worrying only about those with special needs. She admitted there might be gifted students only by mentioning Twice Exceptional students, who were gifted but who had special needs as well. That made it ok to admit they might need something out of the ordinary.

Every generation of my family since about 1650 has had a doctor, a teacher and a professional soldier. I'm going to have to stick with just the last of those. Anything I could teach high school students will have to be done by others.


The solution to the education problem is subsidiarity and transparency: return control of hiring and firing and school policy and "credentials" to the local school boards, and also return school financing to them. If you want to help poor school districts with some subsidies you can do that, but make the people who run the schools responsible to the people who pay the taxes that support the schools. And keep those districts reasonably small. At that point there will be some outstanding districts that do a lot more with a lot less and others will study them.

As a control group, give the education establishment control of the DC school system, but no authority over any other schools. See what happens...


Re: Freeman Dyson Interview


The Dyson interview is interesting, but the best part I took from it was that the climate models we have today are for a dead planet, not a living one. I discussed it in more detail in my blog here:


BTW, I just realized that I have been reading your stuff for nearly 38 years. I think I may still have the December 1971 issue of Analog with the "Ecology Now" and Part One of "A Spaceship for the King" stories.

Joel Upchurch


Harry Erwin's Letter from England

It's the end of the semester, and I'm getting my marking done...

 An election on Thursday left Gordon Brown even more wounded. <http://tinyurl.com/ojdvw5  > <http://tinyurl.com/ly7esl> There's a tradition in the UK of weak Prime Ministers playing musical chairs with the Government to show who's boss, and Brown reshuffled his cabinet on Friday. <http://tinyurl.com/qhamvz  > <http://tinyurl.com/nhkmy9> Since it takes at least six months for a minister to find the controls after getting a new portfolio, that means weak management of those departments for at least that long. A number of ministers beat him by resigning first, with some expressing public disgust with his leadership. <http://tinyurl.com/ojwqnx> I predict all that means is that Brown will hold onto the controls tightly until Labour loses the election next year. <http://tinyurl.com/qv52uu  > Reminds me of what the leadership of the Soviet Union did during its last days. <http://tinyurl.com/r6lem2>

 The Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (one of Brown's

innovations) was scrapped by this reshuffle and merged into the Department of Business, Innovation, and Skills, which is now responsible for building "Britain's capabilities to compete in the global economy". I suppose that means British colleges and universities will be expected to eliminate such programmes as neuroscience, theology, history, medicine, clinical psychology, literature, and physics, which have little or nothing to do with being economically competitive. <http://tinyurl.com/mtn43b> <http://tinyurl.com/ozcfxn  > <http://tinyurl.com/r9tgxb> <http://tinyurl.com/n2cqtx> Of course, Labour was already reducing funding and establishing mandatory caps on the number of students entering university.

 Airbus 330 crash--this is a fly-by-wire aircraft that is totally reliant on its computers to stay in the air. It has also had problems with icing. <http://tinyurl.com/o34yuu> <http://tinyurl.com/r99opu>

 Harry Erwin


If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it? (Albert Einstein) Harry Erwin PhD


View Monday June 1st

Dr. J,

I'm sure you have heard this argument already, race is not "red-headed Bohemian converts to Adventism," that is something else entirely.

Race as I learned was; Cacausoid, Negroid, or Mongoloid. I hear that there have been two new racial designations added; Australoid and Carthagoid. Not sure how to break down your red-headed step-child, I imagine your Bohemian Protestant is some 'mix' of Carthagoid, Mongoloid, and Cacausoid... I may be wrong...

Just food for thought.


I am not sure of your point. Mine was that I would allow private firms to discriminate on any basis they liked, race, religion, language, national origin, or just plain whim, but I would insist that publicly financed institutions be color blind. The discussion of what is race is highly complex. At one time it was usual to speak of the German race, the Irish race, etc. There are those who insist that there are no races, which is contrary to most people's beliefs and observations. In general, one can sort people by DNA into races and that sorting will correlate very highly with what people call themselves; but it won't be perfect. And we have a long time friend who everyone would insist was black who insisted that her son be listed in the school survey as white, although he was visibly the same color as his parents. Since he was a good student and the school was desperately seeking proof of its integration, the school's authorities were disconcerted and refused to allow his mother to call him white.

I've always thought the law ought to be color blind. I have never thought that individuals can or must be forced to be. But we are trying to achieve an equality that the data do not seem to support.

The end of insistence on equality is given by Kurt Vonnegut in his brilliant story Harrison Bergeron.


Subject: If warming is real and dangerous...

Hi, Doc.

If it's such an emergency, surely it's worth the effort of collecting incontrovertible proof. All they need do is soft-land an instrument package on Luna, point a thermocouple at Earth, and monitor the telemetry whenever it's in shadow. Absolute proof of overall warming-- comparing planetary temperature on a given day-- will be had within two years.

This is something even NASA could do.

I wonder why Hansen hasn't suggested it? Certainly he MUST really believe that the announcements that are making him rich and famous are correct, so he'd support the project with all his heart.

Matthew Joseph Harrington

e pur si muove

I am not competent to determine whether a temperature taken from the Moon would be the correct measure of the Earth's temperature, but it would be useful.

When I was in human factors, we used "globe temperature" of the cockpit environment. This is taken by putting a thermocouple in a copper 4 inch copper globe. The globe is painted black. It thus measures both the radiant and the conductive temperatures (so that as the chamber or cockpit goes to altitude and the air gets thinner, radiant environment becomes dominant). We used that as the standard temperature for our work.

Obviously one can't use that for Earth. I have never been told just what measures are taken to determine the temperature of the Earth. Apparently they must change from time to time, since some of the long-standing measurements such as the Santa Monica Airport temperature have over time been overwhelmed by changes in their surroundings (in Santa Monica from bean fields to condos).

But I agree: we need a fixed and open measure of the Earth's temperature. No one has convinced me that we have reliable measures now, which is why I insist on recalling historical events such as dragging cannon across the frozen Hudson in 1776 as an instance of considerably lower temperature in the past, and the existence of dairy farms in Greenland in Viking times as an instance of considerably higher temperatures in the past. Hans Brinker or The Silver Skates indicates that the brackish canals of Holland used to freeze over harder and for longer periods than they do now. They once grew grapes in Yorkshire, but it's too cold there now. And so forth.



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Tuesday,  June 9, 2009


There is also a fine book review by Freeman <http://www.nybooks.com/articles/21494>  on the subject of Climate Change; that is, a review of an economics study/modelling run by Nordhaus. It projects 100 yrs (200 was about the same, so not used) of costs and benefits of the various mitigation schemes, taking AGW as given.

Gore's and Stern's draconian measures fare worst; Kyoto and 'doing nothing' are about net neutral, cap-and-trade is moderately negative; a moderate carbon tax is moderately positive. The only strongly positive option is a hypothetical "low-cost fallback" alternative energy source. (As I've mentioned, my personal candidate for that is Focus Fusion <http://focusfusion.org>  , now funded and moving into proof-of-concept experiments as of this month.)

Elsewhere, Dyson makes the point that if you MUST manipulate CO2 levels, modification of horticultural and agricultural and silvicultural practices gains far more results, faster and cheaper than any possible "industrial" scale or style modifications of the economy.

Brian H.

The review is certainly worth reading. It takes close reading to see something: the economic model assumes that the effects predicted by modelers actually will happen, then does a cost/benefit analysis.

It does not, I think, take into account the one CO2 effect that may well be worrisome. See next letter.


A few months back I attended a lecture from a scientist who was fairly well versed in the subject of climate change (the actual title of the lecture was "Physics for future presidents") and his talk had a lot of material in it that I have not heard in the general media.

(I should note for the record that I believe what he was saying.)

One of the things that he showed was a slide detailing the variables that go into the current "consensus" climate model, and in particular the magnitude of the error bars. Some of the variables, like the amount of solar energy falling on the planet, we can measure with a great deal of accuracy.

However, the error bars for the effect of cloud cover on global temperature are large - large enough that if you plug them into the model, it can fluctuate +/- 10 degrees either way. So on the one hand, there is plenty of room for climate skeptics - because there is no way to absolutely prove that the global temperature is increasing, as we simply don't understand the effects of cloud cover well enough to be able to make an accurate prediction.

On the other hand, when you plug all of the variables and their error bars into the model and attempt to make a prediction, what you get is an probability curve whose *center* is quite a bit warmer than what we have today. So while there is room for skepticism, there is also ample justification for believing that there is a serious problem.

If you believe this model, then both Freeman Dyson and Al Gore are equally inaccurate, because they are implying a certainty that is unjustified by the model. The problem is that error bars are a nuance that doesn't play well with the media, all they can do is present various "experts" who tell them either yes or no. It's easy to oversimplify.

There is another issue to be considered, which is that global warming is a relatively minor problem compared to the *real* problem of carbon emissions, which is ocean acidification. Half of the anthropogenic carbon being pumped into the atmosphere is absorbed by the ocean. We can mitigate the effects of a warmer planet through various technological means, but if the ocean ecosystem crashes that's it.

(Greg Bear's idea of dumping iron dust into the ocean won't work, by the way - they tried it and it creates toxic algae blooms.)

One other interesting point from the lecture: We aren't running out of oil. Not at all. What we are running out of is the very cheapest oil.

There are about 10 different kinds of minerals and geological deposits from which we can extract petroleum. Canada, for example, has far larger petroleum-producing deposits than the entire middle east, but in a form that is simply too expensive to be worth digging for. If, however, the price of oil rises to, say, $5 a gallon and stays there for a while, then it starts to become a financially attractive prospect to go get it.

At somewhere between $10 and $20 a gallon, it starts to become economical to suck CO2 directly out of the atmosphere and use it to create synthetic liquid fuels. Most of the cost involved is energy. At which point, burning hydrocarbons becomes a closed loop, where every gallon we burn is a gallon we reclaim later.

Unfortunately, one problem we have is the fact that our society cannot react quickly to changes in the price of gasoline, and that we are virtually compelled to buy it because our economy depends on it. This creates a long lag time between demand and supply, which can cause wild fluctuations in price. Expect a roller-coaster ride for the next few decades...

-- Talin

Several points need making here. First, the notion of adding nutrients to the ocean to stimulate plankton blooms didn't originate with Greg Bear -- I expect he got it from me, and I was first told of the notion by Russell Seitz twenty years ag and you can find mentions of it here -- but that's not what's important. What is important is that it has only barely been tried. A great deal of experimentation needs to be done with biological ways to reduce ocean acidity. We also ought to know a lot more than we do about the effects. We can begin by studying what happened in the past with higher CO2 atmospheric levels. I agree that "crashing the ocean ecosystem" would be a major disaster, but perhaps it is not yet time to panic; surely we can at least look at relevant technologies to stave that off. I am told that CO2 levels are higher than they have been for 800,000 years (according to Antarctic ice samples); that's a long time, but I will note that we survived it. That's not mean to be a cavalier dismissal, but I would like to know just what did happen the last time CO2 levels went high. What caused it (surely not industry) and what happened to the various flora and fauna?

In other words, put some real funding into finding things out, and do it quickly while we can afford it, because once we start de-industrializing we may not be able to afford the new science and we almost certainly won't be able to afford the new technologies to remedy the situation.

Now while I do not doubt that Gore and many of his adherents know little about error bars, one cannot say that of Freeman Dyson.

And once more I point out: China and India are not going to close down their coal fired plants.

If we must reduce CO2 levels -- and that may well be the case -- then the only way we are going to do that is with some new technologies, probably biological. Spending money on finding new ways reduce atmospheric CO2 and/or reduce ocean acidity is more likely to have a real effect than blowing up the western economies with expensive green technologies.

We can survive, and with style. We won't do it by going back to the gloom and doom days of small is beautiful and "Why we have to get poor quick!" (Headline of an article in the World Future Society journal).

As to a roller coaster ride, we can hope that at some point it goes back up. I assure you that we won't get there with windmills. I wish we could.


Climate Models

Reading the realclimate link for FAQ on Climate Models was a little bewildering. It gave very little information on the basic question: So how well do they work? See his section on Tuning. We all know that you can fit a curve to any set of data points there is, as long as you’re allowed to tune enough variables.

But Richard Feynman’s rule applies: The value of a theory is that, in addition to fitting the data you already have, it successfully predicts _at least one thing you didn’t know before_.

I wouldn’t have been surprised if, after all that effort, the models could at least do a reasonable job for the last few years. If I understand rightly, they don’t.

Now Hansen claimed (in response to the Dyson interview?) that the main thrust of the theory is based on observation, not on models. I’m sure he has a lot more experience than I, but that makes no sense at all. He’d better have a model on some level or he dasn’t make any predictions. Is he claiming that “CO2 up --> temperature up” is so well-established that nothing else makes much difference?

I saw that Dyson said in his interview that a lot of people around him feel the same way he does, but none of them is a climate specialist. I wonder if he means that a lot of _physicists_ around him are not sure that these climate specialists know what they’re doing.

Michoel Reach

I knew Feynman. He died before the global warming debates became serious, and I don't recall ever discussing the subject with him. We could use his cool headed analytical ability.


> ... I have never been told just what
> measures are taken to determine the temperature of the Earth.

I came across this one last year. They have a satellite which looks down on the earth and graphs temperature. Actually, they have two. When the readings started to diverge, guess which data set they went with? :->

Look for the treatment of data for satellites NOAA-15 and NOAA-16 in the time around the last few months of 2006.

Andy Valencia

My question is, how well does the new measurement -- satellite observation -- correlate with the old method which was an average of ground, sea, and air temperatures which we use to establish global temperature before we had satellites? I presume we do continue with the old methods also?

Is it the case that the satellite temperature is now the official temperature of the Earth?



Will 2009 be the Year Without a Summer? !!!!!!!!!!

nods: Drudge



So far, 2009 has been a deadly year for lightning strikes. <snip> According to Long Range Expert Joe Bastardi, areas from the northern Plains into the Northeast will have a "year without a summer." The jet stream, which is suppressed abnormally south this spring, is also suppressing the number of thunderstorms that can form. The ones that do form in areas of the Ohio Valley and West are forming in places with very cold temperatures, which can lead to more electrified thunderstorms than normal this year. <snip>

We watch and wait. My "model: says temperatures have been rising for 200 years, so they'll keep on rising, but at some point they'll fall again and we'll have another ice age or at least a little ice age. Alas, I don't know when.


Jerry, you wrote: " Indeed, we were not so interested in simulating reality as in making up models that worked and were useful, and the simpler the model the better in the sense that it is easier to solve a simpler model."

It may tickle you to know that, in modern terms, this is what Billy Ockham actually intended by his famous razor*. He never said that the simpler explanation was more likely true; he said multiplying entities [terms in the model] was more likely to confuse us. The modern phrase "KISS: Keep It Sweet and Simple" sums it up.

(*) The razor was used to scrape parchment clean -- (an "eraser") -- and he was "scraping off" unnecessary terms. The Principle of Parsimony did not actually originate with him. Aquinas mentions it a century earlier.



Earth's temperature

Hello Jerry,

In Monday's 'Mail' you said the following: "I have never been told just what measures are taken to determine the temperature of the Earth."

Actually, that is only a small part of what we have not been told about Global Warming and Climate Change.

We HAVE been told that the earth is warming, that the warming is almost certainly caused by human activity of various sorts, but primarily due to our emission of CO2, and that this warming represents an existential threat to 'the planet'. We have also been told that we must IMMEDIATELY take whatever measures necessary (including prosecuting people who question any of the above for 'crimes against humanity') to reduce or cease our production of CO2 and/or remove it from the atmosphere and sequester it. Permanently.

We have NOT been told:

The ideal temperature of the earth.
Who determined it.
What factors went into making the decision.
What percentage of CO2 in the atmosphere would establish the ideal temperature.
How plant life will react when atmospheric CO2 is reduced below current levels (Presumably necessary, otherwise why the ongoing efforts to remove CO2 from the atmosphere?).
That there is essentially NO actual, empirical data to support any of the above.
A whole host of other information that one would think critical in making such momentous decisions.

In fact, when you get right down to it all we HAVE been told is:

The earth is warming.
It is our fault.
Every side effect of warming is bad.
We have to establish governmental control over EVERY ASPECT of human activity to avoid disaster.
It has to be done IMMEDIATELY.
Further discussion is not warranted and will not be tolerated.

Hmmm.... Now that I mention it, the last three items represent the liberal solution to ALL societal problems. Purely coincidence, I'm sure.

Bob Ludwick

Well, I would not put it that way. It is a matter of concern. But the very importance of the discussion means that it should be moved from partisan gotchas to the realm of serious scientific study -- and that means due attention to counter theories and particularly due attention to evidence.

I understand the temptation to put it into the partisan debate category and be done with it; heaven knows that many of the Global Warming Disaster people act that way, and ruthlessly suppress opposition; and many of them are doing very well from doing that.

But someone has to stand up for rational debate. I think it's my turn.



This has been one of "those" nights, but I hope this nugget produced instead of sleep is worthwhile:

Woosley's trivial corollary to Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy: One significant advantage of capitalism is that free enterprise systems ruthlessly eliminate structure-dominated organizations through the competitive process of creative destruction, maximizing both individual and societal productivity. Naturally, structure-dominated organizations thus seek non-capitalistic preferences to sustain themselves against such competition.

Addendum: All other things being equal, ruthlessness dominates creative destruction.


Not trivial. Note that wars change things a lot too. The military is not always a bureaucracy.

Of course a definition of bureaucracy is that there is generally no objective measure of output, and if there is, the efficiency of output does not affect the careers of the bureaucrats. RAND Corporation did a good series of papers on bureaucracy in the 1960's.



This photo makes me think maybe someone lifted something from The Burning City, without attribution: http://farm4.static.flickr.com/

Best wishes,

Stephen M. St. Onge





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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Global Warming

I came across the following article which appears to related to global warming. I believe that we should spend some government money researching this.



Uh -- I see. I wonder what kind of mail I will get for posting this?



Hi Jerry,

"And once more I point out: China and India are not going to close down their coal fired plants."

You are, of course, absolutely right - Coal, for countries like these, is such a cheap solution that it will remain the most attractive economic option for some time to come.

That's why the efforts of companies to produce efficient, low-cost carbon capture systems are important. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries is working on a trial of some interesting new carbon capture technology with Southern Company in the US - http://www.theengineer.co.uk/
Articles/311497/Carbon+recovery.htm.  It's worth digging deeper - while carbon sequestration is at present only in the "promising" phase, it could prove to a valuable tool.

Best wishes, Ian.


Bear or Benford?

A letter from "Talin" states that "Greg Bear's idea of dumping iron dust into the ocean won't work, by the way - they tried it and it creates toxic algae blooms."

I believe it was Gregory Benford who mentioned this. At least, I've got an clipping of newspaper article by Benford ,"We Can Block Warming Inexpensively", from Dec. 7 1997 that mentions it, but also adds "As with all experimental approaches, of course, more testing is required before widespread implementation."

Mark Mohrfield

I don't recall when Russell Seitz first pointed out this technology, but I am fairly certain it was in that time period. Indeed Greg may have been there at the discussion.

In any event it needs further research, as do all biological means of CO2 abatement.


Ocean Fertilizer


Interesting comments about the idea of fertilizing the oceans not being a viable aproach to sequester carbon-dioxide and reduce the acidification of the oceans. I recall an op-ed piece published in my local paper years ago by a Professor Zimmerman of Oberlin college addressing this idea. Interestingly, he argued that even if fertilizing the oceans works to sequester carbon, it is a bad idea because the real problem isn't global warming but too much energy use! I've never forgoten this editorial because I believe it exposed the the true motivation of Global Warming Theology.

As you pointed out, the fertilizer idea has been tried only once and the resulting toxic algae bloom is no reason to not experiment further. A toxic algae bloom in the vast tropical dead zone of the Pacific ocean might be relatively harmless and thus be a reasonably acceptable cost if it will effectively sequester carbon. I suspect that an experiment that fertilizes the oceans with a larger spectrum of nutrients besides only iron might produce different results. Any knuckle dragging farmer such as myself can tell you that seeding the fertilized area with a more desirable plankton species as the fertilizer is applied can suppress the growth of weeds (toxic algae bloom) and that herbicides can also be used to control the algae. In the end, I suspect that we will find that the most effective approach is to adopt your idea of building Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion systems which pull nutrient rich cold water from the ocean depths to cool the condenser side of the turbines. While using OTEC to stimulate a normal, ocean ecosystem might be the best approach, we might want to seed the area around the systems with biodiesel producing algae too. This would certainly provide a storage medium which would make it easier to deliver energy to market until we can deploy reflector areas in space to relay beamed microwaves. This of course would be the first step towards Solar Power Satellites which would be the ultimate answer.

Finally, that was an interesting link to the fusion energy advocacy group. I strongly support fusion energy research but I'm unwilling to put all of my eggs in that basket. Because a plasma confined in a magnetic field emits radiation at a rate that is proportional to the field strength and the plasma density squared, magnetic confinement offers far less promise then its advocates claim. The only magnetic confinement schemes that I think are viable are thoughts advocated by the late Professor Bussard who was working on devices that confined most of the plasma in a volume of low magnetic field strength. Unfortunately; the Tokomak concept got the lion's share of the funding because most plasma physicist were far more interested in studying the behavior of plasmas in an intense magnetic field then they were in developing a viable energy system.

Finally, congratulations on your second granddaughter. Spending time with her should take priority over managing your blog.


Jim Crawford

For the past fifty years a breakthrough in fusion energy was coming within a decade. I used to be a great enthusiast for fusion energy, but I am now a skeptic; if it were easy we'd have done it. I think that in physics we have done most of the easy things. That is not true in biology. Bob Bussard was friend for decades and I much admired him. I did not invest in his projects, but then I didn't have a lot to invest to begin with.


Wine in Yorkshire


I remembered reading this a while back, following your comment about producing wine in yorkshire.

-- Ben Baylis

Perhaps I will have to leave that one off my list of historical examples of warmer times; but then there are records of wine grapes in Scotland, too, from warmer times...


'The plan is to enact policies that are so anticompetitive that every firm needs a bailout.'

As Lenin put it, 'The worse, the better.'


--- Roland Dobbins


200 km Inflatable Tower to the Edge of Space



It will be a while before that comes to pass, I think.










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This week:


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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Morale: The Secret Weapon,


Here is a comprehensive review of what our servicemen are doing on and with the internet:


What is heartening are things like official Internet cafes, where the DOD now provides standardized units so servicemen can maintain contact with home. It also looks at online communities where servicemen share professional information.

Overall, a nice summary.



Global temperature measurement

You alluded recently to some of the problems with the temperature measurement used in global warming. As a person responsible for collecting some of those temperatures I have some comments. I was in the Navy and one of my jobs on ship as "Messenger of the Watch" was to collect sea temperature readings every hour. For various reasons, I would not consider them to be accurate to any closer than +/- about 2 deg F. Maybe not even that.

More seriously, I have long been interested in how the temperatures used to calculate global warming are collected, averaged and computed. There does not seem to be much info out there on methodologies. So, some concerns in no particular order:

1) First remember what we are trying to measure. We are trying to tease out about a 1/2 degree average rise, over more than 120 years, from the entire planet. There are few if any places on the globe where the typical daily temperature fluctuation is less than 10 degrees and most places more than that. Outside the tropics, the anual fluction is at least 50 degrees in most areas and 100 degrees is common. And from all that noise we can tease out a 1/2 degree rise? I am very dubious.

2) Average temperature for a single location over the course of a day can be measured in 1 of 3 ways. First, the high and low temperatures for the previous 24 hours can be noted at noon each day, divided by 2 and you will get a fair approximation of the average temp. Probably close enough for most things and this was the way averages were collected and calculated up to 20-30 years ago in most places. A better way would be to take hourly readings and then divide by 24. This will give a similar but not identical result. If you get 24hrs worth of readings in summer and winter, you will find that the 24 reading average gives a slightly lower reading in winter and higher in summer than the min/max average. More precise still would be to continuously monitor the temperature and integrate it into an average. Not hard to do today. Very costly and difficult to do as recently as 25-30 years ago.

Different stations have measured in different ways over the past 100 years. I do not see any way that the different methodologies can be correlated. They will be close, but probably not close enough

3) The conditions at stations have changed. You mentioned Santa Monica going from rural to urban. There is no good way to compensate for this in the calculations

4) The locations of the stations has changed over the years. Even very small movements can make big differences. My neighbor's house, 100 feet away horizontally and 50 feet vertically, is probably 5 degrees hotter than mine. It is noticeably hotter, the 5 deg is a guess.

5) Are the measuring instruments calibrated to a single world standard? If not, it is impossible to compare readings in Tampa to readings in Tomsk. From what I have been able to find out, some were, some weren't. It has gotten much better in the past 25 years or so but the further back you go in time, the more dubious the measurements become.

6) Are they calibrated at all? The thermometers on my ship were calibrated when the ship went in the yard. Say every 3-5 years. That is hardly frequently enough

7) How closely can the thermometers be read? This goes away now with digital thermometers but they are fairly new. Could they be read within 1/2 degree? Most were probably in 1 degree or even 2 degree increments.

8) How accurately are they read? Until relatively recently, most people doing the reading probably did not pay that much attention to this. It just was not a problem. If they were within a degree on any reading, that was probably close enough. If not careful, because of parallax, a short person will get a different reading than a tall person unless they are both very careful.

I could go on but those are some of my concerns with how temperatures have been historically measured. How the thousands of data points from around the world are mooshed together to give a single number that purports to be the world's average temperature is another area of concern.

But that is a note for another day.

Best, John R Henry CPP
 "All progress is made by a lazy person looking for an easier way." - Lazarus Long


How to measure global warming 

Dr. Pournelle,

The theory is pretty simple.

1. Measure all radiation incident on the earth.

2. Measure all radiation exiting the earth.

3. Compute the difference.

The details are left to the reader (I always wanted to say that!). Seriously, though, it appears to be an untapped bonanza for NASA. The public seems to believe that global warming is the greatest existential threat we face. The ability to accurately measure the actual heating or cooling taking place should be a top priority. This is an opportunity for NASA to return to a level of relevance that it has not had since the race to the moon. Surely someone in the agency has thought of this. Why has no major initiative been put forth?

Steve Chu

Because no one wants the actual data?


Carbon Sequestration

Dr Pournelle:

I note that none of the approaches to carbon sequestration by scrubbing CO2 out of steam plant flue gas mention the penalty in thermal efficiency, fuel to wire. Of course the ratepayer and taxpayer will bear the penalty in capital and operating costs.

I noted the claim that 10,000 square miles of solar collectors in desert terrain (Photovoltaic or thermal, I did not garner from the puff piece.) would power the US was shortly followed by Senatoress Feinstein's move to bar a large portion of the Mojave desert from solar power development. The wealthy and influential are in the NIMBY camp, as recalled by Senator Kennedy's earlier opposition to a wind power installation that would spoil the view from Hyannis.

Jim Watson


200 km space elevator 


I assume that the 200 km space elevator is intended as a stunt. Yes, it could move limited quantities of mass past the atmosphere and perhaps support some tourism -- but anything to be used in space would still have to be accelerated to orbital velocity. (In round numbers, the space elevator providing transit to 200 km would offset the 2 MJ/kg potential energy and compensate for losses to drag both by reducing atmosphere transit and by reducing the velocity of atmospheric encounter, but it would still be necessary to provide the approximately 25 MJ/kg of orbital kinetic energy, and the rocket equation would presumably still apply to the engines necessary to do this, so the mass moved up the "short beanstalk" would be roughly 10 - 20x the desired payload to orbit. Of course, fall time is roughly 200 seconds from that altitude, so the engine would have to be VERY hot to take advantage...

The reason for the strength requirement of the beanstalk is that it goes out past geostationary orbit (to provide a countermass) but it can still only provide payloads with zero residual delta-v requirements to geostationary.


It takes energy to climb a 24,000 mile mountain...


Republican bill to build 100 nuclear reactors


Have you seen this? Gasp, sanity in Congress???? The bill suggests building 100 nuclear reactors in next 20 years.


Someone must listen to you!!!!!

Don't know if the bill will pass with the nuclear provision ideas intact as it came from Republicans in the minority (ie NOT Democrats).

Mike Johnson

If only they had listened to me in 2002 before we invaded...


Answer to the ratings oligopoly, 


You were not alone in your concern about the ratings oligopoly. Now Finance Geeks Use Open API to Crunch Market Numbers:


So, various people will try out various models to see which ones best predict risk - and the results will be open, as in open source.

Hmm. Couldn't someone try that with climate models?


The ratings companies caused the crash -- or rather allowed the boom that brought on the bubble which burst -- and yet don't seem to be blamed for a bit of it. Astonishing. They rate junk as AAA and there are no consequences, even though they are paid to do the rating by the entity rated...


Betelgeuse shrinking, may explode,  


Betelgeuse is shrinking, and may explode:


Are we far enough away to survive a supernova? Apparently we are:





And we think we have problems now...

Nods: Fox


Nearby Star May Be Getting Ready to Explode

Bye-bye, Betelgeuse? A nearby, well-known and very bright star may soon explode in a supernova, according to data <> released by U.C. Berkeley researchers Tuesday. The red giant Betelgeuse, once so large it would reach out to Jupiter's orbit if placed in our own solar system, has shrunk by 15 percent over the past decade in a half, although it's just as bright as it's ever been. <snip>.

It's possible we're observing the beginning of Betelgeuse's final collapse now. If so, the star, which is 600 light-years away, will already have exploded - and we'll soon be in for a spectacular, and perfectly safe, interstellar fireworks show.



Typhoons trigger earthquakes on Taiwan, 


Typhoons trigger earthquakes on Formosa, it seems:


Supposedly these "long, slow earthquakes . . . may save the island from devastating temblors," since Formosa sits at the confluence of two big crustal plates.

This reminds me of Orange County: it gets lots of very small quakes all the time - too small to feel - which dissipates the buildup of stress that would cause a really big quake. Or so I was told, decades ago (I grew up there).

But if a typhoon can trigger a quake, why not "the Jupiter effect?" You just can't make this stuff up.


Oil, the only federal education system, and combat vehicles.

Dr. Pournelle,

Apparently we have enough oil to tide us over, and "capture" is the correct term.


AND Canada will probably continue to be our biggest supplier.

MRAPs need mods (p2), two articles on DODDS (p3 and p6), and an oped on education (p21) in today's Stars and Stripes (European edition download at http://estripes.osd.mil/bin/download.php?
filename=EUR_GER_100609&edition=europe).  The OP/ED piece presents a plan for improving schools, with notably no sources of funding and a college for everyone viewpoint. Some of the ideas seem alright, but ignore costs.

On the MRAPs, too bad we couldn't set up a program, maybe even call it future combat systems, and field a suitable standardized vehicle with a lot of useful features in it. I guess rushed ad-hoc single-scope purchases show some advantage other than expedience over integrated multi-role products, but I don't know what that would be.



At the End of the Modern Age

Here is a retrospective of Jacques Barzun's 1959 book, The House of Intellect, reminding us (since it was written ca. 1957) that the Youth Revolution of the late 60s was really an Adult Abdication of the late 50s.


Dovetails nicely with my old history prof's book, At the End of an Age - John Lukacs, who gets a cameo mention.

Mike Flynn





CURRENT VIEW    Thursday


This week:


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Friday,  June 12, 2009

New Wrinkle in Bird Evolution?

Dr. Pournelle --

Research for a Ph.D. has raised new questions about the idea that birds evolved from therapod dinosaurs.

Discovery Raises New Doubts About Dinosaur-bird Links


"Researchers at Oregon State University have made a fundamental new discovery about how birds breathe and have a lung capacity that allows for flight – and the finding means it's unlikely that birds descended from any known theropod dinosaurs."

Briefly: The femur of birds is relatively fixed and this allows the musculature to support a bird's air sacs, keeping the open and functional. This also results in birds being "knee-walkers." Therapods -- and most other animals -- have a free-moving femur (and are thus "hip-walkers"). The argument is that this means that bird evolution may have occurred parallel to that of the therapods, not from the therapods.

One of the things I love about science is that a new discovery can force us to hit the reset button and we have to relearn things. One of the things I dislike about science is that politics and money too often influence the debate, something frequently discussed at your site:

" 'Frankly, there's a lot of museum politics involved in this, a lot of careers committed to a particular point of view even if new scientific evidence raises questions,' Ruben said. In some museum displays, he said, the birds-descended-from-dinosaurs evolutionary theory has been portrayed as a largely accepted fact, with an asterisk pointing out in small type that 'some scientists disagree.' "


Can there be a lesson there?


Rational debate on Global Warming

Hi Jerry,

You finished your comments on my previous note with this: "But someone has to stand up for rational debate. I think it's my turn."

Good for you. My sentiments exactly. Not that you specifically should do it, although you seem to be taking a decent shot at it, but that SOMEONE should.

My problem with 'rational debate', as it is now defined, is that the 'rational debaters', even on sites like yours, start by accepting as axioms the premises of the the Global Warming Alarmists, that anthropogenic CO2 is causing a rapid, accelerating, and disastrous rise in the 'temperature of the earth' and that this catastrophe can only be averted by drastically modifying human activity under the direction of a central national or even world authority. The debate is for the most part confined to 'What actions should be compelled to prevent the introduction of additional CO2 into the atmosphere?' and 'How can we most efficiently remove from the atmosphere and sequester large quantities of existing CO2?. There is NO debate as to the desirability of either goal. In fact, such debate is 'actively discouraged'.

I think that before someone 'rationally debates' the optimum solution, or set of solutions, to our problem that there should be a 'rational debate' as to the existence of a problem. THAT is the debate that is not happening. As I said in a previous note, never mind for the moment whether the earth is cooling or warming and what is causing it. The first questions that should be answered, if you are contemplating the modification of the Earth's temperature, is 'What temperature do we want?'. And 'Why is THAT temperature optimum?'. Before taking drastic action to CONTROL our climate (assuming with dubious justification that it is actually controllable by us), rather than just letting it wander around willy-nilly in the eon-old tradition, it may also be useful to ask if the temperature of the earth the only, or even the most important, feature of the climate that we need to adjust in our drive toward climatary perfection.

Let the debate begin.

Bob Ludwick

I think I have been doing that, but I agree: first it should be established that there is a problem. The Global Warming Alarmists say there is a danger of a runaway effect that will be utterly disastrous. If that be true, our choices are very limited. We certainly must expend whatever resources are needed to verify or falsify that theory. Bayesian analysis would say that we ought to expend resources to reduce uncertainties before spending great sums to make changes.


Spider silk cycling as muscle fibers

Jerry, This property of spider silk is interesting, the researchers have shown how to use spider silk to contract and expand like a muscle fiber. This link has the newspaper story and a video demonstrating this phenomenon: http://blog.cleveland.com/metro/2009/06/
scientists_at_university_of_ak.html .  It seems that 'supercontraction' has been known for some time, but it is a permanent change, while the new discovery has a high repetition capability. Maybe we will have powered armor suits after all (or mobility-assist suits for the infirm).

Thanks, Jim L.

Bob Bussard used to tell me that advances in physics are hard because we've done most if not all the easy parts. I've thought about that ever since. We haven't made all the easy discoveries in biology, apparently. And then there's physical chemistry and carbon fibers, which can revolutionize structure strength and weight, which will change a major factor in the cost of access to space.


Home Schooling Under Attack in the UK

See this story: <http://tinyurl.com/mkuj25

(As an aside, the German law against home schooling was passed by the Nazis, but the post-war governments found it convenient.)

-- Harry Erwin

They'll be here soon enough. And children will be required to report their parents for hate crimes. "When we defend Free Speech, we surely didn't mean THAT."


'Fringe benefit'.


--- Roland Dobbins


Obama's Czars...


"...Obama...appears to be on the verge of appointing yet ANOTHER czar to his already large family of czar's and in doing so will own the title of President with the Most Czar's."

"Make no mistake, he knows exactly what he is doing. This is a first-rate power grab by a power-hungry President. You see the great thing about czar's is that they operate with impunity and they are "under the radar" when it comes to making policy. They are accountable to nobody, except the administration.

"So in effect we have NON-ELECTED officials, who are backed by The White House, who are given the tools and resources to do the bidding of the President and they are accountable to NO ONE! These czar's don't have to undergo Senate Confirmation Hearings, they just get appointed."

Charles Brumbelow


Subj: Single-scope purchases vs integrated multi-role products

The contributor who said

>> I guess rushed ad-hoc single-scope purchases show some advantage other than expedience over integrated multi-role products, but I don't know what that would be. <<

should read the history of the TFX.

The backlash from that fiasco led to the F-15 fighter, whose designers' motto was "Not one pound for air-to-ground!"

Rod Montgomery==monty@starfief.com


Not so windy


This is not to comment on either the usefulness of wind power nor the reality of global warming, but it is interesting that they are linked in this article.



We (my son Richard and I) are having a look at the costs and efficiencies of wind power in Mojave, which is a place that has a lot of favorable aspects for wind.


Subject: "We do the same thing with athletics here that they do with mathematics and science there."

"We do the same thing with athletics here that they do with mathematics and science there."


--- Roland Dobbins

They also ruthlessly track: they don't try to teach higher algebra to the left side of the bell curve.


Perpetual Motion

Dr. Pournelle,

Your correspondent, Talin, wrote

 "At somewhere between $10 and $20 a gallon, it starts to become economical to suck CO2 directly out of the atmosphere and use it to create synthetic liquid fuels. Most of the cost involved is energy. At which point, burning hydrocarbons becomes a closed loop, where every gallon we burn is a gallon we reclaim later." </snip>

I'm hoping that he didn't mean this the way I read it. Often recently, discussions or television presentations of future technologies seem to promise something like this in spite of the basics of thermodynamics. Another example used the technology behind regenerative braking in electrically powered vehicles to make the claim that the vehicle never needs to refuel. Yet another claimed that pneumatically powered vehicles could use the motor to compress air for later use, never needing to use the garage based compressor to top off the storage tank.

In the end, we will need to add energy to the cycle to get anything back out. Waste energy cannot be captured at 100% of usage, and burning fuel to make fuel from CO2 and water is an energy losing proposition -- at best 30% efficient. The initial burn of fossil fuel can't be used for anything else but CO2 conversion, like transportation or electricity production, and the (methane) fuel produced converts less CO2 than is generated by the fossil fuel combustion. Net loss of energy, net gain of CO2. Your suggestions for ground-based fusion, reliance on safe fission, or satellite-captured solar are examples of the kind of technology needed before we can really seek to displace coal and oil as primary energy sources. We ain't dere yit.

The writer's other point, that there is a lot of more-expensively-extracted fossil fuel available, is spot on. It should be noted that those are the likeliest source of energy to tide us over until we can get one or more clean, cheap nuclear sources (counting that huge source that is 8 light minutes away) online.

My personal opinion is that improving energy technology and conservation is a must, whether or not CO2 is causing global warming or we can do anything about it. As noted many times, we want to maintain our standard of living (requiring 25% of the world's energy generation) and the rest of the world wants to at least get to where we are. The only way we can get there is to bring down the cost of energy. Pollution is unacceptable waste that is controllable via those same technology improvements.

Until we get to where we're willing or forced to spend some capital on improvements we've got to watch out for the kind of snake oil salesmen, doomsayers, and charlatans who promise perpetual motion, 100 MPG carburetors, and 100 ft walls of water.


Yes, I noticed that too, and I probably should have commented. Plants suck CO2 out of the atmosphere and use it to create fuels -- indeed, that's the standard theory of oil formation -- but they need a lot of sunlight energy to do that, and in the case of oil it has to cook at high pressures and temperatures for a long time. (At least I think that's the standard theory of petroleum formation; it's a long way out of my field, and I confess that I knew Thomas Gold and was somewhat intrigued by his abiogenic oil formation theories (and quickly add that I have not made any real study of the evidence and have no right to a public opinion on the matter). Oil aside, "sucking CO2 out of the atmosphere and making it into fuel" is what plants do, the Sun supplying the energy. It takes time and sunlight.

Energy storage is usually overlooked in broad discussions of "sustainable" energy. The most efficient storage system I know of is pumped water, which makes for big reservoirs whose levels are constantly changing, and can cause large environmental problems. "Grid management" in which electricity is shipped all over requires a lot of topping power (usually supplied by natural gas turbines). Note that electricity must be stored or used somehow. It can't just stay in the grid and move around.

"Sustainable" energy is a movement that can lead to the farce of burning food. Fortunately that madness seems to have abated since the corn crisis in Mexico.

Given cheap energy and freedom there is no problem with pollution.


Emailing: chart_debt.jpg WOW


…………The bill is far too big for only the rich to pick up. There aren't enough of them. America will have to lean on citizens far below the $250,000 income threshold: nurses, electricians, secretaries, and factory workers. Within a decade the average household that pays income tax will owe the equivalent of $155,000 in federal debt, about $90,000 more than last year. What the Obama administration isn't telling Americans is that the only practical solution is a giant tax increase aimed squarely at the middle class. The alternative, big cuts in spending, aren't part of the President's agenda. To keep the debt from wrecking the economy, the U.S. would need to raise annual federal income taxes an average of $11,000 in 2019 for all families that pay them, an increase of about 55%. "The revenues needed are far too big to raise from high earners," says Alan Auerbach, an economist at the University of California at Berkeley. "The government will have to go where the money is, to the middle class." The most likely levy: a European-style value-added tax (VAT) that would substantially raise the price of everything from autos to restaurant meals……








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This week:


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Saturday, June 13, 2009


I took the day off.






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CURRENT VIEW     Saturday

This week:


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Sunday,  June 14, 2009

Flag Day


Happy Birthday, Roberta

50 years.


--- Roland Dobbins

Those were exciting days. X projects develop technology very well indeed. See my paper on getting to space. See also the prizes notes and the Megamission paper..



The only way this makes sense is with a nuclear payload, IMHO.


-- Roland Dobbins

The future of naval supremacy is bound up with the future of military technology and particularly space technology. I made all that clear in my megamissions papers a decade ago. It' still valid.





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