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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Wondering Willis' Original Weather Hypotheses

Sou | 4:52 AM 1 Comment so far

Wondering Willis Eschenbach wonders some more at WUWT.  This time, as almost every other time, about the way energy moves through the Earth system.  Willis combines the known with the unreal and thinks he has come up with something new.  Instead he makes simple science complex and complex science overly simple and mixes it all up into a weird concoction of his own making. (Archived here.)

Willis is keen to let everyone know he has invented meteorology.  Here are some of his claimed "original" ideas:
However, the idea that the temperature-determined time of onset of tropical clouds and thunderstorms is a main regulator of the temperature of the globe is my own, as far as I know. I think the same is true for the idea that the PDO regulates the temperature by either impeding or encouraging polewards heat flow. Finally, I think that the idea that the El Nino / La Nina alteration functions to regulate the temperature by pumping warm tropical water to the poles when the tropics start to overheat is my own idea as well. (December 22, 2013 at 2:40 pm)

Willis Original: Clouds & thunderstorms are the main regulator


First Willis claims this as his own idea:
...the idea that the temperature-determined time of onset of tropical clouds and thunderstorms is a main regulator of the temperature of the globe is my own, as far as I know.
Willis, as some of you will remember, doesn't read science.  It would both spoil his claims of originality and show his ideas up as foolish. Probably more the latter than the former.  Go to any page about tropical storms and you'll probably find a sentence something like the one on this NOAA page:
Since tropical cyclones help regulate the earth's temperature, any decrease in tropical cyclone intensity means the oceans retain more heat. 

A two-second Google search would tell even the least informed person that Willis hasn't made any original discovery relating to diurnal cloud formation in the tropics.  But for fake sceptics Google is for the birds.  (Sorry, birds.  I meant no offence.)

Clouds are formed when warm air meets surface water and the water evaporates, rises and condenses. I don't imagine that Willis is claiming that as an original thought of his own.  So what is he claiming as his original thought? Is it the "main regulator of the temperature of the globe" bit?  Surely he's not trying to claim to be the first to recognise that the water cycle is one of the main temperature regulating mechanisms.

The image below is from the National Environment Agency in Singapore, where it states that "Thunderstorms tend to occur between 2 pm and 6 pm in the afternoon as diurnal heating and convection play an important role in thunderstorm development".  I guess they must have got the "original idea" from Wondering Willis :)

A mature thunderstorm cell is characterised by vigorous updrafts and downdrafts. Updrafts are associated with inflow of humid air from the base of the cloud. When a thunderstorm matures, the falling of raindrops drags and pushes air downwards causing downdrafts. These downdrafts eventually spread throughout the entire cloud, cutting off the feed of moisture by updrafts. The thunderstorm cell then enters the dissipating stage. Each individual thunderstorm cell typically has a lifespan of less than one hour and a horizontal extent of several kilometres. 
Credit: National Environment Agency, Singapore

I came across this graphic of a tropical cyclone, which I'll include because I like it and it's more interesting than Willis' wonderings.  Click to enlarge it.

Credit: BOM/NOAA/ABC Tim Madden

Willis Original: PDO regulates the temperature


The next "original" claim by Willis is this:
I think the same is true for the idea that the PDO regulates the temperature by either impeding or encouraging polewards heat flow. 

I don't know what Willis means by that.  Does anyone?  Maybe he is referring to the fact that if there is a steeper temperature gradient in the North Pacific then heat will "flow" more from the tropics to the Arctic. But surely he wouldn't try to claim that idea as his own original thought.

The PDO is the Pacific Decadal Oscillation.  It is described in terms of sea surface temperature (SST). From my limited reading, the general view is that these changes are brought about by a confluence of factors. For example, a paper by Schneider and Cornuelle suggests that it is influenced by various effects (some of which I've only vaguely heard of) including ENSO, the Aleutian low and the Kuroshio–Oyashio Extension.  A more recent paper by Michael Alexander states that the PDO is not a "mode of the climate system" but more the result of several different mechanisms:
Unlike ENSO, the PDO does not appear to be a mode of the climate system, but rather it results from several different mechanisms including (1) stochastic heat flux forcing associated with random fluctuations in the Aleutian Low, (2) the atmospheric bridge augmented by the reemergence mechanism, and (3) wind-driven changes in the North Pacific gyres.
So it doesn't seem right to my way of thinking to say that the PDO regulates something.  It seems to me it is an expression of what is regulated rather than being a regulator.


Willis Original: ENSO pumping tropical water to the poles


Remember Willis wrote this:
Finally, I think that the idea that the El Nino / La Nina alteration functions to regulate the temperature by pumping warm tropical water to the poles when the tropics start to overheat is my own idea as well.

Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but as far as I know ENSO doesn't "pump warm tropical water to the poles when the tropics start to overheat". ENSO events are associated with changes in the Walker Circulation, which is an east-west circulation of the atmosphere above the tropical Pacific, not a north-south circulation.  In the ocean, it is associated with a shift in the thermocline with upwelling in the eastern tropical Pacific during La Nina - bringing cooler water to the surface in the east and with warm water being concentrated in the west. And suppressed upwelling in El Nino, allowing warm water to pool over a larger area in the east warming the air and land surface.

The surface current goes east to west across the tropical Pacific.  It's deep currents that go north-south and south-north.  But they flow all the time and as far as I know don't change with the different phases of ENSO, which is what Willis is arguing.

The video below shows the main ocean currents of the world:

video
Credit: CSIRO, the Wealth from Oceans Flagship and the Australian Climate Change Science Program



Willis' Thermostat is Broken


What Willis maintains is that his tropical clouds and thunderstorms act as a "global thermostat".  There's nothing new about that notion, whatever Willis tries to tell people.  Willis goes further though and argues that clouds keeps temperature at a set point.  Well, it looks as if that thermostat is broken now, doesn't it.  Willis insists that "over the previous century the total variation in temperature was ≈ ± 0.3K".  I have no idea where he got that notion from.  It wasn't from a chart of temperature variations over the past 100 years.  As you can see below the temperature rose from -0.4 to +0.6 degrees.  It rose by 1 degree Celsius (or 1 degree Kelvin if you prefer) over that time.  That's a lot more than +/- 0.3 degrees.

Data Source: NASA

Willis Eschenbach and the Dunning-Kruger Effect 


Willis, who wouldn't have much of a clue about what climatologists and meteorologists know about climate and weather, goes full on Dunning Kruger when he writes:
I differ from the majority of current climate scientists by saying that the climate is not the linear slave of the forcing. I say it is a regulated system, where the temperature is kept within bounds by a variety of interlocking and overlapping thermoregulatory phenomena.

What does Willis mean by "the linear slave of forcing"?  Is he arguing that nothing can force climate or is he saying that climate forcings aren't linear?  If the former he's wrong. The main climate forcings operating today are increased greenhouse gases and, to a lesser extent, changes in solar radiation and volcanic eruptions.  If the latter then he's wrong too, because forcings are not simply linear.  Forcings lead to a complex set of feedbacks that operate on different time scales so that the net impact is not linear.

And what's that gobbledegook about "variety of interlocking and overlapping thermoregulatory phenomena"? Could that be his fancy way of talking about feedbacks?  If so, why doesn't he just use the common word: "feedback".  If he is arguing that the water cycle is a limiting mechanism then I say - duh! Everyone should know that. Water vapour condenses when it gets cold and precipitates.  That helps stop the world getting too hot.

Maybe Willis is trying to argue that nothing can force the climate.  Surely not.  How would he explain glacials and interglacials?  How would he explain the current warming?


How does weather work?


Personally, for a simple description of how "weather" works, I'd go for something like this page that discusses the "heat engine" in a more sensible manner than does Willis.  If you want to get stuck in the clouds, there's a fair bit written here to keep you going for a while.  Or for something simple, the video below, from the UK Met gives a thumbnail sketch of the global weather system.

.

1 comment:

  1. Amazing polymath, this Willis! So, what's going on with that E=mc2 of his?

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