By K.C. Somaratna-Friday, 23 June 2017
I attended an international conference titled ‘Climate Change: Facing the challenge beyond COP 21’ in Colombo in February 2017. The conference attracted climate scientists from many countries and the keynote speech titled ‘Carbon Cycle Feedback: A primary source of uncertainty in the 21st Century’ was made by Prof. A.S. Denning, Monfort Professor, Department of Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University, the US.
Two sentences in the abstract of this speech were as follows:
“Very substantial climate change is certain during the 21st Century, but the magnitude and rate of change is still quite uncertain.”
“Earth System models used by the IPCC disagree dramatically about future carbon sequestration, leading to uncertainties of over 300 ppm in CO2 by 2100 for identical fossil fuel emission scenarios.”
The 14-sentence abstract had five sentences about uncertainties. The conference brought in personnel from near and far with many research papers indicating more research needs to be done, more conferences need to be held, more passenger air miles need to be travelled and more carbon dioxide needs to be emitted in the name of facing the challenge of climate change.
What is Climate Change – the scientist’s viewpoint?
Climate Change is explained by Prof. John Seinfeld of Caltech University as follows:
1.Fossil fuel combustion yields CO2, increasing its concentration in the atmosphere, and part of this (about 50% as per Prof. Denning) is taken up by vegetation, soils and oceans.
2.When CO2 concentration in the atmosphere reaches 560 ppm (i.e. increase of 280 ppm or twice what it was prior to the industrial revolution), the temperature increases by 1.20 C due to this CO2 concentration. Note that uncertainty within the IPCC models is over 300 ppm.
3.This 1.20 C temperature increase brings more water vapour into the atmosphere to maintain constant relative humidity and this water vapour increases the temperature by another 1.60 C, and the total temperature increase is 2.80 C (please note 1.60 C due to H2O and 1.20 C due to CO2)
4.Today the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is 407 + ppm.
According to this explanation, the culprit is purely CO2 from fossil fuel combustion. Everything else happening thereafter is due to this CO2 and we should try to reduce this emission. The following two are the most publicised consequences.
a)Icecaps may melt due to increased temperature and it could also have a positive feedback effect arising from icecap melting leading to more absorption/less reflection of solar radiation and more icecaps melting, etc. This water flowing down will raise sea levels and the US will lose a bit of land. With 9,472,000 km2 occupied by 330 million people (i.e. 28,703 km2 per million cf 3,095 km2 per million in Sri Lanka) they can afford to lose a bit of land to the rising seawater. Fortune magazine in early September 2013 mentioned three walls being built in New York, New Orleans and San Francisco at a cost of $ 20 billion to keep these waters away.
b)Anyhow they would like to have the much publicised 20C rise in temperature as it would make living there more comfortable and convenient.
The real climate issue in the US
What do they fear the most in respect to climate in the US? Their climate-related worries would be snowstorms, hurricanes, torrential rain and flooding. It was only a few weeks back that the State of California reported severe rainfall and a highway being washed off before which there was a threat to a dam of a reservoir.
Before that there was the cyclone Mondy in New Orleans in September 2016 and the water from the downpour was bothering residents well into November. Land value in Florida, etc. going down was a real hit to the real estate market. Then there was the talk about atmospheric rivers or pineapple express and all these are about that dear, loved water without which we cannot exist on this planet.
Sustainable Energy by Prof. Jefferson Tester (of Cornell University) and five other professors and researchers at MIT has four bits of information about this climate problem and its resolution.
1.Plate No. 4 (after Page 162) shows that the US in 2007 used 23.63 QnBtus from natural gas and 39.81QnBtus from petroleum.
2.Plate No. 16 (after Page 162) has the Integrated Global System Model version 2 (IGSM2) developed by MIT shown below.
3.Table 8.1 says natural gas has 3.5-4.0 atoms of H2 and gasoline has 2-2.2 atoms of H2 for every atom of carbon.
4.Figure 4.1 shows how energy systems consume human and natural resources and produce useful goods and services and interact with the environment.
Although water vapour in the atmosphere is the real problem for the US, climate scientists the world over (including the US as well) promote the use of natural gas to replace coal to reduce the emission of CO2 from anthropogenic energy generation. Table 8.1 implies that when oil or gas combusts, hydrogen in the fuel, with oxygen (O2) in the air give out Newly Formed Water (NFW) – that is water which was not in the global water cycle earlier.
Although there are natural processes to carry out C → CO2→ C→ O2 conversions (e.g. inhalation, exhalation, photosynthesis, etc), there are no natural processes to carry out the H → H2O→ H→ O2 conversions and the O2 level in the atmosphere gets depleted as a result of combustion of natural gas and oil.
This oxygen depletion is not captured in figure 4.1 in the book. At the current level of natural gas and oil usage in the US they will have enough oxygen for inhalation only for 9,000 years.
This generation of NFW vapour – not from globally available water, but freshly formed from H2 in the gaseous/liquid fuel – is not captured in IGSM2 shown although it captures other gaseous products generated during fossil fuel combustion at lesser concentrations.
This NFW vapour has the characteristics given below making it the most dangerous output of all anthropogenic energy generation processes and the final onslaught on mankind may arise from the same.
(a)It is a far more dangerous greenhouse gas than CO2 when in the atmosphere.
(b)It could lead to cyclones, hurricanes, etc. when coming down. It fulfils five of the six atmospheric conditions required for the formation of a cyclone. The other is a location-specific requirement.
(c)When on the ground, it leads to floods, earth slips, landslides, etc.
d)No wall built along a shoreline could keep these disasters away.
(e)Although it is generated in a distributed fashion– time-wise and area-wise – it accumulates when in the atmosphere – time-wise and area-wise – and brings its onslaught in a concentrated fashion.
(f)Even without this NFW vapour, water vapour from the global water cycle alone could create water-related disasters and this NFW vapour aggravates these.
The climate scientists dismiss the climate change effect of this NFW vapour saying that water vapour spends only 7-14 days in the atmosphere as if either this NFW vapour thereafter escapes to outer space or changes in precipitation and wind are not a part of climate change! I am treating this argument next.
Positive Feedback Effect of water vapour
When climate scientists dismiss the greenhouse effect of this NFW vapour, they make the following two assumptions:
(i)Water vapour that comes into the atmosphere from below is of two varieties:
(a) Water vapour that is present even during normal times i.e. even if fossil fuels are not combusted by mankind – which spend only about 7-14 days in the atmosphere.
(b) Water vapour coming into the atmosphere when a fossil fuel is combusted to maintain constant relative humidity at an elevated temperature due to a higher CO2 concentration in the atmosphere and this H2O is retained in the atmosphere as long as this extra CO2 is in the atmosphere. IGSM2 captures these two streams within the Coupled Ocean, Atmosphere and Land System. Solar or volcanic forcing initiates the first identified as (a) while gaseous flow (of CO2, CH4, etc.) from the Human System to Earth System initiates the second identified as (b).
(ii)The second assumption is that this NFW vapour from the combustion of gas and oil also spends only 7-14 days in the atmosphere like the other water vapour stream due to solar and volcanic forcing. IGSM2 indicates clearly that they have disregarded this NFW vapour from fossil fuel combustion.
This NFW vapour differs from the other two in respect of the following characteristics.
a)While both the earlier streams were already in the form of water in the global water cycle, this is new water formed by the combination of H2 in the fuel and O2 in the atmosphere. Hence it should go into the MIT Model IGSM2 as a part of the stream from the Human System to the Earth System.
b)This NFW enters the atmosphere along with CO2, from C in the fuel, and as such it will not precipitate unless the temperature comes down due to seasonal changes.
c)As long as this new CO2 stays in the atmosphere this NFW will also remain with CO2. Due to the differences in diffusivity and density of H2O from those of CO2, this NFW will move up ahead of CO2 and bring about its effects as a greenhouse gas and will not come down soon.
d)This NFW vapour will be at a higher temperature than water vapour coming up to cool the atmosphere or to retain constant relative humidity.
e)This NFW vapour will bring about an increase in temperature comparable with the 1.60 C increase attributed to the positive feedback effect.
The International Energy Agency’s document ‘Revisiting Energy – Climate Change Map’ published in mid-2013 talks about predictions for temperature increases arising from 560 ppm CO2 in the atmosphere being 3.60 C instead of the 2.80 suggested earlier. Could this extra 0.80 C temperature increase be due to this water vapour?
Why water-related disasters in the US?
A recent statement by the MIT group on science and policy of global change to the effect that in forecasting significant water-related disasters in the US, large-scale atmospheric patterns provide better guidance than recently formulated models prompts me to say these.
According to the Hadley Circulation model, airflows originating from about 00 N would go up and towards 300 N, carrying water vapour, etc. and drop the water vapour at around 300 N and come down and back. 300 N is around New Orleans, etc. So it is no wonder that during some months of the year the area gets hurricanes and excessive rains.
This new water vapour creates the ideal conditions for hurricanes with water vapour having a viscosity of about half of that of N2 and O2. With this reduced viscosity it may be that it goes even further than New Orleans.
In March 2011, President Barack Obama requested Americans to use natural gas instead of gasoline and the Americans readily obliged. So in end 2012, after 18 months, northbound air coming from 00 N, hot moist air – warm, less viscous, low wind shear – coming across the ocean and excess NFW vapour from natural gas combustion within the US met and created that once-in-500-year event called Sandy. Now with less viscous air, US atmospheric air laden with more water vapour may be meeting the northbound air near California to create the related misery.
With that near 2.5 Gt/yr of fresh NFW vapour being formed from H2 in oil and gas, no wonder the US faces so many water-related disasters. Please note that this 2.5 Gt/yr of NFW vapour generated and put into the atmosphere above the US, distributed over 365 days and 10 million sq.kms, do not come down in a similar distributed fashion – neither time-wise nor area-wise.
The time and area most probable for it to come down may also be the most probable time and area for normal precipitation to come down in the US and it is no wonder that there is excessive precipitation in the US.
Longitudinal air circulation as per Walker Circulation shows airstreams from way down as 1,500 W going up as high as 15 km and towards 900 W and coming down. It explains how all the natural gas and oil burnt in the US throws out that NFW vapour which will ultimately come down on the US itself and it may even explain the atmospheric rivers or the pineapple express from the Hawaii Island (1,500 W) towards California.
Climate scientists think that the effect of this NFW vapour is only a positive feedback effect because water vapour due to solar and volcanic forcing spends only about two weeks in the atmosphere. This NFW vapour from hydrocarbon combustion in the atmosphere could influence the wind shear, temperature, etc – those six characteristics which would lead to cyclones, hurricanes – and lead to that devastation while coming down and also when on the ground.
What President Obama did and didn’t do
President Barack Obama, the very rational leader he was, listened to climate scientists and believed in them. He did not doubt the infallibility of the climate scientific fraternity. So he did everything he could do to create a climate change free – CO2 less – US. He gave $ 500 million of taxpayer money to Solyndra. Unfortunately for him and the US citizenry, Solyndra failed and in fact the last CEO of Solyndra was trying to establish a PV solar panel manufacturing unit at Hambantota and it did not materialise, maybe for the very high stakes involved.
Then he made the statement at Georgetown University and requested vehicles to use natural gas with near four atoms of hydrogen per C atom instead of gasoline with two atoms of hydrogen per C atom. All this was again due to his listening to the climate scientist community which implied: “CO2 is the bad guy, H2O is the good guy we drink, etc. and any measures to reduce CO2 and increase H2O instead is good climate policy.” The climate scientist community failed to differentiate NFW vapour from water vapour due to solar and volcanic forcing.
Then he did not make use of the golden opportunity he got from the Deep Water Horizon incident to steer the US away from hydrocarbon exploration and usage. If US climate scientists could fathom what damage hydrogen in gas and oil could do to US and stuck to coal and eliminated oil and gas, the US would have been more prosperous. We from Sri Lanka tried to help in our own small way. We wrote to Dr. Steven Chu, then Secretary of Energy, presenting a lot of data from the EIA document Energy Outlook – 2009 making the following suggestions.
(a)The US matches the damages of $ 20 billion given by BP with an equal amount and gives the whole $ 40 billion to BP and ask them to implement Highway Solarisation – i.e. laying Photovoltaic Solar Panels above and along the highways to generate electricity, either for the main grid or to charge battery electric vehicles – on some interstate highways.
(b)Then they could ask other oil companies to do likewise on other interstate highways.
(c)Then only the oil companies could retain their supremacy/policy of powering global mobility without allowing it to drift away to power producers.
We knew, by studying the large-scale atmospheric circulation models, Hadley and Walker, that what is good for Sri Lanka at 70N and 800E will not necessarily be good for the US at 300 to 700N and 600W to 1600W (this includes Alaska as well). This is the mistake climate scientists make – to think that they can prescribe one formula for climate change resolution for all countries at different latitudes and longitudes.
Will the Paris Accord take us away from the travails of NFW vapour? That is the question we need to address at this moment. If we go by the first key point — we should keep warming well below 20Celcius— we get to think that we are again looking at only the temperature and ignoring precipitation and wind.
Look at Sri Lanka today, is the current disaster purely due to temperature and not due to precipitation and wind? Look at all those disasters that have taken place in the US from 2015-2016. Is it wise to think and talk only about CO2 in a context where according to current theories of climate change, when CO2 concentration reaches 560 ppm, the temperature increases by 1.20C due to this CO2 increase and another 1.60C due to water vapour coming into the atmosphere to maintain constant relative humidity; combustion of natural gas – their wonder fuel to replace coal will generate 18 kg of NFW for every 14 kg of CO2 replaced in obtaining energy; and they dismiss the effect of NFW vapour by saying that NFW vapour also spends only a couple of weeks in the atmosphere and then comes down.
This is not wise for two reasons – one if water vapour coming into the atmosphere to ensure constant relative humidity could stay there due to the greenhouse effect of CO2, there is no reason why NFW from gas and oil combustion which is always associated with CO2 can’t stay there due to its own greenhouse effect backed by high temperature, available latent heat and sensible heat and the other this water vapour after doing that excessive damage as a greenhouse gas in the atmosphere will not slowly land on the earth in the sequence of the order in which it got airborne like airplanes landing on a smooth, well-lit runway. It could create excessive damage like at Sandy or Mondy or at California depending on how its downpour matches other seasonal events. Please note almost all six requirements for cyclones could be met by these.
So is it prudent to talk only about temperature increase and CO2 concentration, ignoring NFW vapour, precipitation and wind.
The Paris Accord says that “developed countries must continue to ‘take the lead’ in the reduction of greenhouse gases. We believe that we have already come out with a solution to replace the use of gasoline or gas in transportation which was well documented and sent to Dr. Steven Chu at the most appropriate time. We have always been promoting the Battery Electric Vehicle with Highway Solarisation.”
Out of all manmade structures, the highway is probably the place where they would (1) have carried out a lot of deforestation to put it up – a loss of (a) CO2 absorption (b) Trans-evaporation (c) Reflection of solar radiation, etc (2) Put up a black, asphaltic surface absorbing near 90% solar radiation which gets reemitted leading to global warming and then (3) start running all sorts of vehicles generating CO2 and NFW vapour, only to carry out the final assault on the environment.
Isn’t it the place where you need a solution for climate change? We have developed this Highway Solarisation to address exactly this. It will negate the first two concerns partially and also the third one if the electricity generated is used to power Battery Electric Vehicles to a degree which will depend on the level of vehicle electrification.
For every 1 kWhr of electricity it provides to the main grid, it will eliminate 1.4 kWhr of radiation leading to global warming and if this electricity is used for vehicle electrification it will further eliminate 1.3 kg of CO2, 0.5 kg of NFW vapour and 4 kWhr of waste heat, all leading to global warming. This solution is Sri Lanka’s gift to mankind, awaiting absolute peril due to climate change of NFW vapour. Others have not even figured it out yet.
Unfortunately, time is flying in the words of these great proponents of the Paris Accord, so why don’t they practise Highway Solarisation and say goodbye to coal, gasoline and natural gas. If they don’t want to do that there should be a miss somewhere. Probably they themselves do not believe in climate change due to CO2. But make no mistake, although you could brush CO2 aside and carry on, NFW will neither spare you nor your loved ones.
The world should be thankful to President Donald Trump for standing up against the climate scientists, UNFCCC, IPCC, etc. and saying, “Sorry, I am not convinced and let us relook at it. I don’t want Florida, California or any USA coastal patch to suffer and show me whether there is a relationship and how we can prevent such incidents.”
And we from Sri Lanka are only too happy to help with this explanation and Highway Solarisation (you would not need to import any oil, nor burn any gas) which could replace gas and oil in road transportation and also help to rebuild that interstate highway infrastructure and also to save it from damage due to sunlight, snowfall and salt to remove the snow.
The world needs specific approaches for countries at different latitudes and longitudes in addressing climate change and if someone is not capable of understanding that they will only put our dear mother earth and its inhabitants in greater peril.
[I am thankful to Prof. John Seinfeld of Caltech University for that explanation of Climate Change in Chemical Engineering Review of 2008 and to Prof. Jefferson Tester of Cornel University, et al for publishing the book Sustainable Energy without which I would not have been able to write this article.]
(The writer is Managing Director of Somaratna Consultants Ltd.)