October 28, 2010

Judith Curry
School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences
Georgia Institute of Technology
Atlanta, Georgia 30332

Dear Judith Curry:
I read with great interest the article about you.  (Climate Heretic, Michael D. Lemonick SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN vol. 303 no. 5 November 2010)  A heretic is a member of the Church who strays from dogma.  You burn heretics at the stake (not so much literally any longer).  An infidel is a total outsider.  You don’t burn infidels.  You force them to convert.  Then you burn them at the stake. 

I am an infidel in fertility and my work is pretty much posted at nobabies.net.  But occasionally I am a climate infidel.  It just seems so important.  So I have three thoughts about climate.  I have not the time to pursue them so I lay them before you.

The first thought is that the arctic ice cap is melting and will soon be gone.  When that happens there will be dark sea water rather than glare ice during the summer.  The insolation of the Arctic Ocean at solstice is greater than anywhere else.  When that energy is absorbed the temperature will move toward the hottest on earth, except of course it will be limited by heat going into evaporation.  The resulting hot wet air will rise and, by the definition of energy, will seek the South Pole, carrying a large amount of moist air way up where it is cold. 

The resulting hail storm will draw on the energy input of the entire world, not just a piece of a continent.  The current “mega-storm” that covers a large portion of North America with barometric pressures never measured here before except for storms of tropical origin may be a taste of what we have in store.

We used to speak of mammoths quick frozen with unwilted flowers in their stomachs.  That has recently been questioned.  But there was something called the Grasshopper Glacier.  It was a glacier with grasshoppers mixed in with it.  Grasshoppers don’t hop around on glaciers so it seems that glacier formed in hours.  I am a little worried.  I am more worried by the fact that nobody seems to have noticed. 

My second idea is much less persuasive.  I understand the “greenhouse effect,” although I am not an enthusiast, just a believer.  I am all for cutting back on CO2 emissions because it is the only plausible way to control what seems to me undeniable global warming.  I’m just not sure it will work.  It’s something about the idea that convection will take the heat upward and higher CO2 concentrations up there will mean it can be more effectively radiated.  If CO2 is opaque to infra-red, then that has to be the case.  But still it’s worth a try. 

What concerns me more is jet exhaust and the lapse rate.  We live in the habitable zone around the sun.  Toss a baseball into orbit at our distance from the sun and it will come pretty close to equilibrating at 70o Fahrenheit, just like springs, caves, large stone buildings and the surface of the earth generally.  Put an opaque layer of jet exhaust high in the atmosphere and that altitude will approach 70o.  Because of the lapse rate, that is to say that higher means colder since rising air expands and cools while falling air does the reverse, things could get really hot down here.  Of course there will never be enough jet exhaust to make the sky black, but I swear that these old eyes most clear days can see a brown tinge to the sky that I swear I would have noticed as a child had it been there.

The fact that nobody is reassuring me on this issue is not reassuring.  In fact somebody has suggested that if we deliberately opacify the air at altitude it will block sunlight and make us cooler.  If that person can be found I shall personally pay for the straight jacket.  Sure you will get a transient cooling as the atmosphere equilibrates.  There is a lot of cold up there.  But make us cooler for keeps?  I doubt it. 

My third idea seems wacky even to my tolerant judgment, but let me toss it out.  It’s about the earth’s magnetic field.  The sun evidently has swirling hot stuff inside that has enough of a charge separation from the surround to form these big electromagnets.  There are a number of north and south magnetic poles on the sun.  The earth has only one of each.  Something has entrained them, but what?  The sun is not lit by the sun, but the earth is.  Rising hot air at the equator moves toward the poles so that the coriolis effect is manifest as jet streams that drag on the air below to produce prevailing westerlies.  As the air moves south the effect reverses so that there are trade winds. 

If air and dust moving over the earth and oceans produce a charge separation, then there is electrical charge circling the earth producing a magnetic field. Change the surface properties of enough of the earth and you can reverse the poles.   What’s more, change the way the air circulates by melting the arctic ice cap and at least the northern hemisphere’s contribution is reversed. 

Or worse, for a time the earth’s magnetic field simply weakens a lot and we lose its protection from solar charged particles.  Charged particles are now deflected toward the poles.  I don’t know how important that is.  You don’t hear of polar explorers getting fried, so we ought to be OK. 

Just an idea.

I shall put this letter on my web site.  I have addressed the topic there before, and maybe somebody will be interested.  If you would like to comment, of course I am at your disposal.  But you might think twice.  The only thing worse than being a suspected heretic is being a suspected apostate. 

Best wishes.


M. Linton Herbert MD 

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