Yesterday was a big day for me. I finally managed to bolt an atmosphere on top of my computer heat flow model of the Earth, gently tighten the nuts, and watch a pretty good steady state simulation of terrestrial heat flow emerge, with 52 milliWatts/m² bubbling out of the Earth’s surface. That’s a slightly low figure: I was aiming at about 67 mW/m², which is the terrestrial average. I’ll have to warm up the Earth a notch or two to get it right.
It all reminded me of my biker days, when I take the head off my my 250cc Starfire four-stroke motorbike engine, and then put it back on. It was much easier taking it off than putting it on. You had to tighten the nuts slowly and gently, one after the other, onto the new head gasket. I never ever got it quite right. And I always ended up with bruised and bloody knuckles, from when the spanner slipped.
It also reminded me of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and its loving descriptions of engine disassembly and reassembly, and Phaedrus arguing with his philosophy professor.
The analogy with building an engine is exact. That’s what I’m doing. I’m building an engine. And I’ve got the engine to the point where it’s all been bolted back together, and the nuts tightened, and it’s sitting on the kitchen table, slowly leaking oil onto the varnished wood. And the table I’m working at actually was a kitchen table, many years ago.
The assembled engine is a steady state engine. It’s not a working engine with the pistons moving up and down, and the valves opening and closing, vibrating and shaking and making a big racket. Engines are constructed, disassembled and reassembled in the steady rather than working state. The big test comes later, when you finger the carburettor, open the choke, and jump on the kickstarter to crank the engine over. It usually takes a few tries to get the engine running.
When I get my heat flow model engine working, I’m hoping to see a steady cycle of events unfold. Firstly the Earth will cool down, and then when it’s cold enough, ice will start to build up on its surface, and rapidly get thicker. And then the surface of the Earth beneath the ice will heat up, and start melting the ice. A peak rock temperature of about 500K seems to do this pretty effectively. The ice usually melts pretty rapidly at that sort of temperature. And when it’s all gone, and the hot surface rocks meet the atmosphere, they start cooling down again. And they carry on gradually cooling until they’re cold enough for the ice to start to build up again.
And that’s the full cycle, of cooling followed by warming, over and over again. My motorbike engine ran at maybe a couple of hundred rpm. But this engine runs at about one single revolution per 100,000 years. It’s an engine which runs so very, very slowly that nobody knows it’s working at all. They think it’s already in a steady state.
And just like a motorbike engine, this engine needs to be given a big kick to start it running. And I’ll have to relax a few constraints in order to get it running (e.g. open the choke, twist the throttle). I’ll need a hot Earth, and a cool Sun, most likely.
And just like my motorbike had dials on its handlebars showing engine revs, engine temperature, and forward speed in mph, I’ve been building a console that shows me what I want to know about my new engine. Below is what that console currently shows:
On the lower right is a graph that spools slowly from right to left, a bit like a storage oscilloscope, showing the surface rock temperature T1 (green), the surface temperature Ts, the surface heat flow rate, hFl (red), and ice depth (blue). A single cycle has just taken place, with ice depth jumping to probably 2 km, and the surface rock temperature mounting, and with it the surface heat flow rate, until after about 200,000 years the ice all finally melts, and the heat flow rate spikes, and surface rock temperatures drop back.
Top numerics show year number and temperatures of selected layers.
When it’s working, I’m hoping to have a video showing the full cycle happening over and over again.
Anyway, that was yesterday. And so I haven’t been paying much attention to the start of WW3. In fact, I don’t think WW3 has started. I think that we just got treated to a firework display last Friday. A show of force. I hope nobody got hurt.
And I guess that if you’ve got a big war machine, you can’t have it sitting idly on the kitchen table, slowly leaking oil. You need to start it running from time to time, and get it on the road, and do a couple of laps around the block, show people what you can do.
Donald Trump knows that. And his generals know that. And so does Vladimir Putin. And so do Putin’s generals. They’re just complaining about the racket the big engine made when it started up, and did a couple of laps around Damascus.
Trump doesn’t want a war. Neither do his generals. Neither does Putin. Or Xi. Or Kim. Or any of them. But they all need to fire up their war machines from time to time, and take them round the block. Yes, they make a big racket. And the neighbours complain. And birds get startled. So what.
The other thing I didn’t pay much attention to was that antismoking physician who wandered in here yesterday, like some lost goat.
I feel sorry for them when they do that, and find themselves facing dozens of snarling wild animals, like Christians in the Colosseum. They’re used to outnumbering smokers. They’re used to lecturing them. It must be a bit of a rude shock to find themselves outnumbered for once. And find themselves being lectured.
One day they’re all going to find themselves outnumbered. One day they’re all going to find themselves being lectured. One day they’re all going to find themselves exiled to the outdoors, just like they exiled us.
Who’s the philosophy professor I’m arguing with? I guess that’ll be alarmist climate scientists like Michael Mann and the motley crew in UEA. But I’ll also be arguing with climate sceptics as well. I think I’ve got a powerful brand new argument. One they don’t seem to have come across before.