The Fiction Of Energy Equilibrium

Thanks to the smoking ban, I now live such an isolated life that, unless Britain gets blanketed under an aerosol coronavirus cloud, I doubt that I’ll ever catch it, because I don’t meet anybody. The people who should worry are the ones who are encountering lots of people all day every day.

So I’ve been thinking about climate science instead. Over the past two years I’ve gradually constructed a simple global climate model, in order to consider ice ages. I’ve got a polyhedral Earth with 80 triangular faces, 24 of which are continental land masses, and the rest oceans. Each of the faces has a geological column extending down to the centre of the Earth. and up through a simple atmosphere to outer space. The centre of the Earth has a temperature of 7000º K, and outer space has a temperature of 0º K, and so there’s a fairly steady heat flow from the Earth to outer space. And I have a Sun which intermittently shines shortwave radiation onto the surface of the Earth, warming it so that it it radiates longwave radiation to the atmosphere, warming the air.

This model is working quite well. If I give the Earth a thick reflective cloud cover, the air in the Earth’s atmosphere gets cold, and rain falls as snow, and I can blanket the continents of the Earth in snow (I don’t blanket the oceans in snow, because I assume snow dissloves in them) .

If I remove most of the cloud cover, more sunlight reaches the surface of the Earth, and the air warms up, and rain will fall as liquid water.

So I can create cold glaciated ice ages, and warm unglaciated interglacial periods.

And if I start an ice age, I can then let the model run, calculating heat flows over thousands of years, and watch the snow and ice sheets melt to produce a part-glaciated world, and perhaps even an unglaciated world.

The snow melts because the snow forms a layer of insulation, which acts to very slowly warm up the rock beneath it over thousands of years, ultimately causing the overlying snow to melt. The snow sheets at different latitudes melt at different rates, and this results in a patchwork quilt of glaciated and unglaciated regions. And when the snow has melted, and the layer of insulation is removed, the hot rocks that were beneath the snow rapidly cool down, and after a brief interglacial period become covered in snow again.

It’s a very simple glacial cycle, repeated over and over again: snow falls, underlying rock warms up, melts overlying snow, and then cools down again. It’s an almost thermostatic cycle. Adding greenhouse gases and Milankovitch cycles has an effect, but on their own they won’t drive the glacial cycle.

Now the strangest thing about this description of glacial cycles is that it seems to be completely unknown to climate scientists.

They know about Milankovitch cycles. And they know about greenhouse gases. And they know about volcanic dust deposition. And they know about ocean currents. But they don’t seem to know that the thermal insulation provided by snow and ice sheets acts to warm underlying rocks in the exact same way that woolen gloves warm up the hands inside them. They can’t see it even though the ice sheets on both Greenland and Antarctica are melting at their bases. They seem to think that they’re melting because greenhouse gases have raised global air temperatures. No wonder they don’t understand ice ages. And so now we have a world chock full of Greta Thunbergs who think the world is on fire.

I’ve been expecting for the past two years to come across graphs like the one at right showing the glacial cycle, with subglacial surface rock temperatures rising during periods of glaciation, while air temperatures plummet, with the situation reversing once the snow has melted. But I never find any.

Why? I’m beginning to think it’s because the climate scientists have different models than mine. My model is a dynamic non-equilibrium heat flow model, mostly of conductive heat flow through rocks and snow and ice. I don’t assume any equilibrium, such that the Earth is gaining heat at the same rate that it is losing heat. I just keep adding solar heat and geothermal heat, and calculating the resulting new temperatures of everything. In my model, all the temperatures are continually changing. I’m modelling a process.

But I’m beginning to think that the climate scientists may well be modelling equilibrium states, which allow them to write lots of equations in which something = something else. I was alerted to this idea yesterday when I cam across the following paragraph in a piece by Dr Roy Spencer:

If the Earth had no atmosphere (like the Moon), the surface temperature at any given location would be governed by the balance between the rate of absorbed solar energy and the loss of thermally-emitted infrared (IR) radiation. The sun would heat the surface to a temperature where the emitted IR radiation balanced the absorbed solar radiation, and then the temperature would stop increasing. This general concept of energy balance between energy gain and energy loss is involved in determining the temperature of virtually anything you can think of. (my added emphases)

Balance. Balance. Balance. Roy Spencer’s Earth is in energy balance. And most likely all the climate scientists’ models are in energy balance as well. They’re not modelling processes: they’re modelling balanced equilibrium states. And that’s probably why they can’t see the process by which insulating snow warms up underlying rocks over thousands of years, because they’re not modelling processes. And I’m modelling processes. I don’t assume any equilibrium conditions. And I don’t write any equations.

Equilibrium is a fiction. It’s a useful fiction that allows climate scientists (and others) to write equations. In the real world, there is never any equilibrium. The real world is like a bouncing ball, which is always either rising or falling. The equilibrium state where the ball is neither rising nor falling is either never reached, or reached after a very long time. And if your model of a ball is going to be of an equilibrium state, you will never see the ball bounce.

I’ve got a non-equilibrium dynamic heat flow model, and I can see the temperatures of rocks and snow going up and down in a cyclical process, just like a bouncing ball. But, given their assumptions of equilibrium conditions, climate scientists can’t see anything going up and down, because their assumption of equilibrium states precludes any change. And that’s why we’ve got Greta.

But You’re Not A Climate Scientist, Frank, I hear you say. You haven’t got a degree in climatology. Well, no, I don’t have a degree in climatology. And I’m not a climate scientist. In fact, I wouldn’t even call myself a scientist. I’m just a guy who’s been sufficiently interested in this stuff to build his own model.

Another old hit, this time from 1960:

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18 Responses to The Fiction Of Energy Equilibrium

  1. garyk30 says:

    Happy PI Day!

  2. Rolf Norfolk says:

    I don’t fully understand it but think what you’re saying is important. Have you contact a university about it? Or the Royal Geographical Society?

    • Frank Davis says:

      I used to construct electronic heat flow models of buildings in university some 40 years ago, so I’ve got a background in doing this sort of stuff. It’s why when I look at snow I see insulation just like what I used to have in the walls of buildings.

      I generally have bad experiences with universities these days. They’re not really interested in what outsiders think (and i’m a far outsider), and that’s true in spades in the case of climate science right now. Best route is probably the internet and blogs like Tallbloke, who took quite a lot of interest when I came up with this idea 2 years ago.

      But my big puzzle, as I wrote today, is that climate scientists seem to be unable to see that thick layers of snow and ice act as thermal insulation.for the ground beneath them. To me it seems obvious. But they can’t seem to see it. And maybe it’s because they model things differently than I do. And maybe they’d say I model it the wrong way.

      It’ll eventually get resolved.

      • garyk30 says:

        Those scientists prove that you can find any pattern you want to any level of precision you want as long as you are prepared to ignore enough data.

  3. Саня says:

    Frank, it is great! I do understand what are you about. Why they did not even try. And explain it to this little Greta.

  4. Fumo ergo sum says:

    “Thanks to the smoking ban, I now live such an isolated life that, unless Britain gets blanketed under an aerosol coronavirus cloud, I doubt that I’ll ever catch it, because I don’t meet anybody.”

    –> Replace ‘Britain’ with ‘Belgium’, and the same would hold for me as well. Except perhaps that I still go to work for four days a week, but I do not really meet anybody there. I just happen to share an office space with some other people who also happen to be there. So in the unlikely event that I would catch the coronavirus, it should be rather easy to identify the conductor through whom I caught the little beast.

    In any case, since last night Belgium also succumbed to the corona hysteria even though the state’s officials in charge won’t call it a ‘lockdown’ like in Italy. But it gets pretty close to it. As from today until (at least) the 3rd of April, classes at schools are suspended (even though school buildings remain open), homes for elderly people have to lock their doors to people visiting their (grand)parents or other relatives. Religious services such as mass celebrations are suspended. Restaurants, bars and cafés have to close down entirely. An exception is made for take-away eateries and snackbars: those may remain operational, but consumption on site is prohibited. Will also close their doors entirely and 24/7 until the 3rd of April: beauty farms, swimming pools, public baths, libraries, museums, art galleries, and so on. As with regard with stores and shops, a rather hybrid arrangement has been set up in which food stores (supermarkets, butcheries, bakeries, grocery stores,…) as well as pharmacies may remain open throughout the whole week. Other stores and services such as banks, insurance offices,… may only remain open from Monday until Friday.

    All in all, that’s quite a lot of so-called ‘public spaces’ that won’t be accessible, either partially or entirely, for the next three weeks. But I am not the slightest bit sad or disappointed for it. I actually had to go to a dinner in a restaurant this evening, but I am glad that I don’t have to go for obvious reasons all too familiar to you. Unless I would be prevented from going to work, or in the unlikely event that even supermarkets would have to close down, all these so-called staunch and demanding measures do not affect me at all.

    Unadapted to a life of quasi-permanent seclusion and isolation, one could of course expect some mass hysteria occurring among the population. In the wake of the federal government’s communication on Thursday evening, there had been a rush on supermarkets the day after with people storming the shelves for amounts beyond necessity of toilet paper, spaghetti, canned food and paper towel. But I have the impression that the worst of the storm has already calmed down in the meanwhile. However, yesterday evening I visited a good acquaintance who owns a small wine and liquor shop in a medium-size town (about 21,000 souls living there). Besides liquor and wine, she also has a selection of candies, chocolates and… tobacco on offer. And she testified me that she had been breaking all day records in cigarette sales, with people not even buying their brand per pack but rather by carton (containing 10 packs each). Or even two cartons. She also reported that there had been a lot of customers, coming for their cigarette supply, that she had never seen before in her shop.

    Since smokers got already used, in varying degrees, to a secluded and isolated life; I cannot imagine that those customers must have been of the same bent as their anxious, panicking non-smoking or anti-smoking counterparts that had been rampaging the supermarkets in vain search for the last unit of hand sanitizer. I do not think that those smokers had been anxious about anything at all, or that they thought that there would be a pending shortage in cigarettes. I actually think that they bought that many cigarettes because they were about to celebrate. At least for me, this newly declared state of corona-emergency really is an occasion to celebrate and party. Because if you close down all restaurants, cafés, bars, galleries, discotheques, hairdressers, and so on and so forth; then this means that there are many “public spaces” where there will be little to no people inside. And when there is nobody inside those public spaces, this implies that there is also no smoking ban that needs to be enforced. On the contrary. If there will be any public gatherings in the course of the weeks to come, they will have to be held outdoors. So everyone, including non-smokers, will have to stand ‘exiled to the outdoors’ and see lots of ashtrays, cigarette packs and lighters passing by. And perhaps, finally, take up the good habit themselves.

    Of course, it may also be possible and actually very likely that people will congregate in their own private homes where they can invite their friends and family. For many smokers this won’t come as a surprise but rather as a continuation of their business as usual. And whence people congregate in their own or other people’s private homes, they can at last free themselves of the shackles of top-down social engineering and petty state regulations. Indeed, even in times of corona alert, they can host as many guests as they see fit, and let them smoke (or not) as they please. And so if the quasi-lockdown gets an extension after the 3rd of April, or when the measures become stricter, there might eventually grow an unofficial, informal network of clandestine, perhaps even smoky and dirty, cafés inside those private homes. This is actually how, at least in Belgium and the Netherlands, cafés as we knew them until the early 2010s emerged. The first café archetypes appeared in the early 19th century in the wake of the Industrial Revolution in order to gain an extra income. People, especially from lower income classes, would simply decorate a part of their living room with some extra tables and chairs and offer something to drink. At the turn of the 20th century, however, expensive state-imposed spirit licenses became mandatory, and the informal house chamber cafés were forced to ‘professionalize’. But it was only as of 2011 (for Belgium) that cafés were formally dismantled due to the smoking ban and that these businesses continued as “café” in name only. So what might happen now, in 2020, is that we get a dual network of cafés and perhaps other hospitality businesses such as restaurants as well. There will be then an “official” network with eery smoking bans and other kinds of pesky regulations (no booze served under 18 years old, no gambling without official and expensive licenses, no dogs allowed, no noise after 12 am, etc.) and suffocating financial costs accruing to them (labour costs, rent, taxes,…). All these official businesses now have one common characteristic: they are closed and as dead as a doornail. And for my part, they may remain closed even after the 3rd of April. Permanently. Forever. Because there will have emerged an unofficial and more promising circuit of REAL cafés by then. With drinks available at affordable prices. With 15 year olds tasting their first glass of wine on their way in becoming a grown-up gentleman or lady. With dogs hiding under the table or lying on the carpet. And last but not least: with lots of, lots of and yet even more lots of ashtrays and a cupboard filled with a selection of the finest tobaccos. This unofficial, clandestine network of cafés will be of course alive and thriving as never before.

    Let this be a very merry and smoky lockdown!

    • smokingscot says:

      One thing you and all of us need to be aware of – and that’s your shopping bags. I have these cotton and nylon ones that I’m now running through my washing machine.

      As one said yesterday, just think what they’ve held and where you’ve put them before you dump them on your table or work surface. I did. That’s why they’re in their own wash right now.

      No I don’t go with scrubbing the poly bag tax (even if it benefits “charities”). Let Darwin do his stuff.

    • EG says:

      We have almost the same thing plus some restrictions on public transport. People are reacting similar but I’m one of the last ones still roaming the streets.And funny enough the ones that are still out are the nicest people ever. Most people that I met in the last three days were very kind and humorous and that is not normal for my country. But control freaks bought all sanitizers and whatever like three weeks ago and staying away, I guess.

  5. slugbop007 says:

    Let’s initiate a pandemic of boycotting all cafés, bars, pubs, movie theatres and the like, and all the anti-social, social engineering legislation as well. That’ll teach ’em.


  6. Clicky says:

  7. slugbop007 says:

    I am thinking more and more that this corona virus scare and all the lockdowns that have been implemented is just a test case, with more stringent social engineering measures to follow just around the corner.


    • Joe L. says:

      I have also been wondering if this is the case. If this is truly a coronavirus of natural origin (and not a bioengineered, weaponized virus), the measures being taken are insanely extreme and draconian. It’s a very scary thought that, like the ever-thickening “salami-slice” smoking restrictions, this could be an attempt to condition societies to accept (and possibly beg for more) top-down social control.

      • Fumo ergo sum says:

        But this is exactly the difference between the current Draconian measures being taken and a salami-slice approach to [fill in the fictitious threat that needs to be combatted]. In a salami-slice approach, one gradually make people ‘accustomed’ to new and ever-expanding restrictions and regulations until the point that no-one has been aware that his fundamental liberties have been stolen. It is the approach that is often emblematized by the famous fable of the boiling frog that won’t jump out of the water if you heat it gradually and slowly. With regard to smoking restrictions, the salami-slice approach has been tremendously popular here in Belgium even though it is actually salami cubes that are often being offered as an aperitif side dish… :-)
        Yet, it is all about perception and one has always to keep a critical eye in order to distinguish lawful or at least excusable measures from straightforward bullying. When smoking bans got introduced in places like libraries, railway stations and trains, those bans might eventually be pardoned. Excusing became more difficult when the ban extended toward restaurants, taverns and nightclubs – but still. But the regulation only really became a dictate when cafés and bars, even those with no paid employees in service, also succumbed to the smoking ban. It became a dictate because the excuse that employees and other people ‘involuntarily’ congregating in those places ought to be ‘protected’ no longer held. But the general public, numbed during an entire decade or even more with a consecutive series of smoking bans, did not notice it – sadly enough. Or perhaps they did notice, like I suddenly did, slowly shying themselves away from public life.

        However, with Draconian all-at-once measures such as those currently taken in the fight against the coronavirus, changes are very sudden and drastic. Because if these measures are taken in a state of emergency, there is no time for habituation or so. So the frogs simply get boiled straight away. Everyone (that is, non-smokers and anti-smokers as well) now witness that even their “liberties” can be altogether suspended at any moment and for any reason. This might prove successful if the measure is just temporary. But will these measures just be temporary? If not, I think that (voluntary) compliance with the imposed measures will be rather short-lived. And this brings us immediately to the situation I proposed, where people will still find ways to gather together and continue their lives outside the reach of top-down government control. And then governments might implement even stricter forms of social control, just to find out that there is no-one present anymore in the venues upon which the state’s officials are actually preying.

        There is of course a very glaring caveat to my optimism, which is that governments may ultimately intervene directly into people’s lives by actively regulating and controlling what goes on into people’s private homes. With police officers and civil clerks standing at your front door to check who is coming and out. And with checkpoints down the road to inspect where you are going to or coming from. I won’t definitely call it a theoretical impossibility, given the ease with which they already degraded bars and cafés and many other privately owned venues into “public spaces”…

  8. Lepercolonist says:

    As a smoker, I have been quarantined for 14 years. It feels like I am institutionalized, similar to a lifer in prison. This is what life will be until I die. Non smokers are panicking because top-down control is unbearable for them. How important is secondhand smoke in this environment ? It is so insignificant with this viral pandemic. Maybe this will make people realize quarantines means social isolation. Welcome to the club.

    • Rose says:

      It’s the price we pay for disagreeing with the prevailing belief, it’s only us holding ourselves in this position, we can return to the herd whenever we like but lose our autonomy, which would be unthinkable.
      It’s a fluid situation at the moment, right now I think it’s a good idea to self isolate as I’m over 65, and goodness knows we’ve had enough practice, but if that ever became mandatory I would spend a large percentage of my time thinking out how to escape.

  9. Pingback: Approaching Peak Panic | Frank Davis

  10. Саня says:

    Yes, Rose, it’s us holding ourselves, but how could we live if we surrender.

  11. Pingback: Delay the Next Ice Age | Frank Davis

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