Commie Climatology

Some recent action in the Republican War on Science, Climatology Edition, with Lubos Motl leading the cavalry.

Climatologist William Connolley had a comment on Steve Connors’ article on climate change. This provoked a response, and ultimately, a declaration of war from noted physics blogger Lubos Motl. Here’s the original comment’s that provided Lumo’s starting point:

Connor: “. . . the Arctic sea ice, the northern hemisphere's major "heat sink" that moderates climatic extremes.“

Connolley: “No. The arctic sea ice *isn't* a major heat sink . . .”

Note that the context here is “the northern hemisphere,” since Lumo will conveniently try to change the subject later. The arctic sea Ice has an areal extent that averages about 10^7 km^2. The surface area of the northern hemisphere is about 2.5 x 10^8 km^2, of which roughly 1.5 x 10^8 km^2 is ocean. The wintertime production of sea ice in the arctic averages about 1.3 m in thickness(P&O, pg 362), so the overall volume production is about 1.3 x 10^13 m^3 or 1.3 x10^16 kg. Multiplying by a latent heat of fusion of 3.34 x 10^5 J/kg we get an energy release of 4.3 x 10^21 J. By comparison, the northern hemisphere ocean releases about 1.2 x 10^23 J from October to February. Thus, as a moderator of northern hemisphere temperature, the Arctic sea ice is less than 4%, so it’s certainly not “the major heat sink” moderating the northern hemisphere climate.

Two more numbers:
Energy per m^2 to melt icecap: 7 x 10^8 J/m^2
Energy to cool NH ocean to 0 C: 4.3 x 10^12 J/m^2

With that point in hand, let’s look at one of Lumo’s paragraphs:

“William also has his own private blog called Stoat. In the newest article, he questioned the statement by Steve Connor that the Arctic sea ice is a major heat sink. “

We’ve examined that.

“In the main text he said that ice couldn't be a heat sink because it reflects solar radiation. So I explained him that when we say that it is a heat sink, we mean that it absorbs the heat particularly from the ocean, not from the Sun. I expected him to realize his error.”

Connolley was actually quoting Connor in the part about reflection of solar radiation: His (valid) point is that the reflective and insulating properties of sea ice prevent the Arctic ocean from absorbing more heat in the Summer and releasing more in the Winter. Lumo’s point would be more applicable if the Arctic sea ice were a larger factor in global heat storage.

Lumo continues: “Instead, he continued and wrote that the latent heat of ice is completely negligible, and they can forget about it when they work with their climate models.”

Let’s look at the complete text of Connolley’s answer to Lubos:

“Steve, Lumo: the sea ice is a negligible heat sink. Its 1-3m skim of water on top of a 1-3km thick ocean. Compared to the ocean its heat capacity is negligible. Thinking of it as a heat sink is a mistake. It *does* strongly affect the air-ocean fluxes by insulaing the warm ocean from the cold air, and by affecting the albedo, but thats a different matter.”

Connoley did *not* say that the latent heat of ice was “completely negligible” or that it could be neglected in climate models.” He was trying to explain to Lubos that the main climatic effect of the sea ice was by insulation and changing the ocean albedo, but let’s take a look at some of the argumentative techniques now employed. We have already seen above:

1) Making shit up.

2) Changing the subject:

Lumo: “Now, there are about 2 meters of ice in average in the Arctic and approximately 2 kilometers of water underneath. Simple counting shows that by melting the ice, you can cool down the whole underlying ocean by 0.1 degrees - the predicted "global warming" trend for a whole decade.”

Recall that we are talking about the heat storage of the whole northern hemisphere. Lubos has decided that it would be better just to talk about the Arctic Ocean, so he has calculated that melting all the Arctic sea ice would cool the rest of the Arctic Ocean by 0.1 C – except that said ocean is already at freezing temperature. For the whole northern hemisphere ocean, the effect is about 0.004 C.

3) Bringing in absurdly irrelevant information: Lumo spends a paragraph or so calculating how much the Arctic CO2 could be chilled (150,000 C !) by as much heat extraction as would be required to produce the Polar ice cap.

Lumo’s original claim was that: “This looks like an excellent example how the self-confident climate "big shots" are ignorant about basic numbers in physics and how worthless their reasoning is.”

Perhaps because this case has not been made, the heavy artillery is hauled out:

4) Call the other side communists: “Water does not matter for them. What's the real reason that water is not interesting? Well, it's because the evil capitalists produce as much water as the nice communists and ecoterrorists.”

The above was the last part of a paragraph that relies heavily on technique (1) above, by claiming that global climate models ignored the most important greenhouse gas, water vapor. That claim is spurious.

I have a few quibbles of my own with Connolley. He could have been more precise than he was on a couple of points. Of course he probably didn’t realize that he was dealing with a brilliant but utterly unreasonable Harvard physics professor.


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