Thresholds and epochs in the Grand Climate System

The map – a thermally enhanced satellite photo – below shows September 2015 sea surface temperature anomalies – that is the difference from average temperatures over a period. During the most resent El Niño.  The oceans have a sun warmed surface layer overlaying the cold depths. Wind and planetary spin keep oceans and atmosphere constantly in motion. In places surface water sinks – driving deep ocean currents – and in others it upwells. Energy moves from the Sun to oceans and land from tropics to poles, to the atmosphere and out to space. It is technically a coupled, nonlinear system far from thermodynamic equilibrium.  A characteristic behavior of the Grand Climate System is relatively stable states punctuated by abrupt shifts that owe more to internal dynamics of the system as a whole than external factors such as greenhouse gases.  Traditionally called oscillations.   They are shifts in patterns of ocean circulation triggered by small changes in the Earth system.  Such as orbits and greenhouse gases.

Grand climate

Annular modes are immense cyclones spun up over the poles by planetary rotation.  Imagine seesawing masses of frigid air spinning off high latitudes.  Where it meets warmer moist air it rains.  Coriolis force spins up gyres in all the world’s oceans.  The oscillations are ocean sea surface temperature modes.  Data collected with more method than madness since the 1860’s.  

This newish temperature index of Pacific Ocean states shows the warm V and cool surrounds of a warm state.  Over the Pacific hot spot cloud is drying and dissipating adding gargantuan energies to the system.   These temperature patterns  shift between warmer and cooler irregularly.   The developers of the index call it epochs.  Based on multiple equilibrium states and sudden shifts – more likely evolving patterns in spatio-temporal chaos.  This pattern has profound effects on global weather and climate.


Source: TPI (IPO( Tripole Index for the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation

Epochs triggered by changes to Earth system boundary conditions.  As far as I can tell the limits to climate change are some -10 and +12 degrees C.  In as little as a decade in some places.  Low summer Northern Hemisphere insolation and a cooler north Atlantic with glacial ice sheet growth.   Or cloud evaporating away.  The answer to this problem in fluid dynamics is literally incalculable.  

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Using all of the heavy elements in nuclear waste to provide energy

A silly thing about light water nuclear reactors is that half a percent of energy as mass (E = mc2) in nuclear fuel is used.  This is one example of an advanced reactor that uses all the energy.  Energy and fission products are what are left after nuclear fission.  The latter are lighter and far less long lived than heavier radioactive elements.  Hundreds of years not many thousands.  Remove these as waste with AIROX dry separation and recycle actinides in a closed nuclear fuel cycle.

This is General Atomics.  They have built helium cooled reactors.  They have commercial silicon  carbide fuel rods for light water reactors.  To prevent explosions like at Chernobyl and Fukushima.  This advanced design can’t melt down or explode.


Factory built – runs for 30 years without refueling.

GA em2

Recycle fuel and remove fission products.

Many times.

Less waste – lower activity.

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Are we to let people starve while the powerful grow bioenergy and restore forests for their tranquility?

“To build a better world, we must have the courage to make a new start. We must clear away the obstacles with which human folly has recently encumbered our path and release the creative energy of individuals. We must create conditions favourable to progress rather than “planning progress.”… The guiding principle in any attempt to create a world of free men must be this: a policy of freedom for the individual is the only truly progressive policy.”
—Friedrich A. Hayek

I looked for this graphic at the Heritage foundation Index of Economic Freedom in response to a couple of sentences from the GIGO linked below on the decline in poverty and hunger in recent decades.  Something ardently more to be desired than than any fruit of economic envy.  Garbage in – garbage out.  The original and still most useful computer acronym.  Although the bottom line here is that well meaning but daft climate policy can increase poverty and hunger.  Not entirely garbage out then.  The Hayek quote is a reminder of the foundation of human progress.

Source”  Heritage Foundation

The reality is that climate is complex and dynamic.  There is uncertainty because the modern science of complex and dynamic systems has little confidence in the 12th century philosopher William of Ockham.  Global warming of 2°C well and truly crosses the line of the all too simplistic.

“All the models apply a uniform carbon price, with the agricultural sector included
in the carbon-pricing scheme. Except for IMAGE, all the models assume land-use competition among food, bioenergy crops and afforestation.”  Fujimori et al 2019: A multi-model assessment of food security implications of climate change mitigation

The reality of the Paris climate accord is a 3 billion metric ton increase in electricity and heat emissions.  A sector responsible for just 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions.  Energy choices for much of the world are those that provide the most productive path to development.  At this time the choice is high efficiency low emission coal technology 1000’s being built or planned across Asia and Africa.  These emit 10% less carbon dioxide and negligible amount of sulfur, nitrous oxides, mercury or black carbon particulates.  This can rapidly change with cost competitive, low carbon alternatives.


Source: ASEAN Energy Equation

The bulk of greenhouse gas emissions come from land use changes and farming or in the form of nitrous oxides from internal combustion engines, and methane from many sources.  As well there is the inexplicably neglected strong warming – more than carbon dioxide from electricity – from black carbon.  These are controlled with existing technology available to rich economies.  With immense health and environmental benefits.

Deserts can be reclaimed. Forests, grasslands, wetlands and coastlines conserved and restored.  The key is water.  The African NGO Excellent Development has a goal of a million sand dams for half a billion people by 2040.  A cost effective way to transform a continent.

Food security requires doubling of food production – and much more meat – by 2050.  It can only be done by building living, more fertile soils – returning lost carbon in the process.  This soil carbon store can be renewed by restoring land. Holding back water in sand dams, terraces and swales, replanting, changing grazing management, encouraging perennial vegetation cover, precise applications of chemicals and adoption of other management practices that create positive carbon and nutrient budgets and optimal soil temperature and moisture. Atmospheric carbon is transferred from the atmosphere to soil carbon stores through plant photosynthesis and subsequent formation of secondary carbonates.  It is based on sound soil science and modern farming practices.  

Carbon sequestration in soils has major benefits in addition to offsetting anthropogenic emissions from fossil fuel combustion, land use conversion, soil cultivation, continuous grazing and cement and steel manufacturing.    Restoring soil carbon stores increases agronomic productivity and enhances global food security.  Increasing the soil organic content enhances water holding capacity and creates a more drought tolerant agriculture – with less downstream flooding.  There is a critical level of soil carbon that is essential to maximising the effectiveness of water and nutrient inputs.  Global food security, especially for countries with fragile soils and harsh climate such as in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, cannot be achieved without improving soil quality through an increase in soil organic content.   Wildlife flourishes on restored grazing land helping to halt biodiversity loss.  Reversing soil carbon loss is a new green revolution where conventional agriculture is hitting a productivity barrier with exhausted soils and increasingly expensive inputs.

Increased agricultural productivity, increased downstream processing and access to markets build local economies and global wealth.  Economic growth provides resources for solving problems – conserving and restoring ecosystems, better sanitation and safer water, better health and education, updating the diesel fleet and other productive assets to emit less black carbon and reduce the health and environmental impacts, developing better and cheaper ways of producing electricity, replacing cooking with wood and dung with better ways of preparing food thus avoiding respiratory disease and again reducing black carbon emissions.  A global program of agricultural soils restoration is the foundation for balancing the human ecology.

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Economics, Environment and Energy

The current average retail price of electricity in the US is $12/MWh.  Our prices are twice that. The increase in the retail price as a result of 80% renewables (in the US) is some $30/MWh.  This is an academic exercise – they are not doing it for obvious reasons.  Labor’s ‘plan’ is for 100% renewables.  What’s a more practical alternative?

Black carbon, sulfate, nitrous oxides, methane and chlorofluorocarbons are all pollutants caused by human activities – burning fossil fuels but also from cooking fires and burning forests and grasslands.  Methane comes from mining and pipelines, sewage treatment, piggeries, cattle feedlots and landfill..  They are enormously harmful to human health and global ecosystems.  Chlorofluorocarbons are a legacy gas used as a propellant in spray cans and in refrigeration.  They destroy radiation shielding ozone in the stratosphere.  There were ready replacement and they were banned in 1996 – but still are 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions.  

Black carbon has a climate forcing of some 1.1 Watt per square meter (Bond et al 2013) – more than carbon dioxide from electricity production.  Sulfate is nominally cooling – although this is confounded with the lensing effect in mixed black carbon, sulfate and primary organic aerosols present in all anthropogenic (human origin) emissions (Gustafsson and Ramanathan 2016). This amplifies black carbon warming 2.4 times.  

“Time-course evolution of BC aerosol composition, light absorption (where EMAC-BC is the enhancement because of coatings), and associated climate effects (as DRF).”

Source:  Gustafsson and Ramanathan 2016

For the future the imperative is to invest in energy research and development – not least because without the innovation windfall future economies are at risk. I’m not adverse to even wind and solar. It adds some 10% to my bill for some 7% of electricity generation. I would count the experiment a success. Levelized costs of wind an solar ate now lower than alternatives – and solar is now on the verge of another technology revolution. But despite the heroic modelling of the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) we are now at physical and technology limits.

The graphics below show the energy mix and the increased cost for 89% renewables by 2050.  The current average retail price of electricity in the US is $12/MWh.  Our prices are twice that. The increase in the retail price as a result of 80% renewables is some $30/MWh.  This is an academic exercise – they are not doing it for obvious reasons.  Labor’s ‘plan’ is for 100% renewables.

Source: NREL Renewable Energy Futures Study

With the right technology – and there are dozens in development – Schumpeter’s principle of creative destruction of capitalism will revolutionize energy systems.  

Emissions of black carbon, sulfate and nitrous oxides are neither necessary or desirable from power plants or transport.  Modern power plants emit virtually no (0.01%) pollutants – and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 10%.  They are very much at the forefront of current ASEAN development and energy planning.  Including in India – the intended destination of coal from the Adani mine.  All in accordance with international agreements.  Greenhouse gas emissions from power plants are some 25% of the total, transport 14%.

Source: ASEAN’s Energy Equation

Technology for reducing black carbon emission is very advanced in modern vehicles.

Source:  Bond et al 2013

Most nitrous oxides come from vehicles – and about half of volatile organic compounds. These complex in sunlight to form damaging photochemical smog. They are amended in modern vehicles with catalytic converters and complex engine management systems that burn air and fuel at a near perfect stoichiometric ratio. Nitrous oxides are about 8% of greenhouse gas emissions.

Methane is not damaging in itself – unless it blows up. Methane is derived from anoxic digestion of organic material. Fugitive emissions from mines and pipelines is an economic cost. Other sources include sewage treatment, landfill, piggeries and cattle feedlots. Anoxic digestion creates soluble and mobile forms of nitrogen. When accumulated in groundwater used in baby formula they inhibit oxygen assimilation. In streams and oceans they result in eutrophication. Methane from responsible waste management provides cost competitive energy sources. Methane is about 14% of total emissions.

Progress has been made – as you can see in the regional pattern of black carbon emissions.  Wealthy countries are doing better than less developed.

Source:  Bond et al 2013

Further progress can be made with continuing economic growth. Including on emissions from farming and forestry – some 24% of the total. This can be radically turned around with existing technology and management systems to double food production by 2050, enhance flood and drought resilience and to stop soil washing away losing fertility in farmland and degrading downstream environments.

Source:  Heritage Foundation 2019 Index of Economic Freedom

Australia is ‘free’ as No. 5 in the global ranking.  We should try to beat New Zealand.

Increased agricultural productivity, increased downstream processing and access to markets build local economies and global wealth.  Economic growth provides resources for solving problems – conserving and restoring ecosystems, better sanitation and safer water, better health and education, updating the diesel fleet and other productive assets to emit less black carbon and reduce the health and environmental impacts, developing better and cheaper ways of producing electricity, replacing cooking with wood and dung with better ways of preparing food thus avoiding respiratory disease and again reducing black carbon emissions.


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100% renewables by 2030 and no Adani mine? Groan.

Australia committed in Paris in 2015 to a 26% reduction on 2005 in CO2 equivalent emissions by 2030.  The Labor Party has an election platform of 43% reduction.  The Liberals have a holistic policy including a safeguard mechanism as plan B.  The Labor party seems to have only a very costly plan B.  In the order of a $12B slug to Australia’s biggest businesses.  But whoever wins 100% renewables by 2030 is not on the agenda.  Politicians in general are not all that bright.  We get the ones we deserve.  But the Labor Party, greens and striking school girls are plumbing new depths of idiocy.


There is $4.55B committed to the emissions reduction fund – the green bits in the graphic.  Reductions of 193 million tonnes have been contracted with funds committed for another 100 million tonnes by 2030.  We have as well 130 million tonnes in the back pocket from overachieving on the Kyoto commitment.

“In 2014 the Government allocated $2.55 billion to provide for purchasing in the Emissions Reduction Fund. Activities supported through the Emissions Reduction Fund provide important environmental, economic, social and cultural benefits for farmers, businesses, landholders, Indigenous Australians and others.

On 25 February 2019 the Australian Government announced the Climate Solutions Fund, providing an additional $2 billion to continue the momentum towards reaching Australia’s 2030 emissions reduction target. This will bring the total investment in the Emissions Reduction Fund to $4.55 billion and deliver around another 100 million tonnes of emissions reductions by 2030.”

There have been 8 abatement auctions for 193 million tonnes reduction at a cost of $12/tonne.  This is a very low cost with economic, farming and environmental benefits.

The graphic below shows that we are well on the way to a 26% reduction from 2005 levels – even with both a growing economy and population.  We are halfway there – and still with a handy little reserve from being a lot better than everyone else.  It is quarterly emissions so multiply by 4 to get annual emissions.  I include it because it shows how dumb the 100% renewables idea is.  Even if all emissions from electricity generation were eliminated – an impossible fantasy – it is less that one third of total emissions.

emissions by sector

Per capita abatement and efficiency improvement is even more impressive.

per caita emission change

Internationally our commitment is comparable.   You may note that China – along with other developing economies – commit to increasing emissions.


Globally – most growth in emissions is coming from developing nations.  Something that is fundamental to economic and social development and environmental conservation.

Most of that will come from high efficiency low emission coal fired plants.  Australia should build 1 or 2 more.

Including in India – the market for coal from the Adani mine.  India – and other nations in the region – have the right under their Paris commitments – and the absolute moral imperative – to develop whatever resources needed to pull billions out of abject need.

The sight of affluent Australians attempting to subvert international rules is morally repugnant.  The Labor Party, greens and striking school girls are both dumb and immoral.

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Small modular nuclear reactor promise? SMR prospects are good!

Factory made, dropped into a bunker or a mine, run uninterrupted for 20 or 30 years using leftover ‘nuclear waste’ – of which there is enough for hundreds of years of energy supply.   And then recycle the fuel core to burn more of the energy in fissionable material.  Producing far more power from the same ore with with far less waste and far shorter lived – 300 as opposed to 30,000 years – fission products.  Replacing aluminium fuel cladding with silicon-carbide.  Melting aluminium in superheated steam produces hydrogen which then explodes.  In the history of bad ideas – this one gave us Chernobyl and Fukushima.  General Atomics is supplying silicon-carbide coated fuel piles in different control rod shapes.  21st century materials and fuel pile design is critical to small modular reactors – quite literally.  These can’t melt and explode whatever happens.  The nuclear pile can not get hot enough – physics says – to melt silicon-carbide.

Helium cooling instead of water means the module can be placed nearly anywhere Powering 100’s of 1000’s  of homes using existing nuclear waste for fuel.

Continue reading

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Australia’s Paris Emission Targets

“With energy efficiency as its cornerstone and needing its pace redoubled, climate protection depends critically on seeing and deploying the entire efficiency resource. This requires focusing less on individual technologies than on whole systems (buildings,factories, vehicles, and the larger systems embedding them), and replacing theoretical assumptions about efficiency’s diminishing returns with practitioners’ empirical evidence of expanding returns.” Amory B Lovins 2018, How big is the energy efficiency resource?, Environ. Res. Lett. 13 090401

First – what are Australia’s commitments?  A 26-28% reduction in carbon dioxide equivalent – including ozone, methane, nitrous oxide and stratospheric ozone destroying chlorofluorocarbons. Continue reading

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Tremendous energy cascading through powerful Earth sub-systems

To understand the multiply coupled Earth system requires tracing the flow of energy through the relevant physical mechanisms.  Over decadal to millennial scales much climate variability emerges from polar regions in changing patterns of meridional (north/south) and zonal (east/west) wind fields that are related to polar surface pressure.  Process level models suggest that it is the result in part of solar UV/ozone chemistry in the upper atmosphere translating through atmospheric pathways into surface pressure changes at the poles (Ineson et al 2015).  Observations suggest that more meridional patterns are associated with low solar activity (Lockwood et al 2010).  There is a further more speculative suggestion that the 20 to 30 year periodicity of the Earth system is caused by the ~22 year Hale cycle of solar magnetic reversal.  The next climate shift is due in the next decade if it is not happening now.   With a dimming sun – it may be to a yet cooler state in both hemispheres.

Continue reading

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Stocks and flows in the Earth system

Stocks and flows exist at the cellular to planetary scales.  Stocks are an accumulation of some sort.  It may be water, heat or biomass.  Water, heat and populations ebb and flow.   Mass and energy are conserved.  Water and heat can thus be treated as elemental calculus entities.  Populations may need equation free prediction

dS/dt = inflows – outflows  –  where S is stock in storage. Continue reading

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Space and ocean climate monitoring in the 21 st century

Where the atmosphere meets space – all energy is electromagnetic.  Incoming from the Sun and outgoing from reflected light and emitted heat.  At most times incoming and outgoing energy at the top of atmosphere (TOA) are not equal and Earth warms or cools – mostly in the oceans that are by far the largest planetary heat store.  Conservation of energy gives the first differential global energy equation.

The equation can be written as the change in heat in oceans is approximately equal to energy in less energy out at TOA.

Δ(ocean heat) ≈ Ein – Eout

Ocean heat is measured by the Argo project – accessed via the ‘Global Marine Argo Atlas‘.  Radiant flux – a power term – is measured by the Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System (CERES) project – accessed via the CERES data products page.  Keeping things in original units – a cumulative space based power flux imbalance is compared to ocean temperature.  They should of course co-vary – providing a cross validation of data sets.

ceres v argo  Figure 1 – CERES in red and Argo in blue

The calculation uses raw data rather than anomalies – it includes a large annual cycle due to current orbital eccentricity.   This has in fact implications for ocean thermal inertia and ‘heat in the pipeline’.  Argo measures heat – a measure of ocean energy content.   CERES measures  incoming solar power flux – and outgoing reflected light – shortwave (SW) – and emitted infrared (IR).  So – take incoming solar and subtract from it both the SW and IR to get an average monthly power flux.  The energy in the month is the power flux over time.  If the power flux is positive it means more energy for the month in the ocean heat store.  Cumulative imbalances show the world warming over the record.  The start point is near a local transition between negative and positive imbalances.


Figure 2:  Excel Excerpt

The average imbalance is 0.8 W/m2 – consistent with ocean heat changes.   The trend is to increasing imbalances over the record.  Although the record is still far too short for such to mean much.

power-flux1.jpg (768×469)

Figure 3:  Average monthly power flux imbalance at TOA

Looking at fields from which the seasonal changes are removed reveals the radiative pattern of low level cloud.  Decreased albedo (less SW reflected) and increased IR emissions with albedo changes net dominant.  This is a pattern consistent with that expected from low level cloud changes.  These are changes of the same order of magnitude as the rate of ocean heat increase.



Figure 4:  (a) SW and (b) IR anomalies

The changes are attributable to ENSO and the Pacific state more generally.  The eastern Pacific is where sea surface temperature changes most dramatically driving cloud cover change.  “Marine stratocumulus cloud decks forming over dark, subtropical oceans are regarded as the reflectors of the atmosphere.1 The decks of low clouds 1000s of km in scale reflect back to space a significant portion of the direct solar radiation and therefore dramatically increase the local albedo of areas otherwise characterized by dark oceans below.2,3 This cloud system has been shown to have two stable states: open and closed cells. Closed cell cloud systems have high cloud fraction and are usually shallower, while open cells have low cloud fraction and form thicker clouds mostly over the convective cell walls and therefore have a smaller domain average albedo.4–6 Closed cells tend to be associated with the eastern part of the subtropical oceans, forming over cold water (upwelling areas) and within a low, stable atmospheric marine boundary layer (MBL), while open cells tend to form over warmer water with a deeper MBL. Nevertheless, both states can coexist for a wide range of environmental conditions.5,7” (Koren et al, 2017)



Figure 5:  Closed open open cloud cells over the Pacific.

There may indeed be greenhouse gas warming – albeit with little extra warming in the tank.  But this 21st century data again shows something else happening with cloud that is driving ocean temperature.


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