Synergistic Technologies for Energy Futures

My vision for energy futures involves the emergence of synergistic technologies. Implementation in the real world can only succeed with cost competitive products.

High temperature modular nuclear providing baseload electricity but also – at periods of lower demand – electricity for carbon capture and heat and power for efficient high temperature production of hydrogen and oxygen from water.

Hydrogen can be catalyzed with carbon dioxide to produce liquid fuels for efficient linear generators powering efficient and powerful electric motors for transport.

Combine this with a high capacity low cost supercapacitor bank for that racing start.

“Supercapacitors have many advantages. For instance, they maintain a long cycle lifetime—they can be cycled hundreds of thousands times with minimal change in performance. A supercapacitor’s lifetime spans 10 to 20 years, and the capacity might reduce from 100% to 80% after 10 or so years. Thanks to their low equivalent series resistance (ESR), supercapacitors provide high power density and high load currents to achieve almost instant charge in seconds. Temperature performance is also strong, delivering energy in temperatures as low as –40°C.”

In my future Paris-Dakar entry. Not because it is low emission – but because it is fun.

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Voices of climate reason

The problem with knowing a few simple things about the Earth system is that there is always a dynamic, deterministic chaotic planet of unknowns out there.

The problem with chaos is catastrophe – in the sense of Rene Thom.


“Technically, an abrupt climate change occurs when the climate system is forced to cross some threshold, triggering a transition to a new state at a rate determined by the climate system itself and faster than the cause. Chaotic processes in the climate system may allow the cause of such an abrupt climate change to be undetectably small.” NAS Committee on abrupt climate change 2002

Regardless of what you think you may know or not know about Earth system science –  the rational response is the same.

“This pragmatic strategy centers on efforts to accelerate energy innovation, build resilience to extreme weather, and pursue no regrets pollution reduction measures — three efforts that each have their own diverse justifications independent of their benefits for climate mitigation and adaptation.” Pragmatic Climate – Breakthrough Institute 

One thing I know is that in the order of 100 billion tonnes of carbon is much better restored to soils and ecosystems than in the atmosphere – for a much more inspiring purpose.

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A maximum entropy climate – Earth in transient energy equilibrium

I think I’ve never heard so loud
The quiet message in a cloud.

Hear it now, what were the odds?
The raucous laughter of the Gods

Kim 2011

The energy balance of the planet is stark where the climate system meets space.  The change in heat energy content of the planet – and the work done in melting ice or vaporizing water – is approximately equal to energy in less energy out.  There are minor contributions with heat from inside the planet and the heat of combustion of fossil fuels – for instance – that make it approximate but still precise enough to use.   Energy imbalances – the difference between energy in and energy out – result in planetary  warming or cooling – and Earth’s strong exponential temperature feedback response tends to drive the planet to a transient energy equilibrium.  Maximum entropy is when there is an energy equilibrium at the top of Earth’s atmosphere – energy in equals energy out – and occurs when oceans are neither warming or cooling.   The oceans are by far the greatest part of Earth’s energy storage – and the Argo record gives us a real sense of whether the planet is warming or cooling – or both at different times.  Some 92% of global heat is in the oceans, 4% in the atmosphere and 4% in latent heat – the latter in liquid water and water vapor.

The global first order differential energy equation can be written as the change in heat in oceans is approximately equal to energy in less energy out at the top of the atmosphere (TOA).

Δ(ocean heat) ≈ Ein – Eout

Satellites measure change in energy in and energy out well but are not so good at absolute values – the inter-calibration problem – so that energy imbalances at TOA are not immediately obvious.  Energy in and out varies all the time.   Energy in varies with Earth’s distance from the Sun on an annual basis and with much smaller changes over longer terms due to changes in solar emissions.   Outgoing energy varies with cloud, ice, water vapor, dust…  – in both shortwave (SW) and infrared (IR) frequencies.

Where Δ(ocean heat) = 0 then energy in equals energy out and there is maximum entropy in the Earth’s energy dynamic.  In the graph below a zero point is assigned to heat change in oceans at a local ocean heat mean – about the middle of an annual cycle.  The ocean heat term should co-vary instantaneously with the cumulative sum of average monthly power flux at TOA –  cumulative monthly average power flux in less power flux out zeroed at the same time as ocean heat.  Energy is the power flux times a time constant to give Joules.   Here the raw units – temperature and power flux in Watts per meter squared – are preserved to highlight co-variance over time and to retain consistent units.  Ocean heat is used to determine a point of local energy equilibrium.  These are two very different data series derived from satellite sensors and ocean temperature probes but they must co-vary in accordance with the 1st law of thermodynamics.

Ocean heat and power flux

Figure 1:  Argo ocean heat – 0 to1900m – 65S to 65N – (blue) – degrees C – versus cumulative monthly radiant imbalance – (orange) – W/m2

What I find intriguing is the steady increase – with the annual cycles – in cumulative energy in less energy out.  This is an apparent discrepancy between ocean heat and cumulative radiant imbalances early in the record that is a mystery.   I’d suggest that there is a problem with the early Argo record – and that the planet has been warming – for multiple reasons – this century.

Power flux imbalances change from negative to positive on an annual basis.  The average is 0.8W/m2 – consistent with rates of ocean warming.  The trend over the period of record is negative.  Such large swings in imbalances cannot be due to greenhouse gases.

power flux

Figure 2:  Monthly power flux imbalances – average monthly power flux in less power flux out

The eccentricity of the Earth’s orbit is currently 0.0167 – quite simply the difference between the actual orbit and a circular orbit at perihelion and aphelion.  Cooler northern hemisphere summers and warmer winters – increasing NH summer snow survival and the risk of runaway ice sheet feedbacks and a new ice age.

earth's orbit

Figure 3  Earth’s current orbital eccentricity

The result is a very large annual variation in energy from the Sun – the energy in component.  Annual variability has significant implications for ocean heat change.  Ocean heat does not change slowly as a result of greenhouse gases and thermal inertia but warms and cools rapidly in response to the very large annual signal.


Figure 4:  Raw incoming solar power flux

There are very much smaller and longer term changes seen in ‘anomalies’.  In which can be seen the approximately 11 year solar cycle as well as minor changes in solar intensity.


Figure 5:  Incoming solar energy with the large annual signal removed

Net energy out – negative (SW+LW) – shows warming up by convention.  The annual orbital cycle and longer term solar intensity change is modulated  by changes from cloud, ice, vegetation, dust, greenhouse gases…  Change it does – and in both IR and SW – in response to both the flow of energy through the system and dynamic internal responses.


Figure 6: Raw Net outgoing energy

There are many and complex responses that emerge spontaneously in the climate system – such as the cool 2008 Pacific anomalies.  This system is the dominant source of cloud change (Clement et al 2009) and planetary hydrology.  It shifts between warmer and cooler sea surface temperature states at a 20 to 30 year beat – a solar driven periodicity that seems likely connected to the approximately 22 year Hale Cycle of solar magnetic reversal.

Figure 7:  Pacific Ocean cool surface temperature anomalies – source NASA Earth Observatory

Outgoing energy is modulated by Rayleigh–Bénard convection in a fluid (the atmosphere) heated from below.  Closed cloud cells – high albedo – tend to form over cold surfaces and open cell – low albedo – over warm (Koren et al 2017).

Figure 8:  Closed and open cell cloud in satellite imagery over the Pacific Ocean – source NASA Earth Observatory

Decadal variability of clouds is an active area of research – e.g. Silvers et al 2017Zhou et al 2018Colman et al 2016Colman and Power 2018  and Xiaoming Hu et al.  Moy et al (2002) present the record of sedimentation shown below which is strongly influenced by ENSO variability. It is based on the presence of greater and less red sediment in a lake core. More sedimentation is associated with a warm eastern Pacific surface. It has continuous high resolution coverage over 11,000 years. It shows periods of high and low El Niño intensity alternating with a period of about 2,000 years. There was a shift from La Niña dominance to El Niño dominance some 5000 years ago that was identified by Tsonis 2009 as a chaotic bifurcation – and is associated with the drying of the Sahel. There is a period around 3,500 years ago of high El Niño intensity associated with the demise of the Minoan civilisation (Tsonis et al, 2010).  Red intensity was frequently in excess of 200 – for comparison red intensity in 1997/98 was 99.


Figure 9: Laguna Pallcacocha ENSO proxy – greater red intensity shows El Niño conditions (Source: Tsonis, 2009 – after Moy et al 2002)

Like flows in the Nile River – on which Pacific variability projects – the changes are not random noise in the climate system – that would sum to zero – but the product of dynamical complexity showing state regimes and globally coupled climate shifts at many scales.  This inevitably leads to modulation of the global energy budget over many millennia at least.

Figure 10:  Random vs dynamical climate change – after D.  Koutsoyiannis

On the very short CERES record net energy out – the sum of SW and IR power fluxes over time – is the dominant term on the right hand side of the global energy equation.   Net TOA power flux is warming up by convention – in what was a warming trend in net CERES data.


Figure  11:  Net TOA power flux

Reflected SW responds to changes int incoming SW, cloud and north/south ocean/land asymmetry.  In contrast to the net graph up is more energy reflected back to space – or in the IR data higher emissions – and a cooling planet.

The cloud signal shows an anti-correlated relationship of IR and SW.    Less cloud reflects less light but allows more IR to escape.  With low marine strato-cumulus cloud SW dominates.  There are land use, water vapor, aerosols, rain… and many other changes .  But cloud impedes IR emissions and reflect SW.  The IR anomalies at the bottom are a mirror of SW anomalies showing the role of cloud in 21st century changes in the energy budget.




CERES_EBAF-TOA_Ed4.0_anom_TOA_Longwave_Flux-All-Sky_March-2000toNovember-2017Figure 12:  SW (a) and IR (b) TOA power flux

There is less reflected light in the early years followed by little net change and a recent warming associated with a warm eastern Pacific.  The IR data on the other hand shows cooling in the early record, little change in the middle and more cooling at the end.  The mirror image of SW and IR energy changes show that cloud was the dominant source of energy change in the climate system in the 21st century.  Very little surface warming – and little of that not associated with EL Ninos – implies that the source of cloud change was not AGW cloud feedbacks.  This is not to say that AGW is not buried somewhere in there amidst the large natural TOA power flux fluctuations resulting from ocean and atmospheric circulation changes (Loeb et al 2012).  Nor that there isn’t a risk of adverse regimes initiated by greenhouse gases emerging from the dynamical complexity of the Earth system.



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A maximum entropy climate – this post has been expanded at the next post


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Intrinsic and forced climate variability

The sun is the source of the vast majority of heat on the surface of the planet. The atmosphere is mostly transparent to incoming visible light and the surface is warmed. Warm surfaces emit infrared (IR) photons. At specific IR frequencies greenhouse gases resonate with outgoing photons resulting in vibrations, rotations, translations and electron orbit excitations. All with the quantum photon energy of the Planck constant times the frequency. The kinetic energy of molecules – heat – is transferred to other molecules in the atmosphere heating the atmosphere. Ultimately photons will be re-emitted in random directions as electron orbits jump to a lower quantum state of excitation – bouncing around the atmosphere – with more greenhouse gases micro seconds longer than they otherwise would. It is this mechanism that maintains the habitability of the planet – and more greenhouse gases result in incremental warming.

Small changes is solar activity – or orbits – are insufficient to explain much of the warming or cooling of the 20th century. But there is apparent an internal variability that has added to and countered Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) – and the proximate cause of this is variability of cold and nutrient rich upwelling in the eastern Pacific. El Niño- Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) have a common origin. PDO positive (negative) states in the north eastern Pacific have exactly the same periodicity as regimes of enhanced frequency and intensity of El Niño (La Niña) in the equatorial Pacific.


Changes in trajectories of global surface temperature occur at the same times as shifts in Pacific climate state. This study from which the figure above is taken (Swanson et al, 2009, Has the climate recently shifted?) used network math across a number of climate indices to confirm that synchronous chaos is at the core of the global climate system. Climate is a globally coupled spatio/temporal chaotic system. The rules of chaos include regimes and abrupt shifts that feature in climate data over all scales. More or less upwelling in the eastern Pacific is linked to changes in wind and gyre circulation – in both hemispheres – driven by changes in surface pressure in the polar annular modes. This in turn has been linked to solar UV/ozone chemistry translated through atmospheric pathways to polar surface pressure. Solar UV is a Lorenzian trigger for upwelling that then resonates in the dynamic Pacific response in a complex interplay of wind, cloud, currents and geopotential.

Changes in global cloud cover are dominated by changes in Pacific cloud over the eastern upwelling regions. Clement et al (2009), Observational and Model Evidence for Positive Low-Level Cloud Feedback – regressed cloud amounts against sea surface temperature.

clement figure 3

It is caused in part by Rayleigh–Bénard convection in a fluid – the atmosphere – heated from below. Closed cloud cells tend to form over cool, upwelling zones increasing global albedo  – open cloud cells form over warmer surfaces – decreasing planetary albedo (Koren et al 2017).

The combination of AGW and internal variation produced an incremental rate of warming in the 20th century of 0.1K/decade. Not in itself an existential threat. And one that may diminish this century with a 7% reduction in solar UV possible. This would translate into more negative polar annular modes, more north/south blocking patterns and substantial Northrn Hemisphere (NH) cooling – this NH winter may be a taste of things to come – and enhanced upwelling in the eastern Pacific (Oviatt et al 2015). But chaos introduces an intractable uncertainty that preclude any simple prognostication. The place to look for uncertainty is in the deepwater formation zones of the north Atlantic that are implicated in abrupt and catastrophic change over the last 800,000 years.

Emissions are being addressed pragmatically across a plurality of gases and sectors with a plethora of technologies and systems – underpinned by economic growth and development. Uncertainty creates the impetus to focus on pragmatic emission reductions regardless of short term climate variability. The bottom line is that the right questions to ask about climate change are not scientific but about appropriate responses to diverse human and environmental challenges.

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The illusion of climate cycles

“Using past variations of solar activity measured by cosmogenic isotope abundance changes, analogue forecasts for possible future solar output have been calculated. An 8% chance of a return to Maunder Minimum-like conditions within the next 40 years was estimated in 2010 (ref. 2). The decline in solar activity has continued, to the time of writing, and is faster than any other such decline in the 9,300 years covered by the cosmogenic isotope data1.” Sarah Ineson et al, 2014, Regional climate impacts of a possible future grand solar minimum

The chances of Maunder Minimum-like conditions emerging is now put at 20%.  Varying solar output has been hypothesized to be due to the eccentric path of the solar system barycenter driving the solar magneto.  But it is also emerges from fluid dynamics within the Sun.  Contrary to an opinions expressed that nature doesn’t do abrupt and extreme change – that is precisely how the physics of complex and dynamic systems work.   In simple principles at the heart of chaotic systems there are regime changes that are completely deterministic but seemingly random shifts in means and variance.

Cosmic ray intensity is inversely related to solar intensity – in which UV radiation is a prominent variable.  Some 19% of the total change in the 1980’s solar max to min.   What we can see in the cosmogenic isotope record is variability at all scales – with an interesting transition to higher solar intensity a little over 5,000 years ago – that has been linked to the mid-Holocene ENSO transition.  The last thousand years has seen a centennial decline in solar activity and a 20th century peak.  The insolation changes – like that in Milankovitch cycles – are insufficient to cause the climate changes that have been seen.  Climate change results from non-linear planetary responses.

“Since irradiance variations are apparently minimal, changes in the Earth’s climate that seem to be associated with changes in the level of solar activity—the Maunder Minimum and the Little Ice age for example—would then seem to be due to terrestrial responses to more subtle changes in the Sun’s spectrum of radiative output. This leads naturally to a linkage with terrestrial reflectance, the second component of the net sunlight, as the carrier of the terrestrial amplification of the Sun’s varying output.”  Shortwave forcing of the Earth’s climate: modern and historical variations in the Sun’s irradiance and the Earth’s reflectance, P.R. Goode, E. Palle, J. Atm. and Sol.-Terr. Phys., 69,1556, 2007. 

Over the long term ice sheets are the major part of solar amplification – and over the short term we are looking at cloud cover changes in response to changes in ocean and atmosphere circulation.  “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.”  Ilan Koren et al, 2017, Exploring the nonlinear cloud and rain equation  The region of the planet where sea surface temperature change most dramatically is over a large part of the Pacific Ocean.  Rayleigh-Benard Convection cloud physics result in changes in planetary albedo.

What can be seen over 9,300 years is variability rather than an illusion of regularity.    As would indeed be anticipated from the fundamental physics of complexity.   “From the smallest scales to the largest, there exists an apparent conundrum: nature is both simple and complex.  From apparent disorder, order emerges. This elegance in nature lies at the heart of my research interests.”  Marcia Wyatt – who is the operator of a beautiful mind.

isotope 9400

The authors of the paper I started with suggest that solar UV/ozone chemistry affects are translated through atmospheric pathways to modulate surface pressure at the poles.  Southern and northern annular modes are thus partially under the thrall of solar variability.  There are other factors influencing polar surface pressure.  When pressures are high in low solar intensity winds and storms are pushed in lower latitudes.  Winds and storms spin up sub-polar gyres in the world’s oceans with dramatic effects on deep ocean upwelling in the eastern Pacific.  None of this can be analysed in terms of simple correlation.  It cannot be modeled because the numerical functions do not exist.  It can be approached as network math with atmospheric and oceanic indices as nodes of chaotic oscillators on a global spanning  spatio-temporal network.  Or perhaps as a signal propagating around the planet using the Multichannel Singular Spectrum Analysis of Marcia Wyatt and Judith Curry.

At a millennial scale the state of the Pacific Ocean superficially resembles the 1000 year cosmogenic isotope record – but the response is dynamic and nonlinear.


Tessa Vance et al, 20213, A Millennial Proxy Record of ENSO and Eastern Australian Rainfall from the Law Dome Ice Core, East Antarctica

“Over the last 1010 yr, the LD summer sea salt (LDSSS) record has exhibited two below-average (El Niño–like) epochs, 1000–1260 ad and 1920–2009 ad, and a longer above-average (La Niña–like) epoch from 1260 to 1860 ad. Spectral analysis shows the below-average epochs are associated with enhanced ENSO-like variability around 2–5 yr, while the above-average epoch is associated more with variability around 6–7 yr. The LDSSS record is also significantly correlated with annual rainfall in eastern mainland Australia. While the correlation displays decadal-scale variability similar to changes in the interdecadal Pacific oscillation (IPO), the LDSSS record suggests rainfall in the modern instrumental era (1910–2009 ad) is below the long-term average.” op. cit.

The change in the beat of ENSO variability around the turn of the 20th century suggests perhaps a slight step change in the solar UV control variable at that time.   The persistence of the 20 to 30 year IPO may be related to the quasi 22 year cycle of heliomagnetic reversals – with weaker 11 year cycles following stronger and with dynamic leads and lags.  An intriguing possibility is a return to a  La Niña-like epoch seen before the mid-Holocene transition.

Moy et al (2002) present the record of sedimentation in a South American lake shown below (panel b) – which is strongly influenced by Pacific Ocean variability. It is based on the presence of greater and less red sediment in a lake core. More sedimentation is associated with higher rainfall in El Niño conditions. It has continuous high resolution coverage over 11,500 years. It shows periods of high and low El Niña activity alternating with a period of about 2,000 years.  And there is the shift from La Niña dominance to El Niño dominance a little over 5,000 years ago that was identified by Tsonis 2009 as a chaotic bifurcation – and is associated with the drying of the Sahel. There is a period around 3,500 years ago of high El Niño intensity – red intensity greater than 200 –   associated with the demise of the Minoan civilisation (Tsonis et al, 2010).  For comparison – red intensity in the 98/99 El Niño was 99.

moy 2002 wavelet

The time “series and wavelet power spectrum documenting changes in ENSO
variability during the Holocene. a, Event time series created using the event model (see
Methods), illustrating the number of events in 100-yr overlapping windows. The solid line denotes the minimum number of events in a 100-yr window needed to produce ENSO and variance.  b, Most recent 11,500 yr of the time series of red colour intensity. The absolute red colour intensity and the width of the individual laminae do not correspond to the intensity of the ENSO event. c, Wavelet power spectrum calculated using the Morlet wavelet on the time series of red colour intensity (b). Variance in the wavelet power spectrum (colour scale) is plotted as a function of both time and period. Yellow and red regions indicate higher degrees of variance, and the black line surrounds regions of variance that exceed the 99.98% confidence level for a red noise process (at 4–8-yr period, the regions of significant variance are shown black rather than outlined). Variance below the dashed line has been reduced owing to the wavelet approaching the end of the finite time series. Horizontal lines indicate average timescale for the ENSO and millennial bands.”  Christopher Moy et al, 2002, Variability of El Niño/Southern Oscillation activity at millennial timescales during the Holocene epoch

If as suspected solar activity evolves in response to an incalculable solar system N-body orbital problem – and this is further modulated through internal fluid dynamics of the Sun – cyclic behavior as such is impossible.   How far it departs from the cyclical expectations of classical mechanics is unknowable – but depart it does.  Solar variability as well triggers nonlinear responses in the planetary system.   In climate data the reality is Hurst effects – regimes and abrupt shifts.   Wavelet analysis – as above – will give you broad spectral peaks – but this is just math and not proof of anything.  Real physics is required to understand the climate system and how it may change in future.  Nor do cycles say anything about how greenhouse gases may perturb flow and change quasi standing waves in Earth’s spatio-temporal chaotic flow field.  It may change them a little or a lot – it depends.


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I Love Dragons

“If some good evidence for life after death were announced, I’d
be eager to examine it; but it would have to be real, scientific data,
not mere anecdote.”  Carl Sagan (1997) – Demon Haunted World

I have been dipping into Carl Sagan’s book and came across the quote.  My question was then – surely eternity and infinity has been settled by Einstein in the space/time continuum starting more than  a century ago.

If we can and do travel through time at different rates – it implies that both futures exists – your slow planet bound existence and my rocket fueled journey to the far future.  Travel to any of these futures is feasible – all moments are seemingly eternally there in the 4 dimensional universe.  Are there implications in this for evolution – where organisms evolve in 3 dimensions but exist in 4?

I have no doubt that the universe is connected always and everywhere at the least with spooky photons – and I am not prepared as yet to entirely discount quantum receptors in the brain.   In those quiet, still moments one can behold infinity in a grain of sand and experience God’s grace on the world.

In a way I agree with Carl Sagan that any archetype – demon, dragon or troll – that becomes a haunting phantasm in a human mind is to be discouraged.   But these are important human symbols with which we create the human narrative – and a hero story for ourselves.



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