A Holocene South American warm Pacific sediment record

moy 2002 wavelet

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Environmental Bulls and Bears

Markets need fair, transparent and accessible laws – including on open and equal markets, labor laws, environmental planning and management, consumer protection and whatever else is arrived at in the democratic arena. Optimal tax take is some 23% of GDP and government budgets are balanced. Interest rates are best managed through cash markets to restrain inflation to a 2% to 3% target. These nuts and bolts of market management are mainstream market theory and keep economies on a stable – as far as is possible – growth trajectory.

The best way to foster innovative technology is with private/public partnerships for first of a kind (FOAK) builds. Modular nuclear for instance. In the interim technology should be the best available technology (BAT).  High efficiency low emission coal generation – super clean and lower carbon emissions – are the least that is needed for health and environmental reasons and are the lowest cost option for much prospective global energy demand.  Disrupting energy supplies is potentially destabilizing.

It turns out that economies like climate and climate models are dynamic systems with bells on. They look something like this. Nodes and links.

Best of all they have dragon-kings. Hence the need for stability.

Stability brings with it economic growth and reduced scope for fear and greed. Economic growth is faster in well managed markets in low income regions. This leads to a broadening of economic activity and strong nodes of regional economic activity. North and South Americas, Oceania, Asia, Africa and Europe all have scope to be influential partners in the global economy. Multiple regions of economic strength provide buffers against instability in one region or other. It is no longer the case that the global economy is dominated by one region or another. A mutual interest in trade and growth provides as well a path to peace as countries recognize that co-operation is more fruitful than conflict.

Stable, high growth economies provide resources to solve human and environment problems and the way that is managed is of critical importance.  There are two approaches.  A bottom up approach based on the ideas of Nobel prize winner Elinor Ostrom that now have a global following –  combined with the cross-disciplinary methods of Environmental Science.  Development – including potentially nuclear – is regulated by voluntary but enforceable contracts – with penalties for environmental harm.  Most environmental planning and management is done by private consultants and nothing of value is added by government with their focus on end of pipe regulation with bureaucratic hoops and delays.   This streamlines development while freeing up resources for a broader assessment of environmental priorities.  Or a top down command and control paradigm that is everywhere failing the objective test of environmental conservation.

An Australian Terrestrial Biodiversity Assessment found that riparian zones are declining over 73% of Australia. There has been a massive decline in the ranges of indigenous mammals over more than 100 years. In the past 200 years, 22 Australian mammals have become extinct – a third of the world’s recent extinctions. Further decline in ranges is still occurring and is likely to result in more extinctions. Mammals are declining in 174 of 384 subregions in Australia and rapidly declining in 20. The threats to vascular plants are increasing over much of the Australia. Threatened birds are declining across 45% of the country with extinctions in arid parts of Western Australia. Reptiles are declining across 30% of the country. Threatened amphibians are in decline in southeastern Australia and are rapidly declining in the South East Queensland, Brigalow Belt South and Wet Tropics bioregions.

Our rivers are still carrying huge excesses of sand and mud. The mud washes out onto coastlines destroying seagrass and corals. The sand chokes up pools and riffles and fills billabongs putting intense pressure on inland, aquatic ecologies. In 1992, the Mary River in south east Queensland flooded carrying millions of tonnes of mud into Hervey Bay. A thousand square kilometres of seagrass died off decimating dugongs, turtles and fisheries. The seagrass has grown back but the problems of the Mary River have not been fixed. The banks have not been stabilised and the seagrass could be lost again at any time. A huge excess of sand working its way down the river is driving to extinction the Mary River cod and the Mary River turtle. The situation in the Mary River is mirrored in catchments right across the country. Nationally, 50% of our seagrasses have been lost and it has been this way for at least forty years.

It is well known what the problems are. The causes of the declines in biodiversity are land clearing, land salinisation, land degradation, habitat fragmentation, overgrazing, exotic weeds, feral animals, rivers that have been pushed past their points of equilibrium and changed fire regimes. The individual solutions are often fairly simple and only in aggregate do they become daunting. One of the problems is that the issues are reviewed at a distance. Looking at issues from a National or State perspective is too complex. Even if problems are identified broadly, it is difficult to establish local priorities. Looking at issues from a distance means that a focus on the immediate and fundamental causes of problems is lost. There are rafts of administration, reports, computer models, guidelines and plans but the only on ground restoration and conservation is done by volunteers and farmers. Volunteers are valiantly struggling but it is too little too late. Farmers tend to look at their own properties, understandably, and not at integrated landscape function.

There are solutions to some or all of these problems, scientifically based sustainable grazing and agriculture, replanting and stabilizing riparian zones, restoring fragmented habitat, applying appropriate fire regimes and controlling feral species. It first of all needs political will and a financial commitment. The Australian conservation Foundation and the Farmers Federation estimated that $6 billion a year for twenty years is required to restore Australian landscapes – about half of that from private sources.

A necessary prerequisite is to get environmental science operating on local and regional scales. Environmental science is a new type of science. It is team based incorporating a range of skills – ecology, archaeology, sociology, engineering, economics, lawyers and others. It focuses on specific issues and problems and has all the skills and knowledge needed to assess and, above all, fix problems. There are already thousands of talented and dedicated public servants working in isolation on environmental issues. Put them in balanced teams and get them working in local and regional areas. They need to see, smell, touch and taste environmental problems. They need to get out of the cities and work with local organizations and individuals. They need to live with and be part of local and rural communities.

The existing command and control model for environmental management is inherently incapable of reversing declining Australian environmental trends. Environmental problems are not necessarily technically difficult but they tend to have political, economic and social dimensions that aren’t amenable to legislated controls. Our systems are rules oriented and therefore inflexible. They cannot respond quickly to changes in technology or emerging problems, local or regional variations or changing environments. A move to local, flexible, efficient, autonomous and voluntary systems must occur. In Queensland, the central organising environmental legislation is the Sustainable Planning Act. It specifies a number of activities that trigger assessment under other environmental legislation. The associated environmental legislation is the Environmental ProtectionAct, the Fisheries Act, the Vegetation Management Act, the Coastal Protection and Management Act and the Water Act.

One of the problems of the system is complexity, with thousands of pages of legislation and associated policy and regulation. The Sustainable Planning Act is possibly a perfectly adequate vehicle for town planning, roads, water, building and structural certification, sewerage, storage of flammable materials and a host of other traditional activities. The Environmental Protection Act applies to industry and development. Its main concern is emissions of noise and air and water pollutants. The main outcome is a host of end of the pipe limits on emissions. The Fisheries Act protects marine vegetation and approves structures in marine waters. The Vegetation Management Act rules on clearing of native vegetation on private land. The Coastal Protection and Management Act at least theoretically addresses sustainable development of the coastline. In practice, it approves development in the coastal zone. It applies to very limited areas of the coastline with the bulk left to weeds, 4WD’s, goats, pigs and cats. The Water Act applies to diversion of water resources.

The Productivity Commission reported on regulatory regimes in respect of vegetation but the findings apply equally well to other environmental legislation. The Commission found that there are “several key underlying factors limiting their efficiency and effectiveness in promoting the delivery of the community’s native vegetation and biodiversity goals on private land.

1. Regulation of native vegetation clearing prescribes the means of achieving a range of environmental goals across different regions. However:

(a) there are likely to be other means of achieving at least some desired environmental outcomes at less cost (for example, well-managed pastures may also reduce soil erosion). Moreover, because the costs of regulation are largely borne by landholders, the cost benefit trade-off is obscured.

(b) environmental problems are complex, dynamic and geographically heterogeneous and will require innovative and adaptive solutions drawing on local as well as scientific knowledge. Across-the-board requirements for retention of native vegetation are rigid and preclude innovation. Indeed, retention of native vegetation in some areas perversely appears to be exacerbating some environmental problems; and

(c) ongoing management of native vegetation is essential to ensure its health and regeneration, but regulation of clearing focuses only on preventing its deliberate removal.” In addition to point (a) above, there are likely to be ways of producing better environmental outcomes in more flexible and cooperative regimes.

The Commission recommended empowering regional bodies to pursue integrated environmental, social and economic outcomes.

Laudable as the goals of any single piece of environmental legislation may be, the larger picture is not addressed in a manner that integrates science, society and the economy and at the same time provides for conservation and restoration of our landscapes. The legislation applies to part of the problem but leaves huge gaps where the decline of ecological systems continues unabated. Next generation environmental approvals are needed to save money and to redirect those resources into achieving better environmental outcomes. In Queensland, the way forward must be to exclude the environmental legislation from the Sustainable Planning Act. Reassign staff from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Primary Industries, the Department of Natural Resources and Mines and Parks and Wildlife into interacting teams of environmental scientists working at local, regional, State and even National levels. Keep the environmental triggers in the Sustainable Planning Act, by all means, by making them notifiable activities. Subject activities to integrated assessment but make compliance voluntary and enforced by contract. This would streamline processes tremendously and allow people to get on with higher priority and broader environmental conservation goals. If agreement can’t be reached, refer it to the political sphere where decisions should always have been. Provide for statutory timeframes. Keep criminal sanctions for proved environmental harm.

The alternative to hierarchical, compartmentalized, over legalized and failing approaches is gives the prospect of better outcomes all around.  Environmental science teams are comprised of biologists, engineers, lawyers and even non professionals – farmers and greens – anyone who can work cooperatively to solve problems. Above all, they must have a brief to assess and solve problems of air and water pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, land clearing, land degradation, salinisation, habitat fragmentation, weeds, feral animals and fires across the entire landscape but focusing on the local and specific solutions. Their role would be to plan, tender out to contractors and farmers and monitor solutions working, necessarily, transparently and accountably.

Well funded, locally based and broadly skilled teams are the way forward. A broad range of skills are needed to solve environmental problems working at local and regional levels. There are three elements to sustainability, the welfare of current and future generations and the conservation of biodiversity on which all life ultimately depends. For one objective measure of sustainability, the unfortunate truth is that the trend to declining biological diversity has not been reversed over the past forty or more years. The urgency of now doing so should be apparent to everyone.


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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.


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