Climate research encompasses system research and actor research. Conclusions, despite being drawn from well performed actor research, are usually invalid. Among the many errors present, I select two with overall consequences: the use of averages in physical formulas and insufficient attention for complexity conditions.
"Climate" is a meaningless notion. It indicates the behaviour of weather over a certain period.
Computation using averages instead of computing first and, if required,
Regional uniformity in weather behaviour is termed the local climate. This has slightly more meaning. But still it is not physics.
The chosen period is usually 30 years. Over such a period the average parameters of precipitation, temperature, wind force, wind direction, air pressure, solar irradiation, visibility, the air's composition, aerosols, etc. describe the climate. These parameters get their own physical sounding name e.g., the average temperature in the Netherlands in °C. This may look like physics, but it is not. Quantities such as the average temperature in a day, or a year, do not fit physical laws.
Systems obey physical parameters, not averages.
False Arithmatic with Averages
A system with a certain temperature has certain properties; properties that can differ dramatically from what the average suggests. I shall illustrate this with two examples.
Consider a container with gas. The gas pressure in the container is proportional to the absolute temperature. (The law of Gay-Lussac.) The absolute temperature is measured in "Kelvin", K (0 °C = 273 K and 0 K = -273 °C). At night the container might have a temperature equal to -100 °C, and a temperatrure of +100 °C in the daytime. The average temperature, therefore, is 0 °C. At -100 °C (= 173 K) the container is filled with gas untill the pressure is 10 atmospheres (10 Bar).
The system can be tested by measuring the pressure after raising the temperature to
its average temperature, i.e. 0 °C (= 273 K), at which our system is meant to work. We now find the pressure is 15.8 Bar. Nothing else changes; the system behaves as physicists expect. To make sure, we raise the temperature to +100 °C (= 373 K), a temperature at which we expect a pressure equal to 21.6 Bar. Instead our container explodes. It cannot withstand the high pressure. The explosion indicates that the average temperature does not give us enough information about the behaviour of our system, despite its expected performance at the average temperature.
In the second example we cut a globule into two halves, A and B. We glue the two halves together again, adding a heat insolating layer in between. Both contain an electric heater, and we can regulate and measure the heating separately. Now we position the globule somewhere in outer space, shielded from the sun, the temperature is about 0 K (-273 °C). The globule obeys the radiation law of Stefan-Boltzmann, losing its energy by heat radiation proportional to the 4th power of its absolute temperature, T4 to the universe. Therefore after some time the temperature of the globule is also 0 K.
Now we switch on the heater of A and adjust it so that its temperature reaches 273 K. Suppose that at adequately chosen sizes for stabilisation the energy input in A should be 100 Watt (the incoming electric energy equal to the outgoing radiative energy). B remains 0 K. Thus, the resulting average temperature of the globule as a whole is (273 + 0)/2 = 136 K.
Lovers of arithmetic using averages, conclude that in order to keep the real temperatures of both A and B 136 K, they need an input for both of 50 Watt. Together, this equates to 100 Watts. These foolish calculators are stealing from their own wallets. Instead of (2 x 50) = 100 W energy supply to the whole system, they could reach their goal by supplying 6.2 W to A and B each. That is 12.3 Watt instead of 100 Watt in order to bring the temperature of the whole system to the average temperature 136 K, which we had achieved before by heating only one half to 273 K (!).
averaging after, is a frequently made mistake. In climatology
it is more the rule than the exception, because
most parameters in use are averages.
Climate Research (Climatology)
In climatology one attempts to understand the behaviour of climate parameters from the course of one or more other climate parameters. Think of the rumours about the change of an average temperature caused by a change in average atmospheric CO2 concentration. Or, what is even more problematic, human contribution to atmospheric CO2.
Climate parameters - there are many - are not mutually independent. A system with many "actors" we call complex.
Numerous attempts are on records, that describe complex systems on the basis of one single actor. In the climate system for instance, this actor would be CO2. In a brief tutorial on complexity I explained why this is erroneous. There are conditions that have not been met in the past and that will even not been met in the foreseeable future.
One mistake is consistently being made: the assumption: that "It can be done, when all other actors are constant." This assumption is wrong, because even when an actor is constant, its interaction with the system may change, when the system is altered due to the change of the selected single actor. This is not only serious if the other (assumed) constant, actors are not well known, but also if their individual behaviour is exactly known - like the Mercuries' example in the complexity tutorial - since the behaviour of the system might turn out to be dramatically unexpected. Or as Richard Feynman warned "The result of even flawless arithmetic may be idiotic".
This serious objection is already illustrated in the example of the exploding container above, but I discuss another below. It is almost trivial.
Consider an insulated container with a well stirred liquid i.e., with a uniform temperature. In the liquid there are two actors, an electric heater and a cool plate. The latter is connected to a refrigeration device, like an ordinary kitchen refrigerator for example. When both the heating energy and the temperature of the plate are kept constant, the liquid will also stay at a a constant temperature, warmer than the plate. (The outflowing energy to the plate is equal to the incoming electric energy.) If we increase the heat, while keeping the plate at a constant temperarure i.e., the system has a variable single actor and one constant actor, the temperature will adjust to a higher level. (The outgoing energy will rise untill a new equilibrium level because warmer water will emit more energy to the plate at constant temperature.) Consequently no further heating of the liquid occurs.
Say the consistency of the cooling actor alters. Then instead of keeping its temperature constant, we keep the energy outflow constant, then we augment the electric energy just a little. The outcome is catastophic, as soon as the energy influx exceeds the outflow, the temperature will rise to infinity. This would also happen in the former case if the refrigerating device has a maximum capacity. Please note that in the second case we do not have to augment the heating more and more to make the liquid warmer. Even reaching just a bit more than the cooling capacity leads to a catastrophe.
In both cases there is a variable system behaviour when we change the single actor and keep the second actor constant. And the way this constancy is defined, moreover, makes another appreciable difference. In both cases there was only one variable actor in the experiment!
Often mentioned actors in the complex climate system are:
Most of these actors are also complex systems themselves, about which we have insufficient knowledge.
- Solar radiation.
- Corpuscular radiation by the sun.
- Reflection of ocean, snow, ice, plants, soil use etc.
- Transmission through the atmosphere, polluted or clean (volcanos, dust, industry, etc.)
- Absorption (ibid, plus conversion and storage).
- Reflection, absorption and transmission of clouds, trace gasses, H2O, CO2, CH4, O3, etc.
- Geothermal heat (te Earth's core is about 6000 °C).
- Ocean currents.
- Our Orbit around the Sun and its disturbance by Moon and other planets.
- The Earth's energy transport, exiting (through evaporation/condensation, convection, radiation) and horizontal (the Earth's rotation, winds and oceans).
- The Angle of earth's axis.
- Tectonics (moving plates, up, down, and horizontal)
... The list is much longer.
An incredible amount of research has been done on actors. Like in all of science, there is good and bad research. I support fundamental research. It is in the interest of society, though only as long as it is carried out well. I do so even when many others don't yet see the relevance. A lot of work in climatology is not of a sufficient quality; see several critical articles on my website. However, excellent actor research does also exist.
Yet no matter how well the research is done, it still does not help climate understanding since the system is so complex. At best, it may remove some misconceptions.
Complexity has been studied intensively. The general conclusion thereof is written in the above mentioned brief tutorial on complexity. Using the tutorial's arguments, I state:
How excellent research on a certain climate actor has been
and how much praise it deserves, conclusions drawn for the
behaviour of another actor or parameter, are with regard to
the future only a guess, or when unfriendly said,
The root of this evil lays in the misunderstanding: When all actors remain constant except one, the exception determines the system course. That isn't true. If one of the actors changes the system, the interactions with other actors may change as well. Keep in mind that this holds also if the variable has no direct interaction with the "constant" others. That is why complex systems are unpredictable, unless the complexity conditions have been observed. However, this is rarely done in climatology.
The climate system is a coupled non-linear chaotic system,
and therefore the long-term prediction of future exact
climate states is not possible.
Only when a chosen actor is dominant during a certain period, we are able to make some predictions of a limited period with some useful significance. Like our knowledge of weather forecasts, for example.
As long as the conditions have not been observed, a pronouncement like: CO2-, the sun-, the clouds-, the wind-, urbanisation-, Earth heat-changes at a certain variation cause a determined shift of the temperature of the system, are absolute guesswork.
Actor research is useful for other reasons. It may throw new light on the Earth's processes and in its oceans (verification, falsifying, innovation). Falsifying can be done by comparing measurements with theoretical results, or by unveiling errors in earlier research e.a., methodology, logic, instrumentation, arithmetic etc.
Suppose a researcher A ascribes a certain influence of actor a to temperature T. He assumes that the complexity conditions, among which a's dominance, have been met. Now researcher B shows that actor b (new or not) also had a comparable influence on T during the relevant period. Then A's assumption that a was dominant in that period is no longer valid. Furthermore his assumption about the validity of the complexity conditions loses its validity. His conclusion about T drops from a theoretical and verifiable result to a mere guess.
Though climate is a meaningless notion, it is not lacking in strong assertions about its behaviour. Contradiction is emotionally easy to parry by stating: "You are not telling us, how it really is, otherwise." This is not a logical objection. A statement can very well be wrong, because of wrong measurements, wrong assumptions, wrong arithmetic, and so on. This is the case with climate. We don't know how it really is, and we shall continue to not know for quite some time because of complexity and insufficient knowledge about the actors.
Thus, research on actors like CO2. CH4, aerosols, clouds, volcanos etc.. are fine, if done with a sufficient level of quality, are certainly relevant for climate, when it leads to understanding of energy flows. However, drawing sufficiently precise conclusions from those energy flows about other actors, or about indicators like the temperature in the tiny thin shell of the Earth that is our habitat, are not possible. CO2 certainly has an influence on energy transport in and out of our shell, but it does not answer the question, of what it means for the shell's temperature. The energy distribution among heat, chemical energy (photosynthesis), and locations in land and ocean is very important. It produces surprising differences in temperatures in both time and places.
IPCC, Third Assessment Report.
C. (Kees) le Pair
Nieuwegein, The Netherlands.
With thanks to Nidanu O'Shea
for her language help.
2022 09 15.