Why Volcanoes swell before an eruption

  • Current models explaining the swelling of a volcano before eruption point to explanations involving an expansion of the magma chamber and an increase in magma volume
  • Simple calculations presented here show that thermal expansion alone is quite sufficient to explain the swelling
  • There seems to be a reluctance amongst geologists to consider thermal expansion as a potential driver in geological processes.

A few weeks ago I heard another program about a volcano which talked about the swelling of a volcano before an eruption (as shown on image below). What interested me was the reason they gave for this swelling: an increase in magma in the chamber beneath the volcano. I’d like to suggest a far more plausible mechanism. First however what does it look like:

The measurements can be made not only by satellite as shown above but also a number of other techniques:

Ground deformation (swelling, subsidence, or cracking) is measured with a variety of techniques, including Electronic Distance Meters (EDM), the Global Positioning System (GPS), precise leveling surveys, strainmeters, and tiltmeters. EDMs use lasers to accurately measure changes in distance between benchmarks (fixed points) with repeated measurements. GPS makes use of satellites orbiting the Earth to determine and track the locations of points. Strainmeters and tiltmeters are used to monitor subtle changes in shape of the ground surface. For more information, please see Monitoring Volcano Ground Deformation in our Activity Section. (link)

And the ground swelling is associated with other effects:

“These signs may include very small earthquakes beneath the volcano, slight inflation, or swelling, of the volcano and increased emission of heat and gas from vents on the volcano,” said U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Volcano Hazards Program coordinator John Eichelberger. (link)

But what do geologists think causes this movement? The descriptions imply that a volume of magma moves into a chamber and it is this volume change that causes the upswelling:

Once the GPS and InSAR data reveal a pattern of ground movement, scientists try to re-create similar patterns using mathematical models. This allows them to estimate possible depths and volumes of the deformation source. Scientists agree that a fluid has moved into the region, causing an increase in volume within the upper 15 km of the crust. Wicks et al. (2006) propose the idea that a small amount of basaltic magma (molten rock) has moved out of the main caldera (causing the ground to subside) and into the area north of the caldera (causing the ground to move upwards). They discern that the magma moved along a northward-dipping sill (sub-horizontal crack) located about 12-15 km beneath the ground surface. In the past, some scientists have preferred models where deformation at Yellowstone is caused by movement of hydrothermal fluid (hot water) or gas, rather than magma. For example, Waite et al. (2002) discussed a swarm of earthquakes that occurred in the western part of the caldera, that coincided with a change from uplift to subsidence in the caldera. They suggested the swarm was caused by movement of hydrothermal fluids (hot waters and gases) from inside the caldera to the northwest. Both types of fluids (magmatic and hydrothermal) may occasionally cause the observed deformation at Yellowstone. Scientists will continue to collect information that can help discriminate among the various possibilities.

However, I have very severe doubts about this kind of explanation. For a start, order to “pump up” the ground there needs to be a source of energy. And if as is implied by the above this is delivered as a change in pressure, then something must be driving the pressure. But since all the magma (at the same pressure) is the same density, unless you start talking about temperature change, you are resorting to mechanisms involving a replacement of one type of magma at one density with another at another.


So, I’d like to suggest a much simpler explanation. That explanation is that there is no change in the volume of magma – instead all that happens is that cooler magma is replaced by hotter magma – it then heats the overlying rock – and that it is this heating that causes the expansion, not of the magma chamber itself but of the overlying rock.

So let’s see what temperature change is needed. Here’s a nice example:

Using 19 temporary and five permanent GPS stations, researcher Andrew Newman has been monitoring the expanding deformation of Santorini that began on January 21, 2012. Over six months, the surface of the volcano has expanded by 140 mm at a rate of 180 mm/yr due to a relatively stable magma source located at four km depth that has expanded by 14 million cubic meters. (link)

Let’s assume the rock is basalt Granite with a thermal expansion of .0000085/C . Thus the temperature change across 4km of rock to expand by 140mm is:

C = 140(mm) /( 4000000 (mm) *  .0000085)
C = 4C

A change of just 4C in the average temperature of the 4km of rock beneath the volcano will lead to around 140mm of expansion! Let’s turn this around. What length of rock needs heating to the temperature of magma to obtain the expansion? I read magma has a temperature of between 700C and 1300C. Let’s assume we have a change the magma from the coolest to warmest in that range = 600C. Now:

Distance (mm) = 140 (mm) /(600 * .0000085)
Distance  = 2.75 m

And yes! That is meters. Not 3km of expansion not 300m but 3m. This shows that even a very small amount of rock, heated by magma could explain the 140mm expansion seen under a volcano.

A new model

Above is a diagram showing a volcano with its associated gases. Whatever is key, is the flow of heat as indicated by the flow of sea water in the above diagram. All we need to have to explain the swelling of a volcano, is an increase in the temperature of this flow and the consequential heating of the rock beneath the volcano. There is no need to explain anything via an “increase in size of the magma chamber” as seems to be the current model. There is no change in the pressure of the magma in the chamber – it is not the magma “blowing up” that pushes out the rock, it is the surrounding solid rock, being heated that then swells.

I’m not saying there is no change in magma, instead that thermal expansion alone is sufficient to explain all the expansion. Indeed, if I use the figures above, then for a 100C rise in temperature (which could be due to hot water alone) would only need to heat 160m of rock beneath the volcano.

A Model of a Volcanic Eruption

What I suggest may happen, is that for some reason lighter magma (perhaps with gas entrained) makes its way under a volcano. That magma then convects up beneath the volcano raising the temperature of the magma underneath the volcano, which in turn heats the rocks, causing swelling, rock movement, volcanoes and cracking. That cracking in turn creates fissures which allows magma or water to transfer more of the heat upwards causing further expansion, fissuring etc.

In some instances, the heat is eventually dissipated and stability restored. But occasionally, we get a runaway process whereby more and more heat is moved toward the surface via fissures, magma then follows causing further heating, that heating increases the rate of fissure production and widening of fissures, further increasing the rate of magma flow and heating … and we get a runaway process leading eventually to the explosive release of air-entrained magma at the surface aka “a Volcanic eruption”.


There does seem a reluctance in geology to accept that rocks when heated expand. It’s almost as if they’ve never heard that rock expands. I saw this first when presenting the Caterpillar effect which shows that the temperature change over an ice-age cycle will cause expansion (over land) comparable in scale to “normal” plate tectonic movement (a few mms per year).

Now, I’ve very quickly shown that given the very large temperature changes associated with magma, that relatively little rock needs to change in temperature to explain the swelling seen before volcanic eruptions. But again thermal expansion appears to be ignored, and instead the prevailing concept appears to be that the magma chamber is “blowing up like balloon”, when there is no obvious mechanism to supply the energy to cause the necessary pressure to create that “blowing up” effect of the magma chamber.

Posted in Geology | 2 Comments

Are we, the public, being played like an orchestra by the media?

  • The fashion industry plan “new” “exciting” “fashion” years in advance in a cynical manipulation of consumers (mostly women).
  • The way the SNP have been allowed to go on at length about Brexit and referendum in Scotland seems to me to be some form of collusion not just by politicians but by the press.
  • Is much of our “news” doubly fake: fake because it’s just opinion dressed as fact, but also fake in the sense it is not news at all, but instead cynical “news” planned days, weeks, months, even in some cases years in advance?

A while back I worked in a textile mill – and one day I was shown the colours that would be in fashion in summer – not the summer that was coming up in a few months, but the summer after that.

I learnt that the whole fashion industry would sit down years in advance and plan how to coerce the gullible public to throw away perfectly good clothes and buy a whole new wardrobe of “fashionable” items – which in reality was just the views of a lot of business people about what the public would be gullible enough to accept as “fashion”. And for that reason, the textile mill had to plan to start producing the colours that would be in fashion in several years time allowing the clothes manufacturers to start producing the clothes that would be in summer a very long time in advance of the point where the consumer was told the fashion was “new” and “trendy”.

Following Brexit, and particularly the way it has been covered in Scotland I’ve got to ask whether the news media all get together – in the same way as the fashion industry – and they too plan some kind of outline news agenda years in advance – not competitively as you’d expect them – but all chumming up to each other and planning how they will create “interest” out of nothing but hot air.

The thing that finally prompted me to write was this tweet:

For months I’ve been saying: “It took Canada 7 years to get a deal with the EU – the EU is incapable of coming to any agreement with the UK”. It didn’t occur to me that anyone needed telling that the 27 remaining EU members would need to agree – because after years of watching the EU and it’s deliberations, it was obvious they would have to agree.

So, why then is the express leading on the blatantly obvious? Bizarre – unless they were deliberately planning to have this story today and had manufactured it as “news”. Continue reading

Posted in Politics, Scotland | 1 Comment

Could CO2 be a cooling gas?

We all know that according to basic science CO2 is supposed to warm the globe. And based solely on its radiative properties I would agree.

However… I horrible thought crossed my mind the other day.

Anyone who has been reading my blog will know about the effect of pollutants like SO2 which seem to in some way affect cloud droplet formation (they cause more clouds that can have a cooling or warming effect depending on their height and other factors).

It’s also well known it produces acid according to the following equation:

SO2 + H2O + 1/2 O2 → H2SO4 ⇌ H+ + HSO4-

But doesn’t CO2 behave very similarly to produce an acid in water:

CO2 + H2OH2CO3 ⇌ HCO3 + H+

But what if the critical component in cloud nucleation was the H+? In other words both SO2 and CO2 could BOTH promote cloud formation (although CO2 being a much weaker acid would have a much reduced effect).

As such there is a possibility that marginal increased levels of CO2 could REDUCE GLOBAL TEMPERATURE (in the presence of an atmosphere with water-droplet formation).


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Delayed melting of glaciers

For a while whenever someone mentions Arctic ice – and then I mention growing Greenland surface ice and they counter with the old chestnut “Bulk ice is melting” I then counter with the Haseler rebuke: “but surface ice tells us what is happening now, whilst bulk ice is a lagging indicator”.

So far this has totally flummoxed them as they have no idea what I’m talking about and the alarmists are all so stupid that they don’t dare show their stupidity by asking me to explain (which makes them totally dumb).

But whilst it means I win every argument – what has bugged me is that I never actually worked out how lagging it was. So today, prompted by Paul Homewood’s excellent article: “What The IPCC Said About Glaciers In 1990“, I’ve finally done some calculations. The simple answer is that the thermal diffusivity of ice is not that much different to rock – so my seat of the pants estimations were not that wrong. That means that day-to-day changes penetrate a few tens of centimetres, year-to-year a few meters and thermal changes over an ice-age cycle penetrate a few kms. (Hence the caterpillar theory of plate tectonics).

But first lets get the answer to the simple question:

How thick are glaciers

A good guess is that the ice thickness is about one-half of the surface width of the glacier. Although few glaciers have been measured, the measured thicknesses range from a few tens of meters for small glaciers to about 1,500 meters for the largest glaciers in Alaska. (source)

Antarctic ice is up to 4.7 kilometers (3 miles) thick in some areas. (source)

Looking for more information I found a paper as shown by the graph below:

IceThickNessFor details see: Distributed ice thickness and volume of all glaciers around the globe

So Glaciers are between a few 10s of meters and a km thick and ice-sheets from a few meters at the edges to several km in the centre. Continue reading

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Election 8th June – a Scottish perspective

In 2014 the Scottish people voted against leaving the UK and for remaining part of the UK.

Last year we in Scotland having committed to take decisions like brexit as part of the UK agreed to leave the EU. As such whilst Scotland rejected the SNP’s call for Scottish self-determination, the UK chose a path of self-determination.

Anyone who has been in a small rowing boat, understands the simile of “rocking the boat”: only one person can move around with risk tipping everyone into the brink. If Scotland had agreed with the SNP to leave the UK then we would have expected the rest of the UK to retain a level of stability and try to stop “rocking the boat” during the difficult transition process as Scotland left the UK.

In contrast, I have watched with absolute horror as the SNP have done all they possibly can to “rock the boat” clearly without concern for the economic interests of the rest of the UK. I have watched with absolute horror as nationalists engaged in a campaign of hate against the English and those voting Brexit labelling us all “Xenophobes”.

We need a government of national unity. Unfortunately, the Labour party is in a mess, as is UKIP (a pity) so as a party, the only ones who seem to understand the need for national unity are the Tory party.

As such I have reluctantly, and for the sake of national unity, decided to join the Tory party to do all I can to ensure that we get the strong government we need to take us through Brexit.

Posted in Climate | 11 Comments

A Sceptic University

  • The core to the University will be the supervisor-researcher relationship
  • This relationship will involve a huge commitment from both supervisor & researcher.
  • With no buildings, the University would in effect be an “academic dating site” matching researchers and supervisors
  • Whilst using the internet will minimise costs – it also creates issues, which whilst not insurmountable are not trivial.
  • The University would need to secure additional suitably qualified people for the final assessment and facilitate the process.
  • An important role of the University would be to publish the research and store supporting (electronic) evidence.

In my last post re a: School of Scepticism I looked at the legal position regarding what might properly be called a research University or Institute. I used the name School because there is nothing barring us using this, but to avoid confusion I will now refer to it as a “University”.

The legal issues are a hurdle, but as I started to think about the mechanics of the research, I realised that the real core of any University would be the key relationship between a supervisor and the researcher. Yes, since the University would be aimed at more mature people, they would need less guidance in some areas – but also being longer out of University and more “entrenched” in their ways, they might need far more help in other areas.

So, not only would the researchers be making a huge commitment to do the research, but the “University” would need to find a supervisor who was willing to make a substantial commitment to that researcher to guide them through the process. So, in some senses what I am proposing is a form of academic “dating” site – where the aim would be to match those willing to undertake research with those willing to guide and council them.

A huge question, is would there be enough people willing to be researchers and supervisors and another is whether this relationship would be financial and if so how would it be funded? My original hope had been that enough goodwill existed to avoid all costs. But as I begin to understand the commitments, a totally cost-free University is looking less tenable.

And like any relationship – what happens if the relationship between researcher and supervisor breaks down – particularly if the researcher has made the supervisor in any way. Even if researchers and supervisors are willing to give their own time for free, there will be a significant investment of time and that needs to be matched with a suitably supportive administration function. That needs to be done professionally which means there will be some costs.

The issues with the internet

Continue reading

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School of Scepticism

  • We need to combat the groupthink that has developed in Universities as shown in the area of climate
  • Sceptics from years outside Universities show great diversity of views – and encouraging older experienced people could restore the “genetic diversity” of ideas.
  • Academics are likely to strongly resist any move and/or attempt to enforce conformity to the existing group-think and thereby nullifying any benefits
  • Subject to a small number of constraints, there appears no legal way to stop such a venture and it could proceed without the consent of group-think academia.
  • Such a venture could offer three levels of awards equivalent to “honour’s years”, masters and doctorate.

In the last article (Sceptical of sceptics?) I raised the issue of increasing “groupthink” in academia as seen in their response to climate and I attributed this to the way the internet has created single subject communities with little diversity. In contrast sceptics – largely because of our diverse background from working in many different areas – seem to have more than our fair share of diversity. Thus there is a huge potential to utilise the diversity of older people to offset the increasing issue of groupthink in Universities.

However, based on other research I undertook, it seems likely that academia will inherently be hostile to anyone from outside “treading on its turf” and getting involved in research. And that it would only ever permit outsiders into the area of research if either:

  1. It is in charge, researchers effectively pay homage to the (groupthink) of academia, and basically researchers agree to perpetuate the very groupthink that needs breaking apart.
  2. It cannot stop them (such as industrial research or medical research)

So, whilst I’ve been discussing the possibility of a “Sceptic School/University” awarding “doctorates” for research it is almost certain based on my research (See: The Academic Ape) that any such move will be strenuously resisted with academia doing all it possibly can to stop the project. So, doing this by the front door looks impossible. The question then is can the ends be achieved without giving academia any control or power over it?

So I’ve been looking at the legal position. As far as I can tell: Continue reading

Posted in Climate | 8 Comments

A Scottish Panama Canal

Panamax_ship_exiting_the_Miraflores_locksThe panama canal is 48 miles cuts through land rising to nearly 100m above sea level is about 35m wide and has 6 locks.

It carries a 1000 ships each year and is supposedly one of the seven wonders of the modern world.

In Scotland we have a canal going from the Clyde to  the Forth. It is  35miles long and passes through land that rises to a “massive” … 35 to 40m (yes Scotland does have flat bits). The canal is 7m wide has  39 locks and is impassable most of the time as you have to arrange for a council employee to lift one of the bridges. As a result413px-Forth_&_Clyde_Canal,_Bonnybridge_-_Larbert barely a handful of boats travel the canal – and I’d doubt that there’s more than one a day going from end to end.

As a result the Panama canal is a huge asset to their country – the Clyde-Forth canal a huge drain on ours (almost literally given the detritus chucked in it). It need not be a drain – or at least we could have a canal that was a huge economic asset to Scotland.


As with all my proposed projects, such as the bridge from British mainland to Ireland, we need politicians of vision and not clone like yes-men.

As there has always been, there is certainly the demand for a route from Europe to the Atlantic, the West Coast of Britain and Ireland, that bypasses the crowded English Channel and avoids the treacherous route and fast currents around the North of Scotland. And such a route could potentially revive ports on the east or west coast of Scotland – turning them into a freight transport hub not just for Scotland but for the North of England.

ScotlandMapThere are two potential routes:

1. Following the Clyde-Forth Canal

The southern route shown above largely follows the existing canal – which would be widened to 35m and dug down to sea level. This would create a lock-less route through Scotland. Because the canal largely follows the flood-plain of the River Kelvin (west) and the Bonny Water in the east, the route is mostly devoid of housing and other buildings. However, the western end would cut a rather large swathe through parts of Glasgow – however rather than following the canal – it would make a bee-line for the Clyde.

2. The Lock Lomond option

Loch lomond is 7.6m above sea level. The forth at the A81 is about 15m. Canals could relatively easily be cut from these points to the Clyde and Forth respectively with just one or two locks either way at most.

Between them is a hill rising to a massive 80m. If this were dug down 65m to match the Forth at 15m – and if it were 35m wide with a cut 45degrees, the cut would be a maximum of around 165m wide and 9km long (~7km with more than 35m cut)

However, this route would cut a large swathe through Alexandria which lies between Loch Lomond and the Clyde. Although much of the land near the present river is open and/or industrialised.

See also

Posted in Proposals, transport | 2 Comments

Sceptical of sceptics?

When I first decided I had to campaign on climate, I knew that the subject had been corrupted – I knew that if this evil dogma was not controlled it would literally destroy western civilisation – and coming from “within the beast” (I worked in the wind sector and was a member of the Green party and attended the Scottish Parliamentary Group) I had met government civil servants, politicians and media and I knew that very few of these people had the knowledge or guts to stand up to the Global Warming beast.

It was the right thing to do.

What I didn’t have when I started was a detailed knowledge of the climate – indeed, in retrospect no one did! So I cannot be overly critical of myself. And I’m happy to say that after many years I have finally developed a good (not great, just good) understanding of the climate I’m reasonably content that I did not mislead anyone through my initial ignorance.

So, yes, both from a moral and from a scientific point of view – I took the right line.

I would liken what I/we have achieved to that of a immunisation jab. When I started as a sceptic, the politicians, public and press were entirely gullible about climate – they were like a human body that had no protection against a new foreign disease – and that diseases was rapidly spreading and taking over every organ of the body. We few sceptic could only reduce the rate of spread – but by doing so we kept that disease from getting out of control and taking over to such an extent it could not be stopped. We stemmed the flow, slowed the bandwagon, allowed a pause for thought, just long enough that society itself developed an inherent “scepticism” of what it was being told about the climate.

That I think is what counts as “winning”.

That does not mean new infections cannot start – but it does mean that society has an inherent “immune response”. There are now many people – like anti-bodies in a body – who are embedded in society and will recognise the alarmist hype and will be ready and willing to create a robust sceptic response to any new alarmist threat.

However … now I see a new threat … one which is that if the sceptical response to any new ideas is too strong, sceptics themselves may repress all scientific progress. By being too dogmatic about “the scientific method” … we may deny the free thinking and discussion that is essential to scientific progress.

Yes I agree, when it comes to public policy, it should not be based on highly speculative and unproven “science” as occurred in the naughties and teenies in climate. But the problem was not the academics who had the courage to imagine that CO2 could be dramatically changing the temperature of the globe.

The problem was not those who originally considered CO2 – it was the academics (and many non-acdemics posing as “experts”), who without the skill, knowledge or experience to pontificate on the subject then said in a completely dogmatic way that CO2 WAS CHANGING the global temperature (and worse given they might know some science, but were totally ignorance of economics) that GOVERNMENTS MUST END THE SUCCESSFUL FOSSIL FUELLED ECONOMY. The result was a move toward what appears to me to be a perpetual motion machine powered economy (For good reasons I don’t believe windmills produce more energy than should be attributed to their manufacture, installation etc. – in simple terms – each windmill we put up uses energy not saves it).

However, another great problem of society is that within my lifetime I have seen science stagnate. Or at least the huge scientific progress in Physics in the early 20th century appears to have slowed to a snails-pace. The evidence is in the text books. My grandfather had completely difference text books from my father, my father had ones completely different (and incomprehensible) to me. But if one of my children did Physics at University, they could largely use the same text books as I had. Massive progress in the early 20th century – followed by a dramatic and sudden stop. Why?

That may be because almost everything there is to discover in this area has been discovered – but more likely I suspect that the inherent scepticism in Physics has stifled new innovative ways of thinking. We saw the same development in climate it took the call of repeated assertions that “the science is settled” that “the consensus” is such and such. But fortunately – whilst the “scientific” elite could assert the science was settled, they could not just stop anyone doing any new experiments (though a “consensus” formed that the science was settled – literally meaning no more research was needed – mother earth just kept churning out the data which could not be ignored).

But imagine if like much of Physics and no doubt other areas of science, that in 2007 when they said “the science is settled” … that they really took that to heart. That like in Physics, they never measured another piece of climate data but instead just kept writing the same text books saying “the science is settled”. How could anyone ever prove the science was not settled? How could anyone ever prove the consensus wrong? Progress would stop and there would be no new ideas.

The science would be settled, not because it was right or there was nothing else to discover, but purely because all further research was deemed redundant.

But that is what in effect has happened in many areas of science. The science was “settled” and as a result the experiments closed down and all hope of future progress was curtailed. Or is it just a coincidence that Physics – which progressed so rapidly in the early 20th century appears to have made almost no substantial progress in fundamental understanding in half a century?

The world needs sceptics – to stop another crazy dumb scheme like global warming apocalypse taking off.

But the world also needs crazy academics like Mann and Hansen who will rant and rage about their crazy politicised beliefs – because whether or not we like it, sometimes …. just sometimes … those “idiots” turn out to be right. But more pertinently, it needs the idiots like Mann – to be like the fairy on the Xmas tree – because like an Iceberg, for every Mann who we can ignore, there are dozens of serious scientists who are the future of science and if Mann were shut up – they too could be shut up and the necessary free thought for progress would end.

And yes – Ironically, the people who would most like to close down the discussion are dogmatic zealots like Mann – who are not only quite crazy in their own views, but who cannot stomach better alternative views. Hypocrites yes! They need controlling yes! They should be prevented from ever seriously influencing public policy ever again (unless they miraculously had concrete evidence – and even then with serious reservations) – but that must come by educating policy makers on the value of real science and scientific diversity – by showing them that Mann is in no way supported by the evidence – not by silencing him and with him many good scholars (even if that’s what he would have done to us).

However, as I watch and even participate in the discussion on WUWT – I sense a growing frustration that neither Anthony Watts nor the commenters are willing to consider, much less support, new ideas (unless they fall into some very slender categories that bash those like Mann).

They are sceptical – not in the sense the Greeks used it

The Greek word skepsis means investigation. By calling themselves septics, the ancient septics thus describe themselves as investigators.

but instead many seem to be sceptical in the common sense way of opposing new ideas – indeed a few are only sceptical when it comes to specific ideas from “Liberals”.

But there seems to me to be little difference between the dogmatic stifling of new ideas by those incorrectly asserting “the science is settled” like Mann and those rejecting or attacking new ideas as we see at WUWT.

To use an analogy: new ideas are like seedlings – not every seedling will grow to maturity or should – but if you’ve got a herd of Sceptical elephants stamping on every seedling as soon as it shows itself, none ever will grow at all. And by no means am I advocating the “consensus” approach – which using the same analogy would be to weed out all seedlings unless they are of the proscribed genetic purity – which are then given over attention to stop these pathetically inbred and sick seedlings dying as they ought.

The problem we have is that somewhere amongst those seedlings are the great ideas of the future. At present they either seem to be weeded out as not being “politically correct” by the consensus merchants in academia – or they risk being stamped on by a herd of sceptic elephants. As a result I’m far from convinced those ideas for the future will ever flourish – and the evidence from Physics suggests they are not. So between these two groups PC dogmatists and sceptics I can’t see much room left in which the ideas of the future can develop.

Posted in Climate | 5 Comments

Contrail warming in context

  • Comment: Global warming was not important in my analysis
  • Comment: CO2 was not important or relevant
  • Comment: Natural variation was not important
  • I now understand why researchers tend to “look where the light is” and often ignore the big picture.

We ought to be thinking about climate drivers both natural and human as being like a “plumb pudding” – a lot of things all potentially having an impact rather than one “control knob”.
SpringIn yesterday’s article I showed that my hypothesis that reduced pollution had caused warming was not supported by the evidence and that instead it pointed to a clear link between US holidays and warming in Canada (as above). This and a range of other evidence this points strongly toward contrail warming as causing at least part of the 1970-2000 warming (and for example part of the discrepancy between land and sea temperatures).

However, this created a dilemma. Because now I had to reconcile my understanding that contrails are very likely to be responsible for at least part of the  rise in temperature from the 1970s to 2000, with the fact that there is no discernable change in global temperature beyond what we would expect naturally. Had I lost site of the wood for the trees?

OK Yes – when looking at the global temperature on its own there is no change that can be distinguished from noise, but when there are other very specific changes such as the discrepancy between land and sea, the geographical pattern and now the very clear warming during holiday periods, these specific things when combined are unique enough that they can be attributed to a specific cause even if the overall change cannot be.

But reflecting further, I realise that the whole process of trying to “divine cause” is a very seductive lure. The result is that it tends to mean you lose sight of the wood for the trees. For in that analysis I’ve entirely lost site of the following:

  • Global warming – I did not find it necessary to adjust any data or even to investigate any change in the Canadian data because it had no impact on the quality of data analysis. IT DID NOT MATTER! The variation each day even when averaging over 50years was still much greater than any presumed warming.
  • CO2 – I keep thinking I ought to do more work looking at a possible relationship between CO2 a temperature.  I keep thinking I ought, but I still cannot find a way to attribute any change to CO2. So the best I can do is say: “the best estimates of the effect of the measured increase in CO2 is …”
  • Natural variation – likewise, I find that the more I look at possible connections between various parameters and temperature, the more I lose sight of the bigger picture – which is that the climate always varies quite naturally. But like CO2, it’s almost impossible to work out a way to attribute any variation to natural variation. And I understand why researchers try to attribute every last change to “something” – rather than stepping back and admitting that we’ll never be able to attribute every change to something concrete.

But my worst sin was this: Continue reading

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