Plugging the Deepwater Horizon Leak

This is a crude block diagram of a clamp on apparatus that could be used to block most of the flow from the Deepwater Horizon riser pipe leaking in the Gulf.

The clamp-on apparatus is extremely simplified for this rushed drawing. It would be relatively “easy” to make a mid-sized machine shop and laser cutting shop.

This would require one of the “circular saws” the robotic subs are currently using to cut up pipes to cut the slot in the outer diameter of the pipe.

Actuating the various screws to complete the plug operation could be done by robotic sub or dedicated undersea electric motor or pneumatic tool driven by compressors on the surface…. I’d defer to deep-sea equipment specialists for the selection.

The shaped plug plates can be laser cut and laminated to any thickness.

A 2″ drilled hole on the “bottom” of the pipe diameter as depicted would allow for greater support for a 2″ steel bar spanning the entire diameter and mechanically support the plates and protect them from bending. This bar can be cam-shaped (crude cam) so that the “P” shaped plates can be pushed forward toward the well (vs the surface) for a better seal.

This can be made in a few days in a mid-sized shop.

DON’T CUT THE RISER PIPE WITHOUT A MECHANICAL PLUG BACKUP TO THE DOME!!!
THE KINKS ARE RESTRICTING FLOW! THE FLOW WILL BE GREATER!!!

tblock diagram of riser pipe plug process

External apparatus clamped to outside diameter of riser pipe

I’ll post a little detail on the clamp on rig later. I’m just trying to get the idea out that there’s a not-so-complex apparatus that can be made and put on the riser. Anything… Anything to decrease the effective diameter and the flow rate of crude into the gulf.

A slot is cut in outside diameter wide enough for steel plates insertion

screw mechanism drives overlapping plug plates into pipe bore

The steel plates inserted overlapping each other are shaped like the letter “P” so that they can be moved to block more of the diameter.
There is a risk of bending, even if they are thick. There are ways to deal with this rather simply though.

My point is that it’s not brain surgery. And yes, there are all kinds of challenges operating at this depth, but the robotic subs are already cutting pipes with a circular saw down there. This is big, fairly crude steel gizmo construction. Crystallized methane hydrates won’t be a factor if the pipe is plugged.

Screw mechanism spreads plug plates to block nearly entire diameter of riser pipe

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Global Warming Solutions

Global Warming Science

Global warming science is centered around the phenomenon of Carbon dioxide’s absorption of infrared energy.  Satellites are measuring less electromagnetic energy leaving the earth than is absorbed by it every day.  In a system in equilibrium the energy leaving the planet would equal the energy striking the planet.  We are constantly adding more capacity for absorbing two wavelengths of infrared energy as we spew more and more CO2 into the air as a consequence of our burning fossil fuels for electricity production, environmental heating, transportation, and industrial processes like producing steel.  Since equilibrium has not been reached, and more energy is absorbed than emitted, the global annual average temperature is rising.  This upward trend is corroborated by the temperature measurement data collected all over the planet.

So what can we do about it?

Global Warming Solutions

Essentially, we have to change the way we do things, and the way we think about everything we do.  I used to work with a guy who said, “No good decision can follow a fundamentally flawed assumption.”   I use that mindset to vet critiques and proposals to get to the root of it all.

For example, when you hear someone say “put solar panels on my house,” what do you think of?  I’d bet it’s the solar electric solutions that cost nearly $200,000 with a return-on-investment of 12 to 15 years.  Those systems are great for early adopters that can afford them, but there’s an assumption that is holding back an overall reduction in fossil fuel use.

Solar Thermal?

What about solar thermal?  Pre-heating water en route to the hot water heater in the house or building will save energy and money and avoid the emission of associated CO2.  If you can capture enough heat for all the hot water supply, great, but no matter where you are, you can capture some heat and lift the temperature of the water entering your hot water heater enough to make a significant impact on your electric, gas, or oil use.  These systems are a lot less expensive than solar electric systems too.  Of course, collected heat energy can be distributed throughout a house, and not just used on hot water heating. 

You may not know this, but the definition of a “calorie” is the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of one gram of water one degree centigrade…
From engineering toolbox.com, their explanation:

  • the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one gram of water 1oC
  • the kilogram calorie, large calorie, food calorie, Calorie (capital C) or just calorie (lowercase c) is the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water by one degree Celsius
  • 1 kcal = 4186.8 J = 426.9 kp.m = 1.163 10-3 kWh = 3.088 ft.lbf = 3.9683 Btu = 1000 cal

Low Voltage Solar Electric

Secondly, there’s low voltage solar electric.  The reason solar panel systems cost as much as they do is that the current mindset, or perspective with “fundamentally flawed assumptions” requires a total displacement of household electric usage… In other words, the designs call for providing enough electricity to power refrigerators and washing machines, water pumps, electric dryers, dishwashers…. and lights. Enough Direct Current (DC) electricity must be generated to be able to convert it (through the use of “inverters”) to 110V AC.

This results in producing excess capacity which can actually be sold back to the utility, but the lack of “net metering” standards across the country inhibit the proliferation of such high-powered systems as well. The local and long distance, high voltage distribution grid is not up to the task of coordinating distributed generation.  When I first started thinking about distributed generation, I learned of many of the challenges coordinating the phases and their voltage waves.  Without taking a deep technical dive, if the voltage waves are as little as 1/100th of a second out of sync with each other, systems (generators) will burn out.  Direct current, the energy format natural to solar electric generation, has to be converted to alternating current for use in houses.

I’ll base my next “argument” for a different way of doing things on the way I have seen large, live-aboard sailboats wired.  Since many systems in a boat run on 12V DC, the same voltage as every car battery and electrical system sold in the USA, some boat owners have installed dual wiring systems.  Low voltage lighting and radios run off a marine battery or two for a long time before a generator kicks on, if at all.  Small solar panels or small wind turbines charge the boats’  batteries when no shore power hookup is available.

Why can’t this approach be taken in US homes and businesses? Most of the time we use lighting after sundown just to make sure we don’t trip over that one toy that remains a fugitive from its rightful storage container, or to navigate a room. LED lighting costs have been held higher than they should simply because every lighting element must include a voltage converting circuit to adapt the “bulb” to the alternating current infrastructure. 

LED is an acronym for Light Emitting Diode.  A diode is an electrical switch that only allows current to flow once a minimum voltage threshold is reached.  You can think of it operating like a spillway for a dam on a reservoir or lake.  Low voltage Direct Current lighting-only circuits in houses can run all night off a couple of batteries about the size of ones typically used in cars.

Sure, Compact Fluorescent bulbs are saving tons of energy across the world, but they still use 10 times the power of an LED lightbulb, and still have to transform the energy into a much higher voltage to work.  They suffer the same challenges of adapting the 110 V infrastructure to work.  They each contain a “ballast” or transformer in their base. They also contain a small amount of mercury, which makes disposing them all that much more difficult. Despite their drawbacks, they are infinitely better than incandescent bulbs, which use three to four times the electricity to produce equivalent light.

We know LEDs are bright enough.  Nearly every traffic light in use in the US today uses LEDs instead of incandescent lights.  Brake lights in cars use LEDs, as do lighting accessories for tractor-trailer trucks.  LED flashlights occupy a spot at nearly every hardware store checkout.

However, the National Electric Code has nothing defined about LED lighting or separate lighting circuits and wiring. Separate, dedicated 12V DC circuits would be required for this to work safely.  There would have to be standards communicated so that no electrician or home owner would ever accidentally connect them. This isn’t too much to regulate, though, if you consider office and commercial space wiring. The florescent wiring circuits in office buildings are connected to 220 or 240V sources. Similarly, we don’t find it surprising there are standards for wiring high-current devices like electric stoves and hot water heaters. Low voltage wiring would require a wire type definition, and connection standards to an isolated circuit breaker panel.

There are thousands of municipal building and zoning departments across the country, so a revision to the NEC would be required to get all zoning and building departments in sync and up to speed on the standards required for the technology.

True, separate low-voltage LED lighting circuits would cost money to install. However, that cost would pale in comparison to a solar electric system designed to run the big inductive motor loads in our appliances.  And, with a smaller, but appropriately sized solar panel on the roof charging a car battery or two, virtually all lighting would be “free.”

Again, dedicated wiring would be required because these would be 12 Volt DC, direct current, circuits… very different from 110V AC.

Parallel wiring systems at first glance seem silly, but the amount of electricity we’d be able to save with LED lighting running off solar-charged batteries is stunning. All it takes is an administrative effort and communication, and some parts and labor.

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Scientific Consensus

When scientific consensus is mentioned in any discussion on Global Warming and the Climate Crisis, those who would rather life just continue as it has been for the last 20 years roll their eyes and mutter something about Al Gore.  The other favorite dismissal of scientific consensus involves climate scientists all needing government grants to earn a living, so have therefore manufactured this crisis.

Consensus… what does it really mean?

Essentially, it means that a core scientific theory has survived scrutiny and testing by scientists in their field of specialty.

In order to more fully understand “consensus” you must ponder the process of “peer review.”  This is the process by which an analysis of a set of data is published in a scientific journal focused on a field of research, and other scientists in the field pick it apart, note flaws in the data collection process, flaws in the conclusions drawn about the hypotheses based on the data…. or not.   When assumptions are eliminated or invalidated based on further “critical” review, what emerges of a theory out of the process is the core set of scientific assumptions with which no specialist in the field has major objections.

Scientific consensus is not a bunch of people sitting around a campfire singing “kumbaya.”

Science is the observation, measurement, and analysis of the physical world.  When something lay beyond our ability to see, such as an electron, or an atomic nucleus, tests are devised to prove or disprove a theoretical existence.

A frog in a pot of water is incapable of analyzing the state of all the kitchen appliances to determine the burner under its pot is indeed quite hot.  Man, on the other hand, is capable of analyzing wide sets of data to test whether various other phenomena are exerting influence on an observed trend.  Correlations are recorded, repeat instances observed to test whether past occurrences were coincidental or “causal.”  “Did X cause our observation of Y?”

Definitive conclusions based on one observed correlation are never accepted by practicing scientists. Take sunspots and solar activity, for example.  Climate scientists, upon learning of a strong correlation with one data point, note that all subsequent observations must be tested to measure the influence… in other words, it becomes “interesting.”  Then, subsequent solar activity is observed, and measured, and compared to the past occurrence to determine the magnitude of the impact it “should” have.  If it doesn’t exert influence on global temperature measurements the way it was suggested it had in the past observed correlation, it is determined to be not “causal.”  X did not cause our observation of Y…. something else did.

If a practicing scientist were to continue to “cling” to a theory subsequently proven invalid, that scientist’s reputation in his/her field would indeed suffer.  But it would not suffer if the theory were sound.  Scientists are not hung up on being right or wrong.  Science by its very nature, discusses “uncertainty” with theories.  Science continually strives to test theories. If an “outlying” theory were able to withstand subsequent testing and analysis, more than one or two or three specialists in that field would argue vehemently for further testing, and would test themselves.

As an electrical engineering student, I had plenty of courses that had laboratory components.  Lab reports required an analysis of every data point.  Were they exactly what we expected?  If so, how could we explain such precision.  If not, what could have caused what we observed versus classmates, versus theory, etc.  We were taught to pick apart how we conducted our own lab experiments to find sources of inaccuracy or variation.

Based on my reading, it seems to amaze climate scientists that there are people who question the authoritativeness or objectivity of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  Its reports have passed the scrutiny of thousands of climate scientists from dozens of countries.  It is really nothing like the gamesmanship that goes on when the Security Council meets to try to resolve a regional or global conflict.  Yet, that is what seems to be projected on the Climate scientists’ work.

Anyone is qualified to look at a house and determine “that house is on fire.”  From a distance, it is impossible for the casual observer to definitively conclude “that house is infested with termites”  … or not.  We actually have to defer to an independent pest specialist, someone who has no vested interest in the state of a house.  If we get a second opinion on  the state of termite infestation, we generally don’t accuse them of conspiracy to get more work or keep their jobs.

Yet, this is the very phenomena involved with climate science and those who would prefer to continue to consume as much cheap hydrocarbon energy as their comfort level would dictate.

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Carbon Dioxide Data

I get some of the biggest reactions discussing global warming with people who aren’t familiar with the technical details when I ask:

How many pounds of CO2 does one gallon of gas produce when burned in a car engine?

Between 19 and 20.

Huh?

It’s true.  One gallon of gas weighs about 6.5 pounds.  The process of burning literally means to combine with oxygen.  So, the chemical reaction requires that the octane molecule combines with oxygen.  The hydrogen and carbon of the octane molecules separate, combine with oxygen, and produce CO2 and H2O.

This is chemistry. You can’t argue with the science.  You can nit-pick over whether you should assume perfect combustion for the example, which there never really is, or you can nit-pick over whether you’re discussing 93 octane premium or 87 octane regular, whether assuming “ideal conditions” in the real world is valid (which is always done in first approximations)…  The Energy Information Authority uses molecular weights and percentages to conclude each gallon of gasoline produces 20 pounds of CO2, so it’s good enough for this discussion of the data behind the climate crisis.

EIA data, specifically a downloadable spreadsheet, gives the annual sales of transportation fuels from 1949 onward.

Motor gasoline, as broken out, is simply gasoline used in automobile engines.  This does not include diesel fuel, nor aviation gasoline, nor jet fuel, nor “bunker fuel” used in ships.  This is the resource used to support and fuel our “American” lifestyle of driving everywhere for everything in most places.

The data is provided in “thousand barrel” quantities, and a little more digging confirms that one barrel equals 42 gallons.

In 2008, the “preliminary” number of thousand barrels of motor gasoline used in the USA is 3,212,837

That’s equal to 134,959,154 thousand gallons of gasoline sold in the US in 2008 alone.

When you do the simple calculation for pounds CO2 emitted to transport our butts from points A to points B day in and day out, using 20 pounds CO2 per gallon, you get:

2,698,783,080,000 pounds of CO2, or

1,349,391,540 tons.

It’s important to remember that this is one year’s output of CO2 for one type of transportation fuel used in the US.  It’s a big number.  But, the atmosphere is big, too…. isn’t it?  Well, yes, it is… and isn’t.

Using the “ideal gas law” let’s try to estimate how much space that would take up if it were the only gas at “room temperature” at one “atmosphere” of pressure.  This is a completely theoretical exercise along the lines of “if you had enough balloons to capture all the CO2 coming out of every tailpipe on every US road…”

I found a handy-dandy discussion of the volume required for one gallon of gasoline’s CO2 contribution, in other words, the space required for 20 pounds using the “ideal gas law,” PV=nRT.  That is, Pressure*Volume=n*R*Temperature, where n=number of “moles” of gas and R=Rydberg constant.

… and the volume eventually is found to be 172 cubic feet… per 20 pounds CO2.

For our 2008 example of our motor gasoline use,

2,698,783,080,000 pounds CO2/20 pounds CO2  * 172 cubic feet

=134,939,154,000 * 172 cubic feet

=23,209,534,488,000 cubic feet.

or 859,612,388,444 cubic yards…. or a 3 foot high blanket of CO2 on an area of 277,509 square miles.

That’s a large area, and we’re still only talking 2008 motor gasoline numbers.

The entire list of transportation fuels includes:

  1. Aviation Gasoline ………….         5,638 thousand barrels
  2. Distillate fuel oil (diesel) … 1,044,958
  3. Jet fuel ………………………..     555,556
  4. Liquified petroleum gases  …      5,348
  5. Motor Gasoline…………….. 3,212,837
  6. Residual Distillate fuel oil …     148,68

Residual Distillate fuel oil is the leftover “sludge” used by diesel cargo ships, a.k.a. “bunker fuel,” notoriously laden with sulfur compounds and other junk.

The EIA includes the volume of lubricants used in transportation too, but they’re not “burned” as transportation fuel, and I’m exploring the volume of CO2 emitted by our transportation ways, I’m not going to include them.

Diesel fuel produces about 22 pounds/gallon, propane and LNG for transportation somewhat less…

Just for a quick “back of the napkin” calculation, let’s continue to use 20 pounds of CO2 per gallon of “fuel.”

Total 2008 transportation fuel, adding up the totals above:

4,973,022 thousand barrels, which equals  208,866,924 thousand gallons of fuel

When burned, this fuel makes 2,088,669,240 tons CO2… enough to cover 429,545 square miles with a 3 foot thick blanket of pure CO2 gas at one atmosphere (sea level).  Mind boggling, isn’t it?

This is what the authors of my 32 year old chemistry textbook meant by “prodigious consumption” of fossil fuels… and this does not yet include “space heating” or heating oil used for homes and commercial buildings, nor does it include electrical production.   Nor does this include heat for industrial processes like smelting, manufacturing, etc.

Animals and plants maintain a carbon cycle which I won’t cover, other than to say that before the Industrial Revolution, CO2 concentrations were relatively constant.  Humans and animals produced carbon biologically and through burning wood, and plants and oceans sequestered it.  Now, burning fossil fuels to get from here to there, concentrations of CO2 are rising, and have been for some time.

Yes, there are 300 million people in the US.  Yes, other more populous countries like China and India have already or will soon pass the US on total CO2 production per year.  But, 2008 is just one year, and CO2 lasts a long time in the atmosphere, an estimated 100 yrs.   Transportation fuels can be changed.  The fuel for electrical production can be changed. Renewable energy sources can be used.  These will be other topics for other posts.

If you want to think about global economic policies, think about the increased fuel usage arising from globalization.  Despite video conferencing, international business travel drives air travel and its fuel consumption.   Goods travel by boat from Asia, mostly, burning bunker fuel at amazing rates.  Once on land, the vast majority of goods travel in trucks that average SIX miles per gallon on the highway, largely because roads have been built with tax dollars while freight rail infrastructure has been left to decay.  Planning and zoning boards in towns adapt regulations to allow more big-box retailers to reap the benefit of increased property tax revenue from commercial zones, requiring highway expansions to accommodate increased truck and car traffic.

It’s a crazy cycle.  And, if you look honestly at it, you should easily be able to conclude that federal, state, and local tax dollars have been used to subsidize the oil industry over time.  The oil companies haven’t been out paving roads that I’ve been on to facilitate usage of their products. Our government has done that.

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The Greenhouse Effect

I actually started to write about lightning, and went to my old textbooks to get the exact scientific terminology for the  mechanisms at play, and happened across a very interesting section about carbon dioxide in my Chemistry 101 text.  The book,  “Chemistry: the central science,” was published in 1977.  It was the required text for the required chemistry course for all freshman engineering students in 1979.  A little research reveals the authors Lemay and Brown have continually updated it, keeping it one of the prominent chemistry texts in engineering schools. There, on page 301, began the section: Water Vapor, Carbon Dioxide, and Climate I had recently had an email discussion with a friend from the neighborhood about the climate crisis, as he sits firmly in the camp of disbelief.  So I read with interest to make sure I had accurately represented scientific phenomena well.  It turns out I did an OK job, but was unclear or not specific enough about the interplay of infrared radiation and CO2. Backtracking a little, I should cover the fundamentals.  The book says it well:

We have seen how the atmosphere makes life as we know it possible on earth by screening out harmful short-wavelength radiation.  In addition, the atmosphere is essential in maintaining a reasonably uniform and moderate temperature on the surface of the planet.  The two atmospheric components of major importance in maintenance of the earth’s surface temperature are carbon dioxide and water.

In other words, the upper atmosphere absorbs and reflects high-frequency radiation from the sun that would kill us all, like x-rays and gamma-rays, and CO2 and water are the primary temperature regulators of the planet’s surface temperature. It continues:

About 71 percent of all solar radiation that strikes the outer atmosphere is eventually absorbed by the planet.  The remainder is reflected back out into space. The temperature of the planet as seen from outer space is determined by the amount of absorbed energy.  The maximum in intensity of solar radiation occurs in the visible portion of the spectrum.  Because the earth’s atmoshpere is reasonably transparent in this region of the spectrum, most absorption of solar radiation takes place at the earth’s surface.

So, most of the radiation from the sun is in the range of frequencies we consider “light.”  As this energy strikes the surface, it is absorbed.  We know that the rate of absorption depends on a lot of things, like mass and reflectivity of the surface material.  For example, given similar surface areas and thicknesses, black concrete absorbs more energy than white ice, which would reflect more of the radiation striking it.  This is known as the albedo effect.  The color and “heat capacity,” (a function of mass) of all materials on the surface affect the absorption of radiation.

Like all bodies in space, the earth radiates energy back into space at the same rate it absorbs energy from the sun. This is known as being in thermal balance.  The radiation emitted by earth is within the infrared radiation range of frequencies (you can think of them as a spectrum of colors) due to the temperature of the earth. While the atmosphere is relatively transparent to visible light, it is not transparent to infrared radiation.  Water vapor and carbon dioxide absorb infrared waves emanating from the surface. Water vapor’s absorption of infrared rays keeps the nighttime low temperatures relatively close to the daily high temps when the surface is emitting radiation but receiving none from the sun.  This stabilizing or radiation-capturing phenomenon is starkly apparent when virtually no water vapor is present to absorb the infrared emanating from the surface, such as in dry desert areas, where it can be extremely hot during the day, yet very cold at night. The concentration of water vapor varies from place to place over time, but only close to the surface.  As elevation increases, air density decreases, so potential maximum concentration of water vapor decreases.  The water vapor concentration at 30km altitude in the stratosphere is only 3 parts per million.  CO2, however, gets distributed and suspended evenly throughout the atmosphere.

According to a study the authors cite (Update: Peer reviewed reference on figure 10.13 “(After B. Bolin and W. Bischof, Tellus, 22, 431, 1970)”) that was published in 1970, CO2 levels were measured to be approximately 320 parts per million, having increased steadily from slightly more than 314 ppm in 1960.  Today, global mean CO2 concentrations have been measured to be approximately 390ppm. Again, when published, there was no “debate” as to the source of the increasing levels of CO2:

“The worldwide combustion of fossil fuels, principally coal and oil, on a prodigious scale in the modern era has materially increased the carbon dioxide level of the atmosphere.  From measurements such as those graphed (from the cited study) it is clear that the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is steadily increasing.  From a knowledge of the infrared-absorbing characteristics of CO2 and water, and using a theoretical model for the atmosphere, it has been estimated that if the CO2 level were to double from its present level, the average surface temperature of the planet would increase 2.3 degrees Celcius. On the basis of present and expected future rates of fossil-fuel use, about 70 percent of the present known reserves of coal and essentially all the oil will have been consumed by about 2050. This amount of fuel consumption should just about double the atmospheric CO2 level.  If the calculated effect of a doubling of CO2 level on surface temperature is correct, this means that the earth’s temperature will be 2.3 degrees C higher within 75 years.  Such a small change may seem insignificant, but it is not.  Major changes in global climate could result from a temperature change of this or even smaller magnitude. Because so many factors go into determining climate, it is not possible to predict with certainty precisely what changes will occur.  It is clear, however, that humanity has acquired the potential, by changing the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere, for substantially altering the climate of the planet.”

The closing two sentences of the paragraph and the chapter on the chemistry of the atmosphere sound an ominous warning:

Unfortunately, if it should turn out for the worst, as seems altogether likely, there is little or nothing we can presently visualize that could be done about it.  The continued high rate of combustion of fossil fuels is therefore a matter for long-range concern.”

With wind turbine technological advances and hybrid electric vehicles, and the recent advances in thin-film solar panels, we have come pretty far in our ability to reduce fossil fuel consumption if these were propagated more aggressively and became more ubiquitous, becoming the rule rather than the exception.  But before delving into strategies to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, it is important to understand what we know about “the infrared-absorbing characteristics of CO2…”

Every material on earth absorbs electromagnetic energy, some frequencies of the electromagnetic spectrum better than others.  The spacing between atoms in a material or molecule and the overall density determine which frequencies pass through, are absorbed, or reflected.  This is classically illustrated in the use of X-rays.  The higher frequency wave (than visible light) passes through flesh, is reflected by denser bone, and is absorbed by the extremely dense metal lead, which is used to protect health care professionals who would otherwise be constantly exposed.

Microwave radiation passes through plastics and ceramics, but is absorbed by water molecules.  Actually, microwaves are such a match for water molecules that they force the water molecules to rotate back and forth with the changing electric field of the wave, and the friction between oscillating water molecules imparts heat to all surrounding matter… our food.

Carbon dioxide absorbs two distinct frequencies of infrared radiation. A simple way to think of this is that CO2 absorbs two “colors” within the range of frequencies known as “infrared” extremely efficiently. Remember we only see colors that are not absorbed by the materials we look at, that are reflected.  When we see a white surface, all frequencies of the visible light spectrum are being reflected, and when we see black, no frequencies of the spectrum are being reflected. All colors in between imply the visible spectrum is being absorbed except for the color we see.  (Of course, perfect reflection of all frequencies is only accomplished by a mirror, a material with enough surface electrons to instantaneously oscillate at the exact frequencies hitting it, re-radiating them in all directions.) Stealth technology employs materials and shapes that completely absorb radar frequencies, rendering aircraft and ships covered with them virtually invisible to radar equipment.

This all implies all light energy striking earth’s surface is absorbed.  As the energy is absorbed, it increases molecular activity, increasing the effects of molecular friction, which generates heat, or infrared radiation.  This is emitted in all directions, into the surface and back toward space. When atmospheric CO2 absorbs these two frequencies of infrared, the atoms of the molecule, one carbon and two oxygen, oscillate as if orbs on springs, and they oscillate at the frequencies they absorb.  They re-radiate the absorbed energy in all directions, essentially reflecting much of it back toward earth. This is a good thing.  As mentioned previously, this provides stability in temperatures between day and night.

How do we know CO2 absorbs two frequencies of infrared radiation?  Infrared Spectroscopy.

Spectroscopy is the study of the interaction of electromagnetic radiation with matter. From an overview on infrared spectroscopy at ttp://www.wag.caltech.edu/home/jang/genchem/infrared.htm, which was adapted from “Modern Methods of Chemical Analysis” (R. L. Pecsok, L. D. Shields, 1968); and “Chemistry in Context” (A.T. Schwartz et al. American Chemical Society, Washington, DC 1994):

An infrared spectrometer consists of a glowing filament that generates infrared radiation (heat), which is passed through the sample to be studied. A detector measures the amount of radiation at various wavelengths that is transmitted by the sample. This information is recorded on a chart, where the percent of the incident light that is transmitted through the sample (% transmission) is plotted against wavelength in microns (um) or the frequency.

Infrared Spectroscopy of CO2

Infrared Spectroscopy of CO2

Figure 6 shows the infrared spectrum of a gaseous sample of carbon dioxide. Note that the intensity of the transmitted light is close to 100% everywhere except where the sample absorbs: at 2349  (4.26 um) and at 667  (15.00 um).

So we know CO2 completely absorbs 4.26 micron and 15 micron wavelength infrared radiation.  It has helped maintain life as we know it on the earth. What is the impact of more CO2 in the atmosphere?  More infrared radiation from the earth is reflected back toward the earth.

In other words, more heat is trapped by the atmosphere. Another way of looking at things, is that CO2 is a heavier molecule than oxygen and nitrogen.  Therefore, there is more thermal mass, and the atmosphere has a higher “heat capacity.”  Heat capacity is the amount of heat something can store, and is dependent on the object’s mass.  Less overnight cooling due to more infrared reflected back toward earth by the more numerous CO2 molecules leads to higher daily average temperatures.  These increases in one geographic spot would be imperceptibly small, but the net effect would be slightly higher global annual average temperatures.

The problem, then, is the upward trend of CO2 concentration. I’ve read a contrarian theory that suggests that the atmospheric CO2 is already absorbing 100% of the 4.26 and 15.00 micron infrared radiation emitted by earth. Therefore, more CO2 wouldn’t have any impact, since all the earth’s emitted infrared radiation is already reflected back toward it. More CO2 would just imply, according to this theory, that a lower percentage of atmospherically suspended CO2 molecules would be doing what the existing ones do at the lower percentage.

The fundamental flaw in this argument is that it assumes the only infrared radiation at play is that radiating from the surface.  Readily available graphs and charts from NASA and other sources show that the atmospheric water vapor and CO2 absorb the frequencies coming from the sun we would now expect them to. This implies more CO2 in the atmosphere would be capable of absorbing more heat coming directly from the sun… as expected.

Another flaw by omission is the impact of the albedo effect.  If the planet loses its polar ice, the amount of energy the darker oceans would absorb would increase dramatically compared to when frozen and white.  This would increase the amount of infrared radiation given off by earth’s surface, only to be absorbed by more abundant CO2 and reflected back toward earth as diffuse radiation.  It seems redundant to say this would lead to ever-increasing temperatures.

Another article I read placed huge emphasis on one NASA insider’s opinion that Hansen, one of the people in the public eye bringing awareness to the phenomenon of global warming, didn’t account for clouds correctly in his analysis of the data.  No peer reviewed study, data or conclusions or numbers were provided, only an opinion that Hansen was wrong, an alarmist, or whatever, because he did not include clouds in his projections of temperature increases.  Water vapor, while being a principle component of the “green house effect” is not a “forcing” component.  Its lifetime in air is a matter of days, while CO2 lasts for years.  There is probably a whole post’s worth of material discussing forcing functions and feedback functions…

Others cite satellite data collected since 1979 that showed a cooling trend.  In August of 2005, an anomaly in satellite time-of-day settings was corrected. The satellites had been measuring evening and night time temperatures instead of daytime temperatures, skewing results lower.  Once corrected, the satellite data supported all working model projections.

Others cite a cooling trend from 1998 to present.  1998 was the warmest year on record.  Using that as a starting point for a trend can only lead to a conclusion the global average temperatures are decreasing.  It is a deceptive tactic to prejudice trends observed for many years.

In my next post I’ll cover some data that gives an idea of what the authors of my 32 year old text meant by “…combustion of fossil fuels, principally coal and oil, on a prodigious scale…”   On this topic, a parting reminder:

One gallon of gasoline weights approximately 6.5 pounds.  When burned, one gallon produces approximately 19.5 pounds of CO2.  Remember the process of burning means combining with oxygen, or oxidizing.  Diesel produces 22 pounds CO2 per gallon.  The greatest contributor of CO2 to the environment, however,  is coal, because the volumes burned to produce electricity. One pound of coal produces approximately 3.7 pounds of CO2 when burned.   The volumes we emit from transportation and electricity production in this country alone are stunning.

Since we seem to be on an irreversible trend toward higher and higher concentrations of atmospheric CO2, one of the next logical steps for science is to ask the question: “what will the planet’s surface look like?” and “has it ever been like this before?”  “With no polar ice, will ocean currents collapse?”  “What effect will extreme atmospheric changes (like much weaker ocean currents due to lack of polar ice) have on all the planet’s farmland?”  “What if mountain snow melt no longer exists after May, if it all melts by the end of March?”

This is where controversy really sets in, because best guesses can be downright frightening to people who really would like “this year to be much like last year.”  If the ocean rises 3 feet, what would happen to our economy, our way of life, the planet’s economy, if San Diego, CA, most of Florida, and Manhattan became uninhabitable, not to mention Bahrain and Saudi Arabia?  How many million people would have to move inland?  How will my kids eat?  This is when people freak out. Just as much as the next guy, I’d prefer to be able to kick back and go to a fantasy football draft party.  Instead, I get wrapped up in projects to do my part to reduce my contribution to the consumption of fossil fuels.  This post is one part. So, in conclusion, the chemical and electromagnetic phenomena associated with what is now known as “global warming” and “the climate crisis” have been under observation by scientists for well over 30 years.  And yes, as George Carlin is famous for saying, the planet will be fine.  However, the planet’s ability to support life as we have come to know it seems to be at risk.  Since I live on it with my kids, and eventually, my grandkids, I care.

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