Skip to comments.Numerical Models, Integrated Circuits and Global Warming Theory
Posted on 02/28/2007 8:25:29 AM PST by Tolik
Jerome Schmitt is president of NanoEngineering Corporation, and has worked in the process equipment and instrument engineering industries for nearly 25 years.
Global warming theory is a prediction based on complex mathematical models developed to explain the dynamics of the atmosphere. These models must account for a myriad of factors, and the resultant equations are so complex they cannot be solved explicitly or "analytically" but rather their solutions must be approximated "numerically" with computers. The mathematics of global warming should not be compared with the explicit calculus used, for example, by Edmund Halley to calculate the orbit of his eponymous comet and predict its return 76 years later.
Although based on scientific "first principles", complex numerical models inevitably require simplifications, judgment calls, and correction factors. These subjective measures may be entirely acceptable so long as the model matches the available data -- acceptable because the model is not intended to be internally consistent with all the laws of physics and chemistry, but rather to serve as an expedient means to anticipate behavior of the system in the future. However, problems can arise when R&D funding mechanisms inevitably "reward" exaggerated and alarming claims for the accuracy and implications of these models.
Many other scientific fields besides climatology use similar models, based on the same or related laws of nature, to explain and predict what will happen in other complex systems. Most famously, the US Department of Energy's nuclear labs use supercomputer simulations to help design atomic weapons. Most of this work is secret but we know, of course, that the models are "checked" occasionally with underground test explosions. The experimental method is an essential tool
A much better analogue to climate science is found in the semiconductor industry. Integrated circuits and many other building blocks of modern electronics are manufactured by creating artificial atmospheres or "climates" within which chemical vapor deposition (CVD) forms nanometer-scale thin solid films on silicon wafer surfaces. In CVD, metal vapor precursors entrained in carrier gases are used to deposit metal films on surfaces in a condensation process not unlike formation of dew or frost on a lawn. In such CVD processes, premature formation of metal particles is unwanted and needs to be controlled and prevented; such particle formation is akin to precipitation of rain drops in the atmosphere
The semiconductor process industry uses numerical models to predict the behavior of gases and vapors in order to deposit these substances on substrates, and thereby manufacture integrated circuits. I am not a climatologist or meteorologist but I have studied fluid mechanics and gasdynamics and have a general understanding of computer models used in process engineering. Such models are used to analyze industrial processes with which I am familiar. Indeed the mathematics for such models is generalized. And industry's experience with numerical process models sheds light on their strengths and limitations.
Andrew Grove PhD is a giant in the history of semiconductors. A founder of Intel, Grove famously presided as CEO over its enormous growth during the 1980s and 1990s. Few realize that his academic training is as a Chemical Engineer, not an Electrical Engineer. Chemical Engineering is at the heart of what Intel and other semiconductor manufacturers accomplish.
Process Models: Vapor deposition
Let's consider how these process engineering mathematical models are actually used in industry. Intel and its competitors (as well as their key suppliers) employ many chemical engineers who are familiar with such process models, some of whom specialize solely in mathematical modeling. Often a new technical challenge will emerge in which a process must be changed (such as for scale-up to accommodate larger silicon wafers) or adjusted to accommodate a new material composition.
Almost all semiconductor manufacturing processes occur in closed vessels. This permits the engineers to precisely control the input chemicals (gases) and the pressure, temperature, etc. with high degree of precision and reliability. Closed systems are also much easier to model as compared to systems open to the atmosphere (that should tell us something already). Computer models are used to inform the engineering team as the design the shape, temperature ramp, flow rates, etc, etc, (i.e. the thermodynamics) of the new reactor.
Nonetheless, despite the fact that 1) the chemical reactions are highly studied, 2) there exists extensive experience with similar reactors, much of it recorded in the open literature, 3) the input gases and materials are of high and known purity, and 4) the process is controlled with incredible precision, the predictions of the models are often wrong, requiring that the reactor be adjusted empirically to produce the desired product with quality and reliability.
The fact that these artificial "climates" are closed systems far simpler than the global climate, have the advantage of the experimental method, and are subject to precise controls, and yet are frequently wrong, should lend some humility to those who make grand predictions about the future of the earth's atmosphere.
So serious are the problems, sometimes, that it is not unheard of for an experimental reactor to be scrapped entirely in favor of starting from scratch in designing the process and equipment. Often a design adjustment predicted to improve performance actually does the opposite. This does not mean that process models are useless, for they undergird the engineer's understanding of what is happening in the process and help him or her make adjustments to fix the problem. But it means that they cannot be relied upon by themselves to predict results. These new adjustments and related information are then used to improve the models for future use in a step by step process tested time and again against experimental reality.
In actuality, the semiconductor industry is well familiar with the limits of process modeling and would never make a decision to purchase equipment or adjust their manufacturing processes based on predictions derived from models alone. They would rightly expect extensive experimental data to support such a decision in order to assure the ability to reliably and economically manufacture high quality materials and devices.
As with all fluid mechanics models, the flow field of a climate model (i.e. the entire atmosphere) is divided into three-dimensional grids of small volume elements designated by latitude, longitude and altitude. Each volume element of the grid is then characterized with parameters such as pressure, temperature, wind velocity, etc., and equations that relate these factors. Air and energy that leave one volume element enters the adjacent one. When summed across all volume elements, the model keeps track of the flows of air and energy in the entire atmosphere. Many factors must be accounted (see below). Boundary conditions must be set: in this case, the boundary of the atmosphere is land or ocean surface on the bottom, and some boundary in space on the top; these yield rules (e.g. air cannot flow into the surface of the earth). Then, Initial Conditions must be set: this means that the grid's equations are "populated" with the known values of the parameters characterizing the atmosphere such as pressure, temperature, and humidity profiles measured today.
Finally, the computer calculation can commence: A unit of time (a second, minute, day) is assumed to pass and the computer calculates the next "state" of the model based on the initial conditions, the boundary conditions and the other equations of the model. This process is repeated again and again, with the new state being the initial condition for calculating the subsequent state, until e.g. 100 years has passed.
Errors can accumulate rapidly. Let's list some of the factors that must be included (by no means an exhaustive list):
Solar fluxAnd many, many others
Currents in the Ocean (e.g., Gulf Stream)
CO2 dissolved in the oceans
Polar ice caps
Cosmic rays (ionizing radiation)
Earth's magnetic field
Reflection from clouds
Reflection from snow
Perhaps most critically, the role of precipitation in climate seems to be understated in the numerical global climate models. Roy W. Spencer, principal research scientist at the Global Hydrology and Climate Center of the National Space Science and Technology Center in Huntsville, AL, writes that the role of precipitation is not fully accounted for in global warming models. In my view, that's like an economist admitting his theory of the money supply doesn't fully account for the role of the Federal Reserve.
Unless we know how the greenhouse-limiting properties of precipitation systems change with warming, we don't know how much of our current warmth is due to mankind, and we can't estimate how much future warming there will be, either. To solve the global-warming puzzle, we first need to learn much more about the precipitation-system puzzle.What little evidence we now have suggests that precipitation systems act as a natural thermostat to reduce warming.
While mankind cannot experiment on the global climate, these models can be used retroactively to see how well they "model" the past. The UN's 2001 Climate Change report distorted the historical record by eliminating the Medieval Warm Period in the famous "Hockey Stick Curve" which, by many accounts, unreasonably accentuated temperature rise in the 20th century. Such distortion of the historical data undercuts the credibility of the models themselves, since this is the only "experimental data" available for testing the fidelity of the models to the actual climate.
Why on earth would climate scientists "massage the data" to produce doomsday predictions? The answer requires looking at the rewards available to these researchers.
Catastrophe and careers
Vannevar Bush's seminal 1944 policy paper unleashed the Federal government's unprecedented post-war investment in R&D in the hard sciences and engineering. Science was seen as the way to avoid (or at least win) another catastrophic war.
The golden era of federal funding resulted in unprecedented employment opportunities for hard science Ph.D.s. Fresh graduates could easily find tenure track employment at universities expanding their hard sciences program. The enormous dividends from this investment make up our modern technological world. However, the munificence of the federal funding caused a certain, shall we say, insouciance about resources: "Why use lead when gold will do?" became an informal motto at Lawrence Livermore National Lab.
Inevitably, the growth in congressional funding tapered off and in the late 1980s the competition for R&D sponsorship began to tighten. Fresh Ph.D.s often had to look to the private sector for employment (heaven forefend!). Grant writers were required to start highlighting the potential "practical payoffs" of their proposed work. Since there was little need for better atomic weapons in the post-cold war era, High Energy Physics lost its central status in the funding universe. Many mathematical physicists became refugees to allied fields (some of them even became "quants" on Wall Street). But others found employment elsewhere, including in climate science.
In this competitive environment, one can imagine climate modelers justifying their work by citing the possibility of global change, the further study of which requires, of course, "more research". One can further imagine that in the inchoate communication between university researcher, funding agency, congressional staffer and congressmen that "possibility" eventually became "probability" and then "probability" morphed into "certainty" of global warming, especially if there was potential for political advantage.
This has resulted in an inadvertent funding-feedback mechanism that now resonates in largely unjustified alarm and also seeks to quash scientific dissidents who indirectly threaten to throttle the funding spigots.
The practical experience of numerical modeling in allied fields such as semiconductor process modeling should cause us to question the claimed accuracy for Global Climate Models. The UN's distortion of historical climate data should further undermine our faith in climate models because such models can only be "tested" against accurate historical data.
In my view, we should adopt the private sector's practice of placing extremely limited reliance on numerical models for major investment decisions in the absence of confirming test data, that is, climate data which can be easily collected just by waiting.
A mathematician, a physicist, and a chemist were examining the proposition that odd numbers are prime. The mathematician said 1 is prime, 3 is prime, by induction all odd numbers are prime. The physicist said 1 is prime, 3 is prime, 5 is prime, 7 is prime, and he ws satisfied. The chemist did the same thing: ...5 is prime, 7 is prime, 9 is not prime, 11 is prime, 13 is prime. I throw out the one bad observation, 9, and indeed all odd numbers are prime.
An excellent article. I think any reader of Hayek would understand that human beings are not good at really complicated things such as planning an economy. It's funny the same people who think they can plan economies think they can plan climates.
Exactly what I said. This is a nice article, written at the right level.
Then repeat one of the previous observations to replace the "bad" data point. This is known as "Data Enrichment". I suspect there is one hell of a lot of data enrichment going on in the global warming world.
We do know that if you have a south facing window and an otherwise sealed room, that increasing the insulation value of the room's walls will result in a warmer room. All other things being equal.
Since water vapor is the primary greenhouse gas and water vapor in the earth's atmosphere increases with temperature, any increase in temperature will be multiplied by water vapor.
So if the sun is in a part of its cycle where it is getting hotter, and C02 is increasing, one would expect water vapor to increase also, multiplying the effect.
Considering the politics of China and India, I would say our best bet is to plan for warmer temperatures. I rather doubt that anything we can realistically do will stop whatever is going to happen.
Well, if their rivalry continues, and they have a limited nuclear exchange...we could see if Carl Sagan was right about nuclear winter...
I've been ranting about India and China lately, see my vanities (links to prior articles are in the above link)
I wasn't thinking of war. Just the fact that any reduction in C02 production depends on cutbacks by China and India. Not likely.
I hear that NYC has a study underway to build dikes and levees, modeled after Holland.
While it's good they are starting to think of technology solutions they might consider cheaper alternatives. Man-made fog can be generated for about $1 per square mile covered. Fog can be used to reflect sunlight out to space then burn off and let the ocean radiate its heat out at night. It can also be used as a blanket at night to retain heat. If you run the numbers it is much cheaper to make fog to regulate the climate than it would cost to build and maintain a multi-billion dollar dike around one American city. We only need to cool the temperature at the latitude where it is 32 degrees to keep the water from melting.
Water vapor is a greenhouse gas. The net effect is warming.
What NYC is planning for is tidal surges like the one that leveled the Mississippi coast.
I'm at my day job. Looks close to a simple linear relationship. I'll get back to you.
This researcher is convinced that global warming will cause lower altitude cloud thinning over land but also says on his current bio "We don't understand these internal feedback processes very well, largely because we don't understand the details of how different meteorological phenomena conspire to change the amount, phase, and spatial distribution of water in the atmosphere."
70% of the Earth is ocean, not land. Thinner clouds dissipate faster when the sun goes down so there is less blanketing effect at night. Thinner might be better. There is currently more water vapor over the oceans but also less cloud density because of the unavailability of nucleotides. There are more clouds near the coast because of wave action which kicks saltwater into the air providing salt nucleotides. We could very likely increase low clouds over the oceans by spraying saltwater, and it would be great if the clouds were thin enough to not blanket the water at night.
The left is seriously worried that cloud management will shut down the whole global warming scare. We should study what every researcher has discovered but take every government workers palm readings about the future with a grain of nucleotide.
To my mind, the hardest thing is to develop the (wincing, but no better word handy) intuition of when your program is not working, or is just "having a bad day" ;-)
I appreciate your intellectual honesty in admitting that, akin to stock guru Jim Cramer's writing in "Confessions of A Street Addict."
Back to the subject of DC...
I also enjoyed reading RWP's discussion of the rotational bands (CO2 IIRC) and how they complicate the modeling of the atmospheric physics necessary to predict global warming.
Brought back memories, it did. :-)
An excellent and a great comment by grey whiskers.
"To my mind, the hardest thing is to develop the (wincing, but no better word handy) intuition of when your program is not working, or is just "having a bad day""
But maybe think of this the other way around? That our models are often more perfect than the systems they attempt to replicate, and the question becomes why aren't the systems behaving like they should?
This is where an understanding of thermodynamics and kinetics comes into play. The first describes in the perfect world where everything should get to. The second takes account to how long it takes to get there. The answer to the latter can be never in any practical terms, for a system that is always in flux.
One site that toys at the differences:
Each part of the earth is in heat flux on a daily heat cycle, and as well a seasonal basis. Longer term the changing earth orbit and the sun itself are in flux. It never "catches up", it never comes to equilibrium. It starts cooling before it finishes heating up, and vice versus at the other end.
On a slighly more micro-scale, the whole water cycle and what gets evaporated, where it wants to condense into fine droplets, and when and where the droplets fallout as rain, is all about thermodynamic equilibrium being ruled (or overruled) by its kinetics.
It's hugely dynamic and hugely complex from the start. And to combine in cosmic rays, sea salt sprays, desert dusts, smoke flume particulates, SO2/SO3 etc. etc., all the more fun.
UN IPCC WG1 Technical Summary (TS) and expert review draft TAR, Chapter 14:
"The climate system is a coupled non-linear chaotic system, and therefore the long-term prediction of future exact climate states is not possible. Rather the focus must be upon the prediction of the probability distribution of the systems future possible states by the generation of ensembles of model solutions..."
"In sum, a strategy must recognize what is possible. In climate research and modeling, we should recognize that we are dealing with a coupled non-linear chaotic system, and therefore that the prediction of a specific future climate state is not possible. The most we can expect to achieve is the prediction of the probability distribution of the system's future possible states by the generation of ensembles of model solutions. This reduces climate change to the discernment of significant differences in the statistics of such ensembles. The generation of such model ensembles will require the dedication of greatly increased computer resources and the application of new methods of model diagnosis."