Archive for the ‘physics’ Category

On Climate Change, and Wringing of Hands

August 14, 2016

We’ve been changing the climate since we first crawled down from the trees.
And promptly began cutting them down.
Instead of shade, the sunlight went directly to the ground. Re-radiated heat was captured by water vapor, carbon dioxide, and methane. But there were still plenty of trees, billions of them, so no one noticed.
We built cities. No one knew there was a ‘heat island’ effect. After all, there were still hundreds of millions of trees. The heat island effect wouldn’t be discovered for a few thousand years. Why worry?
We paved over the ground. No one paid attention. Any fool knows better than to walk barefoot on a macadamized highway in the summer; if he forgets, there are blisters to remind him. But there were millions of trees still remaining, so no one noticed.
The deserts grew larger. There had once been trees there, but they had been cut. The rains no longer came. The forest became productive farmlands, which in time became a place called the Sahara. But no one understood, because there were still millions of other trees.
The fossilized remnants of billions of trees, of trillions of tiny plants, were mined and pumped out. Finally, people began paying attention.
There were still a few trees, after all.
But the forests are vanishing. More people need cars, which need more oil, gas, and coal to provide power for them and for the houses. Instead of billions of trees, we have billions of people.
Who are still doing precisely what that first ancestor did, put pressure on the climate.
We could begin planting trees. Trees take carbon from the atmosphere and shade the surface, meaning there’s less energy to be transferred by infrared radiation, which in turn means a reduced greenhouse effect.
But no, all those people need food. Food production takes a lot of land, so we can’t plant trees there. The food needs roads and highways to bring it to the cities where the people live. In their own heat island. Where trees have been cut down to make room for ever higher buildings. To make room for ever greater numbers of people. In an ever-growing heat island. Which is served by more and more highways that absorb solar energy and re-radiate it to the atmosphere, where carbon dioxide, methane, and water vapor capture it. In the process we call the greenhouse effect.
How nice! We now know about the greenhouse effect, about heat islands. We have NAMES! Not solutions, but at least we know what’s threatening our world.
The simplest solution, long term, is to plant more trees and let them grow until they’re old. But no; poor people will cut them down and sell the wood for lumber,  or burn it to keep their houses warm and cook their food.
An almost-as-simple solution is to put reflectors alongside all those miles of highway and on all those heat-island roofs. Reflectors send incoming radiation directly back to space, instead of allowing it to be absorbed by the atmosphere.
But that’s ridiculous. Line highways with cheap reflector panels made from sheets of mirror-finished Mylar? Sure, the reflectors would be cheap, but that’s too simple. It would cut down on the greenhouse effect by preventing surface heating, BEFORE the heat is re-radiated and captured by the atmosphere.
Why don’t we wring our hands instead?


Weather and Climate; some good news, maybe

June 1, 2015

A team of scientists, analyzing trends in Atlantic temperatures, has published their results in Nature.
A phenomenon called the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation, called the AMO for obvious reasons, seems to be entering a cool phase. This cycle lasts tens of years, so there’s not a lot of data to go on. Still, when the atlantic enters this cooler phase, it generates weather changes. Britain has less summer rain. The Sahel region of North Africa has droughts. The US Midwest has fewer droughts and they tend to be shorter. There are fewer hurricanes; reasonable, since hurricanes begin off the coast of Africa, gain strength from the warmer waters of the mid-Atlantic, then come ashore somewhere in the Americas. Hurricanes are essentially heat-transfer mechanisms that take surface heat and move it to the upper atmosphere, where some of it is radiated away into space. The Pacific Coast states, particularly Washington and Oregon, get more rainfall.
I found a summary of this report in The Conversation, a publication I recommend to everyone. It’s free, is emailed daily, and it usually concentrates on international matters of interest, as opposed to the US news industry which concentrates far too much on the US. We are engaged with the nations of the world, after all; it behooves us to know something about what’s going on elsewhere.
The good news is that this analysis offers a prediction we can check later, and it’s one more tool scientists can use to better understand weather and climate.

Cosmology, Dark Matter, and Assumptions

January 13, 2013

Written in answer to a comment by my Australian friend Gavan. FWIW, we’re both members of International Mensa and he’s a believer in currently-accepted theories in Cosmology. I’m a skeptic.

I’ve heard that, Gavan; but at the same time, I maintain that there is much ordinary matter that has simply not coalesced into something that’s visible to us here in any of the spectra that we can detect. As evidence, I cite the emergence of new galaxies and within galaxies, new star systems. And we also keep discovering dim, barely visible items that only our new, more powerful, viewing instruments can detect.
Consider this, as well: most of what we view is seen through a time machine. We’re looking at the events of billions of years ago. We have no way of viewing things that happened this year, or a hundred million years ago. The radiation from those distant events won’t be here for another hundred million or billion years.
So estimating the current total mass of ordinary matter based on an unimaginably ancient photo is simply silly. It’s similar to looking at human populations on the Earth of 1 million b.c. and estimating the current human population…and then declaring that our estimate must be correct, without regard for change that might take place over that time.
We might as well use gravitational influences, which we can detect, as indicators that there was much more unconsolidated matter a billion years ago than there is now.
I could, for example, pencil in a few million new galaxies, enough of them to actually balance the estimates of mass and the observed gravity. And point out that we won’t see them for another billion years, because they’re that far away, and have only begun emitting energy within the last few million years and so aren’t yet visible because the energy hasn’t arrived yet.  Is that less logical than claiming that perhaps 90% of the gravity in the universe is due to some invisible, undetectable (at least, so far) ‘matter’?
Those new star systems and such that we observe in the process of formation and describe with great excitement because they just became visible this week? That happened a few hundred million years ago.
So apply Occam’s razor; there are masses in the universe that we can’t yet see because they’re so far away, or there is some sort of undetected invisible matter that’s here because we need something to balance the equations?
That’s my problem with the math of the universe; the equations may well be right, but the assumptions and estimates and interpretation are much less certain.

Roadways, Microclimates, and the Heat Island Effect

November 27, 2012

I’ve begun work on a hypothesis that’s an offshoot of my experiment last summer. It’s this; while cities are recognized as heat islands and are now being investigated for clues about how the biosphere will react to warmer climates and elevated levels of CO2 and other gases, I think we’ve also created such along our roadway net.
In essence, we’ve been modifying the planetary albedo, and thus the greenhouse effect, by paving streets and roadways. All of these surfaces are dark in color, black to dark gray, and are roughened to aid in traction. As such, they’re absorbers of solar radiation and are more efficient at this than sandy or grassy surfaces.
The ‘heat island’ effect is well known and documented. I’m not aware of any attempt to isolate this as to which percentage of the heat island effect is due to paved roads and alleys as opposed to, say, large buildings.
Meantime, while I was thinking about this, I came to the conclusion that roadways are the equivalent of cities in terms of modification of the planetary albedo. Indeed, cities are by their nature concentrations of roadways but there are equivalent amounts of modified surface sprawling across the continent.
I’ll be looking for evidence of this in the spring. There’s a master’s thesis in this for any student who needs a topic!
I plan to gather data of roadway temperature and the temperature of unmodified dirt a few meters away. The driving surface and any apron on the side of the road are all modified and all absorb heat. I’ll also look at vegetation patterns, if possible. Non-natural vegetation won’t help, and it’s common for highway departments to plant grass seed along the interstate highways. I’ll look for side roads that get the paving treatment but not the other modifications. I can then compare the grassed-over areas with natural areas to look for differences.
I have observed the numbers of forbs that flower in the late summer; they appear to be much more common a few meters away from the paved surface, often across fences that line the roads to prevent cattle from wandering into danger. Conceivably, the heat trapped by the roadways acts to extend the growing season and creates a microclimate that favors these. Goldenrod, a kind of blue daisy-like flower, certain yellow flowers, and pricklypoppies all appear to be more common near roadways than out in the middle of the natural desert area.
For those who don’t live in deserts, you might be interested in looking at your own roadway system. Even in green England and Europe, there might be discernable patterns of vegetation changes. You can write to me if you observe any such: I would be interested in hearing from you regarding your observations!

A Philosophical Approach to the Physics of Astronomy

September 27, 2011

My philosophy regarding science, and particularly theoretical physics: It seems to me that there’s a tendency to examine observations and then interpret those observations in ways that have no basis in the observation.  First the theory, then a long and expensive search to attempt to prove it.  Not observed: dark matter, dark energy, strings.  And yet, any number of researchers and theoreticians are busily spending enormous sums in an attempt to find these, all to bolster the interpretations and resultant theories.

Not considered in all this is the question: what if the theories are wrong?  Note that I’m not challenging the observations, just the subsequent interpretations.  And, for my part, there’s a basis for these interpretations that depends on one or more assumptions.

I have a problem with the dual-nature of particles and light.  I don’t challenge this, because I don’t personally have a better explanation.  But my problem comes from Einstein’s equation, E=MC^2.  Note that in this, if you hold the C^2 in abeyance, the formula says that energy is equal to mass, and that C^2, an enormous number, is simply the conversion factor.  And so somehow mass is also energy but without consideration for the difference in their relationship that’s demanded by Einstein.  It’s a problem for me.  I watch, and wait for someone to come up with a better explanation.  The quantum mechanical atom, and the levels of the electrons in their orbitals, provides a good model (I think) for absorption/release of energy of a specific amount, a quantum.  But I don’t understand how jumping from one quantum level to another generates something that is non-energy, the other half of the dual-nature question.

But when looking at the current ideas involving dark matter, dark energy, strings, and such, I note that the theorists and their fellow-travelers have not addressed an assumption.  That same assumption has much to do with the ‘expanding’ and ‘accelerating’ universe.  This current model is accepted by most theoreticians because Doppler’s work gives an explanation, and so they don’t waste their time looking for other explanations.  Despite the picture this Doppler shift gives of a universe in which the further an object is, the faster it’s going, somehow accelerating in all directions away from Earth, speeding up as you get further away.  The assumption here is that this is a true picture and so an explanation is sought, and if there’s no reasonable or logical explanation, then something unreasonable and non-logical is postulated.  Any search for evidence is therefore directed in this specific direction.  There’s no Nobel prize in going back to reexamine the assumptions that led up to the conclusion.

All of our observations, theories, everything depends on our understanding of light, with the term used here as representative of the entire electromagnetic spectrum.  So my question is, what if our understanding of light and how it behaves is wrong?  Are we making an assumption when we look at light?  And the answer is yes.

That assumption is that the light emitted from a distant object arrives at the observer unchanged, except in ways perfectly understood (e.g., Doppler shifted due to relative motion).  There’s also the absorption of specific lines in the spectrum of the light from the source, which again changes the light in ways that are understood.

Suppose there’s another agency, another method, that changes the light in some way?

I didn’t know what that could be, and of course I’m not certain even now.  But I do have an alternative explanation to be considered.  It’s based on elementary science, known to everyone who ever studied modern physics.

A common, well known experiment uses one or two slits in a barrier and a light beam is passed through it.  An interference/reinforcement pattern of light and dark areas is created past the barrier, and the interpretation is that this shows the wave nature of light (and some other particles, such as electrons; but that’s not what I’m concerned with here).  No argument with this.   But what isn’t realized (or at least I haven’t found anything in the literature to show that this interpretation is considered to be important) is that this experiment demonstrates something else: that light can affect other light.  In this case, one light wave is either adding to or interfering with another.  There may also be other ways in which one light field, for lack of a better word, can affect another.  We know that different frequencies of light respond in different ways to phenomena, such as a prism, being differentially deflected; whether there’s a differential response to other light fields based on frequency is something that might happen.  Not proved, so I’ll only mention it as something that could profitably be investigated.

So: the further away an object is, the more likely it is that the light it emits, over the thousands of light-years that it’s traveled, will have encountered and possibly have been affected by light from other sources.  Only the closest light sources, our own sun and probably Alpha Centauri, may be exempt from this.  But even these may have transited the same space as other light waves, so I suspect that these objects show minimal effects from any influence of other light, but not absolute absence.

I don’t make the claim now, nor ever, that the explanations I’ve put forward are true, or that others are false.  I haven’t invented any dark whatzit or used little green men or added 15 new dimensions.  I simply have taken standard, accepted ideas from past scientists and put them together in new ways.  And I do this because it seems to me that assumptions don’t get examined often enough, and that preposterous theories are too-quickly adopted into the mainstream without being backed up by observational proof.  And my explanations are simple and don’t require 10 years of study of mathematics to understand.

I’ve always thought Occam’s Razor doesn’t get used nearly often enough.