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A Unifying Theory of Energy

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A unifying theory of energy is the second installment of an energy trilogy beginning with The Energy/Environment Algorithm.

Investopedia describes a ‘Tragedy of The Commons’ as an economic problem in which every individual tries to reap the greatest benefit from a given resource. As demand exceeds supply consumers directly harm others who are no longer able to benefit from a given resource.

The Osgoode Hall Law School paper of Maebh O’Gorman titled, Global Warming: A Tragedy of the Commons says the climate crisis is an example of ‘the tragedy’ on a global scale but that need not be the case.

The energy glass, in reality, is overflowing.

We can effectively process warming heat, a resource readily available to all of society, and that converted energy can be a windfall of the commons.

In the alternative, the pessimist’s view of global warming is singularly through a greenhouse lens.

These divergent perspectives facilitate an environmental policy stalemate that favors the status quo and internecine chicken and egg squabbles amongst environmental researchers over carbon or ocean heat have become as productive as the seventeenth-century “reductio ad absurdum” argument over “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?”

We are essentially fiddling as segments of the planet burn.

In his book Global Warming Gridlock, David Victor, concludes that after twenty years of international talks and treaties, the world is now in gridlock about how best to bring down warming emissions so what is needed is a roadmap to a lower carbon future based on encouraging bottom-up initiatives at national, regional and global levels, leveraging national self-interest rather than wishful thinking.

The late Noble Laureate, F. Sherwood Rowland, anticipated this problem twenty years ago, in 1996 when in an interview about his work he asked, “What’s the use of having developed a science well enough to make predictions if, in the end, all we’re willing to do is stand around and wait for them to come true?”

The concern for the Earth’s climate, sea level, and ocean acidification is documented by the likes of the Climate Change Data Center and include: CO2 emissions that match the most extreme IPCC emission scenarios, warming at a steady rate with most of the heat going into the oceans, atmospheric warming at a steady rate of .16 degree C per decade, Arctic melting that could roughly double the rate of warming of the planet, “equilibrium sea level rise” at about 10 meters/° C, sea level rise that will render many coastal cities unusable in the near future, ocean acidification that will be devastating for marine organisms and melting permafrost that could add between .25 and .33 ºC by the end of the century.

The following diagram from the IPCC AR5 demonstrates the quantity of energy accumulated within the Earth’s climates system in 1021 Joules relative to 1971 from 1971 to 2010.

Figure 1

And as the following diagram from Gleckler’s Nature paper Industrial-era global ocean heat uptake doubles in recent decades., demonstrates this is about 80% of the post-1860 warming.

Figure 2

Converted to watts, in view of the fact that radiative forcing caused by greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is measured in watts per square meter (W m-2), this amounts to 140 terawatts (TW), the metric most often associated with the amount of power being used worldwide.

Both of these figures show the rapid escalation of heat accumulation as confirmed by Lyman et al, in the Nature article, Robust warming of the global upper ocean and a warming trend of 0.64 W m-2.

Since the global surface is 510.1 million square kilometers this amounts to 326 TW a year.

Stefan Rahmstorf points out in RealClimate that if this heat were evenly distributed over the entire global ocean, water temperatures would have warmed on average by less than 0.05 °C (1971-2010) and this tiny warming would have essentially zero impact. The only reason why ocean heat uptake has an impact, is the fact that it is highly concentrated at the surface, where the warming is therefore noticeable per the following diagram.

Figure 3: Temperature anomaly in °C as a function of ocean depth and time since 1955. (Source: Fig. 3.1 of the IPCC  AR5.).

Since 93% percent of the problem of climate change is ocean heat at the surface, the desire to move it to deeper water takes no great leap of intellect and as the above figure demonstrates the deeper the surface heat is relocated the better.

The recently published paper, Mean global ocean temperatures during the last glacial transition by Bernhard Bereiter et al. estimates the modern ocean’s average temperature is 3.5 ºC.

The average global surface temperature, on the other hand, is about 15 ºC.

Such averages don’t raise climate alarms.

It is at the extremes of the temperature range that climate change is manifested and it is the moderation of these extremes that is the objective of the method and apparatus for load balancing trapped solar energy, Canadian patent application 2,958,456, 2017/02/21.

The most extreme weather events are tropical cyclones as they are called in the South Pacific and the Indian Ocean, hurricanes in the Atlantic and the Northeast Pacific or typhoons in the Northwest Pacific.

The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration Method estimates the average hurricane releases 600 TW of energy. First through the evaporation of surface water and then in the latent heat of heat of condensation as the water falls back to earth and another 1.5 TW in the kinetic energy of the wind.

Contrary to conventional wisdom these are overwhelmingly rain rather than wind events and their power, 200 times the world-wide electrical generating capacity, is derived from the phase changes of water.

These storms temporarily cool the ocean’s surface. According to NASA, Hurricanes: Katrina and Rita in 2005 cooled the surface by more than 4o C in places along their paths and cooled the entire Gulf by about 1 degree.

Figure 4

These temperatures quickly rebounded however and Hurricane Wilma in the same region, on the morning of Oct. 19, recorded the lowest barometric pressure ever recorded in the Atlantic basin.

As the following figure from the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science demonstrates, the cooling effect of hurricanes extends only down to about 100 meters below the surface.

Figure 5

As the following figure from the Weather Underground demonstrates, such movements don’t move surface heat much beyond the upper mixed-layer of the ocean, in orange, above the 20 ºC isotherm.

Figure 6

The study Observational evidence for an ocean heat pump induced by tropical cyclones calculated that only about 15 percent of peak ocean heat transport may be associated with the vertical mixing induced by tropical storms so they are not very efficient ways of moving heat to deep water where in the alternative that heat could be isolated for centuries.

But then neither is conventional ocean thermal energy conversion or OTEC.

The following chart from An Assessment of Global Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion Resources With a High-Resolution Ocean General Circulation Model shows the rapid decline of net OTEC power output as a function of various flow intensities of cold water Wcw.

Figure 7

And as the following graphic from the same paper demonstrates upwelling of 20m yr-1, which equates to power production of 30 TW, over the next 1000 years cools the tropics while warming the higher latitudes, which is the reverse of what is required of a global warming solution.

Figure 8

A climate solution moves tropical surface heat to the deep, where it is as remote from the poles as possible per the following:

Figure 9

not just around the surface and this is best accomplished by the phase changes of a low-boiling-point working fluid, like ammonia, rather than as the sensible heat of water.

The importance of deep water as a climate mitigating resource can be inferred from the temperature record. Berkley Earth estimates the average surface temperature has increased by approximately 1.5o C the past 250 years but the average temperature of the ocean has increased hardly at all.

The highly idealized scenario of Kwiatkowski et al. in the paper Atmospheric consequences of disruption of the ocean thermocline simulated a 8.31 °C decrease of the  near-surface ocean temperature by increasing the background vertical diffusivity in the top 1000 meters of the water column to 60 cm2s−1, resulting in an increase of the a RCP8.5 temperature within 60 years.

This is a highly misleading piece of science. Especially in view of the lead researcher’s quote here, “I cannot envisage any scenario in which a large-scale global implementation of ocean pipes would be advisable,”

There is no mechanism in the world that could move 8.31 degrees of heat into the deep. The highest rate of upwelling in Figure 7 is 40 m-yr-1 or 473,040 times less than the 60 cm2s−1 shown in the Kwiatkowski paper. Likewise, an 8.3 decrease of the near-surface temperature would negate any possibility of OTEC energy production that requires a temperature differential between the surface and the deep of at least 20° C.

Conceivably, however, we could move the 1.5o C of heat that has been accumulating over the past 250 years to 1000 meters, over the next 250 years. And since heat rises at a rate of 4 meters a year, that heat could be recycled for as long as it takes for the thermal energy to be completely converted to work as indicated in The Energy/Environment Algorithm.

All of the concerns of the Climate Change Data Center are addressed by moving surface heat to deep water except for CO2 concentrations and ocean acidification which are addressed here.

As Professor Roland told a White House climate change meeting in 1997: “Isn’t it a responsibility of scientists, if you believe that you have found something that can affect the environment, isn’t it your responsibility to do something about it, enough so that action actually takes place?”

Emphasising this point, he said “If not us, who? If not now, when?”

I trust that this work adds to the how of we can most productively address the climate problem.

Energy Collective


2 Comments on "A Unifying Theory of Energy"

  1. Davy on Wed, 17th Jan 2018 6:45 am 

    First this article does not even give a thought to the economy and its future. It instead is offering a techno optimistic vision of geoengineering fantasy fixes. This is just more of the wishful thinking that got us to where we are at. We are unable and unwilling to make sacrifices so we are in a gridlock of dysfunction that results in the tragedies of the commons. There is not hope for this.

    We do not know exactly what is coming with climate change. The science and mathematics are too large to understand in the shorter term. Yet, we can infer that forcing the fragile planetary ecosystem is going to end badly. This included the living planetary ecosystem combined with the planetary hydrologic and carbon cycle. These three primary systematic supporters of life on the planet are all being degraded and you cannot solve one without solving the others. This is the fabric of the planetary ecosystem that is self-regulating. We are destroying all 3 vital planetary systems together making the future of its self-regulation dramatically difficult for life.

    Effective remedies will take lots of time which is more than human time scales. It is more than human technological and economic efforts can manage in the short term. It is more than is now socially acceptable with draconian population and consumption reductions. This involves the human foot print dramatically shrinking with both population and consumption. That means far less affluence and populations levels and by extension the likely end of modernism.

    Geoengineering will likely make a bad situation worse. What is needed is social engineering with demand management. That is a fancy way of saying lets lower our human footprint by reducing consumption and population. This likely means the end of modernism if one understands how globalism works. Yet, this does not mean we can’t buy ourselves time by making the worst less worse. Maybe that should be our focus. Maintenance of a terminal illness for our current civilization may be the best we can do.

    Life is cyclical and our Anthropocene ecosystem is going to cycle to something else meaning the end of modernism. This is natural law and nonnegotiable. This decline is far too large to engineer otherwise. We see the breaking of thresholds now. Science is telling us it is happening. We are in denial as a people. Even our science is in denial because it is the science that is proposing fantasy solutions. This planetary destruction might happen over decades so who knows how bad and the when of it. There is no escaping the bad eventually. There should be no optimism for the end result. The only optimism may be individually and local for some people that find temporary refuge for the remaining life they have.

  2. Ghung on Wed, 17th Jan 2018 8:14 am 

    “…. an economic problem in which every individual tries to reap the greatest benefit from a given resource.”

    Not I said the Ghung. I take what I need, primarily from the sun and forest, and leave the rest.

    Not sure WTF is wrong with the rest of humanity. Scared would be my guess.

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