The implications of a hot global heat engine.
- Oct 15, 2020 10:21 am GMTOct 14, 2020 9:59 pm GMT
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Like all engines, when run beyond the capacity of their cooling systems, the global heat engine is showing signs of its looming failure.
NASA identifies the "global heat engine," as the system whereby the ocean releases warmth and moisture into the overlying atmosphere which dramatically influences weather patterns that can drive weather patterns to extremes–producing torrential rains and flooding in some parts of the world and severe drought in others.
Symptomatic of the failing of this system is the slowing of the Atlantic circulation by about 15 percent since the middle of the last century.
In a 2014 Nature article Climate policy: Ditch the 2 °C warming goal, David Victor and Charles Kennel argued, “Politically and scientifically, the 2 °C goal is wrong-headed. Politically, it has allowed some governments to pretend that they are taking serious action to mitigate global warming, when in reality they have achieved almost nothing. Scientifically, there are better ways to measure the stress that humans are placing on the climate system than the growth of average global surface temperature — which has stalled since 1998 and is poorly coupled to entities that governments and companies can control directly.”
The period 1998–2013 evidenced the global warming hiatus, when surface temperatures remained relatively flat as the heat of global warming was moved into deeper reaches of the mixed layer of the Western Pacific by sustained Trade Winds.
It is an analogy for a much longer hiatus brought on by moving surface heat into deeper water.
“New goals are needed. It is time to track an array of planetary vital signs — such as changes in the ocean heat content — that are better rooted in the scientific understanding of climate drivers and risks,” Victor and Kennel said.
The German climatologist Stefan Rahmstorf rebutted this claim in an article Ocean heat storage: a particularly lousy policy target + Update where he claimed:
- Ocean heat content is extremely unresponsive to policy.
- Ocean heat content has no direct relation to any impacts, and
- Ocean heat content is difficult to measure.
“While the increase in global temperature could indeed be stopped within decades by reducing emissions, ocean heat content will continue to increase for at least a thousand years after we have reached zero emissions,” Rahmstorf said.
But, if ocean heat content will continue to increase for at least a thousand years after emissions stop, so too will the release of ocean warmth and moisture into the overlying atmosphere that can drive weather patterns to extremes continue. Which is the problem of global warming in a nutshell and what needs addressing?
Victor and Charles Kennel argued, “The best indicator has been there all along: the concentrations of CO2 and the other greenhouse gases (or the change in radiative forcing caused by those gases)”. But as shown here, CO2 emissions can be eliminated in less than 8 years with Negative-CO2-emissions ocean thermal energy conversion. Yet the driver of extreme weather patterns will persist and in fact can be exacerbated by the elimination of these emissions.
Rahmstorf says, “if ocean heat content were evenly distributed over the entire global ocean, water temperatures would have warmed on average by less than 0.05 °C and that this tiny warming would have essentially zero impact.” Which is the best argument for why this heat should be distributed in the ocean to the greatest extent possible. Particularly when that distribution facilitates the conversion of a portion of the heat of warming to work which is undertaken on land.
Ocean heat can be a resource rather than an impediment and can provide 150 generations with twice the energy we are currently deriving from fossil fuels.
Rahmstorf says, “the only reason why ocean heat uptake has an impact is the fact that it is highly concentrated at the surface”, which is why it needs to be removed from the surface where he points out the thermal expansion coefficient is several times smaller than at the surface and therefore sea-level rise would be decreased.
He says, “it is difficult to measure ocean heat content”. But this problem has been diminished in recent years with technology and is no reason for ocean heat not to be our policy target. Especially when that heat is in fact an untapped resource.
Rahmstorf provided two basic ocean physics facts:
- that heat content is an integral quantity and,
- the response time of the ocean.
Ocean heat is an integral quantity because it is the heating rate over time.
In the alternative, the more ocean heat that can be converted to work for the longest interval, the better for mankind.
“Ocean is heated from above and not well mixed because it is highly stratified”, Rahmstorf notes. But this stratification is what makes the conversion of ocean heat to work possible.
As Rahmstorf says, “Warm water floats on top, which hinders the penetration of heat into the ocean. Water in parts of the deep ocean has been there for more than a millennium since last exposed to the surface. Therefore, it will take the ocean thousands of years to fully catch up with the surface warming we have already caused. That is why limiting ocean heat content to 1024 Joules is not possible even if we stop global warming right now – even though this amount is four times the amount of heating already caused since 1970. Ocean heat content simply does not respond on policy-relevant time scales.”
On the contrary, insuring it takes thousands of years for ocean heat warming to catch up to the atmosphere is precisely the policy that is needed. And is insured by enabling the penetration of heat into the ocean with heat pipes and the recycling and converting of that heat to work.
Instead of such a policy, however, a carbon tax has become the default position of Western politicians. But a carbon tax is a form of double taxation. The public is already paying the cost of the environmental damage of burning fossil fuels. Or at least it is being saddled with the debt associated with the environmental cost of that activity which politicians are simply layering onto the debt we are already being saddled with.
The UN reports that 6,681 climate-linked events have been recorded since the turn of the century, up from 3,656 during the previous 20 years. And all of these are the consequence of surface heating.
To prevent an engine from running hot, it needs a larger radiator, a stronger coolant, or both.
For the global heat engine, the deep ocean is the radiator we are not capitalizing on, and the low-boiling-point work fluid of heat pipes is the conduit that can direct heat surface heat out of harm’s way.
“The day before something is truly a breakthrough, it’s a crazy idea,” Peter H. Diamandis, How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World.
To Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World, we need to convert the heat of global warming into the energy 10 billion souls will need for the next 3,000 years.